... is not its reliability, which isn't bad. Instead, in its obsession with being trustworthy, it is determined to lack style, to wage a relentless war against insight and panache. In other words, it's boring.
Tonight, I checked back to see how badly the self-appointed editors had sucked the life out of Kevin's essay, only to find it was completely gone. Typical.
In contrast, for the last week I've been reading my 1971 Encyclopedia Britannica's enormous article on "World Wars." Individual sections are written by authors identified only by their initials, such as "B.H.L.H." The corporate style is fairly terse and stodgy; still, it's an exciting read, in part because of the creativity of authors. For example, B.H.L.H. commented on the British forces' capture of Jerusalem from the Ottoman Turks in late 1917, after starting in Egypt a long year before:
"As a moral success the feat was valuable, but from the strategic point of view it seemed a long way round to the goal. If Turkey be pictured as a bent old man, the British, after missing their blow at his head (Istanbul) and omitting to strike at his heart (Alexandretta), had now resigned themselves to swallowing him from the feet upward, like a python dragging its endless length across the desert."B.H.L.H. is of course Capt. Basil H. Liddell Hart (1895-1970), one of the best known and most controversial of military historians and innovators, who contributed to the development of tank warfare. In its clunking style, Wikipedia explains:
"He was Military Correspondent of the Daily Telegraph from 1925-1935, and The Times, 1935-1939. Later he began publishing military histories and biographies of great commanders who, he thought, were great because they illustrated the principles of good strategy. Among these were Scipio Africanus Major, William Tecumseh Sherman and T. E. Lawrence."I especially like the "great commanders who, he thought, were great" part. I would bet that one man can't write that badly himself -- he needs editors looking over his shoulder to stick in the "he thought" part to keep it all neutral and reliable.
Is B.H.L.H. a completely reliable guide to events in which he played a minor role and later played a major role in interpreting? Of course not. Still, his writing is interesting and memorable, unlike Wikipedia's.
In case you are wondering, I have no first hand experience with writing or editing anything for Wikipedia. My closest experience is watching my 12-year-old son write half of one long Wikipedia article.