Wikipedia turned 10 in January 2011. It has come a long way from its roots as a hackneyed collaboration of articles to up-to-date content moderated by editors around the globe. A recent survey from the Pew Research Center revealed just how popular the service has become. Read it here: http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2011/Wikipedia/Report.aspx

However, Wikipedia is still not accepted as a definitive source of news because the content and descriptions can be added by anyone and some people have figured out how to fake out the system. At the heart of the controversy is its banishment from academia. According to professional researchers, the information is not vetted using a more rigorous, scholarly method as used by its nearest competitor, Encylopedia Brittanica. Does it matter? Is the venerable Encyclopedia Brittanica nearing extinction? Will Wikipedia ultimately turn to advertising to fund its existence? Will this influence the content?

Here’s a test, search for the following words–Oliver North–using both services and then compare the results. (Naturally, membership is required to get detailed information from one of the services–which is a very important distinction.)

What are your thoughts?

22 thoughts on “Wikipedia vs. Encyclopedia Brittanica

  1. It does make sense that Wikipedia is not accepted by academia because of the fact that anyone can post or edit information; there does need to be some standards for which acceptable research can be conducted. Having said that, Wikipedia members do a great job of self monitoring, and most of the information on the site is accurate. If you try and post false information on Wikipedia, it will be taken down rather hastily (for example, when reading about Duke basketball a few months ago, someone changed the introduction to say something alone the lines of ” a bunch of d-bags.” As soon as I refreshed that was gone).
    For personal research on everyday topics, or to look something up quickly, Wikipedia far exceeds the encyclopedia, both in the amount of articles size of the articles. When Google-ing a subject, wikipedia link to that subject is often one of the first responses. Also, when comparing Oliver North on Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia, the Wikipedia article was far more in depth.
    I personally believe that Wikipedia is becoming a far stronger research tool, if nothing else just as a jumping off point. It may never be accepted by Academia, but that doesn’t diminish the value that it presents.

  2. Although Wikipedia in not accepted as a reliable source for the research, it’s such a great tool to start any research. Because at least we can obtain the ideas or definitions for the topic that we’re working on, and some articles on Wikipedia have written in depth than the Encyclopedia. Personally, when I have no place to start my project, I often use Wikipedia as the basic information for my research, and it usually guides me to the wider information later by following the reference links on Wikipedia. We can actually get so many benefits from utilizing this source, if we know how to use it in the right way.

    I believe that most people use Wikipedia as a “compass” to reach their objective for any purposes. Google is mainly used as the primary searching engine for everyone, and when they look something up quickly, Wikipedia always shows up first as the first choice for us.
    Even though something occurs, or Wikipedia turns to advertising, it might not affect the content that much because the Wikipedia is now widespread and very well known as th research tool(still not acceptable by Academia), and the information is getting stronger and accurate enough to rely on for starting the research or everyday topics.

    1. I totally do the same thing! When I need to find research on something that I am not already aware of, Wikipedia is the first source I always go to, whether it is just for a definition or for an entire history of someone’s life, such as Oliver North. Encyclopedia Brittanica gave me two very small paragraphs on Oliver’s life in the marines, then asked me to activate my “no-risk free trial” to continue reading. I understand that Wikipedia information may be scewed, but I really wish it could be used as a reliable source of research. Many times, Wikipedia says things much clearer than any other Encyclopedia could. I also feel that Wikipedia can be used as a “compass” like Namyot stated. You can go to the page on a particular subject, and it links you to where they got their information from. So although I went through Wikipedia at first, I ended up using a viable source in the end.
      I think many people do trust the information found in Wikipedia. Encyclopedia Brittanica will probably go extinct because they make it so difficult to get information from them. People like fast, easy, and convenient, and that’s where Wikipedia stands as of now.

  3. I completely agree with Nathan. Wikipedia often gives more detailed and in-depth articles than the Encyclopedia Britannica and although it would probably have to jump through too many expensive hoops to become academically accredited, its value is undeniable to its users.
    If Wikipedia has to go to advertisements to help pay for the site, I hope that they do so in a manner like Google, keeping everything separate and easily identifiable. Encyclopedia Britannica is expensive, about $20 as an iPhone app and over $100 a year to become a member of the website! If a little side advertising is all I have to “deal with” in order to have free access to an encyclopedia, then I am okay with that.

  4. I think Wikipedia should be an accepted source of news. Even though a person doesn’t have an official degree or official background behind a subject doesn’t mean that they are unable to share information that is valid. The collaboration of information from many different people with different backgrounds is what gives Wikipedia articles better depth. The reason that it has grater depth is that anyone can contribute to the articles and this creates a large number of people involved. When an article is posted by only a few individuals it is limited to their experience, while Wikipedia eliminates this limitation. Quality is often put into question, but this site is monitored for quality. The public should recognize the success of Wikipedia’s ability to monitor information and trust the quality because of this. I personally trust Wikipedia and I haven’t had any experience where the information that I’ve seen was false.

  5. Wikipedia is a good source for someone to start with when looking for information on a certain subject. However, I don’t think it is a creditable source and completely agree that it shouldn’t be accepted. Anyone can post on Wikipedia so therefore people should take that into account when basing their finding off of that. It is a good starting point but it is not a creditable site.

  6. All research can start with Wikipedia but it should never end with Wikipedia. That’s how I’ve always considered the service’s quality. Having grown up before the advent of the Internet, I fondly remember relying on the Encyclopedia Britannica but that too was only a starting point for research. We, as researchers, shouldn’t try to find the answers in one place, but rather in several places that both challenge and compliment one another.

  7. While Wikipedia is not an accepted source many people do use it in research. As a student I use it at the beginning of every paper I write. I then use sources and facts that are written in the article and do further research. I believe that Wikipedia needs to be used with a grain of salt for the fact that anyone can put anything on the site. Though I am not sure it should be discredited entirely.

    The difference between Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Brit. is that Encyclopedia needs a user name to access more than 100 words of information, while Wikipedia does not. I also am not sure how updated Encyclopedia is while Wikipedia is updated all the time. For this reason I use Wikipedia all the time and never use Encyclopedia.

  8. Wikipedia’s lack of acceptance among academics is understandable; however the service should not be devalued as a general source of information or starting point for research endeavors. Much like Google’s main search engine is ashamedly used as a starting point for schoolwork inquiries, it is simply that, a starting point. Still, the free component of Wikipedia follows the open information trend, the uprising of citizen authors/ journalists, and the need for internet monitoring.

    1. I agree, especially with the rise of citizen journalists, I think that Wikipedia will gain the street cred it deserves. Just like many blogs and citizen journalists I think there is always going to be a bad apple in the group, but for the most part I think that Wikipedia is gaining ground in the research arena.

  9. There definitely is a place for Wikipedia in the world, it just isn’t with academia as of now. I know that I use Wikipedia frequently to look up quick facts that aren’t under scrutiny, but beyond gaining a superficial knowledge of something it isn’t of much use to me. It should be stated that what makes this site so great for starting research is not the page itself, but the links that are supplied and cited near the bottom. As has already been stated, Wikipedia is a useful site, but shouldn’t be the source backing whatever argument you are presenting by any means. I’m curious to see in the near future if Wiki will have gained enough clout to be mentioned as a credible source; my bet is that it will eventually.

  10. I am 100% guilty of checking Wikipedia first before I move onto places like Google Scholar or the library. Wikipedia is definitely ready to be part of my citation list, but it is a super place to start. I seem to find better secondary sources that are cited within Wikipedia than I do at other search engines.

    I also have been to some Wikipedia sites where the person updating the information probably wasn’t an expert on the issue. Usually when you see words like “dude” and you’re not on the John Wayne page is a dead giveaway.

    I think over time Wikipedia will gain more and more popularity and using these pages in research, especially for advertising and marketing majors, will become more common place.

  11. I echo the sentiments of the other commenters that wikipedia will always have a place on the net. However, I believe that Wikipedia can surpass Britannica in quantity and quality of information. It’s all about designing the right QA mechanism. I believe in general, Wikipedia is more robust and useful and Britannica, it just requires the user more effort to verify sources of edits, which isn’t that hard.

  12. Wikipedia give more information than Encyclopedia Brittanica on words Oliver North. This happens because more people using and editing Wikipedia than Encyclopedia Brittanica these recent years.
    Speaking of which… typing http://www.wikipedia.com is easier than typing http://www.britannica.com and even saying “Wikipedia” than saying “encycloooo …. what? “. Just like saying let’s google something rather than yahoo it !!
    I always start with Wikipedia because it gives me some basic information about sometime I am looking for.

  13. I think that Wikipedia not being a site accepted by most Universities and organizations as a dependable resource is pretty natural. The fact that anyone can change what they want, makes the site appear less dependable, and for important research something credible would be better.

    Wiki, however, because it can change so much also has the advantage of having many different opinions about a topic, some better then other. So, if something written is wrong or lacks substance, someone else can alter it to actually make the material more useful. I would not credit Wiki or use the service with regards to medical or legal advice, as that may pose serious repercussions.

    If Wiki does need funding from advertising, i think there is no doubt the source will have to become more credible, companies would not want to advertise their brand on a source that is perceived to be unreliable. The consumer image of the brand may mirror this perception of the product as well.

  14. I agree that Wiki is a great site to get started when tackling a research paper and learning about random facts………. Get started though not blindly trust it…………. To some extent most people already know how well to trust wiki, I have had friends and even other professors offer advice on tell-tale signs of untrustworthy Wiki pages.

    How is the grammar?
    Have you checked the references?
    How many spelling errors are there?

    Wikipedia is like a brainstorm session, its a tool that is used to generate ideas, gain different perspective, look at second opinions, but anyone that is using a brainstorm session as a primary method of solving problems is by choice being foolish and the same can be said about using Wiki as a solid source.

  15. I think Wikipedia is a very useful website. I agree with the above description about Wikipedia, “compass”. I personally love to use Wikipedia to start my research. It provides a framework of a particular subject that I am confused with other stuff. Wikipedia’s structure and information are easier to understand than any other webpage. Whenever I start a research, I type key words on Google search engine. Wikipedia is always on the top of the list. It is true Wikipedia allows the public do editing to the website and make issues more current. In the positive side, the information is very concise and detailed, including history, background and current activities of a particular object/subject. On the other hand, the open editing option creates unreliability. Especially, when it comes with searching for medicine information, it would be risky to trust Wikipedia. I would prefer to trust more reliable websites. Wikipedia’s competitor’s website, Encyclopedia, initially looks professional. In fact, content is fewer than Wikipedia. The number of available information is very limited when I searched a particular subject. However, on the left hand side, there are different versions from different editors available, while Wikipedia only has one version. Overall, I believe Wikipedia is much successful than Encyclopedia based on its structure and content.

  16. I do actually use Wikipedia and think its a good source to get background data on something. Indeed it is no the best source to add to your research paper (if permitted at all), but if ever in doubt you can always check the references that Wikipedia cites and most of the time you actually come a credible source. I was actually surprised to have a few of my Doctorate professors actually recommend the site as a tool to get familiar with a research topic. The reason why Wiki may be used a lot more often then the Brittanica Enc., can be attributed to the fact that its one of the first things that pulls up on a Google search, whereas the encyclopedia is seldom the first choice. I think it’d be a bummer if Wiki starts advertising on its site. I’m way too tired of being bombarded with media….

  17. Wikipedia is a great resource for information. Although it can be edited by any individual, the site still requires users to cite the information or work. In others words most of the information can be verified and it would be up to the user to determine if the information comes for a reliable source. As far as Wikipeida turning to advertising to help sustain the site, I believe is feasible. Running something this big takes a lot of resources and funding. An alternative can be private donations or charging a monthly or annual membership to have access to the site.

  18. Wikipedia is a wonderful tool to find basic information about something. This free online service provides you knowledge that other persons shared.
    Imagine you discuss with someone, what he will tell you may be true or false, and you may trust him or not.
    Wikipedia is the same. Its popularity gave to this website this quality service that everybody trust.
    Obviously, Wikipedia must not be used as a source until this service would be absolutely under control ( source of the article, writers …) and verification of new information. Every information can be shared (this is how education works) and every “new” information can be proved because it comes from a current source.
    Eventually, Google Scholar has maybe founded a good opportunity to solve this problem.

  19. I think Wikipedia is a great starting point when trying to gain information, however, due to content, it may or may not be the best tool to find concrete information. I think what some people do not realize is that anyone can add content to a subject. Sources do not necessarily need to be cited. We know that there are different types of information that may or may not be from a credible source. This may cause incorrect information to be displayed. I think Wikipedia needs control over the information given. I also think Wikipedia needs to not allow just anyone to add information. There needs to be some regulation and that is why Britanica would be a better source. However, with technology, I think that the encyclopedia needs to upgrade and be online.

  20. The very fact that Wikipedia is reviewed and edited by to many causes the information to become normalize which in fact means that it is more accurate then the method used by Britannica. The old way of vetting information should not be applied here for academia. The reality for commonly search on information there is not more definitive resource then Wikipedia.

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