back to article Google and the Great Wikipedia Feedback Loop

Google's Wikidependence is worse than ever. And Jorge Cauz thinks it's time for an intervention. "If I were to be the CEO of Google or the founders of Google, I would be very [displeased] that the best search engine in the world continues to provide as a first link, Wikipedia," the Encyclopedia Britannica president told The …

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Page:

Coat

"Wikipedia was the top result for all ten topics"

Number 2, of course, will be a price comparison scraping site!

Number 3 will be something for sale on ebay.

Number 4 Bloody youtube.

It's almost getting to the stage where, to find something useful, the second page is best :-(

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Anonymous Coward

And....

cue rabid defence of Wikipedia by a Wikifiddler

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Dead Vulture

Classic misdirection... and you fell for it

Your morbid obsession with all things Wiki is showing.

Brittanica's press release could have been better summarised as "Hey, we really suck, but look, over there! A Birdy!" and "Plllllleeeeeeeeeze Google - link to uuuuuuuususssss (despite the fact that our online content is poorer, covered in enormous ads and is usually locked away in the pay sections)"

Example: Brittanica on 'Neutron':

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/410919/neutron

"You are attempting to access a Brittanica Online Premium Topic. Please register"

Example: Brittanica on 'Cherenkov radiation':

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/109373/Cherenkov-radiation

One measly paragraph

Wikipedia on the more correctly spelled 'Čerenkov radiation'

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cherenkov_radiation

gives a long page, with useful formulae, photos, and note of the other spelling variations

(Oh, and wasn't that press release *last* week?)

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@ AC 22:04

Looks like aforementioned wikifiddler beat you to the punch.

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Anonymous Coward

Spelling

I love the way the wikiwanker complained about the spelling of Cherenkov but didn't use the correct alphabet. If you're not using the native script, then you can basically spell it anyway you like that carries a reasonable understanding to the reader.

"Č" conveys precisely nothing to me, and neither does "Черенков", which IS the correct spelling. So, "Cherenkov" is just fine when your audience doen't know your particular accent system and while Čerenkov is no more or less "correct", it *is* less helpful.

Also, of course, who knows if the long WP page is correct? Indeed, does anyone at WP care if it is or not?

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Flame

PS

Also, the fact that Britannica's PR is blatantly self-serving does not mean it's not also true.

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Boffin

It isn't just Google's fault

... or rather, it is, and also indirectly - because it has become the lazy "if I'm writing an article and there's a couple of difficult words or I'm just plain copying them verbatim and might as well give them credit" linked to site of every bloke and his blogging dog.

Seeing as they who couldn't spell 10^100 think (and arguably correctly) that the major news providers are more important than the rest of the interwebs, this also points towards the lowering of journalistic standards on a large scale - ooh, I need to show a bit of background, let's link to Jimbo's Jet Set; that'll do. Of course, as the Jet Set gets more links it is more likely to appear high on the search results and the lazier the journo is the more likely they'll only click on a couple of links top and so the feedback loop is strengthened. Ad nauseam.

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Bronze badge
Stop

I think my calendar is broken...

.. It says its 1984, how strange?

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Anonymous Coward

And they're expecting what?

As noted, this is partially Britannica's own fault. Subscribers to Britannica are, in all likelihood, already using it as an information resource. As far as the rest of the web is concerned, Britannica has - literally - NO ACTUAL CONTENT, at least for any "premium content" pages. And the fact that there are any of those makes the entire resource effectively unreliable for the masses, not so much because the information is potentially dodgy but because access to it is dodgy.

Popularity tends to feed back into the lowest common denominator. Furthermore, the "killer app" turned out to be "free content, by means legal or illegal." Mix those two facts of modern online life in a pot, and it's a wonder if Britannica registers at all on ANY search engine.

Which is a pity, really, because I don't trust Wikipedia with anything more important than, say, Klingon sociolinguistics, but these days, "free (as in beer)" simply trumps such petty considerations as "accuracy" and "quality."

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Dead Vulture

Wikipedia bumped up Google?

Citation please?

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J
Black Helicopters

Well...

That's why I avoid clicking on a Wikipedia result as much as I can when I search for something. Not because their information can be bad at times (many times it's good enough), but because I don't want to feed the aforementioned loop. One drop in the ocean, I know... But I only look at the Wikipedia link if I could find nothing else of use in the first two or three pages of search results.

Unfortunately, sometimes Wikipedia is the only answer, and some other times it's the most complete.

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Maybe Britannica should be free?

Hey no question wikipedia has incorrect entries but um, before Britannica can really justify itself here they need to open themselves up. I don't care if I could edit an article or not. I avoid them because they ask for money. Prior to wikipedia I'd usually find what I wanted on a web page without having to pay Britannica. Wikipedia now often has that information (again for free) as it has become a hosting service for a lot of information. So while I do worry as El Reg does about the feeding onto itself issues of Web 2.0 I'd say this article is a stretch to write something negative about wikipedia, which is silly, since there is so much good negative stuff to write about wikipedia.

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Unhappy

pants

http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=pants

#1 Wikipedia

http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=bollocks

#1 Wikipedia

http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=tripe

#1 Wikipedia

http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=crap

#1 Wikipedia

http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=naff

#1 Wikipedia

#2 Wiktionary

I sense a trend here. At least if you search for "encyclopedia britannica," the www.britannica.com site is #1.

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Stop

Oh come on....

So the britanica guy thinks it's bad that a well maintained site with relevant information is number 1 in the search results?

As someone who used the Internet ore google, can I say "well done" to the google guys?

Maybe if britanica had embraced the multimedia revolution in the 90's instead of playing ostrich about the changing world, maybe kids 5-12 might have an idea what a brittanica is.

Fact is, it's just jellously. I wonder if this is how lizards feel about mammals?

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Paris Hilton

> It isn't just Google's fault

It isn't anyone's fault. Enc Brit is a pile of dog crap giving one line or at most a paragraph if you go there. I have two versions of their CD, both out of the Ark.

Nah! I won't be using them. Better the Devil you don't trust than the Devil you can't use.

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Wikipedia is not always wrong

My searches rarely throw up Wikipedia articles but then I'm usually looking for something highly specific. If I wanted a page on 'World War II' or any of the other general topics listed, I'd have to say that Wikipedia is probably not a bad starting point.

Is Google fiddling the results? Probably.

Are the majority of their customers happy with Wikipedia as the top entry for these sorts of searches? Very likely.

Is Google making more money as a result? Almost certainly.

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Unhappy

On finding non-Wikipedia pages

Google could make itself a LOT more useful if it excluded all the plagiarised copies of articles from the search results.

Example: the other night I wanted to find out about Pan Am Flight 943.

- as with many topics, WP was near the top. It happened to have the best account occupying a full page and including several pictures of the ditching, but that's another story.

- next up was a piece by the NY Times. It was OK, but it was short with no photos and no technical details.

- after this a very high proportion of entries were unacknowledged clones of the NYT piece.

- buried in all the NYT clones on about page 4 was a Britannia article. Apart from one paragraph the rest of its article could only be read by using plastic so like most people I ignored it.

- also buried in the clones on about page 6 was a U-tube copy of a US Coastguard movie containing actual footage of the ditching padded with stock USCG footage to make a nice PR story.

- after that I got tired of the NYT clones and gave up

The annoying thing about Google listing all those clones is that not many cycles would have been needed to dump them: almost all could be recognised as duplicates simply by looking at the 3-4 line summary in the search results.

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Of course Google is bumping Wikipedia

Or, rather, they could antibump Wikipedia--not include it in their search pages--but they don't, because Wikipedia actually IS what Google TELLS us it is. These days, Google is basically an advertising service with a loss-leader sideline as a second-rate search engine. Wikipedia is the place to go if you just want to find out something about a subject. Google COULD improve its service, cut down on ebay links and scraper sites, strive for relevancy, etcetera, but fuck it! Why should Google bother to improve its engine when Wikipedia already does the same thing better? Heck, if I were Google, I'd be funding most of Wikipedia myself!

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Anonymous Coward

@Martin Gregorie

I've noticed that, but I don't automatically assume that WP is the original. But then, I'm a bit cynical.

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Meh.

I've never really thought to have a look at Britannica online before reading this article - and now that I've taken a look I don't think I'll be heading back anytime soon.

First thing I noticed was the need to update my Adblock filters - for a site that's trying to be an information portal they're doing a good job at being a banner revenue site pretending to be an information portal. And to add insult to injury they want me to get out my wallet and subscribe.

I know Wikipedia isn't 100% accurate, but neither can the Encyclopedia Britanica claim to be - if you believe everything you read online I have a rich uncle who needs your help to get $12,000,000.00 out of his country...

Thanks, but no thanks.

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Go

Answer is simple

http://www.startupbin.com/google-google/

or

http://www.givemebackmygoogle.com/

While we're at it -- beat Google tracking with

https://ssl.scroogle.org/

Enjoy.

Ps. Where's the GoogleBeast icon!?

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Go

Britannica - blame yourself

So the Britannica press release does is admitting they failed to be relevant on the Web. If competing with Wikipedia is their goal, how about blaming their own failed business model? Why can't they get right what every little startup online game and every porn site does?

Step 1: Attract users with free content

Step 2: Advertise paid bonus content

Step 3: Attract paying users

Step 4: ???

Step 5: Profit! (literally)

Is it that difficult to give the non-paying surfing public a basic illustrated 2-page article?

Then, include paid extra features like videos, extended references, author commentary, scientific reviews, moderated forums, educational content for schools, advanced search, database access, historic maps, detailed statistics...

Basicly, understand the encyclopedia as free bait for a knowledge provider.

Dear Britannica people, if you want to talk about it, I'll be here all evening...

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Flame

It takes two...

Last time I checked, Google returned more than one result. If people pick Wikipedia all the time or link to it, it's because they think it's the best source out there. You might not like it but then you are free to use other sources. Like, link #2, link #3, and so on. Who cares if Wikipedia gets the top ranking? Rule #1 in research is understanding how to judge the quality of your sources. If you can't be trusted to do that because you always pick the first link and need Google to fix it so that you don't accidentally pick Wikipedia, you have no place doing research on the net in the first place.

If you google Magna Carta, Wikipedia is the first link after a news report. Links 2, 3, 4, 5, 6,7 and 9 on the first page all provide either the text or some apposite commentary on the document.

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Is that fiddling?

Of course they are bumping it. Who the hell puts links to Wikipedia? As far as I know, all Google wants to show is links people want to see. And it turns out that for most people, that is Wikipedia. And certainly not a pay site.

I for one do not regret it one bit. The Wikipedia page on whatever subject is usually all I need. It is free, and contains little publicity. True, the talk pages often contains the ramblings of fanatics - but that's information about the subject too.

And if you want accuracy, all you need to subscribe to the Britannica.

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Flame

I'll tell you what...

I actually have a link to the wikipedia main page at the top of my bookmark list. It's much more likely I search for something in wikipedia rather than using google.

IMNSHO, wikipedia content is relevant and of fairly good quality in most cases. In articles that are within my field of expertise, glaring errors are *extremely* rare. In other words, wikipedia works for me, and probably for countless others as well.

Also, please note that google measures relevancy by, amongst others, the number of links to a page. Not many people will link to Brittannica, as a link to a paytard site is pretty useless. Is it any surprise that wikipedia comes up higher than Brittannica in search results?

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gjw
Coat

Two words...

sour grapes.

Google does bump up blogspot results, though.

Mine is the one with the adsense contract.

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Silver badge

@Robert Long

I think you will find wikipedians can spell Russian names:

http://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/Эффект_Вавилова_—_Черенкова

There is more here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Čerenkov_radiation#Tscherenkov_.2F_Cherenkov

Looks like comments on the Register are not corrected as well as wikipedia pages.

I have a degree in theoretical physics, so I know most of the page is correct. I have read plenty of Nature and Scientific American, so I am familiar with much of the rest. The page goes beyond my knowledge, and cites reference books that my library could find for me if I wanted to check further. Some people really cared about getting this page correct. So far, all the physics and maths pages I have read on Wikipedia have been excellent.

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Anonymous Coward

Crosslinking

Wikipedia encourages linking between articles. The links from category pages and lists of articles needing cleanup etc. also count. Having so many links will drive up its ranking even without any special fiddling.

Also, they are not always near the top of the search results. Googling "anteater otolith" has Britannica at #35, while the first and only Wikipedia link (to a user's page) is #61. It's way down at #311 for "pope cunnilingus", #334 for "undead communist", and has nothing at all for "televised slaughterball".

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Rob
Unhappy

remember Altavista doing similar things?

Altavista was a great search engine... then over a short while the sponsored hits became almost unavoidable. At the time Google looked so good, no clutter and useful hits.

But gotta keep shareholders happy, and perhaps they've forgotten why they became so successful, Google has just increased its revenue by about 25%, but now search results are often meaningless. Google: You've pushed it too far I think, wind the adds back a bit please, or you repeat Altavista's history and lose market share. It's annoying.

OK, time to switch, which search engine gives useful results now?

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Gold badge

WP as a peer reviewed journal

"I have a degree in theoretical physics, so I know most of the page is correct. I have read plenty of Nature and Scientific American, so I am familiar with much of the rest. The page goes beyond my knowledge, and cites reference books that my library could find for me if I wanted to check further. Some people really cared about getting this page correct. So far, all the physics and maths pages I have read on Wikipedia have been excellent."

This is something that is greatly under-appreciated. It would be interesting to know how much of WP is maintained by researchers in the field in question, and how much is used by researchers in neighbouring fields who want a quick primer. I suspect that (at in the sciences and mathematics) the answers are both quite high.

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Boffin

@ AC 22:04, Robert Long (et al)

Ad Hominem: FAIL. Logic: it's bluddy grate, if you know how to use it.

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Boffin

If Britannica were really concerned with the truth

Self-serving twaddle. Most people have heard of Wp by now and use Google as better WP search engine.

In EB where interested in the truth, they'd pay their 'experts' to correct Wikipedia entries. But they're not interested, they want to preserve:

- their status as the in-practice primary reference source (already lost)

- their business model (disappearing rapidly - WP is 90% good enough in an overwhelming number of cases, so why pay EB? Why pay for knowledge at all?)

- their jobs (gone in 10 years)

Stuff 'em

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Alien

A gun to one's own head?

Keep it up Google. Folks will eventually just search on Wiki in the first place and !boom! - you just shot the cash-cow. I for one am happy to serve our wiki overlords etc.

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Re: remember Altavista doing similar things

"OK, time to switch, which search engine gives useful results now?"

Well exactly. SEO is such a huge business now that I doubt whether any automated system won't be "gamed" within months of becoming popular, and any non-automated system is simply uneconomic.

Which brings us back to wikipedia: a great search engine. The factual pages are maintained by leading lights in the field and the opinion pieces are clearly marked by the size of the "discussion" tab. There are no ads, and probably never will be since they'd be sued to smithereens by the unwashed millions who submitted the content in the first place. What's not to like?

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Boffin

Giving me what I want

Google still gives me the links I want, else I'd go elsewhere. Seems to be the same for many people, so why bash them with garbage attributes?

Wiki is eminently usable, covers a broad range of topics, goes into depth for some issues I am interested in, allows me to freely copy images, offers links to other sites which may carry further information ... what is not to like? The quality of information may be not the best available, so it won't replace that 100 Eur. textbook on the subject. But to compare with the Encyclopedia Britannica mentioned in the article -- I found the latter unusable, they want me to register with annoying popups and I do not care about that.

You don't like it, go elsewhere. Encyclopedia Britannica is your friend and happy to take your money.

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Anonymous Coward

Experiment

After reading this article I set my own machine up to fiddle any Google searches to append "-site:wikipedia.org" and tried various searches overnight and this morning. I have to say that it's been like a walk in the country in comparison to normal. It's easy to forget just how oppressive the WP monocrop is to your thinking, even when you actively try to ignore the damn thing.

@Flocke Kroes: I agree that WP is best on maths, then physical sciences, fading into self-parody by the time one gets to subjects with any degree of interpretation such as history or politics, but it remains the case that any fool can edit the thing (and they frequently do) and if I already know enough to be able to judge the accuracy of a page then I probably won't be looking at the page in the first place, will I?

EB has by any measure one wants to pick failed to grasp the Internet but that failure doesn't actually make WP a better resource.

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Alert

Wikipedia - just say no

"Who the hell puts links to WIkipedia?" asks somebody or other, further up the page. The answer is, a lot of people do, because they are unimaginative, lazy, Google-dependent, Wikipedia-dependent drones.

I run a reasonably popular blog on scientific topics, and never link to Wikipedia. It isn't necessary. There is always something else out there that is (a) stable and reliable (b) has proper authority (c) has nothing to do with Jimbo and his fanboyz (d) doesn't contribute to the Google/Wikipedia feedback loop. I sometimes host guest-written content and, guess what, it comes laden with Wikipedia links. Define crystallization? Link to Wikipedia. Refer to the Cambrian Explosion? Link to Wikipedia. Mention, in passing, the Ross Ice Shelf? Link to Wikipedia. And when I send it back to the writer saying "no Wikipedia links - use links to other reliable and authoritative sites" they are utterly at a loss.

Just say no. Don't link to Wikipedia. If you commission writers or invite submissions for your site, specify "no WIkipedia". Set up Google's advanced search options to block results from Wikipedia. Don't be sucked into the loop.

The web doesn't need an encyclopedia (and that goes for Britannica, too). It *is* an encyclopedia if it's used intelligently.

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Stop

Wikiphobia.

The Reg's articles on Wikipedia are straying from reasonable (if sometimes strident) objections to politicking and dubious practices, to downright paranoia. Wikis on subjective and controversial subjects will be controversial and subjective and should be read with a pinch of salt and a close eye on the change history and discussion pages ... that's true of any wiki, not just the evil giant wikipedia. Wikipedia articles on the vast majority of subjects (and particularly those in the realms of technology and science where the Register ought to have its keenest interest) are almost always reliable and useful in my experience.

Google is a good search engine. Wikipedia is a good source of information. More power to them and their users. This is starting to smell of 'bash the big boy ... he must be evil or he wouldn't have grown so big'. (And I'm not just saying that because I'm a looming hulk of a man who is sick of bitter short-arses deliberately bumping into his shins.)

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Thumb Up

But most people

Don't want to trudge through primary research papers and the like to find out what a flash point is for example.

Most people don't have the time or care unlike people on the Register. Wikipedia is clean, simple, free of ads and like McDonalds it may be bad for you but you know exactly what you are getting

http://www.enneagramcentral.com/Explore/FastFoodMetaphor.htm

so it's addictive.

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I've found...

Wikipedia is generally a pretty accurate source of information provided you're not looking at anything 'pop culture' (celebrities and the like).

The most important thing if you make sure you verify any information with another source. It's a great starting point for research into something you know little about.

Sounds like the old school encyclopedia is somewhat bitter.

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BAWWWWWWWWWW

No-one wants to pay several thousand punds for a virtually unreadable encyclopaedia anymore, BAWWWWWWWWWWWW.

My parents have the full thing (My mother got a discount as she was a nurse). I had to rely on it for my GCSE's before the days of there being anything useful on the internet. It's all written in the most uppity convoluted way possible, to the point where (at that age at any rate) I couldn't even tell what topic they were talking about half the time.

There was the cut down micropaedia, which should have been easier, but was in fact written just as confusingly, it was just missing lots of information.

The fact it was written in 8 point script on tracing paper didn't help either.

Brtiannica need to just make virtually all of their content free. Perhaps they could still charge, per subject, for the in depth research papers and such. Either way, no-one other than research scientists will be reaching for thier credit card to find out about basic topics.

Get with the times Britannica, or die.

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Relevance

I guess the main reason Wiki comes up top for a lot of topics is peoples searching behaviour.

If I'm looking for a subject, say badgers, I'll go to google and first type badgers. If nothing comes up, there's a good chance I'll add wiki to the end, as a strating point at least.

Google probably (and legitimatley) sees my first search found nothing, and therefore links some of the top results of the second to the first search.

Hence wikis page on badgers creeps up and up.

It's not just google anyway. Try those things in Windows Live Search, or any of the others, Wiki always comes up high.

Google Conspiracy (tm), or just a popular site - YOU DECIDE.

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Alert

re: crosslinking

"Wikipedia encourages linking between articles. The links from category pages and lists of articles needing cleanup etc. also count. Having so many links will drive up its ranking even without any special fiddling."

I'd be very VERY surprised if Google's algorithms gave much weight to crosslinking from the same domain (exhibit B: el Reg - see the links to past stories, popular stories, related stories).

However, agreed that Wiki is normally first link. Perhaps they could consider changing the "I'm feeling lucky" button to "I'm a lazy tyke who's about to fail their essay".

It's why I'm generally in the habit of skipping down a few results (past news, images, wiki, youtoob).

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More tinfoil head conspiracy crap

Wikipedia ranks highly on Google searches because many people link to it. Many people link to it because they find it useful. Pretty simple.

I wouldn't want them penalising Wikipedia to knock it off page 1. If it is one of the most linked-to resources on the web (in terms of my search query), then it SHOULD be on the first page, that's how PageRank works. If you don't like it use Cuil, or add a -wiki to your search or set Google to return 100 results per search so the top 10 is not as important!

There is no conspiracy here. EB should realise that people not linking to them means a failure on their part. Even if Wikipedia is number 1 on the front page of results there are plenty of other pg 1 slots they could be working towards instead of moaning.

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Anonymous Coward

I'd love to use EB more, but....

... not enough to pay for it. And it's unbelievably, unusably annoying if you don't. It's like they sat down and said "How can we make our site as unusable as possible for non-paying users?" This is NOT actually a good strategy to encourage people to cough up the dough - it's a great strategy for driving people away from your site as quickly and efficiently as possible.

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curate's egg, or box of chocolates

WP can be very useful, and its entries on non-contentious subjects (life of Brahms, myrtle, etc) can be useful, and when compared to book sources, accurate. Where emotional truth is more important than reality-based truth (Star Trek, etc), then I leave it to the fans -- why would I look up anything like that? I needed informative links to such things as the Free French in WWII, and al the good history sites began to dry up. In desperation, I was forced to link to WP, and the quality of the articles has improved since the early 2000s. Enc. Brit. simply wasn't an option, as their crusts of free info weren't substantial enough. I have to declare an interest: I occasionally edit or add content to WP. I double over backwards to be as accurate and objective as I can, as fair and fair-minded as possible, and I rely on others to correct any bias I have not detected in my words. I assume most of the other articles have arisen from the same approach, and I take that as my guide. Trust, but verify. It's what any good researcher does.

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Bronze badge

@Andre

Andre only had it half right - if I want to search WikiP then I know where to find it, as do most people. If I go to Google, the chances are that I have already decided that I DON'T want to visit WikiP. What's more, the eternal top-ranking merely encourages everyone to spam WikiP with links to their own sites, however short-lived those links may be.

Total fail on Google's part - they are never afraid to tweak their algorithm when other problems have started to surface, why not this one? If they really think that WikiP is that useful, then they should have a permanent "try this search on WP" link/button.

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Silver badge

But

My Firefox search box can select Wikipedia. I don't need Google to return Wiki's results at all.

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Dead Vulture

Regicide

Google bad!

Apple bad!

Wikipedia bad!

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Unhappy

Encyclopedia Britannica vs. Tech

I remember my dad pondering on buying the EB waaaay back in 1995.

We had just recently bought both an external CD-ROM drive for our Macs, and an internal IDE one for the lone 486 PC we had. We had finally given in to the CD-ROM because these didn't require the ugly caddy anymore. Of course, with CD-ROM came the promise of a "rich multimedia experience", and of course, the possibility of having an Encyclopedia on CD-ROM. We got it, in the form of "The Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia 1995".

However, my dad pondered on the idea of having a real, big name Encyclopedia on both the book and electronic forms. So when we went to one of those "book fairs", we checked out EB's stand, where they showed us the EB in all it's ... paper book glory.

When my dad asked for a CD-ROM version, he was shown the smaller Compton's Encyclopedia ... and told that the Encyclopedia Britannica will *never* be available in electronic media. Cue my dad sodding off the EB purchase. We stuck to the Grolier, and then switched to Encarta.

Fast forward some years ... and the EB is finally released ... on ONE CD. Because they had to cram all the EB into one single CD, the thing had a dog-ugly text-only interface; Grolier and Encarta still had the upper hand. I think that by the time the EB finally released a decent digital version, the market had already been won by Encarta, at least up until Wikipedia 0wned the common people's reference list.

Basically, Britannica got left behind because it feared for its printed editions... and those are declining in sales anyway.

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