Ph. De Maeyer, J. Verbeken, M. Brondeel, L. Vansteenvoort, T. Ongena

Ghent University, Geography Department, Ghent, Belgium


In 2005, an investigation led by Nature, made a comparison between the internet encyclopedia Wikipedia and the Encyclopaedia Britannica. This investigation, though officially disputed by Encyclopaedia Britannica, revealed that both encyclopedias had numerous errors, but that the difference in accuracy among 42 entries tested was not particularly great. Mediawiki, the software Wikipedia runs on, is used by the Geography Department of the University of Ghent to create an online reference manual on Geographic Information System (GIS) terminology. This online GIS encyclopedia, called Geowiki, is primarily structured to be used by all students interested in GIS and Geomatics.


Because of its open and free characteristics, any visitor is allowed to add, remove, edit and change content on the Mediawiki software. This is both an advantage and a disadvantage. The openness has led to an enormous amount of articles. On March 1, 2006, the English language Wikipedia passed the 1,000,000 mark. On the other hand, this openness leads to the main disadvantages of the system: critics say that the system is unauthoritative and unreliable, that it exhibits systemic bias, and that its group dynamics hinder its goals. The use of featured articles and the semi-protection policy on Wikipedia are examples of recent arrangements to deal with these disadvantages.


The structure of Geowiki tries to deal with both advantages and disadvantages of the Mediawiki software. Edits are only allowed after registration and access is limited to university computers only. Another important arrangement is the use of certified articles. These articles are approved by members of the Department of Geography and are protected from further edits. However, the discussion page is always open for any edits by any user.

An important drawback in our system is the small user group and this leads to limited edits. However, an important source of information can be found in digital teaching documents, articles, courses and exercises. Software was designed to process these digital documents into wiki markup language.

Once a reliable amount of articles is created, the Geography Department hopes to expand the access to all users interested in GIS and Geomatics.