Finally, I get it! I get the Wikipedia!
I’ve been pretty vocal about my criticism regarding Wikipedia in the past but Michael Motherwell’s post over at the Cre8ative Flow blog has me rethinking things. He offers an entirely new reason for why I haven’t taken to Wikipedia the way Wiki, Google and Matt Cutts would have hoped I would. [Oh this is gonna be good. I'm getting popcorn--Susan]
Hi, I’m Lisa, and I have a skewed notion of what an encyclopedia should be.
When I was little an encyclopedia was that really big book I used to purposely drop on my little brother’s foot. It was big and heavy and smelled funny (very much like my older brother, actually). It was filled with factual information I could trust, but because it was so cumbersome I never actually used it. It just sort of sat there, collecting more dust and odor. This to me is what an encyclopedia is supposed to be – a big useless fact-filled book that smells.
Fifteen years or so later (I am So. Old) along came Wikipedia. An online encyclopedia that is super accessible but isn’t entirely accurate. Instead of giving you everything you ever needed to know about a subject, it acts as a starting point for your research. If you’re looking for a biography for Bruce Clay, you’re not going to go Wikipedia and get mounds of information. Instead it will lead you to the real authoritative links. That is the strength of Wikipedia – its ability to serve as a link resource.
And if you think about it, maybe that’s what a modern encyclopedia is supposed to be. An article with citations to other works on the same topic, a resource.
Michael M. actually makes the argument that Wikipedia is more useful than an online encyclopedia because people actually use it. I think it’s the next few lines that really win me over:
"This, the links and resources, are the real gold of Wikipedia If one is older than about 8, an encyclopedia should never be the end of one’s research for anything but the most simple of questions. Wikipedia, unlike Britannica, sends you directly to sources that are authoritative and true experts on a specific subject, without any impediments or concerns."
(I can feel my SEO street cred leaving my body and Michael Gray disowning me as his SEO offspring.)
And we’re starting to see the concept of a modern encyclopedia develop as of late. Over at the Google Operating System blog, Ionut Alex Chitu links off to a new Greasemonkey script that ups Google’s Universal search offerings by replacing the ads on the right side with results from Image Search, Google Video, Wikipedia articles and Dictionary.com definitions. Essentially, it turns your search engine results page into an encyclopedia entry. With the search results acting as the authoritative links designed to lead you on your way to learning about a topic.
I’m scaring myself over here because maybe I’m starting to "get" Wikipedia. Or perhaps the Google brainwashing is finally starting to kick in. It must be the latter because I’m going to go ahead and pick on Michael Gray for a second.
Michael Gray had a post the other day regarding Wiki entitled Wikipedia I’m In Ur Index Rulin’ Ur Serpz. In the entry, Michael G. (not to be confused with the aforementioned Michael M.) alleges to have uncovered a Google bias when he noticed that Wikipedia ranks on the first page for nearly every single or double letter combination.
He’s right, they do. If you do a search for [cc], [gg] or [t], there is Wikipedia on the very first page. But what exactly does this prove? In these cases, I actually think Wikipedia is a pretty relevant answer. Especially considering these aren’t exactly competitive search terms. How many pages on your site do you have dedicated to the letter "T"? I don’t know about you, but we haven’t devoted much time to ranking for the letter ‘T’. We’ll let Wikipedia and its entry on the most commonly used consonant enjoy its third place Google ranking. It provides more information on that topic than we could ever hope to (or want to).
I think if you adapt your definition of what an online encyclopedia should be–a resource instead of a definitive answer–Wikipedia becomes far more tolerable and worthy of its rankings. As a child, you believe things because you’re told they’re true. You want to know what the capital of Finland is, you look up "Finland" in the smelly encyclopedia and it tells you its Helsinki. As an adult, you shouldn’t believe things just because someone tells you they’re true. You’re supposed to consult multiple sources. Wikipedia provides you with those sources.
I’m going to go hide from the rest of the search engine optimization community now.