Thursday, March 13, 2008

Wikipedia quality: Wikipedia

The fourth article on the list of most visited pages is Wikipedia's article about itself. Obviously this article is going to be at significant risk to all sorts of biasing problems: Wikipedia's editors will generally hold a highly favorable position about Wikipedia itself, and are likely to be biased against including content in the article that they find unfavorable. As with "wiki", the article likely gets a quite a bit of viewers who don't read it because they're using a Google search for "Wikipedia" to get to the site without actually being interested in the article. The access pattern tends to support this; it is very similar that of "wiki", with the typical weekday/weekend pattern that the main site traffic shows. This particular article was designated a "Featured Article" in May of 2005; that status was revoked in August of 2006. It was designated a "Good Article" in September 2006, and currently retains that status. The article has been semiprotected almost continuously since November of 2006; there have been a few brief periods of unprotected status with almost immediate vandalism resulting in reprotection. Given that this article is both a "landing point" and also an obvious target for those with gripes against Wikipedia, it's not surprising it's a heavy vandalism target.

The article is not bad, but it definitely falls short of good. The writing is solid in most places, although there are spots where the transitions are rough; these are likely places where there have been fights over content. One spot that really caught my eye is the paragraph about the relationship between Wikipedia and Wikia. That paragraph (short as it is) appears to have been parachuted in without much effort to tie it in to the rest of the content. I suspect that there is too much disagreement over what it is permissible to say regarding that relationship for anything more to be said. The "cultural significance" section suffers from dartboard editing to a degree, although not nearly as bad as many other articles I've read. The "related projects" section is confusingly titled; at first it sounds as if the authors are claiming that there is a direct connection between the Domesday Project and Wikipedia. There are various points where facts have been stuffed in that deserve mention, but not where they are. (For example, one should probably not talk about present-day competitors while discussing history, as this article does; that leads to a jumpy, disjointed narrative.)

The friendly bias that one would expect is evident throughout, with the criticism section focusing mainly on criticisms to which Wikipedia has settled responses, and those responses are clearly provided to ensure that the reader doesn't go away thinking that those criticisms are to be worried about. Reading the criticism section reminds me of reading the section in a legal brief in which one is expected to present and demolish your opponent's position. That's a hallmark of persuasive writing, and this is a fine example of that. Unfortunately, this is supposed to be an encyclopedia article, not a persuasive brief. On the other hand, the article doesn't deny Larry Sanger's role in founding Wikipedia, as Wikipedia's articles on Jimmy Wales does. One of the ironies I see with this article is that it includes details at a level that would likely be removed from an article about any other website.

The fact that this article has been virtually continuously protected since sometime in 2006 will certainly tend to create a tendency for bias toward viewpoints favored by registered Wikipedians; in this case that bias would tend to lead to this article being presented in a more favorable light. I didn't look to see what the "vandalism" was that caused protection to be reinstated after each attempt to remove protection—was it really vandalism, or just the introduction of unfavorable content? Someone should look, although perhaps not me.

It's very hard for an entity to write objectively about itself, and Wikipedia here proves that they're no different than anyone else. A good effort, but definitely could be better.

Grade: B+
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