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RELS-214: The New Testament


Wikipedians (or Wikimedians) are volunteer content editors. Universities and other cultural/heritage organizations hire people -- such as grad students -- on special projects to "enable the host organisation and its members to continue a productive relations with the encyclopedia and its community." An example is UofT's wikipedia entry that a wikipedian developed to highlight UTL's digital collections.

The WWW and the Value of Critical Thinking

(1) About Google

Ask yourself: Why is the algorithm -- the way the search results are ordered -- a corporate secret?

"Spiders" or "crawlers" are used to discover content by detecting what webpages exist. This is the discovery component. As the next component, a massive index is maintained based on page content, This aides in findability. Finally, there is a retrievability component that is referred to as "PageRank." PageRank is a top-secret algorithm that takes into account factors like how long a page has been in place, how many times a page has been visited, geographic  location, and the number of webpages that link to the page.

Here is just a few of the 200 components Google looks for:

  • Page rank
  • Placement of keywords
  • Use of keywords
  • Themes
  • HTML coding
  • How old is the domain?
  • Website traffic
  • Where the website is hosted

(2) About Wikipedia

Ask yourself: 

  1. Should you trust a reference source that can be edited by anyone?
  2. Would your instructor approve of a wikipedia entry in your bibliography?



Additional considerations:

  • A wiki's purpose is to allow anyone to contribute, whether it be to edit, delete or comment so there is no guarantee that the information is accurate or credible.
  • It is still valuable as a tool to find background information despite it's long as the content is viewed critically. Consider it a "jumping off" point to the rest of your research process.
  • Wikipedia entries can provide help with identifying keywords to employ in searches of scholarly indexes e.g. ATLA. Take a look at the embedded links, bolded words, or items listed in the table of contents.
  • The content is required to be verifiable. This means the references for an entry can be very useful for tracking down seminal research and primary sources.
  • The editorial principle is that entries should show a "NpoV" -- a neutral point of view.
  • Peer reviewers have less time to edit entries on current events. These entries, therefore, are less trustworthy.

To put Wikipedia's achievements in numerical context, at the same time it was celebrating the publishing of its one millionth entry (a Hebrew article on the Kazakhstan flag) in less than four years, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography launched its latest edition. It had taken 12 years to complete, yet contained a comparatively tiddly 55,000 biographies. It also cost some £25m to create. Wikipedia has so far been bankrolled by Wales, but the total cost so far is still around £300,000. (Simon Waldman, The Guardian 26 Oct, 2004.)

(3) About Citizendium

Created by Larry Sanger, co-founder of Wikipedia, Citizendium is intended to be an academic alternative to Wikipedia.

  • Contributors are required to use their real names and are verified.
  • Articles are citable once approved by "experts."
  • Largely "vandalism"-free.
  • Eduzendium is an off-shoot of Citizendium and is intended for university programs/professors to create research and writing projects for their students; students become the contributors.

(4) About Scholarpedia

There are so many Wikipedia alternatives sprouting up that it is difficult to know which of them have added value. Scholarpedia might be worth considering.

  • Peer-reviewed, open-access encyclopedia.
  • Written by academics.
  • It has been slow to grow.
  • Although Wikipedia is the model, Scholarpedia espouses quality and trustworthiness. 
  • "Scholarpedia is inspired by Wikipedia and aims to complement it by providing in-depth scholarly treatment of topics within the fields of mathematics and sciences including physical, biological, behavioral, and social sciences." ( Thus far, articles appear largely to be in the maths and sciences.