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« Yahoo 360 | Main | Folksonomies at Etech »

March 16, 2005

Wikipedia and the Future of Social Computing

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Posted by Ross Mayfield

An impressionistic transcript of Jimmy Wales' talk at Etech on Wikipedia and the Future of Social Computing.

What is wikipedia and how successful is it.

500k articles in English as of today, German 200, Japanese 100k, and much more 1.5 milion articiles across 200 languages 19 languages with > 100k articles.

350k articles with categories, hierarchical peer reviewed taxonomy. Just barely more popular than the NY times, 500M page views monthly.

The original deam of the Internet and what went wrong

People sharing information freely. Early experimentation was Homepages. Worked well, but problems: quality control (reputation of homepage author), author fatigue (thousanbds of hits can be found for 'haven't updated' at today).

Founded Wikicities, which extends the social model to new areas. Growing faster than Wikipedia Social computing successor to free homepages. Right to fork, uses free license to build community trust. For profit, portion of profit donated to Wikipedia.

How Social Computing addresses what went wrong

Author fatigue -- since the site is managed by a community people can come and go and the site is till maintained/improved.

Quality control -- everything is peer reviewed, leading to higher quality generally. Shows diff feature in Wikipedia as an example.

Social model of a wiki is hard to explain. In wikipedia, democracy, consensus, aristocracy and monarchy. his role is the constitutional monarch, but german paper quoted him as being the queen of England. We don't a-priori settle how decisions will be made, software does not enforce rules. Votes for deletion in english wikipedia page. Voting not enforced by software. Just an editable page with Deletes and Keeps.

Wikipedia is a social innovation. This social innovation will spread to other areas beyond just the encyclopedia. Software which enables collaboration is the future of the net.

Comments (9) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software


1. avi on March 17, 2005 5:15 AM writes...

As an encyclopedia, wikipedia sucks. As a social experiment, it illustrates the outcomes of collective efforts.

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2. Fred Bauder on March 17, 2005 6:53 AM writes...

Wikipedia is only a few years old and almost all articles can be sustantially improved. Additionally, using the Wikipedia model innovatively there are a number of other possibilities for compediums of information. The idea of Wikipedia is like the idea of a book. It is unlikely that there will be only one.

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3. Neil Harris on March 17, 2005 7:28 AM writes...

"As an encyclopedia, wikipedia sucks". Can you be specific, so the issues you are concerned about can be addressed?

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4. Andrew on March 17, 2005 10:08 AM writes...

As a wiki, the Encyclopedia Brittanica sucks. It's like they wrote those entries and just forgot about them! And when I mail them corrections, they just ignore them!

Man, even as a social experiment the Encyclopedia sucks.

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5. Matt Crypto on March 21, 2005 10:06 AM writes...

Where's the edit button for this article? I want to fix the "thousanbds" spelling mistake ....

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6. Bill Smith on March 23, 2005 2:43 PM writes...

Wikipedia is useless in getting true information in most cases, it only demonstrates the folly of trying to achieve truth by group consensus.

Someone says the Earth is round , someone else say it is flat. They can argue about it till the cows come home , but the only way to put the matter to rest is to compromise and say it is square. So then of course Wikipedia will wind up with the asinine statement that the Earth is square. So then the reader comes along and reads the article and thinks he made a step forward when he actually made a step backwards to his quest for knowledge.

It does not matter that Wikipedia has half a million articles if the bulk of them are loaded with the nutty opinions and hearsay of mouth-foaming raving lunatics pounding away at their keyboards day and night in their personal Jihad to get their version of the world published on Wikipedia.

Just try to edit any controversial topic on Wikipedia and see what happens within 15 minutes.

It is scary when you think about it , we are now spreading so much misinformation through the internet through sites like Wikipedia that appear on the surface as legitimate sources but which in reality are mostly conduits of partisan propaganda.

There used to be a time when Knowledge was the result of real research and facts. Wikipedia and other similar sites have turned knowledge into a duel of dissenting opinions.

Truth will never be what the editors of Wikipedia and other such sites say it is, Truth is what is regardless of what we would want the world to believe.

Wikipedia should do the world a favor and at the very least cut the academic pretense and announce that it is only a collection of opinions on any given topic.

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7. zick on March 24, 2005 2:50 AM writes...

Some people criticize wikipedia of being partisan and of presenting a particular version of the world. This is not true, because everybody and anybody can edit and rectify any personal bias that might have been written by someone. It is true that a revertion or deletion of inaccurate material sometimes causes a lot or heated edit wars. But if the authors present references to academic research works substantiating their edits, then the edit wars do not proceed further. Meaning as long as there is room for doubt on materials written, there is room for edit wars based on personal debate, which by the way is what makes a topic controversial in the first place.

Moreover, the idea that the published encyclopedias and all the books written over the centuries edited and published by publishing houses are true knowledge is inaccurate. Instead official books and encyclopedias present the version of the world as seen and propounded by the ruling elite or the class of people who possess wealth in a society. They commission books and encyclopedias to propagate a version of the world that is conducive to them and impose it on the majority of the masses (who do not have wealth to commission encyclopedias and official volumes). Wikipedia is finally threatening that tradition of age old dominion and partisan official version of the world, sponsored by the ruling class and the wealthy.

This threatening of the official version by the wikipedia is viewed by some as partisan writing. However it is for the first time that the entire world is able to come togeter and collaborate on a large volume of work. Apart from topics that by virtue of being unresolved and therefore controversial (both in the academic circles and on the wikipedia), the wikipedia is more closer to presenting a complete perspective of the world than ever before.

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8. Bill Smith on March 24, 2005 9:50 AM writes...

Wikipedia is just a collection of opinions on any given subject masquarading as an encyclopedia.

In some instances those opinions slant in one direction more than another, but irregardless those are still opinions of rather uninformed individuals.

Yes one could argue that official texts are also slanted to the publisher's bias; though I might add, with a higher standard of academic research.

But Wikipedia is just a hand to hand combat zone of lay people trying to pass themselves as academics while really trying to impose their point of view on the world.

The standards of truth on Wikipedia is can you find another web page on the internet that supports your assertion, ( which proves exactly nothing , the internet being what it is ) or are there a number of active editors online at the time who share your same bias and who will will support your edit wars.

All that the Wikipedia process achieves is a tyranny of the majority opinions , and if you wonder whether that is good or bad then you only need to remember that once upon a time the majority opinion was that the Earth was flat.

Permalink to Comment

9. zick on March 25, 2005 3:07 AM writes...

I am happy, the author Bill Smith tends to agree with the very idea stated by wikipedia. you wrote "...Once upon a time the majority opinion was that the earth was flat".

Very much so, That is exactly what the wikipedia and its adherents are saying.

However, not the majority you see, for much of history most people were peasants and workers who didnt know to read and write. Those who knew to read and write and engaged in academic works imposed on the MAJORITY of the people the idea that the earth was flat. It was the elite minority who knew to read or write who imposed the "flat-earth" idea on the MAJORITY.

The majority of people on the other hand never had time or resources to engage in such discussions, they had to toil day in and day out on their farms to make ends meet and to pay heavy taxes to the ruling aristocracy, which were used for academic discussions.

When Galileo supported the copernican idea of a heliocentric solar system the established academic world opposed him and together with the ruling aristocracy (which included the religious supremes then and now) persecuted him and purged his works. At best, official versions of the world published by official encyclopedias are just a refined collections of opinionated statements of the ruling aristocracy of the time under the guise of publishing house approval and governmental fundings.

As ironic as it may seem the finest contribution of the wikipedia may not be as a perfect encyclopedia, but as a large collective effort of the people around the world that may/will make OFFICIAL versions of the world published by OFFICIAL encyclopedias to be more inclusive and broader in its content. The wikipedia would make official encyclopedias see the range and depth of topics and perspectives that the people expect and want from encyclopedias. Official encyclopedias would have to include these together with topics that they have been systematically avoiding in order to be politically correct and to present a governmentally approved version of the world, in order to survive in the market.

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