Conquent: Without Limits
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Michael Bissell's Blog

The Myth of Wikipedia (or the Wiki-1400)

2009-01-03 12:20:11
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Okay, let's talk about the myth of Wikipedia... The story goes that the Wiki is comprised of millions of tiny bits of data coming in from millions of people, and that the gestalt is an accurate document created by the hive mind of humanity.

The reality seems to be a little different. " fact the most active 2%, which is 1400 people, have done 73.4% of all the edits" according to Jimbo Wales, the face of Wikipedia in Raw Thought: Who Writes Wikipedia?.

Now, some argue that this number is based on the corrections made constant monitoring of vandalism and change backs, but in reality, it means that this "gestalt" is really crafted in the image of these prolific watchdogs, just as the PTA can ban Alice in Wonderland, so can the Wiki-1400.

At the same time, these 1,400 people can't possibly know everything, and a lot of the articles are started by the other 98% of the wiki population. Filtering is part of what makes the process work, and, honestly, most of us don't have time to sit online looking at recent changes on Wiki.

The Wiki is as accurate as the Encyclopedia Britannica (which oddly enough is based in Chicago). But knowing what we know about the Wiki-1400, maybe it's not a fair comparison. Wiki-zealots are always talking about the accuracy of the wiki, and comparing it to traditional encyclopedias for validation. If the Wiki-1400 are constantly striving towards that goal, then the first thing they would do is check the Britannica, and roll back the entry if it doesn't agree.

I think the real bottom line is that the Wiki-1400 share a philosophy, and philosophy more than anything else, filters what we believe to be true and what we believe to be false. You can cross reference and document evolution all you want, but a creationist won't agree.

I'm not suggesting that the Wiki-1400 have that overt of blinders, but blinders they must have, and knowing this, we need to check other sources of information than the Wiki when expanding our own knowledge.

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Pete Forsyth: Re: The Myth of Wikipedia (or the Wiki-1400)
2009-01-04 01:11:52

I'm one of the 1400, and I don't get it. I'v heard others make points similar to this, but something fails to click for me.

Exactly who is it who has advanced -- or believes -- the myth you posit?

Of course, in the early days of a new project, there is a small number of people making most of the contributions. I'm not sure why that would be surprising, or cause concern.

I don't think there's a single regular contributor who would recommend to anyone that they use Wikipedia as a reliable source or accurate overview for any serious purpose.

There is, of course, an ideal to which many of us aspire -- and one that people like Jimmy Wales have discussed at length.

Usually prefaced with the word "imagine."

If we get there at all, it might take years or decades.

But that doesn't mean there isn't incredibly cool stuff happening on Wikipedia all the time, or that it isn't very useful (alongside other sources) in certain areas.

Plus, I think the trend is in the right direction.

Michael Bissell (in response to Pete Forsyth): Re: The Myth of Wikipedia (or the Wiki-1400)
2009-01-04 10:33:44

Before writing this post, I dug through some of the source material for the basis of the Wiki-1400, and I admit, it's one of those statistical games that can be played different ways -- the comments were originally made early on, but they've been repeated, there's the issue of rollbacks and anti-vandalism contributing to those numbers, but overall, I think it makes sense that there's a hardcore center making the bulk of the changes.

I think it's interesting that Pete says he doesn't "... think there's a single regular contributor who would recommend to anyone that they use Wikipedia as a reliable source or accurate overview for any serious purpose." The problem is that non-contributors DO use it as the Holy Grail of information. The general impression is that the Wiki is as accurate as anything else you'll find out there.

And I'm not saying it's not. Ultimately the problem rests in using any single source as your end-all source. That's why using the Bible to prove the existence of God to non-believers doesn't work -- you start to lose the science and enter faith when you accept only one source.

But, I have to agree with Pete that the Wiki is on the right track. Heck, the very fact that I can post a blog like this, get feedback, and clarify, all over the course of a lazy weekend, shows the power of the Internet for collaboration and the exchange of ideas.

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