On Friday I wrote about my spot-check of the accuracy of Wikipedia, in which I checked Wikipedia’s entries for six topics I knew well. I was generally impressed, except for one entry that went badly wrong.
Adam Shostack pointed out, correctly, that I had left the job half done, and I needed to compare to the entries for the same six topics in a traditional encyclopedia. So here’s my Wikipedia vs. Britannica Online comparison, for the six topics I wrote about on Friday.
Princeton University: Both entries are accurate and reasonably well written. Wikipedia has more information. Verdict: small advantage to Wikipedia.
Princeton Township: Britannica has a single entry for Princeton Township and Princeton Boro, while Wikipedia has separate entries. Both entries are good, but Wikipedia has more information (including demographics). Also, Britannica makes an error in saying that Morven is the Governor’s Residence for the state of New Jersey; Wikipedia correctly labels Morven as the former Governor’s Residence and Drumthwacket as the current one. Verdict: advantage to Wikipedia.
Me: Wikipedia has a short but decent entry; Britannica, unsurprisingly, has nothing. Verdict: advantage Wikipedia.
Virtual memory: Wikipedia has a pretty good entry; Britannica has no entry for virtual memory, and doesn’t appear to discuss the concept elsewhere, either. Verdict: advantage Wikipedia.
Public-key cryptography: Good, accurate entries in both. Verdict: toss-up.
Microsoft antitrust case: Britannica has only two sentences, saying that Judge Jackson ruled against Microsoft and ordered a breakup, and that the Court of Appeals overturned the breakup but agreed that Microsoft had broken the law. That’s correct, but it leaves out the settlement. Wikipedia’s entry is much longer but error-prone. Verdict: big advantage to Britannica.
Overall verdict: Wikipedia’s advantage is in having more, longer, and more current entries. If it weren’t for the Microsoft-case entry, Wikipedia would have been the winner hands down. Britannica’s advantage is in having lower variance in the quality of its entries.