In recent months, the reliability of the online dictionary resource Wikipedia has come in for frequent criticism, and the model as a whole has been impacted as a result. This reveals that the wiki approach, while holding considerable potential as a shared online resource, can only ever be as strong as the editing process underscoring that resource.
Wikipedia and the wiki approach have come under fire recently.
Wikipedia is the highest profile example of the wiki approach, which is often described as meaning ‘What I know is…’ In the wiki format, large and extended groups of contributors provide content to a resource, and these contributors are also intended to ‘police’ the content for inaccuracies or blatant misuse of the system, which must be open by its very nature.
The need for editorial control was highlighted in a bold experiment by the Los Angeles Times in June 2005, when it allowed external contributors to edit its content in a wiki format. Within three days the experiment had collapsed as a result of a flood of pornography and indecent material being posted.
The issues with Wikipedia are more subtle than this, however. One school of thought holds that what is happening is that contributors are indeed stating what they ‘know’ – but that this knowledge is not objectively stated or verified independently, as one would expect from a similar entry in a ‘real world’ volume, such as the Encyclopaedia Britannica. The end result is that people are stating their opinions, which is a good thing – but that these opinions are then held up as being hard facts.
Until recently, Wikipedia resisted criticisms about its editorial approach, but has now climbed down to some degree, for example removing the ability for anonymous contributors to post new material (although anonymous editing is still allowed).
Although a wiki has considerable potential as a shared online resource, for example as a collection of experiences using business processes or technology within an organization, it will only ever be as strong as the editing process that shapes its development. Assuming that things will somehow work out for the best and that the good intentions of the contributors will prevail is naive at best and dangerous at worst. As the highest profile example of the validity (or lack thereof) of the wiki model, Wikipedia’s progress in weathering its current storms could prove valuable to many smaller scale projects.
Source: OpinionWire by Butler Group (www.butlergroup.com)