In our course E-learning 3.0 (#el30) Stephen Downes had an interview with Pete Forsyth, Wikipedia-editor and Editor in Chief of the Signpost, a community newspaper covering Wikipedia and the Wikimedia movement. He also runs a blog about all things Wikipedia and wiki-based knowledge production. This was particularly interesting to me, since I use Wikipedia a lot and I like quoting it. The broader question here was how does Wikipedia avoid the fake news controverses and how do they arrive at consensus.

Since I’m used to quote Wikipedia, I was a bit shocked when Pete told us that people should not cite Wikipedia as such but rather the sources Wikipedia mentions to back up claims. There is no such thing as “Wikipedia”, there are people contributing articles or parts of articles, hopefully following the Wikipedia policies. It seems there are guidelines about what counts as a good source, which are similar to what journalists do when judging sources and their claims.

Still I do think it sometimes does make sense to quote Wikipedia, since it’s not just a totally decentralized platform where anything goes. There are policies, there is a Wikipedia-culture and standard practices. Especially for definitions, typically at the start of articles, it can make sense to refer simply to “Wikipedia” as often no references are available.

Of course it’s important to check the history of a Wikipedia entry and to have a look at the discussion page. The entry is an element to be judged on itself, and history, discussion and the quality and number of sources are all important elements.