Wikipedia Wrangles

It’s no secret that Wikipedia is not always the most reliable source of information on the Web, but the demographics of its contributers did surprise me a bit, mostly because I hadn’t previously given it much thought. However, according to Evgeny Morozov in the Boston Review:

In [cofounder Jimmy] Wales’s own words, Wikipedians are “80 percent male, more than 65 percent single, more than 85 percent without children, around 70 percent under the age of 30.”

Morozov, reviewing Andrew Lih’s The Wikipedia Revolution, is quaintly concerned with the brow height of these lonely young Wikipedians.

Thus the standard criticism of Wikipedians: they are obsessed with popular culture and less equipped to document the high-brow. The 711-word entry on nouvelle vague filmmaker Claude Chabrol, for example, is much less impressive than the 1867-word article on Transformers-director Michael Bay.

The article argues that these facts contribute to the site’s lack of credibility, causing large gaps in information which might be brought for by a more diverse contributing population. It also argues that the business model may be encouraging less-than-reputable sources and discouraging experts whose sources aren’t easily linkable.

As long as an hour of research yields less “Wikipedia value” than an hour spent planting one hundred commas, few enthusiasts will do the intellectual heavy-lifting. Besides, one cannot learn much about Chabrol from a cursory Google search. Thus, the real tragedy of the Wikipedia method is that it reduces intellectual contributions to such granular units that writing a 2000-word entry on Chabrol in one sitting feels like painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. And if you do go to such lengths to improve the site, you do not want the bureaucrats—who may know nothing about Chabrol—to judge your contribution. There is something unappealing about the value system of a project that prizes, say, movie reviews quoted from college newspapers over elaborate entries in the authoritative Schirmer Encyclopedia of Film, simply because the latter does not have an easy-to-link Web site.

Of course, I don’t think Wikipedia’s lack of credibility as a reputable source surprises many, but it the inner workings detailed in this (admittedly sensationalistic ) review are interesting.