Suppose I am making a paper on the impact of popular TV shows on the spread of correct knowledge and facts about current and past events. Shows like South Park, The Simpsons and likely others often feature recent events in their storylines, as well as past events as well. These shows often have specialized wikias, usually in the form of "showname.wikia.com".

These wikias are mainly maintained by a dedicated subgroup of the fanbase for that show, people who usually know a lot about it. This means that the information on there comes from more reliable sources. In addition, since most of the information stems from individual episodes, there usually isn't any information about that episode outside of the wikia or the episode itself.

In cases like this, would it be appropriate to use the wikia as a source?

  • I would still avoid the usage of wikia and look at the references provided by the wiki and possibly reference them instead. Apr 10 '14 at 8:08
  • Even if the reference is a specific episode of the show?
    – Nzall
    Apr 10 '14 at 8:29
  • If you provide the link the to wiki that would be great, and possibly tell me what you are trying to reference in the article itself. Apr 10 '14 at 8:53
  • It's a hypothetical question, I'm not working on a paper about this subject.
    – Nzall
    Apr 10 '14 at 9:01
  • Take a look at EnergyNumbers answer. That was the message I was trying to convey in a well written manner. Apr 10 '14 at 9:03

I don't think wikia are any different to wikipedia: there is no expert quality-control editorial staff like a proper encyclopaedia has: there are only the site owner(s), and the collective wisdom and collective foolishness of the contributors.

If you are writing about, and analysing, the wikia itself, then cite the wikia.

If, however, you are writing about the thing that the wikia itself writes about, then where possible use the wikia as a lead to find sources, but not as a source in itself. For things such as a preçis of a particular episode, then the production company or original broadcaster may have an episode guide. At very worst, you may have to cite the wikia itself: in which case, be sure to cite a specific version of a page, but IMDB may be a better source.


I disagree with the answers that say "There's no difference."

In both cases, you should critically evaluate the content with respect to correctness, reliability, etc. However, there is a difference with respect to the nature of the content.

Wikipedia (for most topics) serves as a tertiary source. That is, it aggregates primary and secondary sources on a topic, but doesn't add original content or interpretation. (In fact, it is against Wikipedia policy to include original content or interpretation.) In these cases, you should find and use the original source, to verify its contents and to give credit to the real authors.

Dedicated wikis on pop culture often do contain original content. And quite a few Wikipedia pages on pop culture do as well, even though they aren't supposed to (see e.g., Mythology of Lost).

For example, the Lost wiki contains a great deal of interpretation and commentary (e.g.: an analysis of recurring themes in the series) - not just a rehash of the episode plots. This makes it a secondary source, not a tertiary source.

You can use this original content (having critically assessed its correctness and reliability), and of course if you do, you should cite it.

For example, suppose you are writing a paper on "Use of the flash-forward technique in early 21st century television" and you read the following on the Lost wiki (or on an equivalent page on Wikipedia):

In Lost, the flash-forward technique was introduced in "Through the Looking Glass", although it wasn't made clear that it was a flash-forward until the end of the episode. The first episode to feature a flash-forward that was clearly shown to be one from the start was "The Beginning of the End". "Ji Yeon" was the first episode to intertwine flashbacks with flash-forwards, although the flashback element was only clearly revealed to be in the past at the end of the episode, making its temporality a plot twist.

Even if you then go on and watch the episodes "Through the Looking Glass," "The Beginning of the End," and "Ji Yeon" yourself, or read the episode scripts (i.e., verify the correctness of the claim by checking the primary source), you still cannot claim in your work that you identified the use of flash-forward in Lost all by yourself! The wiki page in this case is a secondary source with an original analysis and interpretation, and you should cite it as such.


How do you think Wikipedia is less reliable than a smaller, not widely known topic wiki?

  • We all know that Wikipedia is only about 99% reliable. [1]


  • We all know nothing about the reliability of the topic wiki.

That does not sound like a good base to conclude the topic wiki is more reliable than Wikipedia, - it's reliability is just much more unknown.
The effect is that every second person on the street can explain to you how Wikipedia "is not reliable", "contains errors" -
while you or your Professor have a hard time ensuring that the topic wiki is even somewhat reliable at all!

For example, it's hard to tell whether a "dedicated subgroup of the [actual user base]" is influenced by some important person or subgroup following some non-neutral motivation. What's missing compared to Wikipedia is transparency... or at least we are not sure it's not missing.
Wikipedia has lots of transparency on even the tiniest discussion.

[1] The 99% is just an example value for illustration, and wrong for sure. (But which way?)

  • 1
    I did not say that the topic wiki is more reliable. I said that on average, the person who edits and maintains a topic wiki has more interest in the topic than the average person who edits and maintains the page on the topic on Wikipedia. That usually means that the person has a bigger and usually more accurate knowledge on the topic. There are also far more details on the topic wikis. for example, the Simpsons Wiki has a page on every major and minor character from the series. Wikipedia has a few summary pages on the recurring characters, and a few individual on the main cast.
    – Nzall
    Apr 10 '14 at 13:45
  • Ok, that's true, he has more interest, resulting in more details, almost "by definition" of the term topic wiki. But I am thinking about factual correctness - and more interest and more details means a single person can "skew the data" or "push his point" more easily. Apr 10 '14 at 13:58

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