Unlike traditional encyclopedias, any John or Jane Doe can edit the free Wikipedia. The self-policing openness of the site can invite mischief; for months an entry ran that made an innocent journalist look responsible for President Kennedy's assassination. The Wikipedian responsible for the false edit explained that he thought Wikipedia was a joke site, sort of like its satiric shadow, Uncyclopedia.
But today, the journal Nature maintains that Wikipedia is more accurate than you might expect. Nature pitted 50 articles in Wikipedia against the same number in Encyclopedia Britannica. The result? An average of four errors per entry in the open-source site, compared with three mistakes per Britannica story. Some CNET users might say "I told you so;" commenting on , 23 readers have rated the reference source with an average score of Excellent, far above our Good assessment. Still, Wikipedia could use more expert opinions. Nature asked 1,000 of its own authors how they used Wikipedia. While 17 percent of those science writers visit Wikipedia weekly, only 10 percent pitch in to update its entries. Find Laurie Bouck's full reviews of digital encyclopedias Wikipedia, Britannica, and Microsoft Encarta here.