Here is a look at what the media (in all its forms) has to say about Wikipedia, be it good, bad or indifferent. Up until now, Wikipedia has hogged the media spotlight; by the next newsletter, we hope to have excerpts about its sister projects as well.
Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. That's what we're doing. --Jimmy Wales in a Slashdot interview, July 28 2004.
If you still have any old Britannicas clogging your bookshelves, it is time finally to haul them off to Oxfam. Wikipedia... is a scholarly, thorough work of reference that costs nothing to consult... Best of all, entries are endlessly updated to keep them relevant, errors are gladly corrected within minutes, and - unlike its stuffier predecessors - it respects the specialist knowledge of you, its user. -- The Times (London), July 20, 2004.
Wikipedia, the encyclopedia of the 21st century, is free as beer, open to all, and free as speech. It's a modest and titanic project with growing success. -- SVM, September, pp 76-77 (a full-color two-page spread)
It's called Wikipedia and, like Google, it is one of the wonders of the world. -- John Naughton in The Observer, Sep 12 2004.
A quick timeline of Wikipedia's maturation through the lens of the press:
- Jul 21, 2003 : "Wikipedia.org, for example, lets the public collaborate to build a surprisingly accurate encyclopedia." -- David Weinberger, NPR
- Oct 17, 2003 : "[one of] our top 10 reference sites" -- the UK's Daily Mirror
- Jan 29 : "One of the most fascinating developments of the Digital Age... extraordinary..." -- Dan Gillmor, San José Mercury News
- Feb 25: 'To achieve the quality of established encyclopedias, much remains to be done' -- Tagesthemen, the late edition of a major german news program, concluding a 3-min segment on Wikipedia
- Mar 1 : "One of the 30 web sites that everyone must know about" -- PC Computer, a spanish tech 'zine, referring to es.wikipedia.org.
- Apr 1 : "Impressive...covering every topic imaginable...informative and authoritative" -- UK's The Guardian
- Apr 23 : "One of the most reliably useful sources of information around, on or off-line" -- BBC News
- Jun 1 : "The web's most stunning and exciting site" -- icWales, the national website of Wales
- Jun 29 : "Astonishingly... not a bunch of graffitti and spam [a la] web fora or guestbooks. Quite the opposite: Many entries in the online-reference compare favorably with a commercial reference" -- Mario Sixtus, Frankfurter Rundschau
- Jul 20 : "Fortunately, the same community (i.e., humans) that ruined the Web is revolutionizing the encyclopedia" -- The Chicago Sun-Times
- Aug 11 : "It used to be if you were a kid in a village in India or a village in northern Canada in the winter, maybe you could get to a place where they have a few books once in a while. Now, if you have a telephone, you can get a free encyclopedia. You have access to the world's knowledge" -- Howard Rheingold, in an MSNBC interview
- Aug 14 : "the Brockhaus of Trivia" -- Andreas M. Bock, Suddeutscher Zeitung
- Sep 10 : "Sharp competition for Brockhaus and Encarta: The free on-line encyclopedia Wikipedia will appear in a few weeks on CD-ROM" -- PC-Welt
Wikipedia has been used as a source in academic papers, legal briefings, business plans, and even weather reports:
"[Hurricane] Ivan was in the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday... It likely will hit the Alabama coast early Thursday, according to www.wikipedia.org." -- Sept 15, 2004, Dre Jackson, Peoria Journal Star Online
Of course, not everyone is a fan. Other encyclopedias regularly point out Wikipedia's limitations when asked about it. "[People] at Microsoft point out that free online sites don't offer the same consistency and reliability, and attention to user's needs, as Encarta does. At the same time, Encarta provides a safer environment than the Web does for student research" [ Seattle P-I Reporter, 7/12].
The UK's Register has also started regularly criticising Wikipedia: "It's hard to imagine anyone other than a Wikipedian arguing [for] the wider availability of high quality information collections," one reporter claims, calling Wikipedia "an occasionally useful online resource that needs to be taken with a huge sackful of salt," and "the world's most useless online text" [The Register, 9/15, 9/7, 7/14]. A few responses from enthusiastic Register readers resulted in another snide column about the insular nature of the Wikipedia community.
Meanwhile a tech column in the Syracuse Post-Standard attracted attention from the blogosphere in August, after publishing an article warning readers not to trust Wikipedia as a source. Many sites picked up a Techdirt article, whose author had contacted the Post-Standard reporter and had been insulted for his efforts.
The article revolved around a quote from a high-school librarian who seemed altogether opposed to Wikipedia. When some Wikipedians told her about the fuss her comments had raised, she was quick to respond with a polite letter (and to give us permission to quote her in turn):
I just re-read what I originally sent to Al Fasoldt in the recent Post-Standard column. I'm afraid I do have egg all over my face... The message was NOT... that Wikipedia is not an authoritative source. The message was that the best thing about the web (the sharing of information and ideas) can also make it harder for the average high school student to make a judgement call when checking the authority of a source used for research.
I'm sorry if this generated controversy over the authority of the site, this is NOT what was intended. It just illustrates the problem.