Recently, I have noticed that I have been visiting Wikipedia more and more frequently for finding information on technical materials that I need for my work and research. Over time, I have noticed that many entries on Wikipedia are well-referenced and reliable and also, I have found it rather comprehensive, at least in my field of work and study. Consequently, I wonder if it is necessary to publish and/or purchase new technical encyclopedias? Is it merely because Wikipedia is not still very comprehensive or reliable that new encyclopedias are published or updated? If the answer is no, then what are the reasons that authors and publishers still invest on encyclopedias?

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    Your experiences with Wikipedia do not entirely mirror mine. Even nominally generic articles may be a battleground for edit wars and bruised egos. It is a nice place to quickly start, but rely on it with a large grain of salt.
    – Jon Custer
    Jun 22, 2016 at 22:31
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    @JonCuster You may be right that my experience with Wikipedia may not overlap with yours. Honestly, although I have seen edit wars on some public entries, I have not seen them on technical entries in my field of study. However, this may be true for other fields or that I be unaware any in my field. Ergo, I believe that you have pointed out to something that cannot be dismissed easily. Please and if possible, provide your point of view as a response. Thanks.
    – MxNx
    Jun 22, 2016 at 23:21
  • @mazhar what is your field of study?
    – SSimon
    Jun 23, 2016 at 6:42
  • @SSimon study Computer Science (Machine Learning and Statistics).
    – MxNx
    Jun 23, 2016 at 10:37
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's not about academia. Jan 15, 2017 at 8:02

3 Answers 3


Because of its anonymity, nobody is ultimately responsible for the veracity of the information. This is one major point which makes Wikipedia vulnerable and of limited sustainable reference value. That is not to say that there are not excellent entries there. Unlike free software, there is no easy way to say that the article is wrong on less well-understood or contentious topics. An authored article at least has someone with a reputation to lose on the producing end of the text. Plus, if you know the reputation of the author, you can judge how far you want to follow him/her.

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    The 'responsibility for the veracity of the information' is a point that I find plausible reason. Thanks.
    – MxNx
    Jun 22, 2016 at 22:54
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    I guess you enjoy anonymous peer reviews. Jun 23, 2016 at 1:27
  • @mazhar beware that Captain Emacs might not be a real name ;) Jun 23, 2016 at 1:28
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    Any encyclopeia, no matter whether some randomers name is buried somewhere in the back of the book, is still a tertiary source and shouldn't be used as a reference or source for anything academic. There are also wiki's where people with expertise like academics can sign off an existing wiki page as being correct/reasonable. So the criticism doesn't even really hold.
    – Murphy
    Jun 23, 2016 at 15:45
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    I personally am not completely satisfied with this answer, because in my view it puts too much importance on the reputation of the author rather than on the quality of the content. Jan 15, 2017 at 8:35

There are a number of specific policies and practices of Wikipedia that reflect judgment calls, and it's perfectly reasonable to treat them differently for different projects:

  • Above all, creators of another encyclopedia might want to exert editorial control over the product. The rest of this list expresses some of the specific ways they might do that.
  • Wikipedia explicitly aims to serve a general audience; another encyclopedia might be designed for an expert (or afficionado) audience in a certain field
  • Wikipedia contributors may be anonymous, and the majority are
  • Wikipedia maintains a strict egalitarian ideal, which makes it difficult for subject matter experts to exert special authority
  • Wikipedia's peer review mechanisms are very specific; publishers of another encyclopedia might design them differently
  • Wikipedia's standards for sourcing, and its threshold for inclusion, are very specific; publishers of another encyclopedia might design them differently
  • Wikipedia has very specific standards around copyright of text and media

On my connections to Wikipedia: I have been editing Wikipedia (almost exclusively the English language edition) as a volunteer since 2006. I designed the first formalized program to support university instructors assigning Wikipedia composition, on behalf of the Wikimedia Foundation, in 2010. I have run a Wikipedia training and consulting company, Wiki Strategies, since 2009. I have served as editor in chief of the Signpost, Wikipedia's volunteer-run newspaper, since August 2016.

  • +1 I think this response is more equitable than the currently-accepted answer. Jan 15, 2017 at 3:28
  • Thank you, Daniel Collins. I'm new to this site, so I very much appreciate the encouragement. ff524, is the statement I added adequate to meet your concerns? Jan 15, 2017 at 3:32
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    Yes, that's great. Thanks a lot for the note at the end, and the great answer that comes before it :)
    – ff524
    Jan 15, 2017 at 3:33
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    I should mention that my answer was not intended to criticise Wikipedia and to precisely answer the question. It contains a treasure trove of information, some of which I was completely unaware of before. However, in topics I know well it really shows an imbalance on what points/attention are being attended to, strongly coloured by fashion. One (not exclusive) symptom of that is that pages on fictitious TV show universes can be longer than those on real events. It comes with full egalitarianism, which is fine. But, as in reading newspapers, I sometimes like to know where they are coming from. Jan 15, 2017 at 11:17
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    @CaptainEmacs, I don't disagree with your answer at all -- I added mine because I think there are some more general considerations worth calling out, not because I disagree. You make good points. Jan 15, 2017 at 19:58

You don't want to rely on one way of doing things for something that crucial. Every way of doing things, however great, has its weaknesses. For a robust provision of such crucial services we need different systems to coexist and compete. That is the big contribution of Wikipedia; it improved the robustness of the system by adding another way of doing things. However, it should not undo that benefit by becoming too dominant. Not that I see any immediate danger of that happening, in part because of the reasons mentioned by @CaptainEmacs.

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