What is the Best Web-Based Encyclopedia?
July 17, 2006 2:36 PM   Subscribe

What is the best Web-based encyclopedia, and why?
posted by NYCinephile to Computers & Internet (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Wikipedia? Because it is the most used?
posted by k8t at 2:36 PM on July 17, 2006


I think it depends on how you judge "best." If you want the most accurate encyclopedia, Wikipedia is probably not where you should go. I would go to Encyclopedia Britannica.

However, as far as the most useful, and the most breadth, I would suggest Wikipedia.
posted by ifranzen at 2:43 PM on July 17, 2006


The major competitor to Wikipedia appears to be Encyclopedia Britannica, which has the significant drawback of costing money to use.

There's a lot more heat than light circulating with respect to the accuracy, neutrality and completeness of Wikipedia articles. My opinion is that with regard to these three issues, Wikipedia is irremediably broken - not because any particular article lacks these elements, but because you can't count on any particular article to have them.

My opinion/guess is that when Wikipedia outgrows its anarchist roots and puts some processes in place analogous to the Britannica editorial review process, it'll quickly become the world's greatest information resource.
posted by ikkyu2 at 2:44 PM on July 17, 2006


The web itself, really. Wikipedia is all right if you treat it as you would a friend who's generally well-informed, rather than something that's always right.
posted by athenian at 2:46 PM on July 17, 2006


An alternative is Bartleby.com. There you can search the Columbia Encyclopedia, the World History Encyclopedia, and a lot of other reference works. The beauty of the Columbia Encyclopedia is that, IN PRINT, it is a 1-volume encyclopedia. This feature is meaningless online and I'm not sure any encyclopedia has the functionality or comprehensiveness of Wikipedia.
posted by mattbucher at 2:50 PM on July 17, 2006


Wikipedia is all right if you treat it as you would a friend who's generally well-informed, rather than something that's always right.

Seconded.
posted by ifranzen at 2:51 PM on July 17, 2006


I go to Wikipedia first.

"Best" has a lot of different aspects to it. Wikipedia is free, the content includes minutia that niether EB nor Bartleby cover, and (this part is very important to me) the design is clean, the layout is intuitive.

So, while Wikipedia's veracity can't be guaranteed it is easy to use. EB and Bartleby are riddled with ads and the interface is poor.

On review, Wikipedia is exactly like The Htchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. All it lacks is the Don't Panic button.
posted by lekvar at 3:10 PM on July 17, 2006 [1 favorite]


It also depends on what you need an encyclopedia for. If you're looking for up-to-the-minute entries, entries about popular culture, the Internet, or anythinhg that a regular encycopedia usually ignores or has to chew on for a while, then Wikipediais your best bet, with the usual caveat that it's likely to be less accurate that other sources (although not enormously so).

If you're looking for the sorts of thoroughly researched, carefully edited material you'd find in any other encyclopedia, then Brittanica.
posted by Astro Zombie at 3:12 PM on July 17, 2006


I really like athenian's statement. That seems like the best way of describing Wikipedia.

I think I remember seeing an article linked on MeFi about Wikipedia's merits, and whoever wrote the article said that the value of Wikipedia is that it's "good enough."
posted by jayder at 3:29 PM on July 17, 2006


The criticisms of Wikipedia are well-founded, but can be circumvented in some cases:

1. Many articles will include external links and citations.
2. It's often helpful to look at the discussion surrounding an article, as well as its history. If an article is controversial or simply popular enough to be the target of random vandalism, looking at the "diffs" between successive versions can be informative.

Obviously these both require more work on the reader's part, and aren't always a viable option. But they do help you fact-check Wikipedia. We are also starting to see some articles flagged as "settled" (or something), meaning that people shouldn't edit them willy-nilly.
posted by adamrice at 3:43 PM on July 17, 2006


Wikipedia is fantastic as long as you have a functional bullshit detector. On most topics you would expect a regular encyclopedia to cover (e.g. science, history, geography), the articles are generally very well-written and informative (and cited!). If you venture out of that, especially into more esoteric subjects, you start to get somewhat dubious articles.
posted by neckro23 at 3:48 PM on July 17, 2006


“On review, Wikipedia is exactly like The Htchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.”

I contend that h2g2 is more like The Guide.
posted by ijoshua at 4:12 PM on July 17, 2006


Wikipedia is excellent in both breadth and depth, though, admittedly, not always in accuracy or neutrality.

Since you shouldn't be using it as a sole source, I'd say it's a great place to go first.

(That's no downcheck on WP; your highschool teachers should have taught you that *no* encyclopedia should be used as a sole source.)

This could have been a troll; I'm quite pleased to see that everyone's behaving like grownups... instead of how we normally do. :-)
posted by baylink at 5:38 PM on July 17, 2006


Wikipedia is fantastic as long as you have a functional bullshit detector.

You're discounting the existence of subtle vandals who, in order to prove their point that Wikipedia contains inaccuracies, spend many hours inserting completely plausible falsehoods into Wikipedia.

Some of these are masterfully crafted, and when they're not wrong in a controversial way, they go undetected for years.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:06 PM on July 17, 2006


ikkyu2: you're asserting the existance of subtle vandals who do that, as a general class of users.

Do you have any indications that I do not that there are actually people who do that on an ongoing basis? or even evidence of such edits?
posted by baylink at 8:15 PM on July 17, 2006


I seek such an entry in the source itself. Cox's Theorem^, as such, is the weak sauce.
posted by mwhybark at 8:38 PM on July 17, 2006


Te ara (The Encyclopedia of New Zealand) is very good if your interested in New Zealand.
posted by X-00 at 8:41 PM on July 17, 2006


Thank you, ifranzen, for prompting me to clarify my question.

Upon reflection, I feel that "best" encompasses some of the following characteristics:

* the entries are well-written.
* the entries are relatively current.
* the entries are fact-based, verified and verifiable.

Price was not a characteristic I was considering when I posted the question.

I've benefitted from the discussion so far, and look forward to reading more thoughts.
posted by NYCinephile at 2:56 AM on July 18, 2006


You're discounting the existence of subtle vandals who, in order to prove their point that Wikipedia contains inaccuracies, spend many hours inserting completely plausible falsehoods into Wikipedia.

This article or section does not cite its references or sources.

You can help Wikipedia by introducing appropriate citations.
posted by gimonca at 4:03 AM on July 18, 2006


Separately, another AskMeFi member has raised a question regarding the political history of Wikipedia.
posted by NYCinephile at 8:25 AM on July 18, 2006


Here is a good document on how college students should use Wikipedia.
posted by mattbucher at 8:34 AM on July 18, 2006


« Older Who can legally perform a marriage in Los Angeles...   |   Snort. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.