Google started offering search services in late 1998 and quickly became the world’s favorite search engine. It’s unique premise was that relevant searches could be better performed if the Google search engine kept track of page rankings, determined by how many web sites linked to a given web site.
Other search engines of the time tried to find ways to indicate relevant sites by various means – such as counting how many times the search term was repeated on a web site. But Google’s method blew them all away.
Google does have a disadvantage – web site owners know how it works and try to warp Google to make their own web sites come out on top. This is done by scattering links to their web site throughout the Internet – in a sort of ‘Google Bomb’.
For politically or religiously charged subjects, web sites with opposing views will ‘war’ against each other to try to increase their Google rankings. Since some of these web sites are offensive, Google may present an offensive web site at the top of it’s list.
It’s just too easy to get radical results from a Google search, so if you are ignorant about a subject and are trying to get a basic primer on it, Google may not be the best choice to start with – especially if the subject is viewed with strong biases. Opposing radical viewpoints drown out the neutral point of view.
This is where Wikipedia shines. Wikipedia is a sort of ‘open source’ encyclopedia that stresses a neutral point of view. There are hundreds of thousands of articles on various subjects in Wikipedia, in over 100 languages. Wikipedia allows each of these articles to be created or revised by anyone – so revisions (called ‘edits’) tend to be up to date.
The Wiki community stresses that each edit must NOT contain ‘original research’ – which means that you can’t insert your own (possibly biased) research into an article. Wiki also stresses a ‘Neutral Point of View’. Disputes about a subject are explained – they are not argued. Wikipedia is a little like Joe Friday from Dragnet – “Just the facts, Ma’am.”
I’m not saying Wikipedia is the only source you should ever use – it certainly has problems! Since everyone can edit each article, there tends to be ‘edit wars’ between different editors. Some authors never seem to be able to obtain a neutral point of view, and so an article may be in constant revision as it is discussed between authors. Wikipedia is subject to vandalism – but in all fairness this vandalism is usually removed within minutes.
Wikipedia also has problems with content length. Current events get many more column inches than historical events. This is a symptom of editors writing about what they know and love, and ignoring those subjects that seem boring.
Wikipedia’s strength is in the ‘hard’ sciences. Do you want to brush up on Trigonometry, learn about the Periodic Table of Elements, or find out about Texas Horned Toads – Wikipedia is the best way to go!
When I’m learning about any subject, I first check Wikipedia to get an overview of the subject, find out who are the players and what are their positions on the subject. Once I’ve done this I will then have the tools I need to pursue the subject in more depth.
Neither Wikipedia, nor Google are perfect on their own – but combine the two and you get a powerful tool that allows you to cut through the biased, radical opinions and find the real meat to any subject or issue.