If we look for a definition of a term or for an explanation of a special topic, where do we look first? Right, in Wikipedia ! We know that the information in Wikipedia are collected by an open community that consists of thousands of experts all around the world, all of them publishing their knowledge so that the rest of the world can get a bit more clever with each click.
Meanwhile, in many cases we count on the reliability of Wikipedia so much that we don’t bother looking up alternative sources. Also it is quite normal to believe someones thesis if it is backed by a Wikipedia excerpt.
In this context I had a nice experience on the Enterprise Architecture Conference in London this year:
In a keynote John Zachman presented the new version of his framework. Therfore every attendee got a piece of paper that contained a nicely formatted presentation of the framework. Before he started to explain the new features of the framework though, he advised us of of two short articles on the back of the paper.
Basically, what he stated was: “The two articles describe the framework in a very short manner and the reason for printing them on the back of the paper is Wikipedia. Out of curiousity I read the description of my framework in Wikipedia a while ago and found out that some of the statements were wrong. So, I corrected the wrong statements in the Wikipedia article. Due to the open concept of Wikipedia that works straightforward. After a while I got feedback by Wikipedia that the changes had been deleted because they were not correct. So, I wrote back something like ‘Hi, I am John Zachman, the inventor of the framework and if I don’t know the correct description of the framework, who on earth does?’ It didn’t help. Wikipedia insisted that my statements about my framework were wrong. Thus I had to write the two articles to describe my framework as I intended it to be – as in wikipedia I wasn’t able to do it.”
Of cause John scored by making everybody laugh telling us this nice anecdote. Since he kept up the good atmosphere throughout his keynote, it was a great keynote for all attendees and we also learned a lot about the new version of his framework and the ideas and concepts behind it.
But what does this story tell us about Wikipedia? I don’t know what happened in detail, who exactly removed the changes that John made in Wikipedia and I didn’t ask for more details. However, this anecdote shows quite plainly that Wikipedia is not infallible. Wikipedia is built and maintained by humans and humans are making mistakes – mistakes that eventually can be found in any of the entries in Wikipedia.
This was quite helpful for me to be reminded by the story that I cannot take wikipedia by their words in any case. Of course we certainly use to know that but sometimes we also tend to forget about it.
Wikipedia is a very powerful information source and for me it is still very impressing, how this immense amount high-quality knowledge was brought together in such a short peroid of time due to the open concept of Wikipedia. Yet we shouldn’t consider Wikikpedia to be “the truth in itself” but rather we should handle it like any other good source of information: We can use Wikipedia as our first research source, but then – as with any good research – we should try to find other resources for crosschecking the information, in so doing minimizing the risk of errors and making sure to get proven and sustainable information.
Remember: Wikipedia is just almost always right.
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