About a year ago, I started seriously using Wikipedia as a professional resource, not as replacement for scholarly articles in my research area but as a fast way to get some basic facts in nearby areas (differentiable manifolds, permutations of finite sets, and, especially, model theory, if you must know). Frankly, I was stunned by the quality of the articles. Not only was there a lot of information (all of it accurate), but in many cases there were the sort of concise explanatory overviews that you just can’t find in books and papers.
I used it so much that I decided to give the Wiki foundation $100 at the end of the year.
When I mentioned all of this to a reader here who works at Wiki, he kindly offered to give me a tour of the offices in San Francisco (when I was out there last January). The thing that surprised me right off was how much they talked about being accused of having a liberal bias along with the fact that, unlike mainstream media, which cowers in fear and alters their coverage when attacked in this way, their attitude was to shrug and say “maybe reality has a liberal bias”. They weren’t about to go in and give someone at the Heritage Foundation a special page to spout nonsensical global warming denialism just because conservatives were whining.
Obviously, it’s the highly decentralized structure of Wiki that allows them to get away with this. If enough sufficiently determined hacks and nuts wanted to, they could stick a lot of anti-evolution supply side nonsense into various Wiki articles (for all I know, they have already). But the Wiki model strikes me as potentially robust in a way that commercial media is not. There are no editors to pressure per se, no advertising dollars to pull, and of course, the thing isn’t owned by General Electric or Disney.
Not everyone likes Wiki as well as I do. I know that there are errors in some articles and it isn’t clear that the wealthy and the whacko won’t eventually find a way to control it, the way they have with commercial media (and NPR and PBS, let’s face it). But I’m encouraged by the possibility of having information controlled by people who don’t have summer homes in Nantucket.