back to article It's Wikipedia mythbuster time: 8 of the best on your 15th birthday

Wikipedia's 15th birthday has brought its predictable spate of news coverage, some of it thoughtful, some of it filled with the inevitable barrage of spin and half-truths issuing from Wikimedia HQ. Here's a round-up. 1. Who founded Wikipedia? Jimmy Wales says in the Guardian, "I created Wikipedia 15 years ago". In 2001, he …

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  1. Tom 7 Silver badge

    4.

    Do google really make money from Wikipedia - if I want to know a 'fact' I go strait there, not via Google.

    1. Bc1609

      Re: 4.

      Not everyone behaves as you do, though. If I want the answer to some piece of trivia (how tall the Eiffel Tower, is, say), I'll often just type my question into Google and let it slog through Wiki for me, as described in the article. Of course, Google don't make money directly off that search either, because I have ad-block installed (and if you're doing it via Google Now on your phone you just get a spoken reply anyway), but I know that my choices aren't shared universally.

      1. PyLETS
        Devil

        @Bc1609: search revenue has to be much more than ads

        "Of course, Google don't make money directly off that search either, because I have ad-block installed"

        That would only follow if Google's only source of revenue from search engine use was advertising. I'd guess they make much more money now for sales referrals (when you search prior to following a link to buy something and the seller gives a referral commission) and selling the (presumably fig-leaf minimally anonymised) personal data about you to their many and various customers. It's why the advertising that does get through is getting much more creepy than it used to be, and why you're increasingly being cold called by creeps who know far more about you than is good for your personal sanity and security. Knowing as much as they do about who is searching for what seems a much more marketable asset these days than the ability to present ad images.

        1. Bc1609

          Re: @Bc1609: search revenue has to be much more than ads

          You're quite right, which is why I specified that ad-blocking only removes revenue "directly" connected to the search. Clearly I was not direct enough.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: @PyLETS

          Quite a bit of FUD there!

          Google don't have an affiliate referrals program for their organic links (Google can't just send an invoice to a company and say you owe us $5,000 for referrals last month, they have to sign up with you or an affiliate network that is signed up with you). Google's referral program is called ad words!

          Google don't pass personal data to you, whether you advertise with them or not. You also cannot buy this data from Google. They can place your ads to customers who you choose to target out of relevant categories and you can also see summaries of visitors to your site (including device usage, screen resolution, socio-economic data). You can't see this at a personal level, just that 40% of your audience is likely to be 35~45 for instance. Way before the results get too little data that you could start to guess which demographics are related to which subject that stats are withheld.

          There could be a massive nefarious data exchange black market going on that you are aware of, but if you know about it then you could make a lot of money by letting certain sectors know about it rather than posting here.

        3. JLV Silver badge

          >why you're increasingly being cold called by creeps...

          Smells like FUD to me as well.

          Doesn't happen to me and I use Google quite a bit.

          What I don't do however is have very much personally identifiable profile info online, I am pretty anal retentive about that, extending to requesting folks to untag my pics on FB, for example. So while I do get telemarketing calls, they seem more from random autodialing than anything else.

          This whole thing about Google selling on info makes little sense, for two reasons. First, it's a question of trust. Many of us already don't trust them much, why make it worse by carrying on nefarious business and getting caught? They'd have to be Lenovo braindead to do that and risk killing the golden goose. Especially with Google mail.

          Second and more importantly. They have set themselves up to be a middleman in all the ads and they benefit massively from it. And, yes, they do so because they know so much about you and, yes, I get that makes many uncomfortable. However, their power, which they can use (or abuse) at leisure, is precisely because they are the necessary middleman. If they sell any information to anyone else, they lose that privileged position and control over that info. So they specifically have a profit incentive NOT to do what you are claiming they do.

          Not for altruistic or idealistic reasons. Merely to keep the profits for themselves. Which, at least in my book, makes it relatively simple to gauge what to expect from them.

    2. MyffyW Silver badge

      Re: 4.

      Given how easy it is to get an article on there, and approved, if you have any history of contributing I'm surprised the cash-for-publication lark hasn't taken off more.

      I consider Wikipedia a flawed totem of our age - a bit like Pot Noodles, Smartphones and On-demand telly.

    3. John Lilburne Silver badge

      Re: 4.

      It makes money by not having to invest in search. Actually it seems to have abandoned indexing the web about 10 year ago. Now it just scrapes wikipedia, which won't be the worst pile of shite out there, and will satisfy the vaguely curious.

      OW if Google and the other search engines throw a few wikipedia pages up for any given search, plus links to sites they know you like, you won't notice that the information being provided is pretty low quality.

    4. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: 4.

      I go strait there

      No need to be so narrow-minded, even when dealing with this particular Scylla and Charybdis.

  2. Stuart 22

    There was always a near monopoly on encyclopedic knowledge

    My school had a set of Britannica, my library had a set. It was the mark of becoming middle class to have a set (unread so it looked nicer) on display.

    True there were cheaper versions but they didn't have the authority or the kudos. Britannica ruled the waves.

    And it was bl**dy expensive, quickly out of date if you wanted any scientific information and, of course, a movie free zone. Wikipedia is far from perfect but is still a brilliant example of how the internet is better and providing timely, wide ranging and free information with no noticeable drop in quality.

    1. SundogUK

      Re: There was always a near monopoly on encyclopedic knowledge

      "...no noticeable drop in quality." What are you smoking?

      1. breakfast

        Re: There was always a near monopoly on encyclopedic knowledge

        This makes perfect sense with the rest of the comment - nobody actually read the Britannica, so nobody actually knows whether Wikipedia is a drop in quality. It's certainly cheaper though, which is the important thing where the knowledge of the world is concerned, right?

      2. Hans 1 Silver badge
        Windows

        Re: There was always a near monopoly on encyclopedic knowledge

        >"...no noticeable drop in quality." What are you smoking?

        http://www.forbes.com/sites/hbsworkingknowledge/2015/01/20/wikipedia-or-encyclopaedia-britannica-which-has-more-bias/

        Now, what are YOU, as well as your 34 upvoters, smoking???

      3. Lynrd

        Re: There was always a near monopoly on encyclopedic knowledge

        He said his Brittanica was unread so it looked nicer, didn't he?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: There was always a near monopoly on encyclopedic knowledge

      I'm sorry wikipedia is more akin to the "reader's digest" encyclopedia set.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: There was always a near monopoly on encyclopedic knowledge

        > I'm sorry wikipedia is more akin to the "reader's digest" encyclopedia set.

        Or "Disney's Wonderful World of Knowledge".

      2. linicks

        Re: There was always a near monopoly on encyclopedic knowledge

        "I'm sorry wikipedia is more akin to the "reader's digest" encyclopedia set."

        Ah, come on - at least the Readers digest has good jokes on dedicated pages (only ever read them in the barbers) - not just one big joke like wackipedia is.

      3. JLV Silver badge

        >"reader's digest"

        Yeah, I call BS.

        Sure, there are shortcomings to Wikipedia. But it is unusual for me to read an article about a subject I feel knowledgeable about and catch them out in some unambiguous factual error or omission. It happens, but not that often. I am not sure Britannica would have done that much better in its heydey.

        Not saying it is the best thing ever, not saying there aren't any problems. Ideological battlefield articles. People gaming/pranking it. An unfortunate tendency for some people who should be expert in a field to refer to Wikipedia as an authoritative source.

        Certainly not unaware that the Reg has a history of getting snarky about them or Jimbo. And there is nothing wrong with knocking over some clay-hoofed sacred cows.

        But straight out "Reader's Digest" in general? Methink you are jumping on bandwagon & puffing your own supposed wisdom up. But enlighten us by all means with some examples.

        1. John Lilburne Silver badge

          Re: >"reader's digest"

          a subject I feel knowledgeable about and catch them out in some unambiguous factual error or omission.

          Oh I've seen photographs or organisms which are of the wrong species. Links from articles on 15th century subjects go to people living in the 18th century. Dates of European monarchs wrong. A described as a contemporary of B when A had died 100 years before B was born. Etc, etc. There is hardly any article that I care about there where I could be confident that the information was correct.

    3. tony72

      Re: There was always a near monopoly on encyclopedic knowledge

      Wikipedia is far from perfect but is still a brilliant example of how the internet is better and providing timely, wide ranging and free information with no noticeable drop in quality.

      [citation needed]

      1. Stuart 22

        Re: There was always a near monopoly on encyclopedic knowledge

        "Wikipedia is far from perfect but is still a brilliant example of how the internet is better and providing timely, wide ranging and free information with no noticeable drop in quality. [citation needed]"

        http://www.cnet.com/uk/news/study-wikipedia-as-accurate-as-britannica/

        1. Kristian Walsh Silver badge

          Re: There was always a near monopoly on encyclopedic knowledge

          "As accurate" is an interesting way to describe findings for a study that found that while Brittannica and Wikipedia were equal on the (low) rate of major misunderstandings of the topic found, Wikipedia had significantly more factual errors per article, or to quote it:

          averages out to 2.92 mistakes per article for Britannica and 3.86 for Wikipedia

          So, "30% more errors" is the same thing as "as accurate". I'll remember that if I ever need a blood-test.

          Thing is, Wikipedia's problem isn't in facts, it's how it weights those facts. Too many articles fail to show what's important about their subject, and what's just inane trivia (or vanity-linking to some postgrad's supervising professor's paper on the subject).

          This lack of editorship pervades Wikipedia, and it's causing a slow decline in the usefulness of the site as more and more crap accretes to the articles with every passing year.

          1. JN

            Re: There was always a near monopoly on encyclopedic knowledge

            As I recall, the Nature piece also found that the writing on Wikipedia was poor, lacked structure and veered off into inappropriate tangents. However, as the final and widely publicised count was only about actual inaccuracies they found, that aspect didn't make it into the final assessment, which would have rated an article with all the right facts in the wrong order the same as an article with the right facts in the right order.

            Another thing that c|net didn't report was that Nature only looked at science articles -- topics like "Meliaceae", which don't tend to get a lot of drive-by edits on Wikipedia. They did not look at sociology, literature, art, fashion, politics, history, current affairs etc.

          2. JLV Silver badge

            @ Kristian Walsh Re: There was always a near monopoly on encyclopedic knowledge

            Ok, but if your chosen metric is error rate per article, then you also need to consider length of said articles.

            Not equating quantity with quality per se, but you would be more likely to encounter errors in a 2-3 page article about a subject than a 2-3 paragraph entry about the same. Unless you are padding, you are just communicating more info, some of which risks being incorrect.

            On the other hand, if all you are providing is a rather short entry (which is the way I remember seeing most encyclopedia coverage), then you will generally have to stick to shorter, more generally verifiable information and you would be more likely to not get it wrong.

            Taking as an example, your typical historical battle entry*. Wikipedia typically provides date, location, commanding officers, number of participating troops, number of casualties, etc. Then it goes onto into details about what happened, often on at least a page or so in the case of significant battles.

            I doubt most Britannica entries would have addressed much more than the date, location and participating armies and generals. Along with a likely much shorter description of the events. Much less to get wrong.

            Not defending Wikipedia overmuch, but that 30% overshoot benefits from being put into context as well. I recall seeing other studies stating that Wikipedia and Brittanica were about as (un)reliable each. They're both a quick way to get some hopefully not too inaccurate information about a subject, not fully reliable or authoritative sources.

            *

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Cannae

            http://www.britannica.com/event/Battle-of-Cannae (which would probably be shorter in dead tree format)

          3. John Lilburne Silver badge

            Re: There was always a near monopoly on encyclopedic knowledge

            So, "30% more errors" is the same thing as "as accurate".

            Even better, many of the articles were those that WP had originally cribbed from the 1911 version of EB. In effect the report said that the modern version of EB had less errors than it had 100 years previously, and WP hadn't been arsed to fix them.

      2. Grikath Silver badge

        Re: There was always a near monopoly on encyclopedic knowledge

        "Wikipedia is far from perfect but is still a brilliant example of how the internet is better and providing timely, wide ranging and free information with no noticeable drop in quality."

        As always there's the question of your definition of quality...

        As Wikipedia is now, it is completely incomparable to an old-style encyclopedia to begin with. The dead-tree varieties were all heavily constricted by available real estate, which web pages, by their nature are not. Where an old encyclopedia could just about manage to give the highlights on a subject, and some sources for more specialised reading, an average wikipedia page displays the gist of a subject plus the remainder of "established" available literature on the subject. .

        So if you must compare accuracy, you will have to take the factual accuracy of the rest of the "authoritative" publications that were part of the condensed encyclopedia entry into account as well, given that those are an integral part of the bulk of the wikipedia entries. If you don't you're effectively comparing apples and oranges. Not a Good Thing...

        Even then you're not even considering the update cycle.. Classic dead-tree ( if you could afford it) published 3-4 Addenda a year, a new Edition every other year, at best... Wikipedia's cycle, for good or for bad, is slightly longer than the actual speed of Editing. Somewhere between two minutes and a day for most articles..

    4. Youngone Silver badge

      Re: There was always a near monopoly on encyclopedic knowledge

      The debate about the quality of information on Wikipedia started once Britannia became irrelevant.

      My Grandfather had the 1911 edition and it was packed full of jingoistic British Imperial rubbish.

      We always laughed at the description of Maori people as primitive savages, but mighty warriors (paraphrasing here). My brother-in-law, a Maori person thought it was hugely funny.

      Wikipedia might have it's problems, but it's still a useful tool.

    5. John Lilburne Silver badge

      Re: There was always a near monopoly on encyclopedic knowledge

      "And it was bl**dy expensive, quickly out of date if you wanted any scientific information"

      Probably not as it had a yearly update. Very little changes in science year on year, and wikipedia is in no position to make any significant update if things do change. For example each wikipedia 'fact' has to be referenced and new 'facts' that contradict old facts are almost invariable reverted. There are very few scientist editing the articles capable of appraising new facts. OTOH Britannica having practicing science editors can make the appropriate changes far quicker once the new is established.

      1. TheOtherHobbes

        Re: There was always a near monopoly on encyclopedic knowledge

        >Very little changes in science year on year,

        That's nonsense. There are websites devoted to science news, and they're updated many times a day. Never mind Arxiv etc.

        Wikipedia does a very good job of keeping up.

        Example:

        Quantum Gravity

        You would never see that much detail, or that many links to related topics, in Britannica.

        Obviously no one is getting a PhD-level understanding from an introductory summary. But Britannica never offered that, and it was also reliably a few years behind the latest news.

        What Wikipedia hasn't become - and it still could - is the world's best and biggest textbook of everything. The articles are around the Britannica level, which is aiming too low.

        A site, possibly a Wiki site, that summarised everything from primary school maths to PhD physics, stage by stage in full textbook detail, progressively - and likewise for every other topic - would be an amazing planetary resource.

        1. John Lilburne Silver badge

          Re: There was always a near monopoly on encyclopedic knowledge

          Example:

          Quantum Gravity

          You would never see that much detail, or that many links to related topics, in Britannica.

          This article may contain improper references to self-published sources. Please help improve it by removing references to unreliable sources, where they are used inappropriately.

          The issue is that WP gets pushed about by every crank with a internet connection and a keyboard. Gets swamped over by under-grads posting up their lecture notes, post-grads adding in their research, and the result is that the article is a hodge-podge of kookery, undergrad wankery, and the esoteric.

    6. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: There was always a near monopoly on encyclopedic knowledge

      True there were cheaper versions but they didn't have the authority or the kudos. Britannica ruled the waves.

      Rubbish. For actual research, people who had any idea what they were doing went to the research section of a library, preferably a research library. There was no "near monopoly on encyclopedic knowledge" except for the lazy.

  3. Turtle

    Thanks for this article.

    Thanks for this article - the slime under the rock of Wikipedia's public image needs to be exposed. It's a source of some consternation to me that there are regular readers of this site for whom the contents of the article will be news.

    And of course some of those readers will refuse to take off their blinders.

    1. xj650t
      Holmes

      Re: Thanks for this article.

      For me it's more a case of there are regular readers of this site for whom the contents of Wikipedia articles will be deemed to be the truth.

    2. Credas Silver badge

      Re: Thanks for this article.

      Whatever good points this article makes are drowned in a flood of innuendo, unsubstantiated allegations and strawman arguments. IMO it reads more like a hatchet job than "news". A wasted opportunity to examine the faults (and benefits) of Wikipedia.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Thanks for this article.

      >And of course some of those readers will refuse to take off their blinders

      Mmmm, now the problem with that is that it generally means take off your blinders and put on some which point towards my way of thinking.

      1. chivo243 Silver badge

        Re: Thanks for this article.

        Off come the blinders, on go the rose colored glasses?

    4. Just Enough

      Re: Thanks for this article.

      This article would be better called: Dismantling 8 Wikipedia Strawmen. Half of the claims countered have never been made by anyone involved, the others are a mixture of opinion and the bleeding obvious.

      Wikipedia is not immune to the problems of the world. So, of course, the Wikipedias compiled from countries that are "democratically challenged" are not going to be perfect visions of neutrality.

      And duh, if you want to look at it that way, Google and Bing do make money off indexing Wikipedia. That's what they do, for the entire internet. That's how they make their money.

      1. John Lilburne Silver badge

        Re: Thanks for this article.

        Wikipedia has a million and one excuses as to why it is shite, and about 1001 people to deliver them.

  4. JimmyPage Silver badge

    "I can't afford to discard tools ..."

    "... because I don't like their design"

    Don't like Wikipedia ? Then you do better ...

  5. Yugguy

    Er, I like Wikipedia

    I am WELL aware that is not an authoritative source.

    But when I'm watching some shitty Asylum film and I'm wondering what other shitty Asylum film that shitty actor has been in, Wiki is my goto site.

    Or yesterday, the commentator on the OSullivan/Hawkins match got very excited about someone in the audience that I'd never heard of. A few seconds on Wiki filled me in.

    1. NotBob

      Re: Er, I like Wikipedia

      You could always watch something less shitty...

      IMDB should have the info you seek about actors, regardless of quality. As for the rest, the info is out there (more reliably), you might just have to work for it.

      1. Necronomnomnomicon

        Re: Er, I like Wikipedia

        Why the flip would you want to work for trivial information that's only really of interest right there and now?

        People aren't going to consider a five-star burger joint 45 miles away when they're standing outside McDonalds and hungry right now.

        1. The First Dave

          Re: Er, I like Wikipedia

          Some will, and everyone _should_ - shirley that is the whole point of this article?

        2. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge
          Coat

          Re: Er, I like Wikipedia

          People aren't going to consider a five-star burger joint 45 miles away when they're standing outside McDonalds and hungry right now.

          [citation required]

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Er, I like Wikipedia

            >[citation required]

            Necronomnomnomicon, it was him, he said it.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Er, I like Wikipedia

          I would do just that. I had a Big Mac once. The box it came in probably tasted better. Vowed never to set foot inside one again. I'd rather than go hungry than eat anything from that place.

          If you do like thei offering then great. Good for you.

          1. Evil Auditor Silver badge

            Re: Er, I like Wikipedia

            I fully agree that Big Macs taste shitty. But why would you step inside one? And how small are your feet?!

            1. ratfox Silver badge

              Re: Er, I like Wikipedia

              For most movies or actors, I find the Wikipedia article as informative and vastly better presented than IMDB. Though if I'm looking for trivia, goofs or quotes, only IMDB will have it…

            2. Fibbles

              Re: Er, I like Wikipedia

              There's some sort of Zoolander joke in there somewhere...

      2. Yugguy

        Re: Er, I like Wikipedia

        a) IMDB is chock full of ads.

        b) I don't want the bloke's life history, just his name. I am satisfying idle curiosity only.

        Wike gets me it in a few seconds.

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