The (in)accuracy of long-tail Wikipedia articles – can you help improve mine?

The quality of Wikipedia has been well established. A well-known study was carried out in 2005 by scientific journal Nature showing that the accuracy of Wikipedia articles on science was comparable to that of Encyclopedia Brittanica. A more recent study by Epic and University of Oxford again showed comparable quality of articles across many domains of study and languages.

These well-publicized studies have led people to believe that Wikipedia is always a reliable source of information. However the problem is that both of these studies compared articles of substance on academic topics. There are more than 23 million articles on Wikipedia, and around 130,000 on Encyclopedia Brittanica. There is no way to assess on a comparative basis the accuracy of the close to 23 million Wikipedia articles on topics that aren’t substantively covered elsewhere.

This is a broad and important issue, as people are very often placing too much reliance on long-tail Wikipedia articles. Wikipedia’s credibility for articles that attract multiple contributors and editors is pretty good. But when there are fewer contributors to an article, that credence is not always merited.

I have to say I have a personal interest in this. Because people trust Wikipedia, when they want to find out about me they go to the Wikipedia article about me rather than my websites. The Wikipedia article is also syndicated so that, for example, it is referenced on the first page of Google results when you search for my name.

When I am introduced for media appearances or keynotes, I am surprised how often people quote the Wikipedia article.

Notably, the Wikipedia article describes me as a “former stockbroker”. That’s certainly correct, though I’m not sure why the editor highlighted that aspect of my diverse career. Now through one person’s choice of words I find am consistently referred to as a former stockbroker wherever I go.

Since I am at the somewhat well-known rather than famous end of the spectrum, it took a little while until someone felt it was worth writing a Wikipedia article about me. Someone eventually created an article stub, and since then just a few minor edits have been made.

To be frank I don’t have too much to complain about in the article.

There is one overt inaccuracy: it says “his ‘Future of Media Reports’ have a readership in the tens of thousands”. That number is entirely made up, I have no idea where it came from. The original Future of Media Report 2006 alone was downloaded over 400,000 times, however that figure is from my server logs; I don’t have a third party reference for that.

The article says I’m best known for my book Living Networks and how it anticipated social networks. That may be true, though I’m probably more broadly known for my Newspaper Extinction Timeline, which has appeared in many more than 70 major publications around the world.

I’m not going to edit my own Wikipedia article. If anyone wants to edit or flesh out my Wikipedia article they are very welcome!

In terms of sources, there is verifiable information on my RossDawson.com website, including from a variety of media appearances. Longer media profiles of me that are generally available include those in ITWire and Inside Knowledge magazines. I understand some other profiles of me will be published soon.

Hopefully over time not just my Wikipedia entry but many others in the long tail will improve in quality. In the meantime, don’t believe everything you read on Wikipedia!

  • jheuristic

    Another major problem is that the Wikipedia entry for “Ironman II” is 9,940 words. For ’16th Century Philosophy” there are 65 words. Apparently, Gwyneth Paltrow is more important than Francis Bacon.

    • Wikipedia is certainly pretty good at popular culture! For philosophy there are indeed probably better sources…

      • jheuristic

        Just makes me a bit uneasy when a much-touted “encyclopedia” gives more cover to a minor 1960s comic book character than 100 years of the Renaissance…