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Wikipedia's Paradox


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December 08, 2005

Wikipedia's Paradox

Rob Hof

Wikipedia, the darling of the new Web, has seen quite a backlash lately thanks to some high-profile mischief and shady editing of entries. Outsell's David Curle has an interesting analysis of why. He contends that Wikipedia's problem isn't that it's wrong in trying to leverage the Power of Us. Rather, it's "trying to stuff a new and valid idea into an old box":

"Better a thousand focused wikis than one big wiki with a thousand topics. The paradox is that as soon as the Wisdom of the Masses is put into the box and given a brand name, it becomes an old-fashioned authoritative source in the eyes of its users, subject to all the failures of the old authorities."

The conceptual box created by Wikipedia's very name certainly is part of the problem. If you think it's an encyclopedia, you expect something different than if it's a sort of free-market knowledge base. Fact is, it seems like neither the creators nor the users (who are also creators) of Wikipedia are yet sure what Wikipedia really is. Some folks think it needs a reputation system, and others think that would be the death of it.

Honestly, even after reading a lot of arguments back and forth, I'm not sure what the answer is--except that I sure hope there is one. It's hard to believe that Wikipedia can't somehow find its way to fulfilling what looks like a very promising start. Would love to hear your two cents....

07:32 PM

Power of Us, Wikipedia

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I truly believe that there should be a "stable" version of each article. I previously proposed this as a baseline project (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Baseline_revision) where we basically take a revision of the article and analyse it for accuracy, neutrality, readibility and comprehensiveness. We then refer journalists, etc, to this revision as the best example of our work. This would not be (and *should not* be) what people see by default. It should be reserved for those who wish to cite Wikipedia for research, papers, journalism, etc who require a more "stable" version.

As with most things, information can change and we are not infallible. This would be dealt with by choosing a new revision of the article.

This never really took off, however http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Stable_versions is a new project to do something along those lines.

If it doesn't take off, I'm thinking of starting an offsite project to do it.

Posted by: Ta bu shi da yu at December 8, 2005 09:55 PM

I think wiki would be good as an add on for a site. For example, you could have a Business Weeki to take in ideas for future print articles or blog sessions. You still make the decisions about what you publish and there really isn't any problem with it being accurate. You could also use it for office communications between writers, editors or anybody who wants to send a quick message or shout out. It's just another tool. I think it's trying to become an institution in an anti-institutional time.

If it works, people will find a use for it.

Posted by: Jim Dermitt at December 11, 2005 10:04 AM


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