‘Never use Wikipedia- anyone can edit it so you can’t trust it.’
‘Wikipedia is edited by men and women are not welcome.’
‘Studies have shown that Wikipedia is not accurate. you shouldn’t trust it.’
Ever heard those phrases? Ever repeated those phrases? Let’s face it, in some circles there is a very low opinion of Wikipedia. In this post and others, I am going to lay out why Wikipedia might be the greatest thing to happen to archaeology since C14 dating or the trowel.
“Best thing since the trowel!” Sounds a bit like blarney, doesn’t it? It’s not, but it needs to be put into context. C14 Dating is considered a revolution in archaeology but only if you have carbon to date. A trowel is great if you need to be delicate but a shovel is better if you need to move dirt. Wikipedia is a revolution in very specific areas of archaeology, mainly in education, teaching, learning, dissemination, etc.
Why is it so great and why should archaeologists embrace it?
A few years ago I was hired to manage a new website for an Art Gallery. The owner had been part of one of the first websites to sell art online, by all accounts that website was a smashing success. The website I managed, was not a smashing success. The owner was confused, his first website had been a success by the simple fact they had created it, why wasn’t this new one working the same way? The simple fact was that he launched his first website during the early days of the Internet. The Internet has changed since then, especially when it comes to being discovered by search engines, the lifeblood of eCommerce. Back in the 1990s, even the early 2000s, you could create a website and either be the only one, whatever it is you do, or one of a handful of websites be it art, archaeology, or pizza.
Fast forward a decade and you are one of hundreds of websites. This means you need to have a top search result, usually 1 0r 2, to get any sort of web traffic because almost no one makes it to the 10th page of Google search results. To get to the number one spot you need to be hyperlinked to by other websites. It is more complicated than that but that is what Google, the dominant search engine in the world, is based on. There are several ways to get links these days:
- Pay for links by making fake websites that link to you. This is risky business as Google will remove sites that do this from their searches.
- Marketing or paying for marketing to get people aware of your content so they link to in. This includes Twitter, Facebook, etc.
- Be first in searches- this gives you a huge advantage because when people search they will most likely look at the first results. Meaning if you have decent enough content they will link to you instead of searching out the best content.
In the case of #3 there is a huge advantage to being on the Internet first. People will find you first, link to you, and by the time you have competition you will already have links so you will always be first. This causes a great feedback loop that ensures once you are on top it is hard to kick you off. This is the problem my employer ran into with his new website. He was use to having the first mover advantage and did not realize he was going to have to invest a lot time and money into any new website he create.
If you want to compete against other websites on the internet then you will have to invest a lot of time or money or both getting ranked hiring in searches. This is where Wikipedia comes in. It gives you an instant Billion dollar website for free (I checked several estimates of its value if Wikipedia started advertising, all North of a Billion).
- It already has high quality content from billions of hours of work done on it creating great content.
- It has been around for years so it has the first mover advantage.
- It shows up in top three results for most searches, meaning it just keeps collecting more links.
It is a top 10 most visited website in the world. You are unlikely to beat it out unless you invest lots of resources into marketing your website.
Why would you want to be first on Google searches? I will give you an example of both why and the power of Wikipedia, the Bosnian Pyramid. If you don’t know about the Bosnian Pyramid there are claims that some Natural, hills in Bosnia are the largest man made pyramids in the world, classic piece of Pseudoarchaeology/Pseudoscience. In this case it is a fairly harmless claim, though this concern that they might destroy real archaeology looking for this “pyramid” but it is helping tourism in Bosnia. Sometimes though these pseudo claims can be racist or in the case of some Pseudoscience dangerous to your health, think mercury as a cure all for everything. When you want to set the record straight there is almost nothing that can beat Wikipedia. Here is my search for the Bosnian Pyramid on Google (with Google’s personal search results turned off).
Not only is Wikipedia first but Google has put up an answer box based on the Wikipedia article calling the Pyramid a bit of Pseudoscience. So before anyone even clicks a link they are told it is pseudoarchaeology (if they know what that means is another story). It even beats out the website of the people pushing the Bosnian “Pyramid”, who should be the prime source of such stories.
Hijacking the Media
Thanks to Pat for showing me this a few months back. Look at this graph. It is the Wikipedia article on Vikings from a few months back. Those spikes in article views correspond to when the episodes of the TV series Vikings aired.
People came to Wikipedia when they were exposed to news or a new subject. Essentially, history is media hijacking a TV show. Now imagine you wanted to give people the facts about an important discovery, like Richard III? Or what about the controversial Diggers shows in America. What if you created an article on collecting and had sections on ethics or laws? Sure some people will still read badly written or factually wrong news articles but a percentage of them will look for more information and you can capture them with a Wikipedia article.
By the way those spikes of interest in Vikings represent 30,000 views.
Can you see where I am going with this?
This not for everyone and definitely not for every situation but if you ever want to have an instant top three search result than making a Wikipedia article is the quickest way to do it.
You Will See More of These Posts in the Next Few Days
In a few days I am heading down to London for Wikimania conference and I thought I would spend this week blogging about Wikipedia and Archaeology. I will probably do a post or two on the conference but the others will focus on different aspects of Wikipedia and Archaeology.