Perceived Quality of Online Encyclopedias: An Empirical Study of Differences Between User Groups

Perceived Quality of Online Encyclopedias: An Empirical Study of Differences Between User Groups

Corinna Petra Raith (Institute for Information Management and Control, WU Vienna University of Economics and Business, Austria) and Stefan Koch (Institute for Business Informatics – Information Engineering, Johannes Kepler University Linz, Austria)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 19
DOI: 10.4018/IJSMOC.2019010104


This study illustrates how different user groups perceive and evaluate the content quality of Wikipedia articles as compared to entries of a traditional encyclopedia. Therefore, an experimental set-up was used with blinded articles of different topic fields from the German Wikipedia and Brockhaus online, evaluated by experts with different backgrounds (university vs. practice) and by students of the field. The findings showed that the quality of both encyclopedias was assessed similarly (intra-group evaluations), although more faults and mistakes were criticized in the Wikipedia sample. However, the inter-group comparison revealed differences in the groups' quality perceptions. This partly applied to the comparison of the expert groups, and especially to the comparison of expert and (non-expert) student evaluations. Students tended to give better ratings, especially within the Wikipedia sample. Most noticeable, they did not detect any content-related faults in both sets, highlighting that further training is needed to improve their information literacy.
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Encyclopedias in the traditional sense developed in the 18th and 19th century, when publishing houses gathered expert knowledge to provide the public with information on diverse topics in book form (Gorman, 2007; Pscheida, 2008). Later, the Internet revolutionized knowledge acquisition and distribution: Suddenly, people could not only consume information more conveniently, they also started to produce content by themselves (Pascu et al., 2007). By joining together, they achieved outcomes formerly reserved for enterprises with extensive resources (Benkler, 2001). A popular example of such a large-scale collaboration, or “wisdom of crowds” (Surowiecki, 2005), is the online encyclopedia Wikipedia (Lih, 2004; Stvilia et al., 2005). The project’s philosophy and methods are similar to those of open-source software development (Raymond, 1999; von Krogh & Spaeth, 2007). So, theoretically, everyone can participate, and contributions are checked by the community, without a preceding editorial review phase (Coffin, 2006; Danowski & Voß, 2005; Gorman, 2007; Lih, 2004; Schroer & Hertel, 2009).

Due to this unique development process and the fact that Wikipedia has increasingly become a source of information for users, the scientific community has intensely discussed its quality (Giles, 2013; Gorman, 2007, 2013). In this regard, previous research has focused both on its quality and antecedents, and on the comparison to other encyclopedias. Only a very limited number of studies in the first group, and none of the second group, has considered the perception of different groups of users. This paper extends current knowledge by focusing on the differences in quality perceptions and, thus, assessments of different reader groups by looking at article-quality perceptions of Wikipedia as compared to a traditional encyclopedia. Therefore, this study used an experimental set-up in which experts of diverse backgrounds (university and practice) and students evaluated blinded articles of Wikipedia and the full Brockhaus encyclopedia online (Die Brockhaus Enzyklopädie, n.d.). This method contributes insights into quality perceptions and, thus, assessments from different points of view, as every user group has another level of insight into a topic, as well as potentially a need for different information. Thus, the groups assessed their articles in terms of quality criteria derived from previous research and stated their perception of the general article quality as well as their article preferences. Both differences in the groups’ quality perceptions of the encyclopedias as well as potential differences between the groups were examined. This will allow both additional insight into quality differences as well as information need and preferences of different user groups, thus extending beyond the topic of encyclopedias.

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