- Published: Sunday, 24 August 2008 20:15
- Written by Jonathan Walker
Birmingham is currently winning the battle to be named Britain's Second City on Wikipedia, probably the most influential source of information on the interweb today.
Wikipedia is the encyclopaedia anyone can edit, making it useless as a source to be relied on. The problem isn't so much straight factual inaccuracies as bias and point-of-view pushing.
It is, however, immensely popular, with around seven billion page views (not unique visits) a month.
In theory, editors are bound by a strict set of rules, such as the requirement to cite authoritative sources and to achieve consensus before making major changes.
In practice, sources are frequently used to push a particular point of view. You simply start out knowing what you want to say and then search for a source to back it up, ignoring the ones that don't support your position.
As for consensus, this tends to apply to individual pages, not the encyclopedia as a whole.
Hence, the Birmingham entry tells us that "Birmingham is the largest of England's core cities, and is the second city of the United Kingdom".
The Manchester entry, however, states that it is "often described as the second city of the UK."
While they don't quite contradict each other, Manchester's entry suggests that Birmingham is often not considered to be the second city.
The reason for this discrepancy is obvious - Manchester's entry is edited mainly by Mancs, while Birmingham's entry is edited by Brummies.
Not that this could ever be proved.
Asking an editor where they came from would be to imply bias, and this is against Wikipedia's rules. One must "assume good faith" at all times.
If you look at the actual city populations, Birmingham is the second largest, after London.
And if you prefer to use conurbation populations, the West Midlands still beats Greater Manchester.
So the Mancs have focused on "Larger Urban Zones", which is apparently some nonsense dreamt up by our masters in Brussels.
According to the European Union, the biggest Larger Urban Zone in the UK is London, with 11.9 million people.
But in second place comes Manchester, with 2.5 million people. Then comes Leeds, with Birmingham (pop. 2.3 million) in fourth place.
I've never once heard any British politician talk about them, but for a while Wikipedia's entry for the United Kingdom presented these "zones" as a list of the largest cities in the country - ensuring Manchester was placed second.
As I write this, however, the article lists city populations, placing Birmingham second, but that could change at any time.
Predictably, Manchester's entry continues to give prominent position to these Larger Urban Zones, while they are not mentioned in the entry on Birmingham.
Of course, there's more to being a second city than having the second-largest population. And it's sometimes said that Birmingham should stop describing itself as "second" and just call itself a great city.
But I'm still glad to see the Mancs put in their place.