New comparative study to re-examine the quality and accuracy of Wikipedia

Much of Wikipedians’ efforts is devoted to ensuring the quality of the encyclopedia they are producing collaboratively – the community is constantly working to improve it. The effectiveness of this work has been recognized many times, perhaps most notably in a study published in 2005 by the scientific journal Nature which compared entries in the English Wikipedia with those in the online edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica. Nature reported four errors per Wikipedia entry and three per Encyclopaedia Britannica entry, a result that is still widely cited today even though Wikipedia is now more than twice as old, having matured in many ways.

The Wikimedia Foundation has commissioned a new small-scale study to examine the quality and accuracy of Wikipedia articles. This study, currently being undertaken by Epic, a UK-based e-learning company, and Oxford University, employs greater rigor than the Nature study, involves academics and scholars, and will examine more than just English language entries, and subjects other than solely science. Our hope is that the study’s findings will inspire and inform more extensive, independently funded research related to the quality of information found in Wikipedia and other free knowledge projects.

This project will explore methods to define a baseline for the quality of Wikipedia entries and to help the community identify shortcomings, as well as strategies to address them. Wikipedia has several advantages over commercially available online encyclopedias – it is freely accessible to hundreds of millions of users worldwide, it is available in over 270 languages, and it is updated at remarkable speed, relying on the ability of a vast number of non-paid contributors rather than the academic credentials of a few paid experts. However, errors do exist and concerns have been raised that articles may be colored by contributors’ personal opinions or misunderstandings. A comparative analysis of the quality of Wikipedia’s articles and other popular alternatives is crucial to identifying avenues for improvement.

Dario Taraborelli, Senior Research Analyst, Strategy

Tilman Bayer, Movement Communications

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1 Comment on New comparative study to re-examine the quality and accuracy of Wikipedia

John Broughton 3 years

“A comparative analysis of the quality of Wikipedia’s articles and other popular alternatives is crucial to identifying avenues for improvement.”

Actually, NO. What is crucial to improvement is to reverse the continuing decline in the number of active Wikipedia contributors – to get more new editors, and to keep active editors longer. There are already known enormous backlogs – see for example http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Wikipedia_Signpost/2011-10-31/Opinion_essay (including its comments), because the number of contributors is declining in absolute terms, not to mention in respect to the ever-increasing size of the encyclopedia.

Every major Internet commercial website spends millions of dollars every month testing and implementing changes to make their websites easier to use. But the Foundation – which depends far more on its contributors to create content than any other organization except social media sites like Facebook – has never put the user experience of *editors* as anything close to its number one priority. And the result is that people with time – because more people spend more time on the Web every year – commit less and less time as editors on Wikipedia and other WMF websites. Readership goes up, inexorably, but the people who create the content continue to be fewer and fewer, inexorably.

The Foundation has some initiatives ongoing that will help – a WYSIWYG editor and an analysis of why editors leave being potentially the most useful. What is missing is a commitment by the Foundation to make editing EASIER. That means not only the user interface, but such matters as creating a separate Table namespace (in the same way that there is a separate, and different, namespace for media files); a one-click or two-click way of creating a fully-formatted footnote citation from any source page on the web; a hash total for article versions so that reverts can be easily removed from watchlist reports (for those who don’t care about what is typically vandalism removal); a functional help system for less-experienced editors; a professionally created and edited set of screencasts for new and intermediate-level editors, showing how to perform various tasks; edit options beyond just all-or-nothing opening of an article or article section (for example, “add a footnote”; “improve a footnote”); and more.

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