When you write a web page about something,
and want a link to further reading or background info,
what do you link to?
We just mean a casual link, where someone can check some background information on a person or place or subject,
without having to read a full article or book.
The obvious answer is Wikipedia.
Now Wikipedia has major problems.
So is linking to Wikipedia mad?
The big argument against Wikipedia is that it is user generated.
Entries can be of poor quality, contain bias and prejudice, be factually wrong,
or be simple vandalism written by trolls.
Let us consider these issues:
People who are trolls and vandals are usually discovered quickly
and banned, and the page fixed.
This has not been a huge problem in my experience.
Poor quality entries are a problem, but this is a problem mainly with little-visited pages on obscure topics.
The same problem exists with any web page on obscure topics.
On controversial topics, many Wikipedia authors do have bias and prejudice, but the collective editing produces an interesting phenomenon
where, after furious arguments, they cancel each other out.
Many Wikipedia articles are remarkably even-handed as a result.
In books and newspapers, the bias is simply printed, since there is no one biased on the other side to cancel it out.
The Wisdom of Polarized Crowds (2017 paper).
Their study of Wikipedia articles
concluded that polarized teams - those consisting of politically diverse editors
- create articles of higher quality than politically homogeneous teams.
But I agree with the concept that Wikipedia is not to be trusted by itself.
You must cross-check all information, and find the actual source.
View the Wikipedia link as a starting point for exploration,
not a destination.
Even where information on a topic is poor,
Wikipedia can be useful for the
external links sections
which are often
better quality, better maintained, and more up to date than other lists of links.
Wikipedia is so up-to-date because so many people are always working on it.
Whereas some other resources or lists of links
may only get updated every few months or even years.
Links are so simple in format:
that: (1) you can actually guess them,
and: (2) it looks like they will never need to be changed.
The latter is really important,
since many websites get regularly deleted or re-designed,
and break incoming links.
was a site to
allow you see who (what IP) edited what.
What was shocking was the vast amount of simple vandalism
coming from IPs in supposedly repectable news organisations, NGOs
and even governments.
These edits were not just expected bias,
but all-out vandalism that would obviously be removed.
Sure these organisations can't control every junior intern,
but it is shocking that people would commit such vandalism
while at work.
WikiScanner also showed sinister edits, by
many religious and political bodies
and campaigning groups
(your ideas of exactly who is sinister may differ from mine).
Again, we rely on the collective edits of the community to
restrain and control
the edits of partisan groups.
The alternatives are worse
I link to Wikipedia not because it is perfect but because the alternatives are worse.
- Biography. Rich internal and external links.
Quality biography, written by professionals.
Few external links.
Sparser than Wikipedia
but certainly an alternative.
Will link always work without subscription?
- Not bad. Come back in 10 years. See discussion below.
If you linked to these, you will regret it, since they have shut down:
"SUGGEST EDIT" button on each page.
Gives you source. You edit and submit.
No easy way of mass-converting Wikipedia links to Britannica links.
Wiki-like editing of apparently mainly technology topics.
Could you cite Wikipedia in a paper?
Use Wikipedia as a starting point to find a real, stable, author-identified
source that you can cite.
"Normal academic usage of Wikipedia .. is for getting the general facts of a problem and to gather keywords, references and bibliographical pointers, but not as a source in itself."
shows up many of Wikipedia's flaws.
(And yet everyone is at his class,
and no one is at
Professor Britannica's lectures.)
Warning: Some vulgarity.
(To be fair, modern Wikipedia is far better than the early site parodied in this 2008 video.)