Encyclopedia… of the FUTURE: Wikipedia and the Pros and Cons of Collective Media

Wikipedia. It’s name alone makes scholars cringe.

The notion of an online, collective encyclopedia that can be edited, sorted through, or added to by anyone and everyone with an Internet connection manages to conjure up images of a strange, futuristic sci-fi library, where information is constantly peer-reviewed, questioned, verified, and rejected.

ph_sci-fi_120035238_5905607

Not quite the sci-fi library I had in mind.

This is exactly what brings to the table. Wikipedia provides a robust platform for hobbyists and experts alike to collaborate and create knowledgeable and informative archives on a broad range of topics, from animals to Zoroastrianism. The modularity of the tools on Wikipedia allow for an infinite amount of knowledge to be stored and formatted for future reference.

Experts and amateurs alike have the same set of tools and knowledge available to them in this model. Giving everyone read/write access to the world’s vast amounts of collective knowledge in the same scholarly format as traditional encyclopedias however brings many pros and cons associated with it. Media scholars, grade school teachers, and librarians constantly criticize the open nature of the website, stating that they “worry that youth aren’t developing an appropriate level of skepticism about the kinds of information found on this particular site” (Jenkins).  On the other hand, millions of people use and trust Wikipedia everyday to provide them with a knowledgeable and extensive reference resource without a notion of regret. A dedicated portion of said users contribute to this collective knowledge database and keep it free from vandalism and forgery.

Consider the Wikipedia page for the Fender Stratocaster electric guitar a relevant example of the benefits, problems, and intricacies of the maintenance of a high profile Wikipedia entry. The Fender Stratocaster was one of the world’s first high-profile electric guitars, and to this day is an important part of worldwide music culture. Only rivaled in popularity by the ubiquitous Gibson Les Paul, the Fender Stratocaster still finds itself in the hands of Earth’s best guitarists to this day.

One of the first things I noticed upon finding the page was the following:

Untitled

The page should do illegal things so the cops will give it citations. Problem solved.

For such an important and seemingly well-documented musical icon, I did not expect there to be a loss of sources for the verification of historical data and other Stratocaster-related facts. However, given the some times anecdotal and legendary nature of music history, it is easy to see how allegedly true facts brought to the table for addition into the Fender Stratocaster page could be left out due to a lack of sources.

A significant factor in the quality of an article’s writing is the sum of the authors contributing and editing. For instance, if people with no musical background were the top maintainers of this article, it would not be of good quality. Here’s a breakdown of the writing of the Fender Stratocaster Wikipedia entry.

The entry is part of both the industrial design and guitar Wikipedia groups, and is rated as C Quality in both:

guit

If this page were a Mercedes, it’d be high end. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercedes-Benz_C-Class

c

While the C-Class quality might have something to do with the lack of verification sources that is causing the first box to appear, it is safe to assume that most of the top writers of this article are either industrial design oriented or guitar players.

Overall, Wikipedia proves itself to be both a quality source of peer-reviewed information good for the average person, in addition to being the source of much controversy among media scholars and teachers alike.


References:

WHAT WIKIPEDIA CAN TEACH US ABOUT THE NEW MEDIA LITERACIES (PART ONE). (2007, June 26). Retrieved March 7, 2015, from http://henryjenkins.org/2007/06/what_wikipedia_can_teach_us_ab.html

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