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