Photo: Flickr user lifeontheedge

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Wikipedia vs. Google

Here's an interesting article concieving wikipedia as an open-source attack on Google.

Wikipedia is an open source search engine that lets anyone implicitly modify the search algorithm because it lets anyone modify the results of the search.

On that note. Yes, Google's pagerank algorithm amounts to a sort of democracy in which each incoming link gets a vote -- but wikipedia democracy may be better, long-term, partly because it sets the bar higher and lower in useful ways.


You can't just make a link and expect to become part of something like Google's huge semihierarchical ecosystem of ranked pages: you have to write something useful and clear if you want it to survive in the wiki for long. Parasites (spammers, PR people) can't come into wikipedia and programmatically put in lots of braindead but link-rich text; wikipedia's antibodies are too strong. (Profits aside, Google's search hasn't improved much in the last few years -- deadlock with link farmers.)


(1) You need more tech expertise to set up a website (or even a centrally-hosted blog) than to change a few words in an article. (Tap to the digerati's shoulder: most people don't know how to make links. That doesn't mean they don't have anything to say.)

(2) Google's methods are secret and proprietary, open only to employees. Wikipedia is totally open source: you can fork the project, make a complete mirror if you want (though the only people who've done this so far are advertising scum), change any part of the way things are done.

On the other hand, this way of thinking gives short shrift to Google's sophistication -- by employing geniuses, it's developed awesomely effective ways of getting good information to float to the top. Wikipedia's done the same thing, but without the army of salaried Nobel lauriates -- just the right framework, and enough volenteeers who, when it was built, came. Much more impressive.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Wikipedia as a teaching tool

Andy Carvin has a good idea about using Wikipedia as a teaching tool. There are really only two snips I'd say differently:

Take a group of fifth grade students and break them into groups, with each group picking a topic that interests them. Any topic. Dolphins, horses, hockey, you name it.

Not any topic -- dolphins and horses are giant articles: 15 and 40 kilobytes, respectively. Hockey is smaller, at 3.3 KB, but it might be better to concentrate on a fringe issue that everyone knows about: a local issue, in other words. Only 20 or so Michigan high schools have articles so far -- what about all the others? (Ah, Community High. I still wish my name had been pulled from the hat.)

Update: I've changed my mind. Pages about schools are often never looked at by non-students, and so there may be no moderating influence on ... er, juvenile behavior, even if only a minority of students use the page as a platform for jokes, etc. Instead, have the students edit pages about books, movies, tv shows, or celebrities.

Once the Wikipedia entry has been fact-checked, the teacher creates a Wikipedia login for the class.

Bad idea -- it undercuts the dual collaborate-but-be-responsible-for-your-work Wikipedia ethos: all the articles are jointly written, but by specific, individual authors. Give each student their own login, instead.