This essay was written for my language arts class, but I felt it also deserved to be on the Internet here as I struggled to find sources while writing this. I may come back and fix this so it actually is a good essay and covers all the things I wanted the original essay to cover but simply ran out of time. With that being said, Wikipedia is a very hard topic to simply cover all on one essay. I ran out of time to list all the benefits and disadvantages I consider important.
Wikipedia has many benefits that the public should take full advantage of. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia that anyone can edit and access, with over 5 million articles in the English language (Wikipedia Contributors, “Wikipedia:Statistics”). There are many different, niche topics that Wikipedia covers that would be very difficult to find anywhere else. Whether people are looking to work on their writing skills, learn a bit more about the world or help others do the same, Wikipedia is an amazing resource.
When you edit Wikipedia, you edits are immediately published to the whole world. There is no delete or undo button, you have to make sure what you are doing makes sense. Wikipedia Education’s “Reasons to use Wikipedia” page lists the global audience as one of the main benefits of Wikipedia, “…students appreciate that their work could be viewed by thousands of people” (“Education/Reasons to use Wikipedia”). Working to create a global encyclopedia is a big deal and having the ability to edit at your fingertips is a privilege that should not be taken lightly.
Wikipedia isn’t your normal editing experience
Creating and editing Wikipedia articles forces people to become better writers. There are many examples of people coming to Wikipedia with the intention of fixing or writing an article only to find their changes had been reverted. When they look at why those changes have been reverted, they realize they made a huge mistake or misunderstood the intention of the article. This improves their writing and provides many benefits outside of Wikipedia. Writing for Wikipedia is like writing an essay with the teacher coming every 5 minutes to read and work with what has been written so far. It can be incredibly helpful to have help if you need it but at the same time, the constant attention requires people to work a lot harder so they don’t disappoint their “managers”.
When editing Wikipedia, you are forced to interact with other people. Whether you are copy editing or making significant contributions to content, there will always be people who disagree with you or simply believe that what you are doing could be done better. This idea means often a discussion takes place before any major changes occur to any article where there is editor conflict. There is no other website that quite matches Wikipedia in scale of collaboration. Larry Sanger, the co-founder of Wikipedia stated, “Wikipedia demonstrates particularly clearly how people can collaborate and talk to one another in a new way online.” This is not normal collaboration, Wikipedia requires you to be more adaptive and ready to quickly change when others request it.
When looking at the amount of editing happening across Wikipedia at once, the amount of work put in becomes very evident. When it comes to the scale of things, I think I have it pretty well figured out but the recent changes page of Wikipedia still amazes me.
Also, Wikipedia has the Benefit of Being Unbiased
Wikipedia also is supposed to have unbiased information about all topics. In fact, listed as one of the “Five Pillars” of Wikipedia is the idea that “Wikipedia is written from a neutral point of view” (Wikipedia Contributors, “Wikipedia:Five Pillars”). More specifically the page states that “All articles must strive for verifiable accuracy, citing reliable, authoritative sources, especially when the topic is controversial…” (Wikipedia Contributors, “Wikipedia:Five Pillars”). This is a really important idea because it means that as long as people are preventing a page from slowly becoming misinformation, Wikipedia is a reliable source of information.
It also expands your knowledge
Wikipedia does a great job to expanding the knowledge of people visiting. Because Wikipedia highly recommends to include inter-wiki links to increase visibility of articles, it is very simple to spend long hours learning about all sorts of random subjects. People have been known to spend all night reading all variety of articles on Wikipedia. For example, when visiting an article on the history of space flight, there might be a link to the Space Shuttle and the Apollo missions. After reading those articles, a reader might develop an attraction to how launch abort systems work and what sort of protocols were used to communicate when a launch abort was going to happen. Simply searching Wikipedia for “Launch Abort System” would potentially bring them to an article that goes in depth about that subject. That cycle could go on and on until they had read a lot of articles about things they were curious about, often learning quite a bit in the process.
Wikipedia results and information also show up elsewhere on the web. This helps the Wikipedia mission because it is giving information for free to more people. Google is a heavy user of this information, “displaying information gleaned from Wiki pages directly in search results without requiring a user to visit Wikipedia” (“Can Wikipedia Remain The Font of Knowledge?”). Although displaying this information on other websites does cause Wikipedia to lose potential editors and direct readers, it also helps increase the visibility of the content.
A common reason stated against Wikipedia is that it is not reliable and is often biased. This is actually true for some articles and can cause some major problems. However for articles frequently visited, such as “United States” and “Earth” among others, there is a very quick reaction time to revert edits that are not accurate. In relation to bias, a majority of Wikipedia editors are men, “Wikipedia is inarguably dominated by men, so most articles tend to be about subjects that appeal to them,” (Hill). There are however projects looking to change that. Vandals often edit Wikipedia and they do not help the long term accuracy, there are many vandals that “spend years slipping in and out of articles, changing heights, weights, or musical genres,” (Hill) and often don’t get caught until their edits are hard to find and difficult to undo.
Another common complaint is the conflict as an editor. Veteran users of Wikipedia often take very extreme stances on issues. This within itself is not a problem, but it can be quite difficult with these debates “…spanning three months. There are sometimes paragraphs and paragraphs of debate over the wording of individual sentences…” (Hill). This discourages people from working on Wikipedia and decreases the amount of help doing things that are actually important. With these disadvantages though, a lot of Wikipedia is slowly changing. People are learning how to better include everyone and there is less and less vandalism happening because they are being blocked.
Wikipedia is a organization and website that the entirety of the human population can benefit from. It helps to improve a person’s knowledge as well as improve their writing skill. Taking the time even to visit Wikipedia for a bit can help the project along, but staying to edit and work with other users is even better. Only making a few good edits per person can collectively make a huge difference.
“Can 15-Year-Old Wikipedia Remain The Planet’s Font of All Knowledge?” Post Magazine, South China Morning Post, https://www.scmp.com/magazines /post-magazine/arts-entertainment/article/1903400/can-15-year-old-wikipedia-remain-planets 20 Jan. 2016, .
“Education/Reasons to Use Wikipedia.” Outreach Wiki, 25 Jan 2018. https://outreach.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=Education/Reasons_to_use_Wikipedia&oldid=171299. Accessed 14 Feb. 2018.
Hill, Mark. “Wikipedia Is Shockingly Biased: 5 Lessons From An Admin.” Cracked, 11 July 2016, http://www.cracked.com/personal-experiences-2344-5-ugly-realities- wikipedia-i-learned-as-admin.html.
Sanger, Larry. “What Wikipedia Is and Why It Matters.” Computer Systems Laboratory EE380 Colloquium, Stanford University, 16 Jan 2002. Lecture.
Wikipedia contributors. “Wikipedia:Five Pillars.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title= Wikipedia:Five_pillars&oldid=815197819. Accessed 21 Feb. 2018.
Wikipedia contributors. “Wikipedia:Statistics.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Wikipedia:Statistics&oldid=825541067. Accessed 28 Feb. 2018.