An analysis of topical coverage of Wikipedia

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An analysis of topical coverage of Wikipedia
Authors: Alexander Halavais, Derek Lackaff [edit item]
Citation: Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 13 (2): 429-440. 2008.
Publication type: Journal article
Peer-reviewed: Yes
Database(s):
DOI: 10.1111/j.1083-6101.2008.00403.x.
Google Scholar cites: Citations
Link(s): Paper link
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An analysis of topical coverage of Wikipedia is a publication by Alexander Halavais, Derek Lackaff.


[edit] Abstract

Many have questioned the reliability and accuracy of Wikipedia. This article looks at a different but closely related one in the following: How broad is the coverage of Wikipedia? Differences in the interests and attention of Wikipedia's editors mean that some areas, in the traditional sciences, for example, are better covered than others. Two approaches to measuring this coverage are presented. The first maps the distribution of topics on Wikipedia to the distribution of books published. The second compares the distribution of topics in three established, field-specific academic encyclopedias to the articles found in Wikipedia. Unlike the top-down construction of traditional encyclopedias, Wikipedia's topical coverage is driven by the interests of its users, and as a result, the reliability and completeness of Wikipedia is likely to be different depending on the subject area of the article.

[edit] Research questions

"Many have questioned the reliability and accuracy of Wikipedia. Here a different issue, but one closely related: how broad is the coverage of Wikipedia? Differences in the interests and attention of Wikipedia’s editors mean that some areas, in the traditional sciences, for example, are better covered than others. Two approaches to measuring this coverage are presented. The first maps the distribution of topics on Wikipedia to the distribution of books published. The second compares the distribution of topics in three established, field-specific academic encyclopedias to the articles found in Wikipedia."

Research details

Topics: Comprehensiveness [edit item]
Domains: Information systems [edit item]
Theory type: Analysis [edit item]
Wikipedia coverage: Main topic [edit item]
Theories: "Undetermined" [edit item]
Research design: Statistical analysis [edit item]
Data source: Wikipedia pages [edit item]
Collected data time dimension: Cross-sectional [edit item]
Unit of analysis: Article [edit item]
Wikipedia data extraction: Live Wikipedia [edit item]
Wikipedia page type: Article [edit item]
Wikipedia language: English [edit item]

[edit] Conclusion

"Overall, we found that the degree to which Wikipedia is lacking depends heavily on one’s perspective. Even in the least covered areas, because of its sheer size, Wikipedia does well, but since a collection that is meant to represent general knowledge is likely to be judged by the areas in which it is weakest, it is important to identify these areas and determine why they are not more fully elaborated. It cannot be a coincidence that two areas that are particularly lacking on Wikipedia—law and medicine—are also the purview of licensed experts. Many attorneys have taken up blogging with open arms and medical research is now frequently published in open access journals, both suggesting that there is not always an impediment to these groups contributing to online resources. Despite the noted difficulties of partitioning Wikipedia into topical domains, the sheer number of articles presented by Wikipedia far outstrips the bound encyclopedias we investigated. Can you have too much of a good thing? There may be some question as to whether an article on ‘‘Finnish Profanity’’ rises to the same level of importance as ‘‘Finnish Grammar’’—someone seeking out the most important topics in any sub-domain of human knowledge might have difficulty finding them in Wikipedia. But assuming the most important topics are covered well, there is no reason that other topics that may be considered somewhat more marginal should not also be available. At present, several projects are underway to ensure that important topics receive appropriate coverage. WikiProject Physics, for example, has several dozen participants who are actively contributing to the breadth, quality, and organization of physics-related articles on Wikipedia. The project maintains a list of missing and inadequate articles, as well as a list of articles awaiting expert review. Several of the orphan articles located by our comparison were actually listed on various ‘‘missing topics’’ pages, indicating that if this study were replicated in the future, the correlation between the printed encyclopedias and Wikipedia would increase. Both approaches taken here provide some indication of the kinds of topics that Wikipedia emphasizes. We have provided some initial observations as to why these differences exist, but there is still much to be done in this regard. Wikipedia remains a surprise in many ways, in part because it is difficult to gauge the motivations of its contributors. By understanding why and how people contribute to Wikipedia, particularly within various knowledge sub-domains, we may be able to encourage work in areas that are, relatively speaking, in need of more contributions."

[edit] Comments

"Wikipedia does well overall in terms of content coverage; two areas are particularly lacking Law and Medicine and different approaches may be taken to improve their coverage by means of separate projects (such WikiProject physics) or by encouraging participation in these areas ."


Further notes[edit]