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The end of Wikipedia as we know it?

I just today learned about an organization called SourceWatch–they have an article on the tobacco connections of the well-known sociologist Peter Berger. Beyond the inherent interest of the topic, I was fascinated by the way that the Sourcewatch webpage mimicked Wikipedia:

berger.png

This is a smart move, I think: for better or worse, Wikipedia is generally considered to be authoritative.

But then I was thinking . . . is this the beginning of the end for Wikipedia. I don’t know anything about Sourcewatch, if they’re good guys or bad guys or whatever–but if they can mimic Wikipedia, I’m sure lots of other organizations could do so too. And, when they do it, all of a sudden there will be a lot of authoritative-looking Wikipedia-like pages floating around, a sort of counterfeit money devaluing the “real” ‘pedia, which will then have to respond by branding itself–“100% real Wikipedia, accept no imitations”–and so on. Not a bad thing, perhaps, but not what we have now.

10 Comments

  1. DAvid says:

    There are loads of such websites – the thing they have in common is the MediaWiki software.

  2. jsalvatier says:

    I think it's actually very easy to mimick wikipedia. The software is open source. I see lots of wiki pages for various other organizations use wikis with very similar formatting to wikipedia.

  3. Robert Kern says:

    I think you're reading too much into the look of the site. SourceWatch is probably not even consciously imitating the look of Wikipedia in order to gain credibility. That’s just how MediaWiki sites look by default. It takes a good chunk of effort to change that significantly. They did do some simple things to customize the look of the site, as is standard practice for deploying a MediaWiki site.

    The Wikimedia Foundation released the open source software that runs Wikipedia so that everyone could have their own site that looks and feels like Wikipedia. Many, many sites have done this for a long time. I believe the Wikimedia Foundation considers this a good thing.

  4. Jens says:

    It's based on the open source MediaWiki Software (the same that Wikipedia uses), just as many many other Wikis. Other than that it is quite clearly branded as SourceWatch, including their own logo and color scheme.

  5. Many sites use the Mediawiki software developed for Wikipedia. One prominent example often highlighted in the blogosphere: http://conservapedia.com/
    Several thousand more examples are listed here: http://www.wikiindex.org/Category:MediaWiki

    I think Wikipedia's reputation is independent of the look and feel of the site. For better or worse, most people seem to have an opinion about its reliability and I am not aware of any evidence that sites like Sourcewatch or Conservapedia are influencing Wikipedia's reputation.

  6. SourceWatch is ok, but one-sided. So you'll hear of every penny that a pro-tobacco researcher took from the tobacco industry twenty years ago and how that casts doubt on every finding he's had since then, but nothing about how an anti-tobacco researcher's funding might possibly influence his work. Researchers whose work is funded by industry is highly suspect; researchers whose work is funded by anti-tobacco lobby groups somehow isn't.

  7. XiXiDu says:

    There are hundreds of sites that use MediaWiki. For example: http://wiki.secondlife.com/

    Anyone can do that, you too.

  8. Andrew Gelman says:

    To all: Thanks for the info. I wasn't trying to imply anything sinister about Sourcewatch's use of the look and feel of Wikipedia. I was just pointing out that the Wikipedia format gives the Sourcewatch pages an air of authority, and I wonder if, as such formatting becomes more and more common, that it will ultimately tend to dilute Wikipedia's perceived authority as an accurate and nonpartisan source.

  9. Mark Dilley says:

    Wiki software was around 6 years before Wikipedia – the original wiki was the Portland Pattern Repository – a very influential space at it's time (many would say still).

    There is a basic pattern with wiki sites that is fundamental. Wikipedia has established an encyclopedic pattern that also established. The mix of the two is what most wiki use, because one is organic and the other is popular.

  10. Chad Okere says:

    Anyone can download the wikipedia software, and by default your site will look exactly like wikipedia. Not just "look kind of like wikipedia and work the same way" they will look EXACTLY like wikipedia. Except the logo in the corner. I don't think it will impact Wikipedia too much.

    Here is a list of sites that use mediawiki (It's not exhaustive, of course). Some of them are more customized the others. The more it looks like wikipedia, the less work the people put into it.

    Here's one you might like: The complexity zoo which is a wiki about computational complexity classes.