The Internet Archive Is Making Wikipedia More Reliable
WIRED, November 3, 2019
By Klint Finley
“The operator of the Wayback Machine allows Wikipedia’s users to check citations from books as well as the web. ”
Wikipedia is the arbiter of truth on the internet. It’s what settles arguments at bars. It supplies answers for the information snippets you see on your Google or Bing search results. It’s the first stop for nearly everyone doing online research.
The reason people rely on Wikipedia, despite its imperfections, is that every claim is supposed to have citations. Any sentence that isn’t backed up with a credible source risks being slapped with the dreaded “citation needed” label. Anyone can check out those citations to learn more about a subject, or verify that those sources actually say what a particular Wikipedia entry claims they do—that is, if you can find those sources.
It’s easy enough when the sources are online. But many Wikipedia articles rely on good old-fashioned books. The entry on Martin Luther King Jr., for example, cites 66 different books. Until recently, if you wanted to verify that those books say what the article says they say, or if you just wanted to read the cited material, you’d need to track down a copy of the book.
Now, thanks to a new initiative by the Internet Archive, you can click the name of the book and see a two-page preview of the cited work, so long as the citation specifies a page number. You can also borrow a digital copy of the book, so long as no else has checked it out, for two weeks—much the same way you’d borrow a book from your local library. (Some groups of authors and publishers have challenged the archive’s practice of allowing users to borrow unauthorized scanned books. The Internet Archive says it seeks to widen access to books in “balanced and respectful ways.”)
So far the Internet Archive has turned 130,000 references in Wikipedia entries in various languages into direct links to 50,000 books that the organization has scanned and made available to the public. The organization eventually hopes to allow users to view and borrow every book cited by Wikipedia, with the ultimate goal being to digitize every book ever published.
“Our goal is to be a library that’s useful and reachable by more people,” says Mark Graham, director of the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine service.
About the Author:
Klint Finley is a contributing writer for WIRED covering tech policy, software development, cloud computing, and more.
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