January 28, 2007
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What Wikipedia can do well

Frank Shaw reflects on the problem and concludes that 'we are seeing in slow motion is the disintegration of Wikipedia as an authoritative source, at least for wide swaths of topics.' This is too harsh. First, Wikipedia’s authority has always been hotly contested. Second, Wikipedia is terrific for lots of uncontentious corners. As Diane Greco points out, the Vietnam War is still being fought on Wikipedia and that page is unlikely to reach consensus or achieve stability.

But if you want to know when Lord Acton wrote, or check exactly when Galileo died, Wikipedia is remarkable good. That’s not everything, but it's a lot.

Wikipedia has strengths. It’s useful. We shouldn’t expect it to be take on tasks for which it is poorly suited, tasks like contemporary biography. And its internal regulatory systems needs to be repaired, lest it be owned by an anonymous bureaucracy of axe-grinding children. This can all be fixed.