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Wikipedia - a flawed and incomplete testament to the essential fallibility of human nature

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Bill Thompson Bill Thompson | 15:33 UK time, Thursday, 23 July 2009

(Bill Thompson is a well-known technology critic and commentator on digital culture for BBC World Service's Digital Planet. A pioneer of new media in the UK, Bill was Internet ambassador for PIPEX in the early 1990s and founded The Guardian's New Media Lab in 1995, setting up and editing the first Guardian website.  The following post is published with kind permission and represents Bill's views; this does not necessarily reflect the views of the BBC or the Digital Revolution production.)

We expect too much from our political leaders, our television idols, our gods and, of course, our crowdsourced compendia of all human knowledge. Wikipedia, like every book ever written, every building ever erected and every work of art ever created is a flawed and incomplete testament to the essential fallibility of human nature.

Those who created it cannot agree on a consistent history, as founders and co-founders squabble over who did what, while those who devote their time to curating the millions of articles fight in private and in public and occasionally fall victims to various deadly sins, taking too much pride in their positions of responsibility or using Wikipedia to express their wrath.
They can't even write a decent article on the Seven Deadly Sins (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_deadly_sins - which needs 'additional citations for verification').

In some respects Wikipedia is not even a wiki, since many pages are protected from 'vandalism' and so cannot be edited by ordinary users, and some user changes are not reflected on the site until they have been approved by an editor.

But Wikipedia is flawed in the way Ely Cathedral is flawed, imperfect in the way a person you love is imperfect, and filled with conflict and disagreement in the way a good conference or an effective parliament is filled with argument.

To point this out is not to dismiss its usefulness or deny its value, even if those most closely involved occasionally act as if anything less than complete subordination to the Wikipedia world view is an act of betrayal.
 
We should always be trying to build a better online reference than Wikipedia, even if we will always end up building something less than perfect, but it is the least worst user-generated reference world we have, and I'm grateful for it.

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