How many of you knew that Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia, is written entirely by the public? Anybody can post to Wikipedia and anybody can revise anything on it.
Since I started grad school at a small, selective liberal arts college, I've been staggered at how many people, students and faculty alike, use Wikipedia as a reference. The head reference librarian, trying to help me find out something about Islam, searched Wikipedia. Classmates and teachers pass around links to Wikipedia definitions.
Well, folks, try looking up some subject about which you know a great deal. Choose something that's a little obscure. Months ago I happened to look up the country of Lebanon, and found that the entry covering my hometown seemed to have been written by an Israeli. One tipoff was he insisted on spelling the name in an Anglicization of the Hebrew, and gave three different Hebrew versions. By the time you read this, the entry will have been edited. If you click on "discussion" you will see my disgusted critique. If you click on Edit, you can change the entry at will.
What if I decided to write up an entry for Lod*, Israel? I have lots of Palestinian friends from Lidda, the town's name until 1948. Never mind that I'm not an historian or scholar, and that I have my own particular Lebanese-American point of view. I could click over right this minute and write up whatever I want about Lod. Perhaps some alert Wiki-minder might notice the change, and if it's egregious, they might change it back. But if the town or the country or whatever the topic is obscure enough, perhaps not.
I love Wikipedia, don't get me wrong, but the way people use it leads me to believe that many don't understand its true nature.
The software for Wikipedia, and any other wiki, allows anybody to contribute, edit, revise or delete anything. Do you understand what that means? Any entry in the place can be slapped up by anybody. There is no editor in charge, only lots of busybodies who look at changes to see if they're malicious. It's the collective mind at work.
This can sometimes lead to good information. It can sometimes lead to weird information, or bad information.
In Wikis, as in anything else, let the reader beware.
*Lod, Israel, according to Wikipedia, is the hometown of St. George, the patron saint of my father's village. Which may explain the name of one of its infamous sons. Read about him if you want a sample of the Wikipedia way.
You gotta love Wikipedia - but carefully.