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This page is part of the Proceedings of Wikimania 2006 (Index of presentations)

Sins of Omission? An Exploratory Evaluation of Wikipedia's Topical Coverage

Authors Derek Lackaff, Alexander Halavais
Track Projects and Content
License GNU Free Documentation License (details)
About the authors
Derek Lackaff is a graduate student of communication at the University of Buffalo. He teaches social science research methods and a survey course on internet communication and social technologies. He received his MA in Media Studies from La Trobe University for thesis research on online social norms. He is fascinated by changing structures of power as influenced and enabled by new media technologies.
Alex Halavais is an assistant professor of communication at the University at Buffalo's School of Informatics where he also directs the MA in Informatics degree program. He will be joining the faculty of Quinnipiac University's School of Communications in the autumn of 2006. His research examines "social computing" and its impact on social change, journalism, education, and public policy. The Online Journalism Review recently referred to Halavais as one of a number of new "blogologists" who seek to study the social effects of this use of the internet. Much of this work examines the intersection of geographical location and online content. In particular he has analyzed the hyperlinked networks among nations, cities, blogs, and political websites.

In addition to teaching about new information technologies, Halavais teaches communication theory at the undergraduate and graduate levels. He has recently edited a reader called Cyberporn & Society, and teaches a course on the same topic. He is currently working on a book about the intersection of government and learning online.

The 'reliability' and 'credibility' of the freely-editable Wikipedia are issues of popular interest and concern. Much of Wikipedia's recent media attention has been the result of errors of commission, where factually inaccurate information has been deliberately placed in articles, or relevant information was deleted from articles. Wikipedia's open and distributed editorial structure may serve to ameliorate this type of error, but introduces the potential for a second type or error: errors of omission. While some topics, such as the fictional Harry Potter universe, may be covered in extraordinary detail (over 300 articles), other topics, such as geriatrics, are addressed by only a handful of entries (14 articles). As an exploratory effort, we compare three topical knowledge domains on Wikipedia – poetry, physics, and linguistics – with published encyclopedic treatments. While these fields are chosen for convenience, and may not represent a true sample, they should indicate similar relationships in other scholarly fields. We do not compare the content of these articles, but rather the degree of coincidental topical coverage between traditional academic encyclopedias and Wikipedia.
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