Encyclopaedias are not popularity contests

Few would dispute the popularity of Wikipedia, the self-described “multi-lingual, web-based, free-content encyclopedia project based on an openly editable model”. The website is currently ranked by web analysts Alexa as the fifth most popular worldwide. But whether Wikipedia’s collaborative nature truly earns ‘encyclopaedia’ status is more debatable. This blog will explore both sides of the debate. It will first discuss how Wikipedia differs from traditional concepts and formats of encyclopaedias, focusing on its palimpsestic and collaborative characteristics. It will then explore the criticisms that such characteristics make Wikipedia no substitute for traditional encyclopaedias. It will particularly focus on the arguments that Wikipedia supports amateur content, truthiness and outright vandalism. But, it will then mention the notable advantages of Wikipedia that discount these claims, including the meritocratic heterarchichal production chain, allowing information to be updated to maintain accuracy and the overall goodwill of Wikipedian produsers that strive to ensure this is achieved. It will conclude by arguing that Wikipedia is no less deserving of encyclopaedia status than traditional media, but that, like any medium, it is far from containing the absolute truth and should be used with further research.

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