Monday, February 12, 2007

Wikipedia: From Drive Time to Prime Time

On January 29th, The New York Times ran an article noting that more than 100 judicial rulings have relied on Wikipedia since 2004, including 13 from circuit courts of appeal, which is one step below the Supreme Court.

The courts are turning to Wikipedia as a source to corroborate facts, but only selectively. Why selectively? It is largely because Wikipedia is an encyclopedia that allows anyone to alter or challenge its entries. There is no “final authority.”

But according to comScore Media Metrix, there were 38 million unique (Note: comScore Networks says 165 million) visitors to Wikipedia, and therefore, the site has wide usage and, presumably, acceptance. And, according to the courts, if the public accepts it as an authority, it is one. Today, judges are citing Wikipedia for “soft facts” but not those that are central to a judge’s rulings. In due time, I predict this will change.

Of course, this development is an endorsement of public relations in its finest sense, building support in the court of public opinion. As momentum builds, new authorities develop. One day Wikipedia – or perhaps something we have not even imagined -- will completely replace the most current encyclopedia or a similar source as the final word.

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