Tuesday, October 6, 2009

#16. Wikis

When I hear the word "wiki," my immediate thought is of Wikipedia. I generally think Wikipedia gets a bad name, particularly since I use it so much for quick reference. I wonder if people (particularly librarians) who badmouth wikipedia ever use it. Its openness does make is susceptible to tampering and misinformation, but as this 2005 article shows, Wikipedia is nearly as accurate as Encyclopedia Britannica.

Plus, if you think about it, suggesting that Wikipedia is entirely unreliable, because it's susceptible to tampering, or some form of information sabotage, presents a pretty cynical view of the world. Are people really going around deliberately adding in wrong information? The accidentally incorrect information is often corrected over time by people who know better.

There are citations. There are warnings at the top of entries that have disputed perspectives of its bias. There are notes applied to records that need to have the writing be cleaned up and clarified. I can only speak from experience. I do not feel that the writing on Wikipedia is worse than the writing in Encyclopedia Britannica. As a matter of fact, I think it's better. And the speed with which new entries can be created and developed makes it a no-brainer for me. If I were writing a research paper, I wouldn't cite Wikipedia, but I really wouldn't go to Encyclopedia Britannica either.

The library that I work at now uses a wiki for training information, which is useful as a reference tool for newly hired workers who often need simple reminders of how to perform their jobs. The wikis often save the managers time and help the new workers to save some of the anxiety of starting a new job, since you can't remember everything that you're told or taught, and you don't want to keep asking your boss for reminders. Plus, jobs change, and the wiki provides a platform for simple, quick changes.

Of the examples on the 23 Things page, I like the Library Best Practices page the best. It's an effective way to organize a large amount of information, and not only add to it, but change it as library practices change.

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