How Wikipedia stacked up against subscription databases

Stephen Francouer writes:

My Plan
Do quick look ups of nineteen terms and concepts discussed in Clay Shirky’s book
Here Comes Everybody to see what reference sources would be more helpful to the students I work with.

Using quotation marks around search terms to force phrase searches, I looked in the following resources:

  • Wikipedia
  • Encyclopedia Britannica
  • Gale Virtual Reference Library
  • Oxford Reference

In any given set of search results, I would look first for main entries that mirrored my search terms exactly and record any such precise hits in a table. If there were no exact hits, then I looked for any entries in which most of my search terms were in the main entry (such as an entry on “social network services” when I searched for “social networks”). If none of my search words were in the main entry, then I looked for entries in which the search words appeared in the body of the entry and were adequately defined and explained (as opposed to simply cited or referenced in an offhand way).


As you can see from the updated
table of results, Wikipedia and Gale Virtual Reference Library both do pretty well and Encyclopedia Britannica fared the worst.

Take a look at the results and the rest of Stephen’s post. For emerging thinking, a discussion of newer terms or a clearinghouse of links for that new read, Wikipedia may be a useful resource. For example, reading the entry for “radical transparency” might be a good first step for exploring the concept.