- 31 Mar 08, 18:42 GMT
Nicholas Hilliard was an English goldsmith and limner (no, I'm not sure either), best known for his portrait miniatures of members of the courts of Elizabeth I and James II. That's if you believe Wikipedia.
The Hungarian version of the entry on Hilliard was its ten millionth article, a milestone trumpeted by the online encyclopedia at a time when many are questioning both its reputation as an accurate source and its future direction. There are also plenty of rivals coming on to the web reference scene, but like Google in search, Wikipedia will be hard to topple from its perch.
What you cannot dispute is its speed and reach. A BBC colleague tells me that when Richard Widmark died last week, the Hollywood actor's Wikipedia entry was updated even before the death was announced on the airwaves. For journalists, it has become the second most useful online tool after Google - while remaining a useful source of stories about its own gaffes and inaccuracies, and what it describes as "vandalism" to entries for prominent figures.
And while most of those errors are corrected pretty swiftly by an army of amateur editors, there has been a vigorous debate among "Wikipedians" themselves over whether its completely open model can continue or whether it should find a way of favouring more "expert" contributors.
If David Gerard is to be believed, then the current model will prevail. Mr Gerard, an editor and administrator on the English site, told me: "We have never promised reliability - what we try to do is be useful." But he insists that reliability is improving all the time, and the original concept of a resource where the wisdom of the crowd would quickly prevail has proved itself: "We've got where we are by taking everything, by being as wide as possible. We get lots of rubbish... and then we clean it up."
Two other online reference works, Citizendium and Knol, are trying a different route. Knol was unveiled by Google last December as a tool which would "encourage people who know a particular subject to write an authoritative article about it".
The idea appears to be that anyone - expert or not - can still write an entry, but Google's ranking system will then favour the most authoritative pieces. There is also the promise of a share in ad revenue for authors - so that the market will, in theory, reward accuracy. The service is not yet up and running, so it is difficult to judge whether it will win readers away from Wikipedia, but if it can attract a critical mass of real experts, it must stand a chance.
Citizendium, started by Wikipedia's co-founder Larry Sanger, says in its manifesto that humanity needs a better online encyclopedia, other than one made up of "mere disconnected grab-bags of factoids". It insists on named contributors and has expert editors who approve articles.
The trouble is that it is very limited right now - just under 6,000 articles - and when I tried to compare its entries with the millions on Wikipedia I struggled. Eventually, I glanced at two subjects - quantum mechanics and cricket. In one of these - I will let you guess which - I have a modicum of knowledge, about the other I know little or nothing. But in both cases Wikipedia appeared to have more comprehensive and approachable entries.
Of course, the brutal truth is that it is the reference entry which comes highest in a Google search which will win the readers. And for the foreseeable future that is likely to be the Wikipedia version - whether it is accurate or not.
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