The popularity of Wikipedia

In my last post I talked about my perception of Wikipedia and how I do not believe it can be used as a trusted source. I also discussed how the articles we read mentions Wikipedia as the most popular education tool for students. This and comments on my blog lead to the question Why is Wikipedia so popular? If we know that anyone can change information at any time thus creating a risk the information we are looking up is incorrect, why do we still choose to use Wikipedia? Are its users naive to the process of creating a Wiki and how Wikipedia works? Do its users trust the online community to only update the Wiki with accurate factual information? Or do users simply not care and use Wikipedia for its ease and simplicity?  

I would argue that it’s a combination of the three that make Wikipedia such a popular tool. Before I began university I had never learned about media literacy or how to find reliable information online. Media literacy is simply not touched upon in the standard curriculum. Therefore many of the people who use Wikipedia are unaware that the information can be changed at anytime. They believe since Wikipedia is a credible name the information posted online must be accurate. As we know, anyone can change at Wikipedias information at anytime. Therefore if someone wishes to tinker with information to make it inaccurate, they are able to do so.

Another reason I believe people use Wikipedia is that they trust the online community to provide accurate information. Although I have made it clear I do not trust Wikipedia as a reliable source, I am not saying everything posted on Wikipedia is incorrect and unreliable. The fact is a majority of the information on Wikipedia is correct and very informative. Contributors to the Wiki often post accurate information with sources and evidence to back it up. This allows people to trust the information that is posted online. If the majority of the information posted is accurate, one is likely to believe all the information is accurate when some may not be. Therefore while someone may use Wikipedia and find accurate information for certain topics, other topics that are incorrect may be trusted as users have found previous accurate information on Wikipedia.

A third reason for the popularity of Wikipedia is its simplicity and ease. As was mentioned in my comments, Wikipedia is often the first search result on Google making the information extremely accessible. Additionally, well written Wikis are organized in neat sections that provide different information all within a related topic. Therefore if someone is looking for quick information on a certain topic, Wikipedia often provides a variety of information on the topic all in one handy page that is easy to find. The efficiency and ease associated with using Wikipedia is a large selling point for many, especially students and youth.

Whatever the reason for Wikipedia’s popularity its important we understand how the information gets on the Wikis and who provides the information. This will allow us to make informed decisions on whether information is reliable or not.