Wikipedia: Friend or Foe?

Joseph Reagle

Michael Gorman on Wikipedia (2007)

[Wikipedians] continue to add to, and the intellectually lazy to use, the fundamentally flawed resource, much to the chagrin of many professors and schoolteachers. Many professors have forbidden its use in papers. A professor who encourages the use of Wikipedia is the intellectual equivalent of a dietician who recommends a steady diet of Big Macs with everything. [Gorman2007jer1]

Reference works can embody and provoke larger social anxieties.

Jacques Barzun on Webster’s 3rd (1963)

Webster’s Third … is thus representation between covers of a cultural revolution. From its tendentious title – the work being neither Webster’s nor international, and only now and then a dictionary – to its silly systems and petty pedantries, the book is a faithful record of our emotional weaknesses and intellectual disarray…. Meanwhile the book belongs in every “culitvated” reader’s library of humor. I did not read every page, but at least once in every page that I read I laughed. [Barzun1963scw, p. 181]

Reference work controversies

… result from a presumption of normative force.

But this is in part a material constraint and a market construct.

Wikipedia is without material constraints so it documents most everything.

britannica love

Wikipedia’s Critics

In Good Faith Collaboration I organize discourse on Wikipedia as “friend are foe” via four themes:

Technology: Rip, Mix, Burn

The Liquid Library

The real magic … [is] as each word in each book is cross-linked, clustered, cited, extracted, indexed, analyzed, annotated, remixed, reassembled and woven deeper into the culture than ever before. In the new world of books, every bit informs another; every page reads all the other pages At the same time, once digitized, books can be unraveled into single pages or be reduced further, into snippets of a page. These snippets will be remixed into reordered books and virtual bookshelves. [Kelly2006stb]

Gorman’s criticism

The books in great libraries are much more than the sum of their parts." A snippet of information might be useful from Page 142, but knowledge requires an understanding of Pages 1-141 “or the text was not worth writing and publishing in the first place” [Gorman2004ggm]

We see a concern over the integrity of knowledge and sanctity of the author.

There is also a generational gap of insecurity.

Douglas Adams1999hsw wrote “How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Internet”:

complaining is so 2007 

Should students use Wikipedia in their assignments?


Students should use Wikipedia as part of an assignment.


Image Credits

Making fun of Wikipedia is so 2007 X Black check