Monday, July 03, 2006

Wikipedia Hypercritique

Wikipedia is the future of collaborative writing...

...but here's an article that challenges the idea of Wikipedia.

It does suffer from a lot of hand-waving, a lack of examples, and some contradictions (e.g. Wikipedia has heavy editors versus Wikipedia is anarchy).

It shouldn't be a surprise that there are strong-handed editors in some more popular heavy traffic subjects. There probably should be.

Wikipedia's been used for personal vendettas. Juan Cole is a good example. The Juan Cole biographical entry has been refactored leaving the more controversial part in the Views_and_controversies_concerning_Juan_Cole entry.

Wikipedia style seems to always win in the end. It is not that difficult to smell extremism and bias in writing. Right now wikipedia excels at the more superficial: definitions, outlines, timelines, and external links.

In the future there will be more specialized encyclopedias. People are already starting to cite their sources more. In the days before Wikipedia, little spontaneous Wiki documentation systems sprouted up with every new piece of software. This will happen again with specialists forming specialized encyclopedias controlling the information and well they should to some extent.

Good governance is only one third participation. It is also legality (people follow rules to create order) and transparency (people see people following the rules so they have an idea of the bounds within which they can improvise).

Some articles are extremely high quality like Web Crawler or Nicolas Bourbaki or Collaboration or Peer Review. Other articles are the proverbial bathroom wall:

"[H]owever closely a Wikipedia article may at some point in its life attain to reliability, it is forever open to the uninformed or semiliterate meddler… The user who visits Wikipedia to learn about some subject, to confirm some matter of fact, is rather in the position of a visitor to a public restroom. It may be obviously dirty, so that he knows to exercise great care, or it may seem fairly clean, so that he may be lulled into a false sense of security. What he certainly does not know is who has used the facilities before him." (Source: Wikipedia:Wikipedia#Reliability)

The idea of the bathroom wall was created by a former Britannica editor whose livelihood has obviously been threatened. I did have to search forever to find the entry on the what is supposed to be the cornerstone of Wikipedia writing Neutral Point of View (NPOV) based on journalistic objectivity.