Courses/Computer Science/CPSC 203/CPSC 203 2008Winter L03/CPSC 203 2008WinterL03 TermProjects/T19 Group 5 - Wonderful World of Wikipedia - useful or useless?

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Who Are We?

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Group Name: The Credibility Crew

Group Members: Chiu Yu Abigail Wong, Courtney Tanaka, Jessica Fralick, Martha Gallagher

Project Title

Wonderful World of Wikipedia - Useful or Useless?

Initial Statement

As Wikipedia continues to become a more widely used search engine, questions have been raised regarding how credible the information truly is. Should Wikipedia be trusted as a search engine? How reliable and credible is Wikipedia? Is this website useful or useless?

What is Wikipedia?


Ward Cunningham, the creator of the original wiki, describes a wiki as “the simplest online database that could possibly work.” Cunningham invented the first wiki in March of 1995 to work with the Portland Pattern Repository. Cunningham chose to name his creation the ‘wikiwikiweb’, a name that was borrowed from the term ‘wiki’, which is Hawaiian for ‘quick’. According to the website, the initial usage for the wikiwikiweb was to “allow users to freely create and edit a Web page content using any web browser.”

Nupedia Logo.jpg

The original Wikipedia website was “formally launched on January 15, 2001”. It was created as an offshoot of Nupedia, which was a “free online English-language encyclopedia project whose articles were written by experts and reviewed under a formal process” Wikipedia was initially intended to be a “feeder project” for Nupedia, creating a large array of articles that could eventually be added into the Nupedia body of work.

Both Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger have been credited with the creation of wikipedia, but for two different reasons. Wales came up with the idea of "making a publicly editable encyclopedia", Sanger is known for choosing to use a wiki to realize this goal. Larry Sanger has since left Wikipedia and is currently Editor – in – Chief of Citizendium, a wiki that is guided and often edited by experts in their field. Wales remains in a leadership position at Wikipedia.

Wikipedia is currently one of the most popular websites in the world, and is ranked at number 9 on the list of ‘Top 100 Most Visited Websites’ according to Globally, Wikipedia has over 10 million articles available, with approximately 2 million of those written in English.

What is the benefit of Wikipedia?

Ward Cunningham believed that the creation of wikis would “encourage democratic use of the Web and promote content composition by nontechnical users” Wikis now allow everyday computer users the opportunity to be active participants in online learning.

Regardless of their education, wikis allow all people to “communally edit bits of texts.” These articles are then what is viewed when you are searching on Wikipedia. By simply clicking on the ‘edit’ tab at the top of the page you are able to modify the text to say whatever you want. The process of editing will be covered further in the next section.

While improving the democracy of knowledge on the Internet, Wikipedia has also come upon opposition. Since editing ends up being a virtual free – for – all, Academics often question whether or not Wikipedia can be considered a viable resource for information. There are various pros and cons to this system, and they will be explored later on in the article.

How does editing work on Wikipedia?

1. How do you edit?

On Wikipedia, editing has been made fairly simple. All viewers can set up a Wikipedia account which they may log on to in order to be able to edit a page. When logged on to their Wikipedia account, editing of pages can be tracked back to specific users. Although Wikipedia pages can be edited by a non-user, the majority of frequent users do sign up for accounts.

Every page, with the exemption of a few, has a tab located at the top of the page labeled ‘Edit this page’. When this tab is clicked it allowed the viewer to edit the page they were looking at. Along with being able to edit full pages, a viewer can also edit specific sections by clicking the ‘Edit’ option next to a section heading. The pages that do not allow for editing have been ‘protected’ by Wikipedia; these pages do not display the edit tab or heading option. The ‘protected pages’ include: Wikipedia instructions, high profile pages, the history of Wikipedia, etc. When a viewer adds, changes, or deletes information on a page, they are expected to provide valid references or reasoning to explain their changes otherwise the information may be removed.

In the edit screen, the ‘wikicode’ will be displayed in a language similar to HTML. Once the viewer has made the changes they wished to make, there are two options located at the bottom of the screen.

a) Save Page/Save Changes -> automatically saves the changes made and directs the viewer back to the original screen they were viewing.

b) Show Preview -> allows the viewer to see the page, including changes, before they actually save the changes. This button allows the complete format of the page to be seen so that the viewer can spot any errors prior to the page being changed.

In addition to these two options, the person editing can also add an ‘edit summary’ at the bottom of the page prior to saving the changes. This allows others to see what has been changed on the page. Writing a quick summary about the changes made is considered good etiquette; however, it is not required when making changes. If the changes to the page were very minor, for example: grammar or spelling, the viewer can check the box labeled “This is a minor edit” instead of writing in the ‘edit summary’.

2. How do you format?

In order to format Wikipedia pages, the viewer must understand the ‘Wikitext’ codes. Wikitext utilizes a combination of symbols being placed around the words and phrases to allow for easy-to-design pages. Some examples of this are the following:

a) The use of multiple apostrophes (‘) placed around words or phrases in order to make the words bold or italic. (‘’italic’’ or ‘’’bold’’’)

b) The use of multiple equals signs (=) placed around word or phrases n order to create headings and subheadings. (==heading== or ===subheading===)

The use of headings and subheadings is essential to the formatting of a well organized page as utilizing this feature will automatically create a ‘table of contents’ displayed at the top of the page. As soon as 4 or more headings are created, the heading titles will be generated into a table of contents that allows for other viewers to quickly navigate around the page. Also, the use of bold words is highly important on Wikipedia as it is customary to have all proper names and articles primary subject in bold font.

3. How do you create links?

When editing a Wikipedia page, editors will often link more than one Wikipedia page together. This allowed readers to view addition information located on another page by quickly clicking the link. Much like the formatting previously discussed, adding a link to the page utilizes a common symbol; the square bracket ([). To add a link on a Wikipedia page, the editor must place double square brackets around the ‘target page’ title. The editor can also chose to modify the link by adding a custom link title by adding a pipe (|) symbol after the target page. The following is how this would appear in the edit screen on a Wikipedia page: ( [ [ target page | display text ] ] ) =Display text. Dates can also be linked using the double square brackets.

It is suggested that editors on Wikipedia also use external links of information was taken from external sources. This can be done by using in text citations and referencing the number to a list of references at the bottom of the page. Most Wikipedia pages have a heading called ‘References’ where all the external links can be found. To add an external link, simply copy and paste the website, book, journal, magazine, etc information into the reference section with proper numbers that refer to the in text citations.

5. Who can edit?

On the large majority of Wikipedia pages, anybody can make changes. Users can be registered or anonymous which means that quite a significant amount of the editing done can not be tracked to a specific person. There are a few exceptions to the 'anybody' rule. These exceptions include:

a) Protected pages can not be edited by the general public. These specific pages can only be edited by 'Wikipedians', also known as, authorized volunteers who help Wikipedia by verifying information. These are often pages that are highly sensitive to information regarding current issues.

b) Disabled pages can only be edited by registered users who have held a valid user account for over 4 days. These are often pages about historical persons.

6. Guidelines for editing

The guidelines for editing on Wikipedia are very simply - be honest and do not knowingly provide false information. Due to the fact that Wikipedia uses the honor system in the process of editing, users must be cautious about what they decide is fact of fiction. Those who edit pages are expected to not violate the polices of Wikipedia by knowingly presenting false information; however, there is little that can be done when a user does violate this guideline.

Are there security features on Wikipedia?

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1. Tracking of IP addresses: WikiScanner

The ability to track Internet Protocol addresses was an invention of Virgil Griffith, a CalTach graduate student. The Wikipedia Scanner traces the IP addresses of those who make Wikipedia changes. It cross-references the edits with data on who owns the associated block of Internet addresses. On the WikiScanner you can search by organizations, a specific Wikipedia page, user submitted organizations (the IP range of the owner), or by specific IP range.

Fun Fact about the WikiScanner: Wikipedians who are in charge of cross referencing IP addresses with specific revisions have written several articles discusses the revisions made from U.S. Senate and Congress member's known IP addresses. Many articles have been edited in hopes of altering the public view of current global issues; for example: global warming, environmental disasters, etc.

2. Verifiability of Pages

Wikipedia is online as a source for verifiability, not truth. “Verifiable” in this context means that readers should be able to double check the material that they see on the site with a reliable source. If the material does not have a citation and is challenged, it will be removed.

3. Citations on Pages

On some Wikipedia pages that can be viewed, there may be a warning that states “citation needed.” These warnings can be found in a heading at the beginning of the page as well as throughout a page in the form of in-text citations. This warning means that a Wikipedia editor believes that the information provided may be challenged; therefore needing a citation, or the information is subject to removal. Any person is able to put in the citations and the warning will be removed once a proper citation is put up or the information will be removed. These citation warnings can remain on pages for several months and even up to a year before an article is removed due to lack of credibility. This poses the question, how long is too long to wait for verification of information being shown publicly? Unfortunately, there are no rules regarding this topic; therefore, readers should use discretion when viewing articles with these warnings.

4. Unregistered/Newly Registered Users

Wikipedia has a policy about letting unregistered or newly registered users edit high profile pages. For example, the page about Elizabeth II of United Kingdom has a heading stating "Editing of this article by unregistered or newly registered users is currently disabled." This feature guarantees that editing done to high profile pages can be quickly linked back to a particular user. It has been suggested by many Wikipedia critics that is feature is quite useless as users only have to be registered for 4 days to be allowed to edit these disabled pages. In contrast to this statement, Jimmy Wales quoted to a New York Times writer that "If someone really wants to write 'George Bush is a poopy head,' you've got to wait four days."

5. Protected Pages

Similar to the disabled pages discussed previously, Wikipedia also has a policy regarding the full protection of Wikipedia pages. Protected pages are pages that cannot be edited by anybody. These are often high profile pages where the information is highly sensitive to current issues. For example, the page about Barrack Obama has a heading stating "This page is currently protected from editing until disputes have been resolved." Protecting particular pages is a security feature that is essential to the protection of information violation in many high profile cases.

Can Wikipedia be used as a credible source?

1. Pros

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Wikipedia is an online database that contains information regarding biographies, history, current events, etc. Since the editing information on Wikipedia is very easy, Wikipedia can be edited by anyone at anywhere and at anytime. Wikipedia is available in a number of languages including English, French, Chinese, German, Japanese, etc; which is more convenient to users in different countries. The popularity of Wikipedia can be attributed to its ease of use, the wide variety of languages it is available in, web 2.0 hype with user created contents, broad knowledge base and user friendly interface.


Also, Wikipedia has a panel of moderators called Wikipedians to ensure information posted is accurate. For example, Stephen Colbert on his TV talk show, he asked his viewers to change the entry “Elephant” to say that the animal is not an endangered species. As thousands of people rushed to Wikipedia to change this entry, the Wikipedians stepped in to prevent the entry of incorrect information. That is one way Wikipedia responds to keep information accurate.

In August 2007, WikiScanner was developed. The purpose of the WikiScanner is discussed in the security section found above. WikiScanner can help corporations and governments remove inaccurate criticism from the articles about them.

2. Cons

Ironically, the pros and cons of Wikipedia overlap quite a bit. The idea that an online database can be edited by anybody is highly controversial. A question raised by Randall Stross, a New York Times writer, is "Can an article be judged as credible without knowing its author?". As Wikipedia allowed registers and unregistered users to edit the pages found on the site, it is difficult to know where the information is coming from and how legitimate the sources are. Wikipedia's idea that collective knowledge amongst enthusiastic individuals will create accurately writen articles is optimistic and most critics feel that this idea only works in theory, not in practice.

The idea behind having the Wikipedians, volunteers to assist Wikipedia by validating information, is a good thought but difficult to truly see the benefits. The process of these Wikipedians checking each page for correct information is time consuming; so much so that information added by individuals comes in at a much faster pace that information can be checked. Once a page can been fully inspected for validity, the page can be deemed a 'featured article' which simply means that articles can been looked at by a Wikipedian. As of the beginning of 2007, less than 1000 out of the 2 million pages in English have been granted this 'featured' status; so again this is an idea that works in theory. Jimmy Wales was quoted in 2006 as saying he is not happy with the pace at which the pages are being validated; however, little has been done to the site to improve the current flow of correct information.

3. Is the information on Wikipedia credible?


Overall, Wikipedia has several pros and cons. Questioning the credibility of a source that allows anybody and everybody to add, delete, or change information is one that will never have a definite answer. The conclusion drawn based on the information previously provided is that the information could be used for quick clarification; however, the information should allows to researched further. The general public should not rely on the information on Wikipedia pages when properly researched information is required. Wikipedia functions solely as a 'information checker', not as an 'information provider'.

While the majority of the information found on Wikipedia is most likely correct, it is wise to not trust everything you see.

Can Wikipedia be improved?

1. Veropedia - new generation of Wikipedia


Veropedia, a new generation of online database, was launched in October 2007. It was designed to be an improved version of Wikipedia by providing more credible information that has been properly reviewed. Veropedia was organized by Danny Wool, a previous Wikipedia editor, in collaboration with other experienced Wikipedians. By November 2007, almost 100 Wikipedia editors joined Veropedia in hopes of creating a trustworthy collection of articles.

"The idea of Veropedia is to improve Wikipedia, to create something serious and stable that students and teachers can rely on," said Wool. "There's so much great stuff in Wikipedia, but it can be better – in its reliability and sourcing of articles. We focus on the encyclopedic content, moving away from pop culture, which is permeating the site." Veropedia editors obtain articles topics from Wikipedia, properly review them for correct content, then post them on Veropedia. They will give each posted article a stamp of approval or they will refuse to post incorrect articles. Once an article is posted on Veropedia, it can not be edited by others. The users of Veropedia believe that this method has enabled them to put more faith in the information they read. Veropedia editors carefully select the information they post and, as stated above, current pop culture is generally avoided. The content on Veropedia is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License because all the articles from Veropedia are from Wikipedia. Veropedia is still free to users but unlike Wikipedia, Veropedia accepts advertising from Amazon rather than the donations from others.

However, Veropedia is still in the testing stage; no experts have joined their group yet. Veropedia is trying to attract the academic writers such as world class historians and astronomers who have been involved in Wikipedia before. For now, there are nearly 4000 articles on Veropedia; those articles are verified by the experienced editors, however credibility can still be questioned as most of these editors are not academic writers. A current downfall of Veropedia is that it is only available in English, but as popularity and demand grows there is discussion of expanding the number of languages articles are written in.

2. Suggestions for improvements

To provide more credible information, Wikipedia should consider the following suggestions:

•Find volunteers with significant expertise to verify the current information viewable on Wikipedia.

•Once an article has been properly verified, editing should be discontinued. If a user would like to change information found on locked page, they would have to obtain specific permission from a Wikipedia expert to make any alterations.

•Wikipedia should verify the information being put into new articles prior to them being posted.

Wikipedia login screen.jpg

•Wikipedia should not allow unregistered users to make alterations to pages. All users should have to obtain a proper log-in name, password, and submit their e-mail. This would allow Wikipedia to block users who are vandalizing pages.

•Although Wikipedia has committed to keeping advertisements off of the website, they may consider allowing small ads for credible websites to appear on the Wikipedia pages. This would allow them to raise funds to bring in more experts for verification.

•Focus on translation more of the English articles into other languages. As the world is continuing to become more multicultural, it would be beneficial to the success of Wikipedia if they could attract more non-English speaking people.

Concluding Statement

1. Useful or Useless?


Although we feel that most of the information found in Wikipedia is probably credible, it is important for all users to be cautious in regards to how much they rely on this website for truthful facts. Wikipedia should not be used when writing paper, reports, or documents that require a great deal of accuracy as it is impossible to fully separate the fact from the fiction. Instead, it is important that users of Wikipedia verify the information they find by obtaining proper research tools, such as library books. Wikipedia is useful as a source of quickly accessible information; however, it is not useless as a search engine.


1. Abigail's Sources

2. Courtney's Sources

3. Jessica's Sources

4. Martha's Sources

5. Image Sources --> Stephen Colbert --> Veropedia --> Wikipedia Logo --> Wiki Scanned --> Books --> Wikipedia Log-in --> Nupedia Logo --> Wikipedia Languages --> Wikipedia Question mark