There’s a review on The New York Times.com today about Wordnik, a site aiming to be to dictionaries what Wikipedia is to encyclopedias, providing more up-to-date, open-sourced information than an official hard copy publication. Just one little thing—it appears there’s no vetting process for the veracity of the information you’re getting. However, the site appears to be in trustworthy hands. The founder of Wordnik, Erin McKean, was previously a principal editor for the New Oxford English Dictionary. If there are better credentials to be had for a project like this, I don’t know what they’d be.
The home page mimics Google’s sparse layout, even to the inclusion of the “I always feel lucky” button, and the site provides a spread of information on your search. What it’s pulling from, though, are definitions and usages from all over the web, and there’s no real guarantee that the usages are correct. There are obviously complex algorithms pulling the information, but we all know what a finicky thing language is, and how many of us don’t use it correctly (the search algorithm even pulls Twitter content). Obviously, intelligent human beings are programming the algorithms to be as exacting and content-aware as possible, but to not have human intuition or qualified experts involved in vetting the information would make me a little nervous if I was writing a quality term paper.
A search on Wordnik for one of my favorite words, defenestration, brings up a nice, clean layout (much more aesthetically pleasing than the same search on Dictionary.com), and the source material it’s pulled for definitions seems trustworthy (and/or funny, like the third usage in Wiktionary), but some of the usages aren’t really helpful.
There are plans in the future for having the site be gifted enough to recommend books you might like, and there are evidently new business partnerships coming in the near future (though I hope they don’t muck up their nice clean layout with a bunch of ads).
So for now, I think I’ll stick to verifiable sources for the serious stuff, but the site has fun possibilities, if only just for the sake of curiosity. And we’re always curious.