Friday, September 10, 2010

On Wikipedia

Wikipedia generally gets a bad rap. People seem to doubt that just because anybody can edit it to say whatever they want it isn't a reliable source. Well, that's certainly the case at times. However, the Wiki company has hundreds if not thousands of volunteer moderators constantly combing the site for spurious edits and foolishness, and of course articles of controversy and unfolding events are frequently locked to avoid so nonsense.

Still, it's every few weeks somebody tries to convince the world that Justin Bieber is a twenty year-old lesbian or that Kel Mitchel died back in 1998.

Of course Wikipedia isn't a reliable source. Anybody can edit it. Jesus. I've seen students cite Wikipedia on term papers. Holy hell, people. "I read that [surprising but factual statement]." "Really, where?" "Uh … I forget." Sure. Fine. It's okay to say you read something on Wikipedia. It's a great place to get a simple explanation for many longer topics you would typically have to go to scientific journals or history books for. Fine.

But, holy crap, don't cite Wikipedia as your source in official documents. You know what you cite? Those long-winded scientific journals and history books that Wikipedia cited itself. Come on, kids, this isn't too hard. You've got a card catalog/encyclopedia/search engine that will not only explain to you everything you didn't read yourself, but do it simply and tell you what you should be citing right at the bottom of the page.

Many's the nights I've whiled away catching up on the most obscure and complex theories of astro- quantum and unified physics, or the books True Blood was based on, but in the end I can never forget the Wikipedia is only as reliable as the books it's based on and the willingness of nerds to compile it in a single place. Sometimes, you just have to bail on traditional Wiki and head over to some genre-specific knowledge dumps like Wookiepedia, the Buffy Wikia, Memory Alpha, or LOSTpedia. (Seriously, those are CRAZY nerds. The arguments there, mother of god.)

Tonight I spent at least two hours searching for an obscure name from a comic series that spun off of a Neil Gaiman series which was itself a spin-off of an Alan Moore series that spun out tangentially from Moore's old Swamp Thing stories. Frankly, that damned thing wasn't on Wikipedia, because nerds of that caliber just aren't on Main Wiki.

Then I remembered I had an issue of that comic myself, and it took me all of a few minutes to flip to a page where the exact thing I needed was prominently displayed.

Sometimes, you really just have to let go of Wikipedia and embrace source material. For your own mental health.

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