recommended reading

NIH Gets Schooled on Wikipedia


By Gautham Nagesh July 28, 2009

recent posts


Anyone who has used the Internet is likely familiar with Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia edited and run almost entirely by volunteers. Wikipedia is the Web's most prominent source of information, but because of its crowd-sourcing model, it's not always the most credible. That's pretty much the opposite of federal Web sites, which are generally considered among the most trusted sources of information on the Web, if not the best known.

So bringing the two sides together seems like a natural fit, and it is exactly what the National Institutes of Health did this month by teaming up with Wikimedia, the non-profit that publishes Wikipedia.

To make that online information more reliable, NIH is encouraging its scientists and science writers to edit and even initiate Wikipedia articles in their fields. This month, it joined with the Wikimedia Foundation, which publishes the cyber encyclopedia, to host "Wikipedia Academy," a training session on the tools and rules of wiki culture, at NIH headquarters in Bethesda.

Over the course of a day, more than two dozen Wikipedia volunteers -- just a few of the 4,000 people who edit English-language Wikipedia articles at least five times a month -- gave presentations promoting the open-source encyclopedia and encouraging about 100 NIH employees to become editors. The volunteer instructors, or "Wikipedians," were not just techno-geeks; they also included scientists who could appreciate the questions NIH staffers might have. Attendees were shown how to use the template that produces a Wikipedia article, with its embedded table of contents and multiple links; they also discussed topics such as managing the quality of articles and the verifiability of information.

I spoke today with Jay Walsh, spokesman for Wikimedia who called the collaboration with NIH a "watershed moment" for the tiny non-profit, which boasts a staff of fewer than thirty people.

"This is the first time the foundation ever met with folks at the federal government level," Walsh said. "The dialogue is really about pushing forward. Our goal to get as many people from as many departments as possible to edit Wikipedia."

Walsh said the foundation hopes by increasing the number of government officials and researchers participating and editing Wikipedia, the site can reach a new level of professional competence by removing some of the existing bad information.

"This is an opportunity that was many months in design," Walsh said. "The folks at NIH, including the researchers, recognize that when you use Internet Wikipedia is constant, highly visible source of facts and data."

Walsh said his organization has just begun with its outreach to academics and professional researchers, with the goal of increasing trust and understanding of the site's unique all-volunteer format. That includes creating more workshops like the academy as well as more teaching materials and outreach directed at specific groups or subject-matter experts.

However, one thing that government officials may want to avoid is attempting to edit the entry for their own organization, which Walsh said is taboo in the Wiki community.

"Wikipedians are keen, it's not tough to determine if [someone] is editing an agency's entry from inside the agency," Walsh said. He encouraged government officials interested in learning more about Wikipedia to e-mail his organization at


Close [ x ] More from Nextgov

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • It’s Time for the Federal Government to Embrace Wireless and Mobility

    The United States has turned a corner on the adoption of mobile phones, tablets and other smart devices, outpacing traditional desktop and laptop sales by a wide margin. This issue brief discusses the state of wireless and mobility in federal government and outlines why now is the time to embrace these technologies in government.

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

  • A New Security Architecture for Federal Networks

    Federal government networks are under constant attack, and the number of those attacks is increasing. This issue brief discusses today's threats and a new model for the future.

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

  • Software-Defined Networking

    So many demands are being placed on federal information technology networks, which must handle vast amounts of data, accommodate voice and video, and cope with a multitude of highly connected devices while keeping government information secure from cyber threats. This issue brief discusses the state of SDN in the federal government and the path forward.

  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.