Wikipedia Blackout

Whatever one thinks of the legislation being proposed in the U.S. A. — the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the U.S. House of Representatives, and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) in the U.S. Senate — and the implications for British web sites hosted on American servers (as this one is), the blackout of the English-language Wikipedia raises some interesting possibilities. Will people start reading books again and doing their own research the hard way? Will the results be more accurate? Will plagiarism be less of a problem? Shall we look back on 18 January 2012 as a golden moment when we rediscovered the beauty and power of an old technology? Despite my enthusiasm for most things digital, I’m rather hoping we may.


13 thoughts on “Wikipedia Blackout”

    • You are an honourable man, Dave, so you’d probably be surprised how much Wikipedia turns up in ‘original’ work. Mind you, we all laughed heartily to see the Vatican press office researching the biographies of new cardinals . . . from Wikipedia.

  1. I just wonder how the USA can hope to police the whole of the internet through the making of one law. Unless it is coordinated world wide (which I doubt will ever happen) it’s bound to fail.

    I’d like to take a day of from the internet today, but need it for some research, not necessarily through wikipedia.

    Books are a useful resource as well, particularly if they are online and accessible. Taking a library with you on your tablet or netbook is easier than transplanting the whole paper based library.

  2. If I need to flick back and forth between pages, or compare information, I still often find working from books easier. Especially when I leave them and come pack later because I don’t have to wait for the computer to start up.

    I also find it easier, with less eye-strain, to read long text in printed format.

    • I don’t think it’s quite a question of going back, in the sense that we discard the blessings of the present, more a reappraisal of the value of the printed word and ‘research by association’.When doing Ph.D. research, it was hunting up notes and making connections that were not obvious that proved the most helpful. Google search algorithmns are good, but they don’t have that human mind element. I’m a constitutionally both/and kind of person so I wouldn’t want to give up any of our newer technology.

  3. “I’m rather hoping we may”
    May I ask why?
    I will take the risk to be redundant (the answer maybe already spread all over previous posts – even be in the essence of this blog). But, what you will drop/keep of the new technology?

    Sorry for my english.
    Keep up the wonderful blog.

    • Your English is excellent, Alessandro! I am a book designer as well as a web developer (some previous posts will have indicated my love of both). I don’t want to lose anything of the new technology, but if today’s stripped-down internet usage prompts even one person to go and read a book (non digital kind) and think about how to ascertain, order and interpret facts and opinions, then I think we shall be gainers.

  4. Wikipedia is not a recognized source of information for science papers either, however it does have its place. It can provide a quick bit of background information for students unfamiliar with a topic and it can provide search terms which can be used to search more acceptable sources of information. Science topics such as “molecular biology” or “particle physics” can be surprisingly accurate if only because trouble makers aren’t inspired to add misinformation in those areas. However, the black out was not just about Wikipedia. If I may add a link to a short talk by Clay Shirky who gives a much better explanation than I ever could:

  5. Thank you, Kathryn. You’ll see that I began the blog with links to the proposed legislation, and that I wrote slightly tongue-in-cheek. Quietnun (the community’s biochemist) rolls her eyes whenever I mention Wikipedia. The quality of articles is uneven, but if one is not au fait with a subject, one may not be able to judge between the good and the bad.

    • Yes, I saw the links and in posting those you have used Wikipedia in one of the ways I tell students they may acceptably use Wikipedia, for a quick bit of background information. Please tell Quietnun that I empathize with her, but that Wikipedia is there and is a massive temptation for our science students. So, I try to teach them how to use it responsibly (for background information and for search terms) while developing their own expertise such that they will come to value more reliable sources as Quietnun does.

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