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What are the pros and cons of using Wikipedia as an information source, particularly given that anyone can edit almost every page?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by Al E., Jacob Jan Tuinstra, Alex, ChrisF Nov 13 '13 at 12:37

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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7 Answers 7

I tend to use wikipedia as a research starting point. My reasons are, in order of importance:

  1. Breadth of coverage.
  2. Standardized format, which makes it easy to glean terms and ideas for further investigation .
  3. Quality of entries (as a starting point).

With this perspective, the only problem I've really had with it is occurrences of spam. And those are few and far between, not because it is rare, but because it is policed amazingly deftly by the community itself.

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I once attended a talk by Jimmy Wales, the founder of wikipedia, where he addressed this question. He said that Wikipedia is good (and meant to be) for getting a large-scale overview of topics -- if you don't care about the nitty-gritty details of things (which he said are usually the things that are wrong) wikipedia is great. If you're writing a paper, or need to know something exactly, wikipedia is not for you.

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Pros: Wikipedia is knowledge gathering of all the people around the world, so it is very comprehensive and abundant.
Cons: Everyone can edit the content on Wikipedia, so the quality is not very good.

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I ran into the same question 3 years ago while doing some tech research for my company at the time. I found out rival companies often change the content of certain article to tarnish their competition. Some are even foolish enough to do it form their own offices, forgetting that their IP address is captured and easily presented.

I refer you to the (admittedly angry) blog post I wrote at the time, referring to a research done by a guy called Virgil Griffith who exposed this behavior and actually "named names".

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That is an excellent post! Too bad the site referenced is no longer online. –  Feral Oink Oct 28 '12 at 15:49
    
Ahm, yes it is :) it's my blogger site, and I just verified it's up :) Give it a go, and if it's not there, I have some issues to solve :) –  Traveling Tech Guy Oct 29 '12 at 2:44
    
No, I'm sorry! I meant to say that your site is just fine and awesome. It was wikidgame which was no longer available. It gives a charming error page though! –  Feral Oink Oct 29 '12 at 11:41
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You definitely have to be aware that there are those who have an agenda, as the Climategate Wikipedia scandal showed us: Medieval Warm Period.

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+1, good point. Political entries (either on a politician or a political party) are also quite often prone to being incorrect, as they like to rewrite history to make themselves look good. –  slugster Sep 16 '10 at 6:18
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Advantages:

  • It has a wide verity of information.
  • It's easy to find it.
  • It's free.

Disadvantages:

  • Since anyone can edit it, it has a risk of containing false or misleading information (although this has been disputed).
  • In some cases I've found information to be sparse on some subjects.

If you need reliable information, Wikipedia may not be the best choice (although some of the more popular articles are often watched by dedicated editors for vandalism), but in that case it can still provide useful links as references.

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The big pro is that there is likely to be an entry for what ever it is you're searching for.

The big con is that the information on that page might not be accurate.

Like all sources of information (and particularly those on the web) you have to treat it with a healthy dose of scepticism. A good Wikipedia entry will have links to external reference sites which you can (and should) use to verify what it says is true. Depending on the importance (to you) of the information you need you could use the number of references as a rough guide to the accuracy.

If you are concerned about the accuracy check the edit history. Have there been many contributors? Have there been any edit wars?

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