Monday, June 26, 2006

Wikipedia + Editing + Hierarchy does-not-equal Wikipedia's death

There is an interesting thread/debate on the Death of Wikipedia over at that I found via BBC's Bill Thompson's article on tagging.

Far from spelling the death of Wikipedia, editing will make it stronger.

Where there is a lot of participation on a topic, the luxury of editing becomes an opportunity to 1. improve the quiality of the information and 2. to learn.

Everyone is not equally qualified to comment on or write on a subject.

Under the traditional Wikipedia anyone could comment and write.

Now a light hierarchy of editors has is forming spontaneously over some Wikipedia topics.

Some people think this means the death of Wikipedia.

The policy of making everything freely editable allowed Wikipedia to succeed where over-edited alternatives like original Nupedia failed from imposing too much editing from the beginning.

If Wikipedia writers stick to a philosophy of ego-free wikipedia writing then the experience of being edited becomes like learning and improving your writing and ideas through peer review and collaboration.

The absence of authorship and explicit names attached to texts helps to make Wikipedia writing ego-free.

Just like volunteerism is a good thing to do in parallel with normal for money life-sustaining work, writing anonymously for Wikipedia is a good supplement for authored/named writing that you get recognition for. It seems like this is what is driving a lot of the better entries.

Initially I thought that Wikipedia could not survive contentious issues like the recent US - Iran Nuclear controversy, but Wikipedia polarized into two articles with opposing viewpoints in this case: 1. Iran's nuclear program, and 2. Iran and weapons of mass destruction. The issue even affects Thailand (See my article)

It will definitely be worth watching the way that Wikipedia evolves. It may be prescient of all our intellectual futures. There might even be topically highly specialized Wikipedia's for research in the future and highly personalized if opinion is a large factor in the research (in pure math it isn't).

In general, tools that help you make links to Wikipedia articles quicker and reliably are needed. Without them finding relevant Wikipedia articles and linking text to them can be quite a drag on the writing process. The Google search "wikipedia name-of-topic" tells you what terms/entries are important for that topic. Tools to automatically determine which Wikipedia articles provide background on an topic you are writing about and what words in the article a link to the wikipedia article should be placed on would be nice. This last item is called a Google Bomb that would help associate search terms with a Wikipedia topic. A search that pulls up articles link to a Wikipedia entry would be nice.

Here are some right on the mark quotes from the article:

"If no one cared about Wikipedia, semi-protection would be pointless, but with Wikipedia being used as reference material in the Economist and the NY Times, the incentive for distortion is huge, and behavior that can be sensibly described as vandalism, outside scare quotes, is obvious to anyone watching Wikipedia. The rise of governance models is a reaction to the success that creates incentives to vandalism and other forms of attack or distortion."

[My comment: editing = governance of information, democracy is not necessarily the full answer here, after some kinds of truth are only possessed by experts, a quote from a resigning minister in Thaksin's cabinet today says it all, basically: governance = 1. participation, 2. legality , and 3. transparency, or in this case the proper flow of information needs: 1. participation and freedom (because there are going to different and opposing perspectives on a wide range of issues) 2. legality or truth (because some experts know some truths that no majority democracy can vote down) and 3. transparency (who claims what and is important if you ever want to improve the information and make it more accurate and reliable))]