Tricky questions to expect
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- Anyone can edit it, so surely Wikipedia is filled with errors.
- A: Because Wikipedia is editable by anyone, we can't guarantee you won't stumble across a mistake; you may. But mistakes are fairly rare: external studies have suggested they occur at about the same rate they do in traditional encyclopedias. (See, for instance, this 2005 study from Nature, and Wikipedia v. Brockhaus) One thing that's great about Wikipedia is that it allows anyone to correct a mistake. A printed encyclopedia will need to wait for its next edition for a mistake to be fixed; an online, but centrally edited encyclopedia must wait for its paid staff to make a correction; on Wikipedia, by contrast, a mistake can be fixed instantly, and often is.
- Wikipedia is still pretty new. What are the odds it will just disappear?
- A: We've been around since 2001, and we are probably too big and too popular to disappear anytime soon. We have every intention of still being here 10 years from now, and 100 years from now. Sometimes people imagine that Wikipedia will eventually be superseded by something else, the way Facebook began to supersede MySpace. But we don't think that's likely to happen. The difference between Wikipedia and many "web 2.0" type projects is that Wikipedia is a repository of permanently useful information. It's not just a platform for self-expression, a vehicle for socializing, or a tool that can be used for any purpose. We think Wikipedia is sufficiently valuable for people, to suggest it will exist forever.
- In addition, even in the unlikely event that the organizational structure that supports Wikipedia were to encounter problems, the encyclopedia's content is freely licensed, which means that any other organization would be free to republish it; the content is capable of outliving the organization or the publishing medium.
- Why are you a non-profit anyway? Surely you could support yourself with ads?
- A: Sure we could. But the idea of ads on Wikipedia makes us uncomfortable in the same way 'ads in schools' makes people uncomfortable. Wikipedia is an educational resource, and it's used in lots of educational contexts. People are used to education being advertising-free, and if Wikipedia were commercialized a lot of people would be far less comfortable using it than they are today - for example, teachers, librarians, governments, non-profit workers, etc. (Some interesting history: Letter from Larry Sanger re: the "Spanish Fork")
- I've heard that teachers, for example, won't let students cite Wikipedia in their papers. Is Wikipedia a credible project?
- A: We absolutely endorse that position: students shouldn't cite any encyclopedia in their papers, including Wikipedia. An encyclopedia is supposed to be a jumping off point for research, not the end of the research process. Beyond that, yes, we are aware that some educators are suspicious of Wikipedia, and believe it's poor-quality. We think that is generally a misperception - lots of studies have validated that we are in fact good quality, and absolutely comparable to other encyclopedias. Over time, we think teachers will naturally grow to trust us more, and learn that the project is valuable in spite of the occasional errors that exist. In general, we are eager to persuade educators that we are a worthy educational resource, and the last thing we would want to do is take a step—such as commercializing Wikipedia—that would alienate educators.
- Is Wikimedia content appropriate for all ages?
- A: No. Wikimedia is not censored, which means our projects contain media featuring violence and sexuality generally considered inappropriate for children. Media is also not managed for cultural sensitivity, so you may find instances which offend your particular belief system / world view. Examples of such media include images of the Prophet Mohammad, graphic depictions of death, and photos and videos featuring explicit sex.