Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Open Outsourcing

My brother got me started on using Wikipedia as an information resource. It's basically just a free online encyclopedia. It's convenient and there's certainly a wealth of information there. The catch is anybody and everybody writes the articles. It's great example of the modern open source/free information era we live in. Amazing, but it really makes me wonder where all this is headed.

Instead of writing an encyclopedia, Wikipedia is just the framework for an encyclopedia that writes itself. Looking for information about Anne Frank, Cold Fusion, or old computer games? Chances are Wikipedia has an article on it. Think of a topic you're passionate about but is lacking in the listings? Just write it yourself and then post it there. If it's any good others will use it. If it's crap, then sooner or later others will likely move in and edit it, or request that it be removed.

It turns out that if an article's veracity is questioned, users can initiate a vote to have it expunged from the record. Talk about blind justice. Personally, I think democracy seems like a crazy way of verifying information. Despite it all I have to admit, the vast majority of Wikipedia articles I've seen are relatively accurate. And I like the fact that I can try to fix any inconsistencies I notice - like why doesn't General Santa Anna's biography mention his missing leg? (I haven't submitted a rewrite on that one yet.)

Of course, I always take anything I read on the internet with a grain of salt, but I've come to like using Wikipedia as an easy first resource. It's kind of a grand social experiment. I worry school kids might come to think of these sorts of internet resources as gospel, but then again I wonder if we can really predict what the long term effects will be. Maybe fifty years from now, Wikipedia will be considered a solid resource. Perhaps once an article has withstood alteration for so many years then it'll be reasonable practice to accept it as accurate.

Perhaps, but my gut still warns me no. I worry about revisionist history creeping in and skewing the facts. Sometimes the truth is unpopular. My brother pointed out that somebody keeps editing and effectively deleting the entire article on the Holocaust. It's important to point out, despite someone's desire to pretend it never happened, other Wikipedia users have been vigilant and usually the article is only gone for minutes before someone notices and revives it. But the Holocaust was huge - would we always notice the dissappearance of less well known, but correspondingly uncomfortable events?


Blogger ~()--()~ said...

wikipedia as a tool to create unthought. double plus ungood.

Let's hope that it does not come to that (assuming that it hasn't already).

3/25/2005 5:17 PM  
Blogger Aanen said...

yeah wikipedia is cool. We have something called Twiki at my work. It comes in handy for keeping track of stuff.

5/02/2005 7:25 PM  

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