Picture from an article posted in the Jewish News in 2016.
(William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History)

As one might imagine, the most common reference to Wikipedia in the William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History is when it is cited as a source for information.

There is an anniversary this year, a birthday for a famous, everyday information resource. Wikipedia is 20 years old, and in the two decades since it was launched, it has become ubiquitous. One would be hard-pressed to find any user of the internet who has not encountered Wikipedia. Indeed, any online search for background information usually generates a Wikipedia entry.

The development of Wikipedia stems from the idea of a “wiki,” or an online publication that is edited and managed by its own readers. This is what differentiates Wikipedia from most other online sources such as the Jewish Virtual Library, a site with internal editors, or online archives for prominent newspapers in the U.S. and Israel, which are static and database-driven. Wikipedia itself is a collaborative project that results in a continually growing and free compendium of knowledge. 

Looking Back
William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History

I wondered if Wikipedia appeared in the JN. So, I searched the William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History, another stellar online resource (not that I’m biased, mind you). As one might imagine, the most common reference to Wikipedia is when it is cited as a source for information. 

In other cases, articles are accompanied by photos, such as images of Anne Frank, an IDF soldier wearing tefillin or the Beatles, that JN editors found on “Wikimedia Commons,” a branch of Wikipedia. 

Looking Back
William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History

For another example, an article about online Passover by former Detroiter and archivist of Judaica at the National Library of Israel, Dr. Yoel Finkelman, in the March 29, 2018, issue of the JN, cited several Haggadahs that could be found on Wikipedia such as the Wolff, Bird’s Head or Copenhagen versions.

The usage of the title “Wikipedia” in JN articles is very interesting. It demonstrates that Wikipedia is indeed commonly known. In several reports, when referring to someone with great knowledge of a subject, that person is often cited as a “Walking Wikipedia.” 

Looking Back
William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History

As wonderful a resource as Wikipedia might be, there are caveats to be taken seriously when using it. Although academic studies have shown the Wikipedia is nearly as reliable as the traditionally edited sources like the venerable Encyclopædia Britannica (est. 1768), discretion must be used when reading entries. Since it is user-edited, there can be abuses, especially when the subjects are controversial or involve politics, such as the topic of Israel.

Wikipedia is closely monitored, and a lot of bogus information is removed rather quickly. Nevertheless, false information can still work itself into Wikipedia entries. For example, an article in the Sept. 7, 2006, issue of the JN, “The Lie that Won’t Die,” discussed the abundance of conspiracy theories after the terrorism on Sept. 11, 2001. In particular, the repeated attempts to inject antisemitic conspiracy theories into the Wikipedia entries related to 9-11.

Looking Back
William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History

There were also articles in the JN that mentioned Wikipedia when discussing how we cope with the digital age. In the “Evolution of Learning,” in the Sept. 20, 2002, JN, Daniel Rosenbaum addresses the impact upon educational issues. In “A Return to Simpler Times” in the Nov. 3, 2016, issue of the JN, Rabbi Jason Miller suggests we should pledge to “not run to Google and Wikipedia so quickly.”  

So Happy Birthday, Wikipedia. But readers — proceed with caution! 

Want to learn more? Go to the DJN Foundation archives, available for free at www.djnfoundation.org.

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