The ability of anyone to edit Wikipedia, according to Dan Cosley, communication, is both “great and terrifying.” Cosley spoke on some of the intricacies of the popular online resource Friday at a lecture entitled, “Studying and Encouraging Pro-Social Behavior in Wikipedia” in Kennedy Hall.
Vandalism has a potential of becoming a prominent problem as more and more people find out about Wikipedia, Cosley said. Still, he sees a number of possible scenarios for the future. Wikipedia will either continue to grow, become more oriented toward expert-written articles, or will “dry up and blow away.” Cosley brought up the downfall of once popular Friendster.com and suggested that Wikipedia might have the same fate. As Wikipedia administrators search for ways to improve the quality of the articles, some users might get scared away from contributing, he said.
Jon Stockton ’07, a regular contributor to the online resource, agreed with Cosley on the point of vandalism.
“It has already become a big problem and it will only get worse as Wikipedia grows,” he said.
Stockton said that he contributes to the site several times a week and primarily makes edits to the already existing articles. Stockton is similarly puzzled by the future of Wikipedia.
“It’s hard to say what’s going to happen in the future. It’s weird to think that Wikipedia is going to be around in thirty years,” he said.
Nate Beach-Westmoreland ’07, who also contributes to Wikipedia, sees a brighter future for the site.
“Wikipedia already has a million and a half articles in the English edition and it is growing exponentially. It’s a valuable learning tool and as more people get involved, it will only keep on growing,” he said.
Peter Van Do, staff, said that what sets Wikipedia apart from the conventional encyclopedias such Encyclopedia Britannica is precisely the fact that “Wikipedia is not exactly an encyclopedia.”
“Wikipedia gives people an opportunity to not only post something, but to also get some feedback on their posts,” he said.
As far as the future is concerned, Van Do pointed out that it would be interesting to see how Wikipedia changes as the Internet, now used primarily by the middle and upper classes, will become available to everyone. He compared the popularization of the Internet to that of the television in order to emphasize Wikipedia’s great potential, as more and more people gain internet access.
Benjamin Lowe ’04, another Wikipedia contributor, said the future of the non-English Wikipedias should not be overlooked.
“As the encyclopedias in Spanish, French, German, Mandarin, Japanese and dozens of other languages all expand and improve, we’re expecting to see the same growth in interest and participation in the project that we’ve seen in the English-language Wikipedia over the past five years,” he said.
Lowe suggested that, in the future, the quality of the articles can be expected to improve drastically, “The focus has begun to change to increasing the quality of the articles, whether that means simply copy-editing for readability, or providing worthwhile citations, or, in the recent case of the article on Cornell University, improving the article to the point where it receives Featured Article status, the highest mark of quality an article can receive.”
“Proposals for stabilizing articles are all a bit controversial and there are several ways that stabilization could be implemented, but the important thing is that Wikipedians are starting to ask themselves how they can improve the reliability of the project, so that users of the encyclopedia increase their trust in the project,” he added.
Moreover, Lowe thinks that Wikipedia will inspire many other wiki-type projects. Already, there are a number of spin-offs that are inspired by Wikipedia. Citizendium.org, Uncyclopedia.org, Wikia.com and, most recently, Wikiality.com, are become increasingly popular. The latter one, Wikiality.Com, was mentioned by Stephen Colbert during Wednesday’s show.
Its main page boasts, “There’s a level of truth and meaning beyond what’s ‘demonstrably true,’ and that’s what we’re dedicated to keeping track of.”