I was doing a bit of research for my Northern Shaolin Kung Fu students recently and had a fairly eye-opening revelation.
To be honest – this little enlightenment is really positive, as it opens up new sources of information and at the same time it’s also quite frustrating.
Why frustrating? Well because it opens up new sources of information and a bit of overwhelm may ensue. 😛
As we all know, Wikipedia is user-generated content – a community-built encyclopedia of sorts, with editorial guidelines, restrictions and moderation systems (somewhat) in place.
And just a quck glance of its logo tells us that it is also translated into many different languages.
However, it is NOT merely translated into different languages.
There is different information in different languages for the same entries – sometimes more, sometimes less but usually different.
For example, go to the English entry for NASA ( National Aeronautics and Space Administration).
Scroll down to the last paragraph just before the big "Contents" link box and look at the last link in that paragraph; the anchor text is "Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite," and it points to a page with a fair amount of information and links about this satellite, also known as "Ibuki." On this page, we also learn that Ibuki was operated and launched by the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, known as JAXA.
Next, go to the Spanish entry for NASA and look at the last link before the "Contents" box. You will see "Agencia Japonesa de Exploración Aeroespacial." And that is a link to the Spanish entry for "JAXA."
A logical argument could be made, initially, for sentence construction; that perhaps the last sentence in both languages in this paragraph contain all of the same links to their respective language entries, but just in a different order, due to their respective language rules.
However, all it takes is a quick scan through the sentences to see that this is not, in fact, the case.
Fun with Lincoln
Let’s look at another example in a different way.
And now all you have to do is look on the right hand side of each page, at the photos and scroll down. You’ll see the difference.
But, But, But…
And before you give me all of the reasons why you think I am wrong… Try it out yourself. Search for any topic, open a window or tab for the English version and do it again. Then just change the "en" at the beginning of the URL (this specifies English, for example) to another language or region – de for Germany, es for Spain, etc. And look at what you find; run your own little experiments.
Different people are getting different information on topics, based on language or part of the world they are in. Sometimes more, sometimes less, but definitely different.
There are many people who are unaware of the fact that Wikipedia is content created by its users. And many more, like myself, are under the impression that the various language entries are merely translations of English.
I am not attempting to make some sort of social justice comment here. What I am saying is this: If you are researching a topic and want more – consider alternative languages. It has its benefits.
It’s paying of for me already. My topical search that gave birth to this revelation has now given me much more interesting information on the topic from merely looking up the Italian entry. Now after I search through all of this new data, I can’t help but wonder what the Spanish entry will give me. Or the French. Or South African, or…!?!
It’s exciting, if not a bit overwhelming.