Wiki… Wikipe… Wikipedia!

Thriving online.  This brief, but astute concept really makes me step back and re-read it over and over again to really try and understand if it is even possible to thrive online.  In this day in age, when we are so seemingly inundated with information – how can we possible muddle through it all?

In reading the Net Smart How to Thrive Online by Howard Rheingold, there were two primary components that I really honed in on.  One of the primary concepts was this idea around attention literacy, which the phenomenon of multi-tasking and online activities in search of information.

For example as I was writing this blog post for this week, I was looking up a few thoughts on my end idea and while I had those pages up on Google Chrome, I went searching for what a used pop-up camper might cost (I just in fact had a conversation where I was thinking about possibly purchasing one from a friend).  I then went back to find more resources for my post, but then I started wondering – what if the camper is dingy inside?  Can I remodel a pop-up camper?  So I went online hunting to find if others had this same thought and what ideas they might have had in redoing their pop-up camper (as you’ll find below – there are some neat ideas out there).  I finally told myself I had to stop and get to writing my blog post or I was not going to get it done – but then I had to wonder about how I would pull the camper since my vehicle is clearly in a dark place, I would need something different in order to make that happen…

Scattered thoughts (Source: Ironically from a site called Wikimedia)

This image – clearly marks this idea of gaining proper attention towards our online use.  But I think, even in my brief example, we can see how having an information genius at our fingertips can really have an impact on this natural “task switching” tendency we have as humans (Rheingold, 2014).

The second concept was equally as intriguing for me to ponder and that was around this idea of “crap detection” (Rheingold, 2014) on the internet.  As Rheingold put it, the rule of thumb for crap detection “is to make skepticism your default” (p. 77).

crap detector
Source: Natalie Dee

But as I read through these thoughts, one of the most interesting correlations I had was this idea of Wikipedia and interchanging that with crap detection.  Now I am assuming everyone reading this will know what Wikipedia is, but if not, it is essentially an online free encyclopedia tool.  One of the arguments that Rheingold makes in his book, is the idea of creating and developing online collaborative tools and social communities.  In fact, Rheingold goes on to say that “web-based tools are particularly important because wikis enable people to collaborate in ways that challenge basic assumptions underlying modern economic theory and contradict older stereotypes regarding human motivation to cooperate.”

This is even more thought provoking as we think about how Wikipedia is often viewed – especially in academia.  Without a doubt, Wikipedia is one of the most accessed online tools for gathering information, but we often here from professors that in academia world, Wikipedia is not a credible source.  In fact, even Wikipedia says that they are not as they state on their site, “citation of Wikipedia in research papers may be considered unacceptable, because Wikipedia is not considered a credible or authoritative source.”  One of the underlying concerns is the amount of editing rights people have – essentially anyone can go in there and edit it.

But what if it were a credible and authoritative source of information?  According to Rheingold, this online social network can in fact be a greater asset in terms of collective action.  And let’s not forget about the Encyclopedia books we had for year’s growing up.  I think I had the same Encyclopedia set in my house for over 15 years.  How is that useful and correct information?

But the big question is in the long-term, will Wikipedia become an established tool / credible source that can be used to collect accurate information?  Or do you think we will not ever feel like this would be a credible source from a social network perspective?

Posted on October 18, 2015, in Social Media, Society, Teaching and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.

  1. Hi Chelsea,

    I had to laugh while reading your post, your camper vs classwork dilemma is the story of my life. However, I realize approaching deadlines are enough to diminish distractions outside my assignments. The consequences of missing assignments or handing things in late are enough to completely tune out social media, the Internet, my phone, and everything else distracting, instantly. The less time I have to get something done (typically within the final week), the less interesting these things are.

    I’ve always wondered how Wikipedia would compare to the Encyclopedia Britannica. Considering the public nature of Wiki, it isn’t difficult to imagine most of the information posted may be true, but biased. I found this article online where a Harvard professor compared the two and found some pretty interesting differences:

    • Hi Natasha – thank you for sharing that article. In another post I responded, I began to wondering if the use of the internet is in fact making us more attention deficit? It’s like Google / browsing the Internet is turning into a special kind of drug that fulfills a need. I too, when under the pressure, find that I can often switch out of the role of using social media, but I think it is our goal to identify and react to our lack of attention sooner.

  2. Hi Chelsea, I don’t think Wikipedia will ever become a trusted source, for a couple of reasons. First, the people who write and edit it might not have any actual authority on the topic and, in fact, are likely to be biased, because they self-selected to write the Wiki post. Second, there aren’t a panel of unbiased experts checking, or triangulating, any of the material for credibility and legitimacy.

    I do think it’s extremely helpful as a jumping off point for research, though, even though I would never cite it as a credible source of information. Often, it gives you a nice overview, and then you can establish the facts and get rid of the untruths by checking a number of other sources. You can also try to check the veracity of the article using the references at the bottom of the page, which may or may not be credible.

    • Hi Mary. I can fully agree with that. Another article I found, really focused on the type of content that is often driven out of a Wikipedia article. Bias was often discussed in regards to not using Wikipedia, but an interesting thought is that we often use peer-reviewed journal articles in Academia, do we not? And are those not in essence biased by the writer? The other article I did find, however, called out the use of Wikipedia in academia. To your point, Wikipedia is a great for a first reference, overview of information, this article also stated that even a printed encyclopedia would not elicit the type of information we would need to complete work within the academic field.

      But as JessicaG states in the writecheck article, “the reason we don’t use Wikipedia is not really because the information can change and the information is somehow unreliable, but Wikipedia is general information and simply not the type of sources required in academics” (2013).

  3. I can so relate with you Chelsea on the digital literacy discussion you framed so well. I can so easily go after the next shiny object online. Then, the next thing I know an hour has gone by.

    You might enjoy this article (articles really) from Harvard Business Review: If found much of the information helpful.

    I’m not a news-junky but I do not like the feeling that I might be missing an article that I might like to read. The information on aggregators and using them I found helpful. It’s led me to think about what information is most important to me and to think about how often and when I want to review that information.

    For example, I now use lists in Twitter so I can prioritize reviewing information. During downtime, I’ll look at my lists that relate to my personal interests. During work, I schedule time here and there to check out industry and professional stuff. The lists keep me focused on one type of information and have reduced my urge to follow the next shiny object.

    • Hi Aaron. Thank you for sharing that article! It aligned so nicely with this week’s readings and how we can use behavioral principles to really curb our appetite for – SQUIRREL – chasing after the next best thing.

      That is also another really interesting thought too about how you use social media tools to better organize and address your own personal interests. That is definitely another useful behavior exercise that we can undertake.

  4. How we use Wikipedia is such an interesting topic! I think that it’s too common for people to dismiss it entirely because of reliability issues. No it is not reliable, but yes it is a great resource. I liked the scale Rheingold briefly mentioned – Is it good enough to win a debate with friends while drinking a beer? Sure. Can I site it in a paper? Of course not!

    I read all four Twilight books’ wikipedia pages and I’m so glad that I did. I don’t think I would enjoy reading them full length, but I’m happy to be able to understand references and broad sweeping themes. I will not be citing the Wikipedia articles in any Team Jacob vs. Team Edward argument, so I think I’m solid. For more academic purposes I’ll check out those references at the bottom.

    • Hey Allie. You brought up a really great point that I think is important to highlight. The references! In correlation to this week’s reading, I think a part of this “crap detection” philosophy is also up to us to look into information even further ahead. So when we are reading through informational articles (like what could be found on Wikipedia), than we need to do our due diligence to look into the references further, if there is in fact information we need from that article. But it’s understanding and looking deeper into those articles that can often be a miss, in my own opinion.

  5. I particularly enjoy the Wikipedia entry on the Reliability of Wikipedia: Note the fact that the hoaxes page redirects there. 🙂

    • Chelsea Dowling

      The hoax page is especially interesting to look at too. The fact that they do record it, is something in and of itself. I’m amazed at how many were listed in the long-term category (over a year) and how quickly some of them were caught as well. One of the things that the reliability entry brought up for me was this “self-healing” ability. I’m curious if certain entries are reviewed/triggered depending on the number of hits certain pages get? Otherwise, why would some “hoaxes” be more quickly identified over others?

      • Unrelated to hoaxes, in the past 24 hours I’ve seen 2 authors list on their websites to refer to their Wikipedia entries for biographical information “as they are generally accurate.”

        • Chelsea Dowling

          It’s interesting to see outside of academia, how Wikipedia is used. But this is very much in alignment to look at Wikipedia as a way to gain foundational understanding of a specific topic.

        • Chelsea Dowling

          I just had to share. . . I was reading the September issue of the Intercom and one of the authors referenced Wikipedia within that article.

          …”It promotes adaptive planning, evolutionary development,
          early delivery, continuous improvement and encourages
          rapid and flexible response to change” (http://en.wikipedia

          ( Another example of how Wikipedia is accessed outside of the academic world.

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