The Lisa’s Problem With Wikipedia Explained
It’s fair to say that I’ve done some mild Wikipedia bashing lately. I may have even referred to it as "devil spawn Wikipedia" on more than one occasion. And because our loyal readers like to keep us/me in check (please don’t ever stop that), it’s possible I may have received an email or comment or two suggesting that perhaps I need to adopt a puppy, enjoy a good cup coffee and generally just lighten up. They assure me that Wikipedia is not as evil as I make it out to be and perhaps I’m being just a bit, as David Temple would say, whiny. [You are. –Susan] Please take this in the nicest possible way — I hate you.
Personally, I think you’re all wrong and you’ve been brainwashed by some Wikipedia government employee (oh yeah, they’re out there) who waved a flashing Wikipedia-is-pretty light in front of your face and took away your ability to reason. But in case I’m mistaken (which is totally different from being wrong), here are my three biggest problems with Wikipedia. You tell me if I’m just being moody. [You are. –Susan] — I’m keying your car tonight. Just a warning.
Complaint #1: It puts non-expert information at the top of the search engine’s results page.
This bothers me tremendously. As a searcher and as a member of the search engine optimization community, it irks me when non-expert sites achieve rankings they don’t deserve. I would never label Wikipedia as spamming, but pretend Wikipedia was Joe’s Encyclopedia and it ranked for every single-word query imaginable, despite that the information being less than expert and often misleading. Would people second guess those rankings? If the same information was showing up under someone else’s label, would users be suspicious about the information they’re receiving? I don’t know the answer, but I’m curious.
The search engines are supposed to reward authoritative, expert content. Wikipedia is not a subject matter expert. On anything. It’s an open ended encyclopedia where anyone can contribute to make the article on a given topic "better" and "more accurate". The best and worst thing about Wikipedia has always been that anyone can edit any entry. That fact may make it a fun project idea but it doesn’t lend itself to promoting quality information. If Stephen Colbert decides he’s an expert on elephants, then he’s an expert on elephants. We don’t even know for sure if Stephen Colbert can spell elephant.
There may be a high quantify of frequently updated information on the Wikipedia site, but the quality is equal to a middle school book report. Wikipedia is not the Encylopaedia Britannica.
Complaint #2: Wikipedia pushes expert information farther down the SERP.
By ranking first for everything under the sun, it pushes down information that actually is authoritative and worthy of rankings, thereby "hiding" expert information. Being a part of the search engine optimization population, I spend a good part of my day watching and reading about my colleagues’ experiences working tirelessly to help sites improve their rankings. I read about their exhaustive efforts to help them author excellent content, create stronger site theme, identify effective keywords and generally going through the tiring and laborious process that is search engine optimization. I see the quality of sites they create and it’s like nails on a chalkboard when I do a search and see the annoying Wikipedia page ranking in the number one position. This is even more infuriating when I actually read through the Wiki entry and realize the information is rubbish. All of it.
We’ve heard time and time again that the search engines reward expert content. That to get high rankings you have to establish yourself as a subject matter expert. That the search engines’ main goal is to provide users with the most relevant and authoritative information possible for any given topic. If that’s true, why does Wikipedia rank so well? Wikipedia does not fit into this description. There’s a difference between a lot of information and quality information.
Complaint #3: There’s a reason Wikipedia ranks so well in Google. Something fishy is going on!
I don’t for the life of me know what it is, but there’s got to be something there. I want to know what makes Wikipedia rank so well and why 40-50 percent of newly created Wikipedia pages appear in Google’s index with 100 hours of being created. Does Google index your site that fast? I doubt it.
Late last week, comScore reported Google’s Traffic to Wikipedia up 166 percent Year Over Year. Call me paranoid, but that’s worth noting and looking to it, especially when you consider it’s more traffic than it sends to its own Google Images property and to MySpace. Google and Wikipedia both claim there’s no incestual relationship, and maybe there’s not, but it sure looks funny. An explanation would be beneficial.
Why does Wikipedia rank so well? Is it because of the depth of content and the frequency of updates? LIkely. But to me all that is outweighed by the lack of quality of the content. There are plenty of blog spam rings that update continuously with scraped content. They don’t receive number one Google rankings because they’re quality is…not good. Same applies to Wikipedia..
The truth is, I might be more inclined to trust Wikipedia if its results weren’t constantly being thrown in my face. I’d trust that Wikipedia was an expert on cats, if they weren’t also an expert on love, bowling, SEO, rain, blogs and staplers. And by Google’s insistence that they are, it makes me second guess their search results. And I don’t want to have to do that. I’ve always trusted Google to lead me to the correct information; I’d rather not have to change that.
So those are my reasons for not trust Wikipedia? Am I whiny and being bitter? You tell me. [You are. And here’s why: Wikipedia is a first stop information source. No, you shouldn’t trust Wikipedia for your paper that’s going to be half your grade but Wikipedia’s guidelines indicate that you have to cite sources which means that you can track down the primary source and decide if it is credible. Wikipedia ranks because they have a) more content than God b) more links than Buddha and c) more frequent updates than Xenu. It hits all the Golden Points of the Google’s algo. The way to take down Wikipedia is for expert sites to stop citing Wikipedia. Honestly, the Web has no one to blame but itself. –Susan]
I thought it was Google’s job to track down the primary source of information as a way to provide searchers with the most expert information?
But I’m sorry, I should have been more clear. When I asked for insight, I was asking everyone not named Susan Esparza. I already know her opinion. On everything. She makes sure of that.