Wikipedia has been a topic of conversation in the history field for some time. I can remember going through the public school system being told that Wikipedia was not considered a ‘reliable’ source to use in any of our assignments. This experience is not unique to me alone, and has been a hotly debated topic in our field. Wikipedia is the product of a concept called ‘crowdsourcing’. This concept relies on the general public to gather information for a project using the services of a large number of people, either paid or unpaid, typically via the internet. Wikipedia allows the general public to add or edit entries on their open source website. Wikipedia editors are ultimately who decides what information is added or omitted from any entry.
When reading a Wikipedia article there a few different things I look at to ensure that the information in the article is correct and relevant. First off the user should become familiar with the tabs at the top right hand and top left hand corners of the article. The tabs I will usually start with is the ‘talk’ tab on the left hand side and then click the ‘view history’ tab on the right hand side. This will take a user to the back end of the article with information about the creation and edits to the article over time. This will show the user all the time the article was edited with the date, time, and who made the edits to the article. A user can click on the different dates to see what the contributor commented about their edits. A user can also click on the individual contributor’s username and go to their biographies on Wikipedia. This allows a user to see the other work this person has done on Wikipedia and sometimes the contributor has written some comments on their professional credentials or why they would be qualified to make these edits.
For example, I chose to look at the Digital Humanities entry on Wikipedia and by looking at the contributor’s biographies I was able to determine in my own opinion how accurate this information on this entry was based off of who was making the edits. The editors at the Wikipedia may take some of the entries as fact if they are being entered in by someone with credentials for the information being presented. Editors may take out entries that have been entered by someone that has no understanding of the entry or has entered information that is not relevant. By looking at the contributors, a user can ask the question; how accurate is the information I am reading? Was this information published by professionals in this particular field?
By looking at the ‘talk’ tab a user can ask different questions about the validity of the entry and even get a better understanding of the entry rather then just reading the article entry. A user can ask the question; what were some of the points that the contributors were debating about? This can be very revealing about the topic and gain a deeper understanding of that topic that maybe the user did not know about beforehand.
The key thing to take away from this exercise I found was since Wikipedia is a crowdsourcing page one can never fully trust a Wikipedia page. I think this is a good starting point and then the user can go off of this entry and do further research. Wikipedia is a great jumping off point and allows the user to ask important questions and by looking further into the article, who contributed, when these edits were made, a user can determine whether the information they are reading in that particular Wikipedia article is accurate.