Photo: Flickr user lifeontheedge

Friday, October 21, 2005

The backlash has begun.

There's a rising tide (or at least a tide) of "Wikipdia Sucks!" around (and insofaras I was perhaps too much of a cheerleader a couple months ago, I played some small part).

First: A nice (and widely-circulated) blog post taking Web2.0 evangelists to task for their rapturous language. Some good points, but an inadvertant straw man: I don't think many people see wikipedia as the proto hive mind. (Maybe the proto proto hive mind, but that can be said about regular books, too.)

Second: The register picks up the idea and runs with it: a scathing editorial ostensibly about wikipedia's founder's response to the blog's criticisms of some W'pedia articles. At risk of sounding like I'm Worshipping The Quotes of the Leader, here's Wales's message in its entirety:

I don't agree with much of this critique, and I certainly do not share the attitude that Wikipedia is better than Britannica merely because it is free. It is my intention that we aim at Britannica-or-better quality, period, free or non-free. We should strive to be the best.

But the two examples he puts forward are, quite frankly, a horrific embarassment. [[Bill Gates]] and [[Jane Fonda]] are nearly unreadable crap.

Why? What can we do about it?


Wikipedia has a structural contradiction (or perhaps a fine line to walk). In order for people to care enough to put in high quality edits, they have to feel like they're contributing to a grand encyclopedic project; but it's helpful if readers don't think of the site as an exact equivalent of paper encyclopedias -- they have to critically examine articles, figure out possible reasons they read the way they do.

This is one reason it's so important for there to be more (and better) software interfaces to wikipedia: there's a sea of information to sift through that helps you figure out what's really going on, how much you can trust an article. At a glance, I want to know how long individual phrases have lasted on the page, the frequency and intensity of edits, what else that page's editors have said elsewhere, etc.