Stacy Schiff's recent article "Know It All: Can Wikipedia Conquer Expertise?" (The New Yorker July 31, 2006) offers a behind-the-scenes look at how the ubiquitous internet encyclopedia works, which may be of interest to anyone who has ever tried Googling for biographical information on chess personalia (such as Aleksander Wojtkiewicz, Charles Kalme, William Lombardy, or Lisa Lane) -- or anyone needing help "disambiguating" the "The Knights Errant" of the blogosphere from "a form of solitaire" or characters created by Cervantes (as chronicled at the BCC Weblog here and here). Some choice facts for those who prefer bullet-points:
- Wikipedia "hit the million-articles mark" on March 1st of this year.
- The non-profit organization "has five employees in addition to Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia's thirty-nine-year-old founder, and carries no advertising" -- relying almost entirely on donations to help cover its $750,000 budget.
- All content "must be both verifiable and previously published" (which may explain their resistance to "chess blogs," for example).
- About 80% of the volunteer writers are male (by their founder's estimation).
- A study published in the prestigious journal Nature last year showed that "Wikipedia had four errors for every three of [The Encyclopedia] Britannica's" on science-related topics, making it practically as untrustworthy as its more widely accepted print-based cousin.
Of course, if any of my students want to use it for their research papers, "fuhgetaboutit."