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It must be true...I read it on Wikipedia!

September 23, 2007 15:28 IST

Six years after Wikipedia, the referencing portal, which allows users to edit information, was hosted by Jimmy Wales, it has become the butt of jokes for bringing 'democracy to knowledge.'

"Who is Britannica to tell me that George Washington had slaves? If I want to say he didn't, that's my right. And now, thanks to Wikipedia, it's also a fact," remarked Stephen Colbert in the hugely popular satire The Colbert Report.

The online research staple for millions of users may or may not be a valuable source of information, but it has definitely become an inspiration for many a comic strip and talk show.

Written collaboratively by volunteers, Wikipedia has become a smash success. The free site includes over 845,000 articles in English alone and has won a loyal legion of fans, even as purists sniff at its elevation to the rank of a serious reference source.

In one of many references listed in a special section on the online encyclopedia, Colbert explained how 'any user can change an entry, and if enough other users agree with them, it becomes true.'

Colbert also coined the term 'wikiality' or 'truth of consensus rather than fact,' modelled after the approval by consensus format of Wikipedia to prove his point.

Fearing this blind dissipation of knowledge, an author questions the contents on the portal. "I am more inclined to believe reporters borrow heavily from Wikipedia, and not the other way around," he said.

But Wikipedia -- being seen by many as a symptom of the spread of mediocrity and being accused of bringing 'democracy to knowledge' -- is taking all the flak with a pinch of salt.

The portal declared: "Many parody Wikipedia's openness, with characters vandalising or modifying articles. Still others feature characters using the references as a source, or positively comparing a character's intelligence to Wikipedia."

Parody websites such as Uncyclopedia and Wiqipedia are cashing in on Wikipedia's success.

A character in the famous Simpsons TV series once mocked a friend for citing her knowledge of him and his illegal activities, which he assumed she simply read from Wikipedia.

Wikimania has invaded the radio too. "It must be true...I read it on Wikipedia," was the title for a popular comedy show hosted by Peter Sagal on US radio.

BBC ran a story on Wikipedia to decipher whether the online encyclopedia is a valuable source of human knowledge or a symptom of the spread of mediocrity.

Complaints about Wikipedia entries are not a rarity any more. John Seigenthaler, a former assistant attorney general working under Bobby Kennedy, got the founder to delete a defamatory entry that listed him as having been briefly suspected of involvement in the assassinations of both John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy.

Lamat R Hasan in New Delhi
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