Dr. Mark Humphrys

School of Computing. Dublin City University.

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"Why on earth would I link to you?" - Follow-up - In defence of Wikipedia

In defence of Wikipedia

Wikipedia has become my preferred destination for links. Yes there are major problems with it, and something much better could be imagined.

But on balance, it is better than the alternatives.

In defence of Wikipedia:

I link a lot to Wikipedia now. Yes I know it can be edited by anyone, and all information needs to be cross-checked, and entries regularly are vandalised, but here's why I still link to it:

  1. Vandals are usually discovered quickly, because so many people are watching the page. Re-load a little later and the vandalism is gone, and the vandal banned.
  2. Vandalism may be only a short-term problem. I trust that the software will improve so that, as on eBay, authors can build a long-term reputation, and we can choose views to see all authors, or only those above a certain quality. There are many software ways that Wikipedia can improve, and I think it will, and I can keep my links to it.
  3. Even where information is sketchy, I still link to Wikipedia for the external links sections, which is for many topics better quality, better maintained, and more up to date than other lists of links like Open Directory. View the Wikipedia link as a starting point for exploration, not a destination.
  4. Wikipedia is so up-to-date because so many people are always working on it. Whereas some other resources or lists of links may only get updated every few months or even years.
  5. Links are so simple in format:
    that: (1) you can actually guess them, and: (2) it looks like they will never need to be changed, whereas hierarchies like Open Directory re-organise their directory structures regularly and break links.

Criticism of Wikipedia

Wikipedia is flawed, but better than the alternatives:

The whole Wikipedia debate points out that, even today, so many years after the start of the Web, there is still no perfect site to link to.

Alternatives to Wikipedia

Could you cite Wikipedia in a paper?

Answer: No.

Use Wikipedia as a starting point to find a real, stable, author-identified source that you can cite.

Wikipedia themselves say: "Normal academic usage of Wikipedia .. is for getting the general facts of a problem and to gather keywords, references and bibliographical pointers, but not as a source in itself."

"Professor Wikipedia" shows up many of Wikipedia's flaws.
(And yet everyone is at his class, and no one is at Professor Britannica's lectures.)
Warning: Some vulgarity.

Against Wikipedia

Despite all the above, I think I should close by being negative.


A classic example:
Vandalism on 5 Aug 2014 of the entry for football's Nigel Clough.
It is a joke about something Sean Bean said.

Despite being reverted within 4 minutes the vandalism still made it into Google search results.
(Which by the way shows that not even linking to a Google search is safe!)

Michael Scott explains why Wikipedia is great.
(And yet I link to his Wikipedia entry. Argh! Please get me something better.)

ancientbrain.com      w2mind.org      humphrysfamilytree.com

On the Internet since 1987.

Wikipedia: Sometimes I link to Wikipedia. I have written something In defence of Wikipedia. It is often a useful starting point but you cannot trust it. Linking to it is like linking to a Google search. A starting point, not a destination. I automatically highlight in red all links to Wikipedia and Google search and other possibly-unreliable user-generated content.