The Wall Street Journal column today about online encyclopedias has the news that Microsoft’s Encarta, launched in 1993, is shutting down. The rest of the article has facts and analysis of the gorilla of online subject references, Wikipedia. Here are some highlights:
But Wikipedia is quietly transforming itself into a hybrid of amateurs and professionals. Anyone can create entries — it has 10 million articles in 253 languages — but the ultimate editing is increasingly done by well-trained researchers. This trend is important because by some measures Wikipedia is in the top five Web sites, it is often the top result on Google searches, and it gets 97% of traffic to online encyclopedias. . . .
The question now is whether Wikipedia’s growing professionalism can refine its entries without undermining the “wisdom of crowds” on which they’re based. The challenge is to ensure that all entries reflect enough back-and-forth among enough people dedicated to a neutral approach.
Some people at Wikipedia call this process “eventualism,” meaning that over time entries will be perfected. But Wikipedia realizes the process needs some help. In addition to bias and incomplete sourcing, what are called trolls and vandals occasionally add libels and other falsehoods. An army of editors are now empowered to delete topics, remove material and insert notes that more trusted sources are needed.