Wikipedians have taken to heart the Mail & Guardian Online‘s recent article ”Can you trust Wikipedia?” (November 10), which evaluated the quality of entries on this popular online encyclopedia.
The M&G Online article looked at eight Wikipedia entries, including ones about sangomas, the media in South Africa, the African National Congress, boerewors and the country’s economy. South African experts such as professor of journalism Anton Harber, political analyst Steven Friedman and economist Stephen Gelb looked for inconsistencies and inaccuracies in their area of interest and assigned a mark out of 10 to each entry.
On Wikipedia, any internet user can create new articles and edit entries. Since the website’s launch on January 15 2001, Wikipedians have contributed or edited more than three million articles in 205 different languages.
United States-based Wikipedian Tim Chambers, who found the M&G Online‘s article via search engine Google, published all the South African experts’ comments on a Wikipedia discussion page.
Chambers ”invested a couple of hours to address every criticism and compliment” and flagged the articles in question as ”needing improvement”.
”I have left it to other Wikipedians to make specific changes. That is a key element of the wiki way — sharing the burden of improving content.”
Now, a week after the M&G Online article was published and Chambers put the experts’ comments online, most of the entries have been edited and improved. Constantly changing are the entries about the ANC and the media in South Africa.
The ANC entry has been cleaned up, and the incorrect statements that our experts discovered have been removed. Wikipedian Elf-friend rewrote the entry on the media in South Africa.
The sangoma entry now includes Yvonne Sliep’s comments — the South African expert on traditional healing quoted in the M&G Online article. The boerewors entry no longer contains the false statement that the Boers invented boerewors.
Another Wikipedian, Mark Binfield, said in an e-mailed response to the article: ”It’s interesting to know how well we’re doing on subjects outside the United States and Britain, where a lot of the contributors live.”
South African Coenraad Loubser said via e-mail that articles about Wikipedia should inspire the public. He has a plan: ”Imagine all the schools in South Africa gave their grade 10 and [higher] pupils the homework of adding a Wikipedia page. Sure, the quality would start off possibly being not that great, but something [like that] is something to build on.”