Wikipedia: A great informational source for cheating at Trivia, but I wouldn’t use it in a research paper
The Wikipedia entry for Facebook describes the Internet site as a social networking website where users can communicate and network with other members via messages and wall posts, and where they can also update pictures, and information on their individualized profile page. Wikipedia’s article for Facebook is divided into a number of sections including, history, financials, website details, politics, reception and controversy. As Facebook was launched on February 4th, 2004, the Wikipedia entries for this article also date back to 2004, with countless contributors since then.
I chose Facebook as the Wikipedia entry I wanted to observe for this week’s blog post because I am particularly interested in the overall concept and activity of social networking and its role in new media. When I think of the major social networking sites, I think of MySpace, Twitter, and most frequently Facebook since it is the only one of the three mentioned that I actually am a user of. Though some of the information appears to be outdated—the introduction suugests that users join networks organized by workplace, school or college, which has expanded over the years—the references mentioned at the conclusion of the article appear to be, for the most part, legit. Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and creator of Facebook, is one such reference and contributor, along with other reputable sources such as CNN. There are, however, a number of less-impressive or un-specific references and contributors such as “How can I add more than 60 photos to an album” and “Photos”, but these may be legitimate questions users had formed over the years which were then answered by more knowledgeable people on the Wikipedia page.
Though I think that overall, the Wikipedia article provides a vast amount of detailed, yet understable (without a degree in technology, etc.) information on Facebook, there are a few sections of the article that I believe are limited and need expansion to be fully informative. For example, the section entitled “effect of politics”, only mentions the ‘Saint Anselm College presidential debates’. Obviously there is much more to be said about Facebook and its role in global politics today—we have frequently discussed in class today the effect of new media in politics. The ‘controversy’ and ‘criticism’ sections also leave much to be explored and explained.
I don’t believe that the article is notably biased in anyway since the topic, Facebook, doesn’t suggest a need for controversy as a product, but might as a concept. This is where my particular thoughts on Wikipedia come in. As an easily accessible source to quickly get a brief amount of information on a topic, I think that Wikipedia is fantastic. When searching for a definition of a product, or scientific term, etc., Wikipedia is a great way to get detailed, yet broad information on the topic. Although there is often a mass of writing about any given topic, there is also often bullet points, and a side bar which provides the sections of the article, and a brief overview of the article’s most important points. I think the validity and usefulness of Wikipedia as an informational source is greatly compromised by conceptual articles or articles that discuss a topic on which there may be no direct definition and only opinion. A fine line is drawn here, I realize, because almost every story has two sides–for example, the topic ‘cloning’ may appear as though it would be straight forward, but if a person is adamantly against cloning, there may be information in the Wikipedia article that isn’t just defining what cloning is, but illuminates why it might be a negative thing for their own personal reasons. In such a case, the information Wikipedia provides is compromised.
But overall, Wikipedia provides a way in which users can avoid having to sift through a plethora of information on the web, and see the ‘bulletpoints’ that have been contributed overtime. The ability that any user has to upload their own input, though risky in some cases (I’ll get to that), provides a number of opinions and decreases the likelihood that the information is biased or false. Would I use Wikipedia as a legitimate source in a research paper? Absolutely not—and not just because we’re not allowed to. Since there is an ability for anyone to contribute information, there is a risk that some of it is biased or false. As a result, I wouldn’t depend upon the website, but rather think that it is an excellent way to first introduce myself to a topic, or find an answer to a random question I might spontaneously have.
The ability for the public to be contributors to Wikipedia raises the question of monitoring, similar to our discussion last week on what should and should not be allowed or appropriate to upload onto the web as public information, but in a much different way. Although users should be aware of the reliability and risk of false or slighted information that they may be reading when they use Wikipedia, it still remains a useful and highly informative website.