Much ink has been spilled of late by the digerati praising or declaiming Wikipedia. Arrayed on one side are the likes of Mitch Kapor who assert with revolutionary ardor that Wikipedia is not only the "next big thing" but will solve everything from world hunger to global warming. I am exaggerating, but you get the idea.
On the other side are the likes of Nicolas Carr (of IT is irrelevant fame) who assert that Wikipedia is shoddy, riddled with errors, and represents the victory of mob rule over "venerable" products such as the Encylopedia Britannica.
These debates have entirely lost sight entirely of the common sense middle ground.
Many of us use Wikipedia on a daily basis as a reference tool because overall it provides an excellent first approximation. It's also updated in real time, unlike sources such as the Encyclopedia Britannica. (By they way, how many of us, including Nicolas Carr, actually use the Britannica or can even afford it?)
Contra Mitch Kapor, Wikipedia doesn't eliminate the need for experts. Wikipedia should never be accepted as a citation in a scholarly work or for a student paper, even at the high school level. Here I agree with Nicolas Carr that claims such as "Wikipedia is just as accurate as the Encylopedia Britannica" are downright ridiculous.
Contra Nicolas Carr, Wikipedia doesn't mean the end of western civilization as we know it. More to the point, Wikipedia not only works but works very well. In some cases the entries are superior in quality and more insightful than Britannica. But this is not consistently so. Pointing out that there are inaccuracies in Wikipedia is beside the point, if it is understood that as a reference tool Wikipedia provides a first approximation and initial orientation to a knowledge topic and that's all it intends to do.
In short, we need both and there should be room for both.
- Ross Mayfield has a nice summary of Mitch Kapor's keynote on Wikipedia at the Open Source Business Conference.
- ZDNet's report on Mitch Kapor's keynote "Why Wikipedia is the next best thing"
- Nicholas Carr's criticism, called "Wikipedia and Open Source"
- The article in Nature which concludes that "Wikipedia comes close to Britannica in terms of the accuracy of its scientific entries".