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Flashman

Whither the accessibility of Wikipedia?

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Hi folks,

 

I have been getting the feeling that either I'm getting dumber, or that wikipedia articles in general are getting more dense and impenetrable to the average reader. This appears to be happening at an increasing rate over the last year. I've had the experience several times of having to cross refer to a dozen other pages to even determine if the page I'm looking at is actually relevant to what I wanted to know. I realize that technical subjects often require specialized terminologies. I've returned to entries that were perfectly clear 12 months ago, to find out that the essential facts are buried in the voluminous recantings of a derivation from first principles in order to be fully and technically correct. Even in my own area of specialization I am finding some entries to be so gnarly as to actually hinder the grasp of the essential information that they might otherwise impart.

 

Some of this seems to be the result of rolling articles together, such that a simple concept that has more advanced analysis and theories pertaining to it, gets lost when those get merged with it. Some of it just comes I guess from a well meaning effort to communicate as much as possible in as little space as possible in case you happen to be using a 2400 baud modem still and have a 10 volume set of technical dictionaries at your disposal for "decompression".

 

Perhaps I'm expecting too much, I guess I'm expecting something on the comprehension level of the Brittanica or other encyclopedias. Occasionally I've ducked out to the "simple english" version of an entry to try and get some insight, but often those are just non-existant or wayyy too dumbed down.

 

So I'm wondering if other folks feel the same thing sometimes, that some articles just go into way too much depth to be useful any more. I mean if you need a major in it to understand the article, why are you looking it up in wikipedia? I guess it's handy for a relative few.

 

Not being a "wikipedian" as it were I don't have the first clue what one would do about it, petition for a "normal english" version?

 

Flashman

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are you using the Wikipedia search facility (which i'd say is suspect) ? what i do is google the search word(s) and then pick up any entry (incl. Wikipedia) that comes up - any Wikipedia link that comes up then seems to be relevant

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I've noticed that a lot on Wikipedia, especially in math. I'll go to check something and it'll take me a few minutes just to figure out what the heck the article is saying.

 

I'm guessing there are a few too many upper-level math students writing articles.

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We've talked about this before and it's become a bit of a truism. It seems to happen with a lot of Wikipedia articles but particularly the math ones as Cap'n points out above. They need entry-level primers and sometimes they get them, but other times the subject remains very dense and impenetrable to the layman.

 

Here's an interesting example of an article from the world of physics that used to be horribly impenetrable but got totally cleaned up and made to be much more accessible to the layman. I think it could use a little more work but compare it with the earlier version I linked below and you'll see what I mean:

 

Current version:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Double-slit_experiment

 

Version from a couple years ago:

http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Double-slit_experiment&diff=127267790&oldid=127267646

(Ignore the colored areas at the top and scan down a bit)

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I like the fact that in those dense articles one can often find this notice at the top:

 

"This article may be too technical for most readers to understand, and needs attention from an expert on its subject. Please expand it to make it accessible to non-experts, without removing the technical details."

 

It's a very visible indicator of the "denseness", encouraging further edits, rather than just something hidden in the article history.

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i wonder whether wikipedia should start having the same articles at different levels of expertise, ranging from novice to professional where applicable

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Well maybe, or at least more clearly delineate sections by their technical comprehension level in some way. Perhaps even call it the "Layman's Summary" or some such (though perhaps a better term could be found).

 

I think this has been debated extensively over at the Wikipedia itself, btw.

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