While a lot of people spend their days being worried how unreliable Wikipedia is but at the same time deciding not to do anything about it, Wikimedia foundation is updating the MediaWiki-software that runs the service.
An extension called WikiTrust will be installed on the site, that will indicate trustworthiness with colourcoding. The extension uses a few simple observations that are described in more detail elsewhere. Basically old information is propably more reliable than fresh information that has not yet been subject to public scrutiry and review. Also, an editors reliability can be judged based on the other changes he or she has made to the dictionary. This is neat, because it takes the element of trust down to the level of words. As an addition to the existing methods to verify information on Wikipedia, such atomity makes any librarian scream “that’s fantastic!!”
Because Wikipedia’s editorial concept is rather different from what we are used to, we naturally have our doubts toward this kind of a disruption. Nothing wrong in that, in fact very few people were talking about the trustworthines or power of encyclopedias in general before Wikipedia came around! Wikipedia and everything involved with it is very interesting from a librarians point of view. On se hyvin jännä juttu.
(Some of) us librarians have been deeply concerned that this new concept of an encyclopedia is going to undermine the whole foundation of reliable information that we “used to have” before the internet. However there are no proof of such a golden era ever existed. This is however what some people and organizations would like to believe and would like everyone else to believe too. Sounds kind of christian, all this talk about lost access to paradise of Eden because of our sins, really…
During all this time with Wikipedia on our fingertips, librarians did next to nothing about it. We don’t have the courage to say “look, all this is just a load of terrible crap, you should read the same information from a book, it’s more reliable that way”. Though as a profession we don’t have much knowledge of information technology like programming (which honestly is kind of awkward), we could have found other ways to make Wikipedia better. Better for our patrons.
We could have funded someone who knows about these programming-things. We could have learned how wikipedia really works, and taught our collegues and patrons to know about such radical things as the Creative Commons licensing model, the concept of NPOV, the discussion pages, public history of wiki edits, proper citation and all that. We could have made research how our own staff uses the internet and the wikipedia. All things considered, libraries if anyone should be involved in projects like WikiTrust.
In exactly what ways have libraries helped the public benefit from Wikipedia? I’ve been proposing that public libraries should give Wikipedia Foundation money, because it’s a valuable resource for our staff and our patrons and because we are paying for other on-line encyclopedias, like EB. Nobody is taking me serious, of course, but i sincirely think we should donate to wikimedia. Lots.
So many more useful things to do that complain about the untrustworthiness of Wikipedia!! That “Edit” -button is a fantastic symbol that we librarians keep failing to comprehend.