Problems with Wikipedia


The Wikipedia is, as I’m sure all my readers would agree, one of the greatest resources on the Internet. It is based on a truly inspired idea: there are millions of people out there and many have special knowledge which they would be willing to share.

I use the Wikipedia not only for finding things out, checking data, and accessing further information on a subject, but also directly as a basis for articles I write to accompany the photographs I have been taking of historical and religious sites for my Photo Dharma website.

Definitely this is one of the great resources which makes things easier and better for everyone who can access it. It is not without problems, and nor can we expect it to be.

However, some of the problems seem to be more intractable than others, and almost built-in to the system. Here are a couple I have faced recently.

1: Editing Articles

If you’ve ever tried editing the Wikipedia you will recognise the scenario: you visit a page and see a factual error, or more likely ten of them, so you decide to give the time to edit it.

Along the way you check your facts, correct the grammar, check your coding and get it all looking spick and span and save the page.

Now some pople seem to “own” a page, so when, a couple of days later you return, you find all the work you did has been reverted by the “owner” who didn’t like it. [1]

You take a deep breath and after consideration realise that, although it’s a pity, in fact the whole world won’t go to pot if there are another 10 errors on Wikipedia, and it ain’t worth the argument.

When it happens once you feel disappointed, but if it happens a lot you simply sink into apathy.

Last year Ven. Dhammika wrote on his blog a couple of times 01 02 about the very poor content in some of the articles about Buddhism, and later he wrote to me privately and asked if I would like to help update them.

At that time I was snowed in with other work anyway so I decided to pass it on to another monk I knew would be interested. He put up a notice on one of the Buddhist boards – I forget which – to see if there might be a band of workers who could do something about it.

Everybody else is in a state of apathy also, it seems, and almost certainly for the same reasons, and so the project never even got started.

And so we still have dozens of articles about Buddhism with little content, or content that doesn’t reflect the Buddha’s teaching, but that of people more or less remote from it.

2: Adding in External Links

After returning from Indonesia last year where I had been taking photographs of Borobudur and other archeological sites for the Photo Dharma website, I was looking at the page for one of the sites on the Wikipedia.

Under External Links at the bottom of the page I found a link to a website promising photographs from the site. When I visited the page I found the photos were few and small.

So I wrote in a link to the relevant page on my Photo Dharma site, so that others could find what are, in fact, high-quality photographs of the site in question, and many of them (with Borobudur, for instance, there are around 1,200).

At a later date I went to another page on the Wiki and found there were no links to external resources, so again I put one in, thinking it would help others get a better idea about the place.

Once I had got the idea I decided to do it for all the pages that correspond to archeological sites or temples I had photographs of, so I systematically over a few weeks went through the relevant pages writing in the links.

A couple of weeks ago I visited one of the pages and found the link had been removed. I tried another and again it was gone. The removal only guided me to a large legal document on the Wikipedia, about Wikipedia’s policies regarding External links, and nothing that seemed relevant to this case.

I could see who had done it so I decided to ask him why on his Talk page. When I got there I found hundreds of complaints against the guy, who seems to have set himself up as an unoffical Wikicop, and there was also a lot of acrimonious debate.

I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to get involved in it at all. However, after reflection I decided to post a question seeking an explanation as to why the links had been removed.

(I cannot give a link to the discussion that followed because the page doesn’t exist anymore. Why not is a moot question, it may be someone he upset vandalised it, it may be admin removed it [or him], I’m not sure.)

Eventually I found out he thought there was a conflict of interest issue, so I visited the Wikipedia page that gives guidelines on the subject, which is also a large legal document. I can’t say I read it all, but I did read the Intro, which summarises the issue. There it states:

COI editing involves contributing to Wikipedia in order to promote your own interests or those of other individuals, companies, or groups. Where advancing outside interests is more important to an editor than advancing the aims of Wikipedia, that editor stands in a conflict of interest.

Back on his Talk page I tried to argue that in fact there was no personal interest involved, there is no financial gain (for instance) on any of my websites, either through advertising, sales or even donations, and I gain nothing from visitors going there.

I also argued that I had put in the links only to enable visitors to find material they can’t find elsewhere – and that all of the material on the site is released under a Creative Commons license, which makes it reusable.

He came back with a simple insistence that there was a conflict of interest, with no answer for the points I had made or attempt at discussion.

And so, yeah, apathy set in once again: who cares if Wikipedia readers can’t access material relevant to their studies?

And once again people with enough time to own a page, and others who appoint themselves as unofficial policemen win out, and the rest of us just have to get on with it.


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  1. Offically there are not supposed to be owners, but here I am talking about reality

1 comment to Problems with Wikipedia

  • Vesa

    I agree with you, Wikipedia is not a reliable source for information. There are people putting misleading info in there and when you edit it, they actually revert your entire work and keep it their way. Edit war happens in Wikipedia all the time. This makes me don’t want to refer to Wikipedia for important information. I don’t use it that much anymore. Which article are you working on?

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