Wikipedia is like a double edged sword – parts of it are excellent, and parts are.. well, not so spectacular. Some critics are not even convinced that the good parts are enough to overcome the problems with inaccurate information. Take Sven Manguard, for example, of the Wikipedia Community, who recently did a piece in The Signpost expressing his worries about the quality of some existing articles found on Wikipedia.
Wikipedia is a huge database, an open source encyclopedia (meaning that anybody can contribute to it). It contains over 3.77 million articles just in the English section. The main advantage is that you get a tremendous quantity of articles in any domain, stashed in one place.
This is a good source to get fast information. But there are two main drawbacks. First, anybody can modify the article. Some people might say that articles are reviewed by the community. The problem, concerning references, is more regarding the second drawback of Wikipedia: the content changes over time! This is a really bad aspect…Also contributors are anonymous, pseudonymous or are using a false name.
In his article Sven Manguard, points out that Wikipedia really needs some improvements, especially in the reference department. The number of the articles uploaded daily on the site is huge, but some lack the most basic standards of quality.
Manguard claims that there are 250,000 articles that need references, and he doesn’t mean they need more, he means that the articles lack any reference to support them whatsoever. Some of these pieces date back to 2006, a half decade ago. There are an additional 250,000 articles that need further references, and over 200,000 with unsourced statements. The articles that lack references make up about 6.6% of the site’s total amount.
Despite the many problems that threaten Wikipedia’s reliability, the site is still valuable as a cultural barometer for those in the know and a starting place for those who aren’t. People face an “ocean of information” today, much of it of poor quality, so a better approach would be to teach people how to “triangulate” a source like Wikipedia, so they could use other sources to tell whether a given entry could be trusted.