Let’s face it, there are many teachers and librarians who discourage and even ban students from using Wikipedia as an information resource.
And, of course, one of the primary reasons for their mistrust of the online encyclopedia is the ability of almost anyone to create an entry or edit an existing article.
However, a couple of recent examples illustrate that this openness possibly makes Wikipedia a more valuable source of reference information than many others available, online and off.
The first is the widely-covered Wikipedia Scanner, created by a grad student at CalTech, which allows people to find out whether articles have been edited from computers at corporations, organizations, government offices.
Another is a demonstration project in which “the text background of Wikipedia articles is colored according to a value of trust, computed from the reputation of the authors who contributed the text, as well as those who edited the text”.
As the creator discusses on a Future Tense podcast, this is definitely a work in progress. But the concept of a page in the encyclopedia offering the reader an indicator of trustworthiness for the content is certainly one to be watched.
More significant for us end users is the fact that both of these tools (and others) depend on Wikipedia making it’s change logs open to anyone who cares to read them.
Software analysis of those changes is only going to make the background data more widely available for us to use in evaluating the quality of information.
Now, all we have to do is teach our reluctant colleagues about how the community nature of Wikipedia (and wikis in general) is actually a good thing.