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February 2011The monthly newsletter by Felgall Pty Ltd

My Word

The Problem With Wikis

A wiki is a type of web site that allows anyone to update the content of the site. The idea is that errors that one person makes in what they post to the site can be corrected by others.Of course if everyone were exactly equal with their ability to chang ethe page then there would be noting to prevent two people constantly swapping the same content back and forth because they disagree as to what it should say.

The problem with this is that unless you require all changes to be checked by an 'editor' prior to their being applied and have those editors check the accuracy of the information prior to allowing it (which defeats the purpose of it being a wiki in the first place) then you end up with people being able to post incorrect information.

Requiring people updating the site to quote the source of their information may appear to be a solution to the problem but that effectively ensures that at best the wiki will be a secondary source of possibly inaccurate information - and that's assuming that the source of the information that is quoted is itself a primary source of the information and is also correct. Where the quoted source is a printed document that had an editor and reviewers look at the material prior to its publication then there is a greater possibility that the information is correct but if the book is itself a secondary source that quotes other books as the source of its material then you are yet one step further from the real source.

Often a number of seconary sources will be quoting the same primary source resulting in 'The majority is always right even when they are wrong' when it comes to supplying this information in the wiki since there are plenty of these secondary sources to quote as the source of the wrong information.

I have heard of someone who was actually in attendance at a particular event and who took notes at the time who attempted to update a wiki that displayed incorrect information about the event and had quoted sources for where that information came from. Because of the way wikis work the incorrect secondary source of the information was considered to be more reliable than an actual eye witness primary source account since a primary source of information has no sources to quote as to where it got the information from.

At best a wiki will rely on the accuracy of a primary source of information published elsewhere. In many cases it will rely on secondary sources published elsewhere and so might perhaps be considered a tertiary source for the information.

The biggest problem of all is that some of these wikis have achieved high placement in search results and so are the first source of the information that many people researching the topic see. Some people then mistakenly rely on the information in the wiki being correct without further research. This then results in any misinformation in the wiki becoming what more and more people believe to be the truth.

In fact the most inportant part of any wiki is the list of sources where it claims to have got the information from. It is those sources that should form the starting point for your exploration of the topic and even there you really need to ask where they got the information from in order to try to trace the information back to primary sources. Only there will you get the information on how the inforation was established in the first place in order to be able to make your own decision as to how reliable it actually is.

While much of the information in wikis may be accurate and correct, the very nature of a wiki means that some of the information it presents will be wrong and unless you track twhere the information came from you have no way to tell which is which. That's a reason for example why school assignments should never quote a wiki as their source.
 

On Site

Perhaps the most significant change to the site this month was the complete replacement of the in page search script with a brand new one that doesn't have any of the browser specific limitations of the previous script. Also over at javascript.about.com I have continued to add lots more example scripts to the 'JavaScript By Example' tutorial series.
 

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The following links will take you to all of the various pages that have been added to the site or undergone major changes in the last month.

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