For all of us who use the internet a lot, Wikipeda is a great tool and this is an interesting look at it from HBS Working Knowledge.
How well it stands up against Britannica for accuracy is a revelation, a comforting one.
HBS Case: How Wikipeida works (Or Doesn’t)
HBS professor Andy McAfee had his doubts about Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia created and maintained by volunteers. "I just didn't think it could yield a good outcome or a good encyclopedia. But I started consulting it and reading the entries, and I said, 'This is amazing.' "
So when the concept of "Enterprise 2.0"—a term coined by McAfee on the general idea of how Web 2.0 technologies can be used in business—popped up on Wikipedia, McAfee beamed. "I was bizarrely proud when my work rose to the level of inclusion in Wikipedia." Then, however, a turn of fortune took place. A "Wikipedian" nominated the article for deletion as unworthy of the encyclopedia's standards. McAfee thought, "It's not even good enough to get on Wikipedia?"
He left the sidelines to join the online discussion about whether the article should be kept or jettisoned. It was also that moment that would eventually lead to an HBS case study, written with professor Karim R. Lakhani, on how Wikipedia governs itself and faces controversial challenges.
The case offers students a chance to understand issues such as how online cultures are made and maintained, the power of self-policing organizations, the question of whether the service is drifting from its core principles, and whether a Wikipedia-like concept can work in a business setting. (See related story below.)
The wisdom of crowds
Even by online phenomenon standards, Wikipedia is huge. Begun in 1999 by Jimmy Wales under the name Nupedia, the service today claims 1.8 million articles in English, 4.8 million registered users, and 1,200 volunteers who regularly edit Wikipedia articles.
Anyone can submit or edit an article, which is why Wikipedia has been lampooned for high-profile inaccuracies, such as a biography of journalist John Seigenthaler Sr., who, according to the anonymous contributor, "was thought to have been directly involved in the Kennedy assassinations of both John and his brother Bobby." Not so. A recent cartoon parodied, "Wikipedia: Celebrating 300 Years of American Independence!"
But Wikipedia also employs a series of consensus driven vetting processes that strive to ensure the information is accurate, is verifiable, is built on solid sources, and excludes personal opinion. Just as anyone can submit an article, anyone can also start an "Article for Deletion" (AfD) review process if they believe the piece does not live up to those standards. After online debate about the worthiness of the piece, a Wikipedia administrator reviews the arguments and decides the fate of the article.
The result has been a product that even academics regularly consult. In late 2005, the scientific journal Nature conducted a study comparing 42 science articles in Wikipedia with the online version of Encyclopaedia Britannica. The survey revealed that Encyclopaedia Britannica had 123 errors while Wikipedia had 162 (for averages of 2.9 and 3.9 errors per article, respectively.) For the editors at Britannica, that may be a little too close for comfort.