Alternatives to Wikipedia
One article compares Wikipedia to five other free online encyclopedias -- Columbia Encyclopedia (6th Edition), Encyclopedia Britannica Concise, World Book Encyclopedia, MSN Encarta, and Concise Hutchinson Encyclopedia -- and concludes,
As far as we can see, the Wikipedia has no serious competitor on the net as regards free encyclopedia. MSN’s Encarta is worth a try, also in its free version, but all the other online encyclopedias we have tested are not useful for serious analytical work.
If one of the major encyclopedias decides to give free access to all its information, the picture may change. This is obviously a matter of economy.
In October 1999 Britannica opened up the whole encyclopedia for free online search, only to close it again in 2001.
We believe the reason was that Britannica feared that free online access would undermine printed and CD-ROM versions of the encyclopedia. They were probably right at the time. Now that the Wikipedia has become a major competitor to Britannica, however, the Brits should definitely take another look on the free online access model. Much has happened since 2001, including the growth of efficient pay-per-click advertising.
So it appears that Wikipedia's dominance is quite vulnerable.
Another article -- titled "Top 7 Alternatives to Wikipedia" -- evaluates the following alternatives: Scholarpedia, Citizendium, Encyclopedia Britannica Online, MSN Encarta, Infoplease, Conservapedia, and Uncyclopedia. This article says,
Touting itself as "the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit", it's no wonder that Wikipedia has garnered so much bad press lately. After all, it is hard to imagine that millions of anonymous users could accurately maintain a factual and unbiased living encyclopedia. Wikipedia is a non-profit site that is policed by hundreds of volunteers, yet very few of these volunteers have the experience and knowledge of a professional writer/editor. A cultural bias has seemed to have washed over many entries on the site, as general consensus replaces cold, hard facts. There is also a matter of vandalism, which the site is susceptible to. These problems, coupled with the almost obsessive behavior of many of the volunteers (try placing an external link on the site without having it removed), have led people to other sources for information. If you are looking for a different kind of online encyclopedia, try the seven alternatives to Wikipedia listed below.
Take special note of the statement, "the almost obsessive behavior of many of the volunteers (try placing an external link on the site without having it removed)." This censorship by Wikipedia administrators is often overlooked as a major cause of the unreliability of Wikipedia. Also, this censorship discourages people from researching, writing and editing Wikipedia articles -- what is the point of doing this work if it is just going to be censored?
I consider Wikipedia to be a good reference on non-controversial subjects, but I would never consider Wikipedia to be a reliable, authoritative reference on a controversial subject.
I have taken a close look at Citizendium, a "wiki" (open editing) encyclopedia which was started by one of Wikipedia's founders. IMO Citizendium repeats a major mistake of Wikipedia -- there are too many rules that can be abused by the administrators, and Citizendium is even worse than Wikipedia in this regard.
This second article says of Encyclopedia Britannica Online,
To have full access to Encyclopedia Britannica Online, one must pay a subscription fee of $69.95 a year. This is a sound investment for students, however, as the yearly fee is substantially cheaper than buying the encyclopedic set in book form. Also, major universities will accept the site as a reliable source when citing information in a research paper, something Wikipedia can't claim.
However, the Encyclopedia Britannica Concise, discussed in the other article, is free. Also, though Wikipedia is often not accepted as a reliable source for student papers, Wikipedia does cite sources that can be used as references in student papers.
The widespread ban on Wikipedia's use as a reference in student papers is another factor -- in addition to censorship -- that discourages people from researching, writing, and editing Wikipedia articles.
IMO one of the biggest mistakes made by online encyclopedias -- particularly "wiki" (open editing) encyclopedias -- is the assumption that they should look like printed encyclopedias. Online encyclopedias can include many more controversial items than can printed encyclopedias because online encyclopedias can have instant links to external sites where the controversial items are discussed or debated in detail.
IMO, often the best way to handle disputes over the content of wiki encyclopedias is simply to add the disputed item along with a note that it is disputed and links to external websites where the item is discussed or debated.
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Labels: Wikipedia (new #1)