Before we get to Wikipedia, those who read last Thursday's account of my attempt at internet pop stardom will be thrilled to hear that the video for my single "Those Rules" has now been watched by more than a quarter of a million people on YouTube.
I'm still waiting to see if the miserable sales figure of 58 has been boosted by generous readers of this newspaper but, in the meantime, an ex-pat radio station in Spain has been playing it, and apparently it's a hit with drinkers at The Stagecoach Inn in Newport, Gloucestershire. Every little helps.
Now, on to Wikipedia. The online encyclopedia, which anyone can add to and edit, persistently appears at the top of Google's search results when we're looking for information. Despite this, we're also told – particularly by the traditional media – to take its contents with a pinch of salt. Independent studies have shown that it stands up pretty well against traditional encyclopedias, but it's difficult to take it seriously when I could go there right now and claim that Marvin Gaye is alive and well and living in Sutton Coldfield.
While vandalism on Wikipedia is common, it doesn't tend to stay online for very long – thanks to a core of devoted, eagle-eyed editors. But genuine disputes over facts and editorial style can become extremely protracted. "For a good example of furious squabbling," writes Martin Connolly, " check out the 'discussion' tab on the entry about Gdansk, with Germans and Poles at each other's throats."
Wikipedia encourages vigorous debate, in the hope that better articles will emerge from the process. "But if your opinions don't reflect a broad consensus," writes Richard Miller, "your edits may be removed quite legitimately. If this is the case, you should try to reach a compromise."
In the cases where arguments continue to rage, Wikipedia provides mediation, followed by full-scale arbitration. In these situations you'll frequently see "protected" pages which have been closed for editing while a resolution is worked out. You might find the list of most pointless Wikipedia clashes (at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WP:LEW) something of an eye-opener. If you can resolve these disputes it is your duty, as a Wikipedian, to weigh in.
Next week's question comes from Dan Stojanovic:
"People keep telling me about all the stuff they've found on the internet using BitTorrent. It's still a mystery to me – how does it work?"
Any comments, and new questions for the Cyberclinic, should be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.orgReuse content