Sunday, June 14, 2015

In support of Wikipedia

When speaking to others about Wikipedia, I often get reactions not unlike the attitudes toward the public family trees found all over the Web (but predominantly on Ancestry.com), namely, that you should never trust it, because it is nothing but errors.

Of course, one major difference between Wikipedia and public family trees is that each tree is normally the work of an individual, while a Wikipedia article can be the work of dozens if not hundreds of individuals. I suppose one could more reasonably compare Wikipedia to the unified family trees found on such sites as FamilySearch (to name the best-known example). And yes, even there, there are errors too.

The problem with the nay-saying on Wikipedia is that it seems to deify information found in print, as if one could leave critical thinking at the door and embrace whatever one finds in black-and-white on paper. Maybe genealogists have forgotten that printed family histories can be just as prone to error as anything one might find online. And the same can be said for non-genealogical print works. We imagine that there are armies of editors fact-checking anything that ends up in print, but the reality is, errors are printed and they *may* be caught and corrected in future printings or future editions. Or may not.

I'm not alone in these thoughts. I just discovered the following article, which expresses the same idea: "Why It's Time the World Embraced Wikipedia".