Nature article - Vol 438|15 December 2005 SPECIAL REPORT...

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Vol 438 | 15 December 2005 900 SPECIAL REPORT Internet encyclopaedias go head to head O ne of the extraordinary stories of the Internet age is that of Wikipedia, a free online encyclopaedia that anyone can edit. This radical and rapidly growing publica- tion, which includes close to 4 million entries, is now a much-used resource. But it is also controversial: if anyone can edit entries, how do users know if Wikipedia is as accurate as established sources such as Encyclopaedia Britannica? Several recent cases have highlighted the potential problems. One article was revealed as falsely suggesting that a former assistant to US Senator Robert Kennedy may have been involved in his assassination. And podcasting pioneer Adam Curry has been accused of editing the entry on podcasting to remove references to competitors’ work. Curry says he merely thought he was making the entry more accurate. However, an expert-led investigation carried out by Nature — the first to use peer review to compare Wikipedia and Britannica’s coverage of science — suggests that such high-profile examples are the exception rather than the rule. The exercise revealed numerous errors in both encyclopaedias, but among 42 entries tested, the difference in accuracy was not particularly great: the average science entry in Wikipedia con- tained around four inaccura- cies; Britannica, about three. Considering how Wikipedia articles are written, that result might seem surprising. A solar physicist could, for example, work on the entry on the Sun, but would have the same status as a contributor without an academic background. Disputes about content are usu- ally resolved by discussion among users. But Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia and president of the encyclopaedia’s parent organization, the Wikimedia Foundation of St Petersburg, Florida, says the finding shows the potential of Wikipedia. “I’m pleased,” he says. “Our goal is to get to Britannica quality, or better.” Wikipedia is growing fast. The encyclopaedia has added 3.7 million articles in 200 languages since it was founded in 2001. The English ver- sion has more than 45,000 registered users, and added about 1,500 new articles every day of October 2005. Wikipedia has become the 37th most visited website, according to Alexa, a web ranking service. But critics have raised concerns about the
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This note was uploaded on 04/17/2008 for the course ECE APS112 taught by Professor Weiss during the Spring '08 term at University of Toronto.

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Nature article - Vol 438|15 December 2005 SPECIAL REPORT...

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