Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Teen's Perspective on Wikipedia

I'm always a sucker when it comes to reading actual consumer opinions about the tools and technologies of the Internet. CNET has an article written by their summer intern on Wikipedia. She admits to relying upon the open-source encyclopedia, maybe a bit too much. But how could she not? She lists Wikipedia's virtues:
I knew there was no way I would be able to sort through thousands of Google search results or go to the library to research while simultaneously performing other vital homework completion functions
She definitely writes with a good, humorous tone. But it is clear that she sees precisely what it good and bad about Wikipedia. How could you not come to rely upon a source that provides such detailed, structured information? The depth and the immediacy is so good, that someone needing to do research on a consistent basis (such as a student) could become pretty easily addicted to using it.

I know that I'm starting to use Wikipedia more and more. OK: here's a confession. I had absolutely no idea what the phrase "jump the shark" meant. I had a rough sense that it meant something was passe, but that was about it. "Jump the shark" became my first ever Wikipedia search.

What is Wikipedia good for? There's a great article in The New Yorker about the site. One of the most interesting parts of the article is a quote from Eric Raymond, who wrote an essay called The Cathederal and The Bazaar, which really laid out the concept of Open Source in a highly-digestible and extremely inspiring way:
Even Eric Raymond, the open-source pioneer whose work inspired Wales, argues that “ ‘disaster’ is not too strong a word” for Wikipedia. In his view, the site is “infested with moonbats.” (Think hobgoblins of little minds, varsity division.) He has found his corrections to entries on science fiction dismantled by users who evidently felt that he was trespassing on their terrain. “The more you look at what some of the Wikipedia contributors have done, the better Britannica looks,” Raymond said. He believes that the open-source model is simply inapplicable to an encyclopedia.
Yowza. That's not good. This beacon of citizen content creation may potentially not be as strong as one would have hoped. It seems there is emerging a great side and a not-so-great side of Wikipedia:

The Great: deep content about niche topics
The Not So Great: deep controversy about nearly everything.

An encyclopedia should present information. Wikipedia may, in fact, represent the hunt for objective truth. This hunt is extraordinarily fascinating, but it may not be all that useful. The Pragmatists saw truth as a very flexible concept. Whatever the current society believed, at that point, represented truth. Wikipedia may be documenting that view. The Encylopedia Britannica is a more Platonic approach to truth (truth exists independently of the current world and is, therefore, non-malleable).

Wikipedia may continue to represent an information source, but--unfortunately--that is an incorrect read on it. It must instead be considered a live artifact of the communal process of establishing truth.
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