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 …

  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. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      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.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Er, I like Wikipedia

        As for the rest, the info is out there (more reliably), you might just have to work for it.

        .. which brings us back to that other problem, Google. The company that generously offers to exclude you from tracking as long as you install something else from them - yeah, right. What's wrong with the f*cking "Do not track:" flag which is now available in every browser?

        Anyway, Wikipedia. It does have some good info in, although I must admit I mainly use it for pointers to the real data as that tends to be quicker than wading through a list of DuckDuckGo hits (not Google, see above).

      4. Mark Simon

        Re: Er, I like Wikipedia

        “IMDB should have the info you seek about actors” …

        … except that it probably doesn’t. Many of its articles are brief or incomplete and much of the data is user-contributed, just like, hmm, Wikipedia

        1. tiggity Silver badge

          Re: Er, I like Wikipedia

          Mark Simon said:

          "… except that it probably doesn’t. Many of its articles are brief or incomplete and much of the data is user-contributed, just like, hmm, Wikipedia"

          I do know that at least some imdb data was (maybe still is) auto scraped and added from authorative sources

          Friends of mine had extras roles in BBC TV series, (non speaking obv) but quite significant in screen time and that episode plot line, they actually ended up on the credits, data was scraped from BBC TV details online (not sure if still the case but BBC did use a lot of semantic markup to describe TV details which were ideal for auto scraping) and added to IMDB & the friends were chuffed to find they were officially actors in the eyes of IMDB

    2. An(other) Droid
      Holmes

      Re: Er, I like Wikipedia

      > Among Wikipedia's most viewed articles of 2015, movies led any other category by large margins.

      As in your case. :)

    3. martinusher Silver badge

      Re: Er, I like Wikipedia

      The information's quite good if you steer clear of controversial (or commercial) topics.

      I don't contribute to it but I am a sort-of expert in a handful of fields so I can cross check entries against real life. I've always found those entries to be up to date and accurate I figure its a good bet that the rest of the non-controversial / non-commercial stuff is pretty good.

  6. CAPS LOCK Silver badge

    It may not be perfect but it is stll a great resource.

    I want it to improve so I can go on using it, but I won't stop using it because it isn't perfect...

    1. akeane

      Re: It may not be perfect but it is stll a great resource.

      I don't bother with it; I already know (and am right about) everything

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: It may not be perfect but it is stll a great resource.

        "I already know (and am right about) everything"

        jake, is that you?

        1. Evil Auditor Silver badge

          Re: It may not be perfect but it is stll a great resource.

          jake, is that you?

          No, must be the missus. Didn't know though that she's busy on El Reg.

  7. buggane
    Happy

    Nah

    I still using Encarta off CD. Probably.

    1. Pompous Git Silver badge

      Re: Nah

      I still using Encarta off CD. Probably.

      The one where the Austrians and the English fought against the Turks at Gallipoli? I've got that one, too :-)

      1. Solmyr ibn Wali Barad

        Re: Nah

        Well, compared to the Great Soviet Encyclopedia...not bad.

      2. Fred Dibnah

        Re: Nah

        "The one where the Austrians and the English fought against the Turks at Gallipoli? I've got that one, too :-)"

        An easy mistake to make:

        Dumb and Dumber

  8. DropBear Silver badge
    Facepalm

    "Moreover, Wikipedia's coverage of topics that would actually be useful to those lacking access to good education is often inadequate."

    Really dunno about that... Surely there are scientific articles with less than ideal clarity or content, but the Ars article's main bugbear of complicated things like quantum mechanics not being explained in kidergarten-compatible language just sounds ridiculous - yes, guess what, science is hard, and whether or not an intelligible summary can be prepended, you simply can't sum up the entire symbolism, conventions and tools (including all the underlying knowledge) of a field in a single page about a specific subject.

    Yes, to treat that subject meaningfully even on an introductory level you WILL have to read up on all the underlying notions, and the ones supporting those (and the ones supporting those) if you are not well versed in that field. Yes, there will be scary-looking formulae. What else were they expecting - "science light" for dummies in ten simple sentences, buzzfeed-style?!? "Up goer five" or something...? Wikipedia in NOT a free ticket to knowledge - you still have to do all the legwork yourself if you want to understand complicated concepts, there are no shortcuts...

    1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

      "...but the Ars article's main bugbear of complicated things like quantum mechanics not being explained in kidergarten-compatible language just sounds ridiculous..."

      Being old enough to have sat in a library using Britannica, I can confirm its articles were every bit as confusing erudite as Wikipedia's.

    2. Mage Silver badge

      Useful science

      How-to, recepies, own research, total detail etc are all banned from Wikipedia. It's only supposed to be at quiz table / coffee table level of info.

      A copy would be nearly useless for the information to rebuild civilisation or how to make ANYTHING.

      Some maths and science is OK. It's certainly not worthless.

    3. RandomFactor
      Childcatcher

      "Moreover, Wikipedia's coverage of topics that would actually be useful to those lacking access to good education is often inadequate."

      Wikipedia is an online open encyclopedia. If something needs expanding, go expand it (bringing up issues in the submission process would have been more valuable...and valid...)

      If you want online education there are countless sites actually intended for that purpose.

      In my case https://www.khanacademy.org/ does a great job with common school subjects and I've sat down with the kids and used it a number of times when they were digging into subjects i have long since forgotten.

    4. Pompous Git Silver badge
      Pint

      @ DropBear

      Well said that man! Have an upvote...

    5. Steven Roper

      @DropBear

      In essence I agree that science is hard work and that to truly understand a scientific topic you need to be able to get your head around the maths and underlying topics.

      But the counterpoint is that enforcing such an in-depth approach to science excludes the vast majority of people, who don't have the time or intellectual wherewithal to pursue a scientific subject in such depth. And it is important that such people be given at least a basic understanding of the topic because, if you want funding and grants for your scientific research, you have to convince the taxpayers (that's Joe and Jane Average) that it's worth the expenditure. You do that by engaging their interest in science so that it fires their imaginations and captures their interest in a way they can understand without recourse to calculus and postgrad-level study.

      One of the things I am often complimented on by family, friends and colleagues, is my ability to explain complex scientific concepts in simple, easy-to-understand language - primarily by drawing analogies. For instance, telling my petrolhead mates that the gravitational acceleration of the Earth is equivalent to a car doing 0-100 kph in 2.8 seconds, or that if you could drive a car in space at 100 kph it would take you 6 months to reach the Moon and 126 years to reach the Sun. It generates conversation on the subject and gets people interested who normally aren't bothered with that sort of thing.

      And that interest translates into popular support when science needs more money for a new space probe or a bigger telescope.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I like a good moan as much as the next person, but this article comes across as one long needy whine about a successful website. Wikipedia should have a light shone on it just as much as any other media organization, but it seems to attract disproportionate criticism too.

    1. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

      It attracts this criticism precisely because it tries to gloss over it.

      If the BBC (for example) awarded a prize to someone that had converted their Kazakh language site to an organ of state propaganda, there would have been outrage both internally and externally. It wouldn't have been swept under the rug. Wikipedia and Wikileaks - both have lofty goals, but very dubious management.

      1. Fibbles
        Trollface

        If the BBC (for example) awarded a prize to someone that had converted their Kazakh language site to an organ of state propaganda, there would have been outrage both internally and externally.

        Surely the BBC (in any language,) is already an organ of state propaganda.

        1. Michael M

          How amused will the Daily Mail readers will be to find out that nugget.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        First look at the BBC coverage of the Scottish independence campaign - it was a propaganda tool of the Tories and other scum who wanted Scotland to remain enslaved.

        Then look at their coverage of things abroad - it is as though the perfidious Mr Cameron had his hand shoved up their arses and using them as sock puppets.

        And don't bother looking for any criticism of the royal parasites.

        1. Fibbles

          Check the figures for number of MPs for Scotland and percentage of the UK population. Scotland is actually over represented in this democracy. They're in a privileged position as far away from enslavement as it gets.

        2. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

          First look at the BBC coverage of the Scottish independence campaign - it was a propaganda tool of the Tories and other scum who wanted Scotland to remain enslaved.

          Call me crazy, but I have this feeling you'd struggle to recognise a neutral position on this topic.

      3. KeithR

        "It attracts this criticism precisely because it tries to gloss over it."

        No, it REALLY doesn't. Wikipedia is unambiguously, openly aware of its weaknesses as well as its strengths.

  10. Amorous Cowherder

    I find none of these facts to be any great surprise. It's technically a charity/business/trust so it's fairly obvious that like any organisation there's going to be certain ideologies that they lean towards, certain practices are going to be less than squeaky clean. All CEO's claim to be spotless, PR is their job, so again no surprise to find fighting amongst the top bods in an organisation. I would expect them to have running costs and therefore reasonable liquid cash assets, servers and people's time is not free. For example, they also run competitions in the various areas they require quality material, they offer cash prizes which has to come from somewhere, I won one of their photo competitions a few years back and the prize was a very nice sum of money that allowed me to buy some new camera kit.

    1. JN

      Shouldn't a project like Wikipedia be held to higher standards than that? Its whole identity is about being a non-profit serving the public interest, being transparent and so forth.

      Those are all good goals on paper, but if they don't live up to them, they should be clobbered until they do.

      Wikipedia is a public resource. If you don't expect and demand better, you won't get anything better.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Based in reality

    Most every criticism I've heard of Wikipedia is based in reality.

    Some criticisms need to be rounded out with a healthy dose of caveats but there are underlying truths.

    Wikipedia editors can be awkward, close-minded or just downright combative - and not helped by dealing with each other through the medium of a back and forth of comments on a webpage. But then I've seen that in other places (not a million miles from here).

    There is too much coverage of the frankly trivial - and the best you can hope is that when an editor contributes more of the same, they take the advice "The Transformers/My Little Pony/etc wikia is thataway" and depart with the vital statistics of their favourite furry.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Based in reality

      "Most every criticism I've heard of Wikipedia is based in reality."

      * Almost

    2. KeithR

      Re: Based in reality

      "Wikipedia editors can be awkward, close-minded or just downright combative"

      Or HUMAN BEINGS, as they're often called, with all their faults and foibles.

      Do you REALLY expect anything different?

    3. Robert Baker
      FAIL

      Re: Based in reality

      Don't speak to me of Wikia — it's at least as bad, after all it too was founded by Jimmy Wales.[cetacean needed]

      Most of the articles on the Beatles Wikia are of two types — those copied from Wikipedia, and those stolen from Wikipedia. Not helped by the fact that there are sometimes idiots who remove the {{Wikipedia}} tags from articles, thereby converting them from "copied" to "stolen".

      Anyone wanting Fab Four information is best advised to head straight for Wikipedia, and cut out the middle man.

  12. Terry 6 Silver badge

    Horses for courses

    As already alluded to. It's a good source for a quick look-up for factual information that is neither opinion based or controversial. Names of celebs being only an example, it could equally be finding a bit more about a plant or animal mentioned in the media. Or the basic geographic facts about a country.

    In my case I use it to refresh my memory about who wrote a piece of research, (terrible memory for names) or find out what else they've done. And if I'm quoting someone in a discussion I can find an explanation or reference to their most relevant/accessible publication, to give to people who don't know of that work or who, like me, don't have access to the original publications ( any more).

    Example; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Smith_%28psycholinguist%29

    1. BongoJoe

      Re: Horses for courses

      I am not sure. You try and find some information on, say, a war that America was involved in and you just end up reading something passed through a reality bending field.

      I am surprised that I haven't read how the US won the English Civil War yet.

    2. Pookietoo

      Re: information that is neither opinion based or controversial

      Where do you go to check that something on Wikipedia is neither opinion based nor controversial?

      1. Pompous Git Silver badge

        Re: information that is neither opinion based or controversial

        Where do you go to check that something on Wikipedia is neither opinion based nor controversial?

        Go to your nearest reference library. Talk to the librarians; they are specialists in sourcing information. Sadly, here in Tasmania our librarians are slowly being replaced by "library technicians" who often can't tell you whether it's raining or Tuesday.

  13. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

    It's about as reliable as a newspaper

    (I mean a newspaper, not a UK tabloid).

    The proprietor is about as reliable as the proprietor of a newspaper, too.

    If you assume that, you won't be disappointed.

    1. Pompous Git Silver badge

      Re: It's about as reliable as a newspaper

      Where on earth would I find a reliable newspaper? Which non-English language is it written in?

      1. Solmyr ibn Wali Barad

        Re: It's about as reliable as a newspaper

        In 90's, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung was quite solid. Before several attempts at modernization.

        https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frankfurter_Allgemeine_Zeitung

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Its founder seems like a thoroughly unpleasant and attention seeking moron

    but lots of successful things are created by those people. It's an inconvenient truth that nice and reasonable people are often too nice and reasonable to make the sharp choices needed to propel things forward.

    I share what feels like the majority consensus here that it's good to know a bit of background to Wikipedia and not take their calls for cash seriously, but that it's also a handy thing to have around.

    It's a rare day when I don't find myself on it to check one piece of trivia or other and it's just plain useful to satisfy my vague need to look things up which aren't important enough to rigorously fact check.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Its founder seems like a thoroughly unpleasant and attention seeking moron

      >Its founder seems like a thoroughly unpleasant and attention seeking moron

      Unlike - say Apple, Google (partially anyway), MS, Twitter, Virgin, Facebook etc etc.

      'Are You?' would seem to be Question 1 on the CEO application form these days.

    2. Pompous Git Silver badge

      Re: Its founder seems like a thoroughly unpleasant and attention seeking moron

      It's a rare day when I don't find myself on it to check one piece of trivia or other and it's just plain useful to satisfy my vague need to look things up which aren't important enough to rigorously fact check.

      To give the Wiki-bloody-pedia its due, it's slightly more useful than that. When you get to a certain age, it makes a useful reminder for recalling stuff you knew well once upon a Disney, long, long ago. And if you feel the information is suspect, the references at the bottom make a useful start to further fact-checking.

      1. Gregory Kohs

        Re: Its founder seems like a thoroughly unpleasant and attention seeking moron

        "the references at the bottom make a useful start to further fact-checking"

        Like on the article about Frenum piercing?

        1. Fink-Nottle
          Meh

          Re: Its founder seems like a thoroughly unpleasant and attention seeking moron

          > Like on the article about Frenum piercing?

          I can't believe you have the balls to make a comment like that here.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Neckbeards

    Wikipedia - The free encyclopedic fiefdom any neckbeard can edit.

  16. John Haskins

    Why does TheReg get sooooo uptight about Wikipedia?

    Can't you just appreciate the work put in by all the volunteers?

    1. Pompous Git Silver badge

      Can't you just appreciate the work put in by all the volunteers?

      Appreciation might be more forthcoming if the corrections one made remained instead of the article being reverted to its earlier state. The rules of grammar for instance are fairly clear-cut.

      1. linicks

        Dead right - I have tried to 'correct' a few things in my years, only to see it reverted almost immediately, I don't bother no more, and try to avoid wikipedia as much a possible due the inaccuracies it spills out.

        I wonder how many school tests and stuff use it to produce questions. In 25 years or so, all facts will be total bullshit but true!

        1. VinceH Silver badge

          "In 25 years or so, all facts will be total bullshit but true!"

          And all thanks to the magic of citogenisis!

    2. Adam 52 Silver badge

      The Reg tends to get up tight about Wikimedia Foundation not Wikipedia, mostly because it takes advantage of the volunteers by encouraging mistakes like the one you made.

      Academics get upset about Wikipedia.

  17. Bbbbit
    Devil

    I knew he was a mountebank...

    Never trust anyone who defiles "Desert Island Discs" with the track "Let it Go" from Frozen. Send him to The Hague.

  18. captain veg

    Andreas Kolbe

    That's an odd way of spelling "Andrew Orlowski".

    -A.

  19. linicks
    Thumb Up

    uncyclopedia

    The proper write-up of wikipedia:

    http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/Wikipedia

    Just reading that, I really LOL:

    "“Isn't it annoying how Wikipedia always copies your homework?”

    ~ A School kid on Wikipedia "

  20. Gregory Kohs

    The money

    Here's another way of looking at the financial excess at Wikipedia... In 2008, the Wikimedia Foundation's entire operating expenses were $3.5 million. That's for salaries, Internet hosting, servers, operational costs, travel, depreciation, etc. -- everything. In 2008, all Wikimedia sites served up about 8 billion page views, so that is $437 per million page views. In 2015, all Wikimedia sites served up about 19 billion page views, so if the WMF weren't growing itself at a bloated rate, we should expect a total budget of about $8.3 million. Instead, we see a 2015 budget of $58.7 million, or $3,089 per million page views. Internet hosting has actually gotten much cheaper per million page views, since 2008 -- so it only further goes to show that the Wikimedia Foundation has been spending a ton of money on things other than "keeping the encyclopedias ad-free and up & running", even though these items are core to the fundraising message each year, because that's what gullible donors seem to respond best to, through A/B testing.

    Wikipedia thrives on gullibility.

  21. James O'Shea Silver badge

    Wiki-wackiness

    One of the... interesting... things I've noticed about Wikipedia is how different many of the articles are when referenced in another language. For example, have a look at the Wiki entry for Burmese Python in English. Then look for it in German. Hmmm. A careful reading (though I'll admit that my German is no longer as good as it once was) seems to show that the German version is not merely considerably longer (and illustrated with more and better pix) than the English version, but that some of the alleged facts in the German version differ remarkably from some of the alleged facts in English. As I don't see why either English or German speakers should really care that much about that snake (unless they're residents of Florida, concerned about the local 'gator and small mammal, including household pet, population) one does wonder exactly how much articles about something that one or the other group might actually care about might differ. Hmm. I think that I'll go and look up Operation Chastise. And Operation Gomorrah. And Operation Chariot. I'm fairly sure that there will be, um, differing opinions on them, and the articles should be quite interesting.

  22. Jim Birch

    Wikipedia = FAIL ? Hello in there...

    There's something I don't get about this narcissistic article: Which organisations of comparable size and influence is the writer suggesting Wikipedia should emulate?

    Reality check. Wikipedia, like any organisation run by great apes suffers from the imperfections of the species. Of course, all those sweetness-and-light organisations designed and run by totally selfless angels in magical realms don't appear to have these problems and if we could just get them run Wikipedia that would be out of this world.

    Back here on earth, an organisation can be judged by its capacity to generate value, to run openly and fairly, and to curtail tendency of the humans who run it to lapse into power trips, rent seeking, internecine warfare, abuse of clients, and so on. From a biological perspective, this is the usefulness (aka "purpose") of institutions: to get a bunch of squabbling, self-interested apes to work together and do things that the individuals can't. My judgement is that Wikipedia has done really well. It is used globally - everywhere it is not blocked by governments - and reaches high standards of accuracy and usability in comparison to, say, the rest of the Net.

    They might not have fulfilled everyone's aesthetic aspirations in the process, or, to put it differently, it is always possible to bitch about anything.

    1. Gregory Kohs

      Re: Wikipedia = FAIL ? Hello in there...

      What you're doing here is what so many people mistakenly do -- confuse "Wikipedia" for the "Wikimedia Foundation". Wikipedia is successful, amazing, etc. It was back in 2012, and it was back in 2006. Wikipedia succeeds in spite of the Wikimedia Foundation.

      The problem with the *organization* -- the Wikimedia Foundation -- is that it has conned people into thinking that it is necessary for the continuation of Wikipedia.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If you like your information fluffy

    Wikipedia is for you.

    Otherwise, research far and wide.

  24. druck Silver badge
    FAIL

    Wipkipedia Media Circle Jerk

    The worse thing about Wikipedia isn't the poor quality, but the circular references used to give itself credibility. A lazy reporter uses an inaccurate fact they found on Wikipedia without cross checking, and this gets in a published article, Wikipedia then references this article to validate the 'fact', forming a Wikipedia Media circle jerk.

  25. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

    Donation..

    I donated to Wikipedia ONCE.

    If they have squandered the massive total donated funds from that drive, it's their problem.

    I'm not paying a penny more to a swelling organisation. Lean it down if you are short of funds.

    Oh, and get Jimmys begging puppy eyes off my screen please.

    1. Steven Roper

      Re: Donation..

      Have an upvote for the puppy-eyes comment. That shit drives me nuts too.

      I've never donated to Wikipedia. I will, though, the same day I see that Jim Wales has sold his fucking yacht in order to help fund it.

  26. FlamingDeath Bronze badge
    Gimp

    To be fair

    I think the sentiment of what Wikipedia is about, it's heart is in the right place, I mean, what is the internet for if not something like Wikipedia?

    The thing to blame here, is shitty people

  27. FlamingDeath Bronze badge
    Holmes

    Myth busting a Mythbuster.

    Wait a moment, the title below talks about how wikipedia provides free education to the underprivileged, and yet you proceed to use something totally irrelevant to disprove the statement, "what is popular on wikipedia". How can you possibly marry them up like this? Don't ever be a statistician, you will fail. The bit where you say "Moreover, Wikipedia's coverage of topics that would actually be useful to those lacking access to good education is often inadequate.", and you offer no evidence to back up that statement. I can point you to a plethora of "useful educational material" on wikipedia, what are you talking about?

    "5. But Wikipedia is all about providing free education to the underprivileged, isn't it?

    Not exactly. Among Wikipedia's most viewed articles of 2015, movies led any other category by large margins. Most of the Wikimedia Foundation's bandwidth costs are expended so that privileged First World netizens can look up things like who played Chewbacca in Star Wars. Moreover, Wikipedia's coverage of topics that would actually be useful to those lacking access to good education is often inadequate."

    1. JN
      Facepalm

      Re: Myth busting a Mythbuster.

      You know how to click links, right?

  28. Robert Baker
    Pint

    Just regard Wikipedia as the world's largest trivia site, and you won't go far wrong.[citation needed]

  29. OldSoCalCoder

    Why the hate?

    Why are so many people out there so adamantly against Wikipedia? You say the articles are incorrect. Which ones? There are 5 million articles out there (I looked it up - guess where.). Are they all incorrect, flawed? You say 'go to the source'. Ok, I want to know when Intel started with 64 bit processors. Type in intel 64 bit processor for google search. First on list is wiki's article, which gives a great chronology of chips. Is this incorrect? Is this not answering my question in a succinct manner? If I click on the first intel link I go to (not surprisingly) intel's splashy front page touting their greatest, latest products. Not what I want. How many pages do I have to go through to get an answer to my simple question? Yes, somewhere buried in the bowels of the intel site is exactly what I want, but how long will it take to find?

    Show me the molecular structure of caffeine. Is this incorrect? What are related stimulants? Methylxanthines. Is this wrong? Gee, I wonder what else is related to this. One click. Do I want to see references? Sure. One click. Could I get this through PubMed? Sure, along with miles of other info that I could spend hours going through.

    As asked before, just what are you using wikipedia for? I use it for simple questions with simple answers, mostly just because I'm curious.

    1. Gregory Kohs

      Re: Why the hate?

      I think you might benefit from reading this:

      http://wikipediocracy.com/2015/04/13/experiment-concludes-most-misinformation-inserted-into-wikipedia-may-persist/

      If Wikipedia's article about Inflammation told you that pain from inflammation is caused in part by rhyolite (which is a volcanic rock), it sounds like you would have went about your merry way, believing that. That piece of misinformation stood in place for about 7 weeks (and may have gone longer, had I not ended the experiment) and the page viewed over 100,000 times.

      If you're "curious", fine. If you're interested in facts, then maybe find a more reputable source.

      1. kwhitefoot

        Re: Why the hate?

        A quick scan of the linked article suggests to me that the incorrect information was itself and was inserted in articles that were of little consequence, who cares if the Buddha turned someone into a goldfish or whether or not a legend exists saying he did.

        This seems to be the core quote:

        ---

        Had I not attempted to unravel my deliberate mistakes, I am quite sure that Wikipedia would still say that the Sagami Railway in Japan was initially set up in 1917 to transport corn and fresh spicy shrimp (can you imagine the odor?) along the Sagami River valley. Likewise, a letter from Abraham Lincoln to Edwin Stanton would still be falsely directed to Albert E. H. Johnson. And the legend of Bodhidharma turning a bridegroom into a goldfish would still be Wikipedia’s version of truth.

        ---

        Is that it? No attempt appears to have been made to vandalise a page that contains information that actually matters to anyone in the modern world, that is, information that would affect their livelihood, income, or health.

        So, while I agree that misinformation can persist, it is still unproven that important misinformation will persist for very long.

        And as for your point about finding a more reputable source; that is surely one of the things that Wikipedia helps you to do.

    2. JKS

      Re: Why the hate?

      You have to define "hate" in this context. The people who genuinely detest Wikipedia are usually people who have tried to participate in the editorial process in some way, and have been seriously burned by it. You're probably referring to the (larger) group of people who simply don't trust it because they know that the preponderance of articles are not written (and certainly not edited) by experts, but rather by (mostly) anonymous internet goons who occasionally have an ax to grind.

      That said, wikipedia's lack of accuracy is actually a red herring. You rarely hear of Wikimedia officials, or even Wikipedia users, trying to counter claims of a systemic inaccuracy problem - because they can, somewhat legitimately, use that very problem as a recruitment strategy. (There's a page called WP:SOFIXIT, for example, where they encourage people to deal with the inaccuracies by becoming registered users and participating.)

      In your own case, you've cited two examples that conform very well to Wikipedia's target demographic - a CS article and a chemistry article. Most of the inaccuracies are going to be in subjects related to the social sciences, the arts, and of course actual corporations and businesses. But these are almost insignificant in comparison with what goes on in articles that are actually controversial, particularly if politics is involved in some way.

  30. Sampler

    5.

    Hmm, never thought of using Wikipedia for that, I always go to IMDB (and, occasionally, rotten tomatoes) so, if many were to follow suit and use IMDB, then Wikipedia's traffic would drop off a cliff?

  31. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
    Mushroom

    #7 - Kazakhstan

    “I've had enough of you. I'll delete anything you post there, and if you persist, I'll ask others to help delete anything you post there,” he said.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/wikipedia/9764719/Wikipedia-co-founder-Jimmy-Wales-restricts-discussion-of-Tony-Blair-friendship.html

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