This article appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald today. There is a small quote from myself on the use of Wikipedia for research.
NEXT time you’re sitting at the computer – it may even be as you’re reading this – take a look at the Wikipedia entry for “North Warrandyte”. What about the entry for “United Petroleum” or “Australian architectural styles”. Notice anything similar?All three entries were started by Melburnian Nick Carsen. The 20-year-old, who has just finished a drafting course at NMIT and hopes to study architecture next year, is part of the global revolution in the way we now find information.
For many people, the days when checking a fact meant taking a dusty encyclopedia volume off a shelf are gone. Now their first port of call is a collaborative internet site such as Wikipedia that not only provides a constantly expanding and updated resource but allows you to change information or add to the entry.
Founded in 2001 by US internet entrepreneur Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia has become one of the most popular websites in the world.
With entries on everything from the Azerbaijani people to Zeppelin airships, the Wikipedia juggernaut had 1.6 million articles on its English-language site by the start of December. To get an idea of how fast it’s expanding, Wikipedia grew by 30 million words in July alone.
Mr Carsen discovered the site while surfing the web early last year and decided to start contributing after finding gaps in information about Melbourne’s suburbs.
He spends three or four hours each week contributing to whatever subject happens to catch his interest, whether it’s the Nokia 6820 mobile phone (he owns one) or AFL-related subjects. A Collingwood supporter, he is a member of the Wikiproject expounding on all things AFL.
Look at his entry on United Petroleum, for example. Mr Carsen decided to write it after noting that his local servo sold CSR ethanol-enhanced fuel. “I typed it into Wikipedia and there was nothing about it so I figured, ‘OK, I might as well make an article about it’,” he says.
However, while Mr Carsen describes the site as “really the best source of information available to anybody today”, Craig Bellamy, who teaches media and communications at Melbourne University, says while Wikipedia might be a good place to start your research, it’s “not a good place to end it”.
“The term ‘encyclopedia’ doesn’t always sit well with me,” Dr Bellamy says. “Wikipedia is really good for technical stuff, if you’re building a website for example, and it’s really good for popular culture – you know, references to the history of Pacman – but with the sort of scholarly stuff that encyclopedias traditionally included, it’s not as strong in those areas.” (link)