CPSC203 2008Fall T20 Group D

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Group Members: Group D: Shane Donovan, Tracy Johnson, Alycia Lauzon, and Amy Nguyen


Can Wikipedia be used as a reliable source?


We will be discussing Wikipedia and its role in the sharing of information over the internet. We will be looking at the advantages and disadvantages of this technology as well as the cultural effects and reliability of the information. We will do this through examining Wikipedia’s history, layout, design and technology. We are interested in this topic because of its widespread use among people from all over the world. Another reason we are interested in this topic is because of the continual debate of Wikipedia's reliability. We will be approaching this topic from the point of view of the user, both sharing and viewing the information. Since Wikipedia first began, it has become increasingly popular. Wikipedia is now a cultural phenomenon across the world because it is a free, fast and easy to use as a resource for information


Wikipedia was formally launched on January-15-2001. It was initially created as a Complement to “Nupedia”, which is the expert-written English Language encyclopedia project. Later on, it overtook Nupedia, growing and become a large global project.Wales and Sanger discussed various ways to create content more rapidly. The idea of a wiki-based complement originated from a conversation between Larry Sanger and Ben Kovitz. The bandwidth and server were donated by Jimmy Wales, he is the Wikipedia co-founder, a president and CEO of Bomis. Wikipedia is a repository of knowledge, it acts like a brain that store information for the readers to explore. Focus on the encyclopedia: Creating an encyclopedia, not a dictionary and not use project as a debate forum. “Openess”: Anyone can join and feel free to contribute.Collaborate radically: Anyone can edit any part of anyone else’s work. Neutrality: Wikipedia makes it possible for people of widely divergent opinions to work together.


Wikipedia is an internet website with free information in an encyclopedia, formatted with wikis. Wikis allow pages to be edited easily and quickly for up to date information on the webpage. Wikipedia has developed different software since it was first created. In the beginning, 2002 Wikipedia used UseModWiki software, later that year the software was updated with PHP software. Currently, Wikipedia uses MediaWiki software which is an open sourced program. In 2004 Wikipedia received a new set of servers through the donations from the Wikipedia Foundation. Wikipedia’s software is essential to the website as it allows easy corrections of information errors. Wikipedia storage capacity has grown as more countries and information are added to the website. In February of 2003 Wikipedia’s database was 4GB; as of August 2006 the Wikipedia’s storage is 1.2 terabytes. The English Wikipedia alone store 163G of data within the database. Wikipedia has had an effect of the internet. Powerset is a more advanced version of a search engine with queries, question and expression searches. Powerset only searches for Wikipedia information; the searches are accurate and they allow you to search through the Wikipedia articles faster and easier. Powerset is one of the software created to use Wikipedia more efficiently. Currently Wikipedia is constantly updating its technology and applications in order to maintain the popularity of the site. Wikipedia is creating new technology to make the website run faster and keep vandalism and sabotage at a minimum.


Wikipedia is designed with the users in mind. The design is simplistic with a tool bar for quick links to the main pages. Wikipedia also has a search bar that allows easy investigations of different pages. Each page has similar layouts and navigation tools that allow you to find specific information within the page.

Cultural Impact

Wikipedia main page with some of the over 260 languages Wikipedia is available in

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

This is Jimmy Wales' vision of Wikipedia. He sees it as a way for everyone to be able to have all the information in the world at their fingertips. His dream is starting to come true. There are currently over 75,000 active contributors working on more than 10,000,000 articles in more than 260 languages. Wales first priority is not trying to obtain complete accuracy, though he wouldn't mind that. What he is really hoping to achieve is an easily accessible wealth of knowledge for people around the world to use. It is not Intended to be used as a source for something like a university paper, it is meant to be a place where anyone can get information on any topic easily. It also encourages users to share information and work together to make pages as accurate as possible. Wikipedia has become a household word and Wales seems to hope this effect will spread around the world and bring people together.



There are two main security issues on Wikipedia. The security of one's personal information and the security of one's written work/contribution. In regard's to the security of one's personal information, it is fairly safe as only "privlidged users" such as employees, trustees, overseers etc have access to this information on a full time basis. Other times in which personal information may be released are in times when requested by law enforcement, with consent of the affected user, when required for investigation etc (Privacy Policy, 2008). For a complete lisitng see Wikipedia'sPrivacy Policy Content on the other hand is not very secure as it is constantly subject to editing by other editors as well as administrators.

Editing as a Hobby?

In order to contribute an article or bit of information to Wikipedia one is not required to have any specific qualifications or certifications. The only rule is that what is being contributed is within theWikipedia:Policies and Guidelines This may be part of the reason why there are currently over 75 000 active volunteer editors (Wikipedia:About, 2008). Many of these volunteers are said to be teenagers or unemployed. Many find it entertaining to add their personal knowledge and/or ideas whether these facts are concrete or simply a creation of the imagination. There have been instances of inaccurate information being posted, for example citing the American state of Nebraska to be located in Canada as well as articles that are racially discriminatory in nature, such as those posted on Martin Luther King day with racist remarks against Black people(Heading North 2006)(Fun FM steps in 2006). The popularity of editing Wikipedia webpages causes one to question the motivations of those editing. Are they doing it to share accurate information or has it become more of a past time of those who want to share their ideas with the world?


As a result of Wikipedia being open to public editing it is subject to vandalism. According to Dictionary.comvandalism is defined as the, “willful or ignorant destruction of artistic or literary treasures” (Dictionary.com, 2008). Using this definition one could interpret vandalism to be any contribution which defaces an article. Wikipedia however, clearly defines what they consider to be and not be vandalism. Their website states that among other criteria vandalism is does not involve: content dispute, a contribution based solely on the fact that it was written by a new or unregistered editor, nor anything that may seem ill-considered as long as it was written in good faith (Vandalism, 2008). Personal attacks and harassment are also treated separately from vandalism (Vandalism, 2008). Wikipedia warns that even if a certain page may appear to contain vandalism, it must first be proved to be vandalism before any steps are taken against the contribution in question.

Editors who vandalize one or many pages of Wikipedia will most often times be warned for their inappropriate behavior and if it persits may be banned from their editing privileges (Vandalism, 2008). There may be instances in which the administrators find it necessary to block the editor without warning (Vandalism, 2008).

Editors who find their pages has been vandalized are encouraged to revert the vandalism immediatelly and report it to system administrators(Vandalism, 2008).

Wikipedia also has may tools and programs to help detect and prevent vandalism as well as system administrators who monitor the sites(Vandalism, 2008).



As long as the user has access to the internet, he or she can find a page on Wikipedia containing the information required right away. This is probably the main reason Wikipedia has gained so much popularity. It is so simple to navigate with it's consistent layout throughout every article that looking up facts about a specific topic is a snap.

Amount of Contributes

Having so many people editing Wikipedia all the time has it's advantages. For one, Wikipedia tends to keep up-to-date on current events. Also, articles tend to be much more detailed than articles that are found in a standard encyclopedia. Since users are in constant discussions through the discussion boards about the content of pages, articles tend to not be very biased as people from many different backgrounds have the ability to contribute.


The thing that draws people to Wikipedia, possibly more than anything else, is the price. As it is free to use to anyone, people tend to favor it over services which the user must pay to use. With such a vast amount of information at the user's fingertips for the attractive price of zero, it is easy to see why so many people use Wikipedia.



Whether the contributor is aware of it or not, untrue or misleading information is frequently posted on Wikipedia. Having so many contributes is a disadvantage as well as an advantage. The problem is, with so many people editing pages so often, it is hard to keep track of the correctness of all articles. The user base often discovers mistakes in pages and fixes them, but this is not always the case. Articles can stay up with glaring mistakes forever if nobody changes them. If a person who knew little about the subject read one of these error-ridden articles, they may walk away with the wrong ideas about the topic.


When just about anybody is given free reign to edit articles, biases are to be expected. As with the pages that contain false information, these articles are often found and adjusted to have a more neutral point of view. It would be nearly impossible for all of these articles to be fixed and, since changes are being made all the time, all of theses pages will not be discovered. Another problem is that there is a bias in the topics that will be covered in the most depth. This is decided by the people who edit articles. The page on Middle-Earth, for example, is more detailed the the pages of some real countries.


By examining the history, design, technology, of Wikipedia we have come to the conclusion that its disadvantages outweigh the advantages. Wikipedia can be edited by anyone, even those without specific qualifications or accreditations and therefore the information found can often be false and inaccurate. Articles can also be offensive or discriminatory to specific groups. We have come to the conclusion that despite common belief that Wikipedia can be used as source we believe that it is good for a quick reference however one should not base their entire knowledge and belief on what information has been found on the site.


Shane Donovan

Jimmy Wales - http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Jimmy_Wales Retrieved on December 3, 2008

How About Wikipedia? - http://library.wlu.ca/wikipedia Retrieved on December 3, 2008

Using Wikipedia - http://apps.carleton.edu/campus/library/for_faculty/faculty_find/wikipedia/ Retrieved on December 1, 2008

Wikipedia:About - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:About Retrieved on December 1, 2008

Tracy Johnson

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:FAQ/Technical#How_big_is_the_database.3F Retrieved: December 3rd, 2008

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/4530930.stm , John Seigenthaler, BBC News, Retrieved: December 1st, 2008

http://news.softpedia.com/news/Powerset-The-Way-You-Should-Search-Wikipedia-85334.shtml, Bogdan Popa, Powerset, Retrieved: December 1st, 2008

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:About#Technical_attributes Retrieved: December 1st, 2008

Alycia Lauzon

Dictionary.com, vandalism, Retrieved December 4, 2008 from, http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/vandalism

The A Register. (2006) School Sues over Wikipedia posts. Retrieved December 1, 2008 from, http://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/07/26/wikipedia_school_lawsuit/

The A Resiter. (2006) Wikipedia editing hobby goes nationwide. Retrieved November 30, 2008 from, http://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/01/19/wikipedia_radio_one_fun/

Wikipedia. (2008) Wikipedia:Policies and Guidelines, Retrieved December 4, 2008 from, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Policies_and_guidelines

Wikipedia. (2008) Privacy policy- Wikimedia Foundation. Retrieved December 2, 2008 from http://wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/Privacy_policy

Wikipedia.(2008) Wikipedia:Vandalism. Retrieved November 30, 2008 from, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Vandalism

Amy Nguyen

http://july.fixedreference.org/en/20040724/wikipedia/History_of_Wikipedia- Retrieved on December 1st, 2008

http://wikipediareview.com/blog/20070827/the-true-history-of-wikipedia/- Wikipedia, Retrieved on December 1st, 2008

http://news.cnet.com/i/bto/20080430/Picture_12_270x405.png- Retrieved on December 1st, 2008

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Wikipedia- Wikipedia search, retrieved on December 1st, 2008

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/21/education/21wikipedia.html- Retrieved on December 4th, 2008

http://magazine.continental.com/archive/images/2005_july/idea-makers/jimmy-wales.jpg- Magazine continental, retrieved on December 4th, 2008

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/04/weekinreview/04seelye.html- Carl Mydans/Time Life Pictures -- Getty Images Retrieved on December 4th, 2008

http://www.research.ibm.com/visual/projects/history_flow/- IBM search, retrieved on December 4th, 2008

http://csf11.acs.uwosh.edu/cs350/projects/salchert/background.htm- Retrieved on December 4th, 2008

http://marisentertainment.com/Wikipedia-logo.jpg- Marisenter- Retrieved on December 5th, 2008