What is a “Wiki” anyway? The difference between Wikileaks and Wikipedia

Posted on March 19, 2017 by Dr. Lynda

When we have a US senator confusing WikiLeaks with Wikipedia in a TV interview, broadcast all around the world, then it’s time to sort out this “wiki” term!

Image: Wikipedia logos from around the world in various foreign scripts

Are you confused about the connections between all the wiki-somethings out there? Until I did the research for today’s article and listened to the podcast we will point you to, I have to admit I was in the dark.

Today we’ll clear up a lot of confusions, show you why Wikipedia is fast becoming one of humanity’s most amazing collaborations, and generally move on with a spring in our steps.

First, here is the inspiring mission statement of Wikipedia:

“Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge.”

The hope and good intentions of Wikipedia’s founder Jimmy Wales is a remarkable example of the best use of technology, and after today’s article, you’ll be the smartest person in the room next time you need to find a quick reference fact or hear about another email leak!

Now let’s start with the big question:

What is a “wiki”?

“Wiki” is a term that applies to a website that has content which can be edited by almost any visitor. Most keep a version history of every page, so anyone can see what has been edited over time.

So with that in mind, you can see why the word wiki has become an adjective. There is a wiki way of doing things that implies an open system that is community oriented, with a “group project” kind of angle.

Image: Lighthouse at sunset
Source: Arthur Ruiz // Wikimedia

And that’s how Wikipedia actually works: Anyone can add to Wikipedia and most who do have some depth of knowledge in the subject they chose to write about.

Inherent in that relationship is an interest in maintaining the reliability of the information on a page, so generally, the authors of pages make sure the information there is up-to-date and has not been edited in a way that is misleading or factually incorrect.

It’s not a perfect system, but it’s better than waiting for the encyclopedia salesman to visit.

It’s even got a democratic angle to the way information is verified, and we will hear about later in today’s EWC article when we point you to a wonderful interview with the founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales.

As to that confusion of Wikipedia with Wikileaks…

The misuse of terms that we spoke about in the opening of this article is a rather common embarrassment. On that particular occasion, Senator Jackson Lee said in a television interview,

“You know that I’m going to first denounce the utilization of this intrusion by Wikipedia through the Russian intrusion… We need to be concerned about the intrusion of Russia and Putin…”

Well of course, that comment does no one any good.

Wikipedia is essentially an enormous, very reliable, online version of the Encyclopedia Britannica. And according to the highly regarded MIT Technology Review: Wikileaks is a media organization founded for the purpose of disseminating original documents from anonymous sources and leakers.

Wikileaks is not affiliated with Wikipedia or the Wikimedia Foundation in any way whatsoever. They are two very different and completely unrelated organizations.

Most notably, the two organizations have radically different views on the role that ordinary people should have as stewards of information. (And this is huge.)

Wikipedia’s philosophy assumes the best in people and Wikileaks philosophy amplifies the worst.

Wikipedia invites everybody in the world to participate in nearly every decision, but Wikileaks spills information out at the whims of one person, Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks.

Image: Masked men with fake smiles
Vincent Diamante // Wikimedia

And despite its name, since 2010, Wikileaks has no wiki features, like editing or commenting by readers. Worse yet, nothing there is verifiable because everyone hides behind the cowardice of being anonymous.

Frankly, after diving deep into the research for this article, I can’t imagine why news outlets give so much airtime to Wikileaks. I couldn’t find anything that would make me want to trust Wikileaks with something as important as my grocery list!

Take a look at an article in the New York Times if you want to know more about this fellow, Julian Assange. Then see if you think you’d like to trust him to have influence over your life, the news, or your government.

So enough about Wikileaks! You get the picture. Wikileaks is part of the negative 24-hour news cycle.

Let’s get to something we can celebrate: Wikipedia!

Even Harvard gives a passing grade to Wikipedia

Yes, it may surprise you that Harvard endorses the use of Wikipedia for quick references, and that was a surprise to me too because I remember a time when we scoffed about letting our kids get any information there.

Image: Harvard stained glass windows
Source: Dolly442 // Wikimedia

But times have changed, and Wikipedia seems to have developed some good systems (still imperfect) for keeping their information fairly reliable.

Here’s what the Harvard College Writing Program has to say about Wikipedia:

” There’s nothing more convenient than Wikipedia if you are looking for some quick information when the stakes are low. In fact, some instructors may advise their students to read entries for scientific concepts on Wikipedia as a way to begin understanding those concepts.” 1

They go on to remind us that if we are doing real academic research, Wikipedia is not considered an adequate source for information because experts are not reviewing the entries there. It can go wrong sometimes because it is functioning with the frailties of ordinary people. Behind the scenes, it may be even a bit messy, but it is a new way of being generous with access to information.

I can take a few imperfections in order to have all the positive places Wikipedia can take us.

Here’s a window into possibility!

After listening to Jimmy Wales being interviewed on one of our favorite podcasts, On Being, you may realize that good intentions aren’t everything, but it’s a lot.

Wikipedia may not be perfect all the time, but the model it has made possible reminds us that we are staggeringly capable when we work together. You will be amazed by how often Wales references kindness and speaks about people being nice!

Once we know how Wikipedia works, it seems like a place where we can all feel like we belong. See what you think…

Via: On Being 2

How refreshing! What lovely, good humor!

This is such an important interview! I hope you enjoyed it and felt expanded by knowing how Wikipedia works. I’m a big fan now.

And you know, it’s wonderful to know that something so accessible is also so carefully run to keep civility at the forefront!

Thanks for stopping by Ever Widening Circles (EWC) today.

Stay open, curious and optimistic!

~ Dr. Lynda

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