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Something Wiki This Way Comes

The sudden news of the death of Ken Lay last week stirred up some more criticism of Wikipedia, the online, open-sourced encyclopedia. Not long after news of Lay's death began to break, the wiki entry about the former Enron head began being updated. Early updates claimed that Lay had died of an "apparent suicide." Later updates corrected that information, accurately reporting that Lay died of a heart attack but then went on to speculate that the massive coronary was brought on by the stress Lay suffered from during and after his fraud trial. The current entry is free of that speculation, but this small flap has given wiki critics another opportunity to weigh in on the value of the Web site. In yesterday's Washington Post, Web-watcher Frank Ahrens writes:
Unlike, say, the Encyclopedia Britannica, Wikipedia has no formal peer review for its articles. They may be written by experts or insane crazy people. Or worse, insane crazy people with an agenda. And Internet access.

Lay's death on Wednesday illustrates the problem, as chronicled by the Reuters news service, which watched the Wikipedia article on Lay evolve with alarming speed and wildly inaccurate reporting.

[H]ere's the dread fear with Wikipedia: It combines the global reach and authoritative bearing of an Internet encyclopedia with the worst elements of radicalized bloggers. You step into a blog, you know what you're getting. But if you search an encyclopedia, it's fair to expect something else. Actual facts, say. At its worst, Wikipedia is an active deception, a powerful piece of agitprop, not information.

Some Wikipedia articles contain warnings that concerns have been raised over accuracy. But that's not the same as offering fact-checked data.

I'm a fan of Wikipedia and Wiki notions, such as "citizen journalism." I just want them to be better.

That seems a touch over-the-top for such a short-lived incident and Lost Remote's Steve Safran offers this take on Ahrens' wiki criticism:
We get it. Traditional media is wary of Wikipedia. Look - it's simple: Wikipedia is like the rest of the web. It's a source. It's open. It can be messy, it can be elegant. It's a great place to start research, and it's not the final place.