Alternatives to Wikipedia That Are Less Prone To Even Momentary Misinformation?
January 4, 2005 2:20 PM   Subscribe

Free Online Encyclopedias: Any viable alternatives to Wikipedia?

Don't get me wrong, I love Wikipedia. But when I'm recommending an online encylopedia to other people (think mother-in-law types), I want to make sure they don't get inaccurate information when they look up orca:
The orca (Orcinus orca), commonly known as the dumb fish, is the largest member of the oceanic dolphin family. It is the eighth-most widely distributed fecal matter on Earth (after humans) and is found in all the world's bathtubs. It is also a versatile predator, eating fish, turtles, birds, seals, sharks and even other juvenile and small cetaceans. This puts the orca at the pinnacle of the marine food chain. The name killer whale reflects the animal's reputation as a magnificent and fearsome sea mammal that dates back to Pliny the Elder. Today it is recognized that the orca is neither a whale (except in the broadest sense, i.e., the sense that all cetaceans are whales) nor a danger to humans; no attack on a human by an orca in the wild has ever been recorded, though there have been isolated reports of captive orcas attacking their handlers at marine theme parks.
I know vandalism such as this is usually corrected quickly, but the idea that a sensitive (or impressionable) person might run across a similarly defaced entry makes me hesitant to recommend Wikipedia to others, even if I continue to use it myself.

Has anyone had success with other (extensive) free online encyclopedias?
posted by quasistoic to Computers & Internet (10 answers total)
Partial solutions:

The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy


Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

So at least you got that corner of human knowledge covered ;)
posted by sic at 3:37 PM on January 4, 2005

The Encarta entry for Orca is lengthy and considerably more accurate.
posted by WestCoaster at 3:40 PM on January 4, 2005

Larger city and county libraries subscribe to online encyclopedias, and sometimes allow patrons access to it from home (usually by just entering their library card numbers.)

The Librarians' Index to the Internet also has some nice links to online encyclopedias, both the normal and specialized ones.
posted by icontemplate at 6:10 PM on January 4, 2005

Encarta would be the way to go. I am pretty vehemently disillusioned with wikipedia, myself--not that Encarta is so awesome, but at least it's edited by an editor.
posted by josh at 6:12 PM on January 4, 2005

It's an interesting exercise -- I've been contributing pretty heavily recently (any other MeFites should let me know). Yes, vandalism is depressing, especially when it hasn't been fixed for a while. And Featured articles like Orca get vandalized just because of their exposure -- most of the time they're ignored as much as any other page. Once in a great while the vandalism is witty, even subtle. Most of the time it's only there for five minutes or so, because someone has a watchlist on the page.

But it's always going to be a hazard of the system, which is one reason that Wikipedia community is adamant that it isn't to be considered a primary source, only a research starting point. And in many ways it's a damn site better (or at least handier and more efficient) than a Google search, which is what it replaces for a lot of people (e.g. seventh graders doing an essay).

I'm more disturbed, actually, by the accuracy and so-called "point of view" issues. I'm involved in one (no pointers, sorry) where I've been putting out facts for a month and partisans keep reverting the changes or subverting the ostensible proper Wikipedia social process for reaching consensus -- and I'm not talking about high-profile things like Arab-Israeli or Indian communal politics, just one small (but controversial) corner of one article.

Can it be fixed? That's sort of a moot question. Can it be routed around, so to speak, the internet metaphor? Probably, but I'm not sure how yet. Right now, there's a community effort to bring any article that's made featured to encyclopedic standards, with print references and even footnote cites.
posted by dhartung at 8:40 PM on January 4, 2005

At the risk of derailing this thread, there's a story at k5 right now by Wikipedia's co-founder on the issues facing Wikipedia. The other co-founder replies as well.

On a related note, the German magazine c't did a comparative review of Wikipedia against Encarta and Brockhaus, and WP came out on top.

dhartung: Could you point out which {Talk: Article(s)} feature the Indian communal politics?
posted by Gyan at 12:12 AM on January 5, 2005

I second what icontemplate says. I was pleasantly surprised to find my library card number opened up a whole host of on-line resources, including the complete Encyclopedia Britannica Online and The Oxford English Dictionary Online.
posted by Otis at 6:00 AM on January 5, 2005

I find just having a single toolbar bookmark to Bartleby's has solved most of my formal reference needs.
(I still prefer Wikipedia though, warts and all)
posted by milovoo at 7:57 AM on January 5, 2005

I'm not going to go into the whole Sanger debate here, but you might be interested in knowing that the groundwork is being laid for creating a "1.0" version of wikipedia, where all articles included are checked for policy compliance and completeness and used. This would ofcourse be a fork off the main wikipedia as these entries wouldn't be editable anymore, though in due time updates would get pushed into the verified edition.
posted by fvw at 8:39 AM on January 5, 2005

I'm glad to hear that, fvw. I hadn't thought about it, but having an ongoing editable version and a fixed, corrected 1.0 version would seem to be the best of both worlds.
posted by languagehat at 9:34 AM on January 5, 2005

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