I recently noticed a referrer link to this blog coming from the Answers.com Web site. I’ve not visited this site before so I thought I’d visit and use the service to find an answer to a question. The question I thought I’d ask was “What is JISC?” And, as shown below, I found that “The Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) supports United Kingdom post-16 and higher education and research by providing leadership in the use of ICT (Information and Communications Technology) in support of learning, teaching, research and administration. JISC is funded by all the UK post-16 and higher education funding councils.“.
This answer is taken from the JISC entry in Wikipedia. Similar results are found by asking questions such as “What is UKOLN?” and “What is Bath University?” as well as for more general questions such as “What is research” although for questions such as “What is education?” the answers are drawn from a variety of sources, with the Wikipedia definition to be found after results from sources such as The American Heritage Dictionary, Roget’s II: The New Thesaurus, Third Edition and the Britannica Concise Encyclopedia.
What are the implications of this? The first, unsurprisingly, is that if information about your organisation or your areas of interest are available in Wikipedia, then the Creative Commons licence which is assigned to the material will help to ensure that this information is surfaced in multiple locations.
And perhaps more subtly, if you don’t use Wikiepdia, or you require that your students don’t use Wikipedia, you may find that you are inadvertently using information held by Wikipedia and made available via others services such as Wikipedia. In the search for JISC the top entry was clearly labelled as coming from Wikipedia, but in the example of “What is education?” the first set of references came from more traditional sources of information, and if you scroll down you may miss the citation details for the entry from Wikipedia.
My view is that providing information about your organisation of the topics you care about in Wikipedia will help to maximise awareness of and an interest such information. And failing to provide such information on the grounds that people shouldn’t use Wikipedia is mistaken. But if you do make use of Wikipedia you should be careful to provide an objective and encylopedia-like definition and avoid the trap of the entry sounding like an advertisement: