Quoting Online Sources: An Example Case

You are reading an older blog post. Please be aware that the information contained in it may be technologically outdated. This text may not necessarily reflect my current opinions or capabilities.

This is an English translation of a blog post that was originally published in German.

This text originally appeared in the PhD student blog of the Cooperation Systems Research Group at UniBw M.

November 25th, 2016

While doing research for UrbanLife+ and my own dissertation, I came across the book “Patterns in Game Design” by Staffan Björk and Jussi Holopainen a while back, which I thought would help me avoid ontological headaches: it's basically a reference book that provides definitions for all sorts of established terms from the field of game design.

Unfortunately, it proved difficult to get my hands on the book. It is no longer in print and used copies are only available at high prices. I therefore wrote to the first author asking for advice.

He referred me to the page gameplaydesignpatterns.org, a (closed) wiki, which – according to Prof. Björk – contains the full contents of the book and completely replaces it as a successor reference.

Back when I was in school, I learned that wikis are not citable. That was a number of years ago, and I have since learned a few more things about literature references in scientific works – among others, how to indicate references to online sources in a meaningful way and how to refer to a specific dated version of a (Media)Wiki article.

Nevertheless, the aura of unscientificness still precedes sources of this kind. While neither a wiki nor a book can be assumed to have been peer reviewed, the publisher is responsible, at least on paper, for a certain level of quality control that a website host does not provide. In addition, libraries and archives help to ensure the future availability of books, which is also not generally the case for websites.

Intuitively, one point in particular is now clear to me: In my work, I naturally reference the source that I have actually read. Other than that, there are a number of open questions. Especially for the dissertation, I hear again and again that the first impression from skimming the bibliography is crucial. Do I catch an unintended negative impression with a wiki reference (compared to a book)? Is it worthwhile to somehow get the book anyway and then reference it? In what sense is a book that is no longer available even a “better” source than an available website? Or is this such a special case that I don't need to worry about the one source?

I'm sure many of you have been through questions like this, and I'd be interested in your opinions (as well as anecdotes of your own, if you like).


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