Monday, March 22, 2010

The Allure of Wikipedia

What's the Allure?

Wikipedia, named after the "Wiki" software that allows easy creation and editing of any number of interlinked web pages, is one of the most frequented websites in the world. Why? Because there are over three million published articles and these articles are usually the first thing that come up in a google search. People click on the Wikipedia link because it feels reputable, a site that millions use everyday multiple times a day. There aren't any banners or flashing ads. "The interface in unemotional and clean of advertising."

The Shiny Title

One of Wikipedia's strengths is how they are able to get people to contribute to the articles. Without this contribution Wikipedia would fail to be the overwhelming success it is today. They achieved this by giving the contributors the shiny title of editor.

"When people contributed they were given the flattering title of "editor." It worked and grew because it tapped into the unmarchaled energies of the uncredentialed. This wasn't like writing a review on amazon where you were just one of a million people urging a tiny opinion. This was an effort to build something that made sense apart from one's own opinion."

It's Addictive

For researchers it’s a place to look information up, but for editors it’s “like an online game”, a place where it's editors "hang out." Wikipedia has a more or less addictive component it hooks you because it's a solitary way to be social. You keep checking back to your edits, the edits of others, and by visiting and participating on Wikipedia you are instantly part of a social group. Like facebook, youtube, second life, it's addictive. Jim Wales the co founder of wikipedia realized the reason for it's rapid growth within the first year of its life.

"The main thing about wikipdia is that it is fun and addictive." -Jim Wales co- Founder

Openly Editable Model

Wikipedia's greatest asset is also it's greatest downfall. Because it is written collaboratively by an international group of volunteers, it's accuracy cannot be guaranteed. Even if a collaborator was to purposely edit knowingly false information, their privacy is protected unless they choose to reveal their identity. Our teachers have always told us to take everything on wikipedia with a grain of salt, for the information may be false, but false information in a high school science report is not the worst case scenario.

Character Assassination

"Seigenthaler Sr. was the assistant to Attorney General Robert Kennedy in the early 1960’s. For a brief time, he was thought to have been directly involved in the Kennedy assassinations of both John, and his brother, Bobby. Nothing was ever proven." –Wikipedia

At age 78, John Seigenthaler was beyond surprised when he ran across a Wikipedia entry that accused him of being directly involved with the Kennedy assassinations of both John and Bobby Kennedy. This same information was also posted on and At his request, the administrators of all three sites removed the information. After searching the web for this "biographer", Seigenthaler found his registered ip address 65-81-97-208. He traced it back and after three weeks of help from the Bell South Phone Company Abuse Team, the only way Seigenthaler could obtain the name of the biographer was to file an anonymous lawsuit. He did not file a suit.

A Solution?

"In 2006 Wikipedia co-Founder Larry Sanger launched Citizendium, the citizens compendium. The project addressed questions about the accuracy and neutrality of content brought up with wikipedia. "Citizendium) was designed to improve on the Wikipedia model by adding gentle expert oversight and requiring contributers to use their real names."


The intention of Citizendium is good, but it's user interface is one of the most confusing on the internet, not to mention, ugly. Why would anyone go to a website for information that appears this outdated? At first glance the design of the site will hinder it from becoming as ubiquitous as wikipedia.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Hanah,

    As an author at Citizendium, I realize there are serious usability and aesthetic issues with it as is. We at CZ would greatly appreciate specific feedback--what is it exactly that you find ugly and outdated about CZ?