Working with Wikipedia

Working with Wikipedia can create a long lasting source of knowledge for the topics not always fully presented on commercially controlled platforms. Well regulated content management system helps to separate the facts from opinions (or common opinions from the less common :). Using Creative Commons licensing ensures the knowledge will stay in the public domain.
Creating articles for Wikipedia is also a good opportunity for learning. In my case it usually requires reading at least one book about the topic in hand.
What is your strategy for woking with the world largest repository of human knowledge?

I have to admit that I am a passive consumer mostly. I don’t really consider myself an “expert” so have not contributed any entries. It has saved my butt on occasion when I’m asked tricky questions in my class though!!

I look at it only for useful links, as often information is plain wrong or written by someone with an ulterior motive. I’m with you on public domain knowledge being a good thing, but I would not describe it as well regulated at all. A link to any old website is not rigor, and that is most of the info on Wikipedia in my experience.

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i have never contributed

like any reference work there are accurate and misleading entries

to judge a reference i generally start by examining some topics i’m sure i know well to gauge the quality of the articles

my overall impression of wikipedia is a positive one despite my lack of trust in certain topics (religion, politics, etc)

it is best used for more trivial matters (cinema and music history, sports history, geographic & linguistic knowledge)

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As an undergrad, I would occasionally read Wikipedia entries for mathematical terms and feel bewildered at how quickly I didn’t understand what was happening. A few years ago I realized that all-of-a-sudden I now understand Wikipedia math.

I mostly read it for questions best filed under “trivia,” even mathematical trivia (what is a ____?) I’ve edited a few pages, mostly either for style or because of a missing fact that I happened to know.


that’s funny, i think historically math entries on wikipedia were ruled by super deep nerds and completionists who were not very good at (/interested in) picking the right level of complexity for the topic.

like you would look up, say, “linear approximation,” and you would get a quick definition and then 10 paragraphs about Banach spaces or something. it was all correct and sometimes interesting, but often completley opaque and intimidating if you were actually new to the topic.

and it’s actually just gotten way way better, pedagogically, as the years have gone by and things have bene fleshed out more. now i definitely rely on it more than any textbook (or mathworld &c)


Yeah, that’s a great description of my experience. Some of the super-deep nerdery seems to have shifted to nlab, which is kind of amusing to dip one’s nerdy toes into. E.g. the entry for “Multiplication” includes a link to “multiplicative cohomology theory” and the Related Topics section reads

The categorification of the operation of multiplication in a monoid is the tensor product in a monoidal category.


heck yeah, that made my day

I resemble these remarks. I fix things that I come across that are obviously broken (typos, dead/moved external links), because I can’t resist the compulsion, but I tried once years ago to be more active (creating articles etc). It didn’t go well. (“anybody can edit!!” notwithstanding, they can be, let’s say, exacting about the Manual of Style and protocols for administrative stuff that I didn’t have the patience to memorize)

I kind of love the nLab, even though every visit goes the same way (getting somewhere between five to eight links deep trying to unpack a single statement before giving up).


I quit editing WP a decade ago, disgusted with the process after having fixed so many wrong things and then having them reverted. It’s a never-ending war of attrition with motivated nerds who have far more time on their hands than I do.

I occasionally edit for continuity. Often smaller articles seem to be constructed by a series of people dropping off sentences or half paragraphs at random without reading them in context.

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