On Tuesday, March 13, 2012, Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc. announced the end of publishing the 32-volume printed edition. As stated on their website, the company is moving forward to a digital age where learning goes beyond the use of reference works.
The hardbound paper copies that adorned our bookshelves for many years will become a part of history. I don’t have a problem with that: paperless copies will save trees and can be kept current in a world that is changing every day.
But what about accuracy of content on the free wiki sites? The new buzzword these days is crowd-sourcing and wikis are thriving on this concept. It’s great that we all join in to become contributors and collaborators, but we also need to keep in perspective that not everyone is an expert … therefore, approach with caution when using wikis for facts and information.
Take wikiHow for example, the how to manual that you can edit.
I checked out the how to’s in the Exhibited Arts categories. The information presented is at times rather sketchy and lacks depth. Here is one example:
The instructions are adventurous to say the least … step #2 asks you to …
‘collect a blowtorch (make sure you follow all necessary safety procedures while using the blowtorch)’ .
This step needs some serious editing, or perhaps one has to find another article on how to use a blowtorch? In any case, I would certainly prefer someone showing me in person how to use a blowtorch before I burn the house down using such a tool for the first time.
Next, I checked out Wikiquote for some inspirational words related to art. I found a quote by the German Romantic writer Jean Paul Richter:
- Die Kunst ist zwar nicht das Brot, aber der Wein des Lebens.
It was translated as:
- Art is indeed not the bread, but the wine of life.
The word ‘indeed’ contained in the English translation is likely a result of Google translator – it’s simply wrong. This quote cannot be translated literally and a better translation would be:
- Art is not the bread, but the wine of life.
Over at Wikigallery, the world’s largest virtual gallery in the world, I came across an artwork by my favourite Northern Renaissance artist, Albrecht Dürer: Study of Hands.
The medium for this artwork is listed as ‘Oil on Canvas’, which is incorrect. It is an ink brush drawing, with white highlights, on blue Venetian paper.
I am not against wikis — they are a great tool for collaborative projects, teamwork and learning. But we need to be vigilant when using these sources to research factual information. The challenge for open wikis will be to improve the quality of writing and respect copyright laws.
And don’t forget, there is still the digital form of Encyclopaedia Britannica … but it’s not free!