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How accurate is Wikipedia?

Friday 29 Aug 2008 11:03 p.m.

Since its inception in 2001, Wikipedia has easily become one of the biggest reference websites around. It has over 10 million articles in 250 languages, attracting 680 million visitors a year. But who is creating the information many take for granted?

Almost any question you can think of can now be answered thanks to Wikipedia. But where do these answers come from? Click on any article's history, and you can see that absolutely anyone can edit Wikipedia: even you.

Those that become addicted to editing Wikipedia are called 'Wikipedians'.

Wikipedians that live in new Zealand are called 'Kiwipedians'.

"I've always been interested in teaching and putting my own ideas across in a way people can see and learn from them," says Kiwipedian James Dignan.

Mr Dignan lives in Dunedin and has a MSc in Psychology.

He has edited Wikipedia so much in the last four years, he has been upgraded to an administrator - one of five in New Zealand.

His interests lie in everything from science fiction to old soccer competitions.

Not all Kiwipedians live in Dunedin. Nick Clifford is a computer contractor in the city of sails, Auckland.

He believes Wikipedia is accurate "if you check references. But if you use it for your thesis, you are a fool."

As Wikipedia has grown, its self-moderating procedures have made it increasingly accurate. But the fact remains, because absolutely anyone can edit Wikipedia in about two seconds, people do get things wrong.

"The main problems are not mistakes," says Mr Dignan. "(It's) people trying to push their own point of view, which is always danger on Wikipedia."

In other words, be careful of articles about topics like Israel and Palestine, and America.

But don't despair. The Kiwipedians I talked to estimate Wikipedia is about 99.8 percent accurate. Just make sure you question that other 0.2 percent.

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