Photo: Flickr user lifeontheedge

Monday, July 10, 2006

How I learned to stop worrying and love the Wiki

That WaPo story about the six minutes of inaccuracy in the Ken Lay article got picked up by slashdot.

There are plenty of insightful comments, but this one wins on brevity:

"You step into Wikipedia, you understand what's up.
You know it's not a peer-reviewed encyclopedia. It's a WIKIpedia.
You know anyone, including you, can edit it."

I doubt any of the hapless visitors who stumbled onto this revision during the few seconds it was on the page thought to themselves "The guilt of ruining so many lives finaly led him to his suicide. Wow, I didn't know that. Good thing I looked this up in wikipedia, or I might never have found out that bit of information." No, anyone could tell it was a throway piece of decidedly non-neutral writing that could be safely doubted, treated with the same level of authority as if it had been yelled from the next cubicle. (More on gleaning information from the writing style of wikipedia entries)

The puzzle then becomes, "Why did the reuters story get such huge play? Why was it refactored everywhere?"

I think it's because whenever a journalist runs any sort of story on wikipedia, they're bound to get a few letters saying "Your article was terrible. But that's okay, because wikis and blogs are going to make journalists obsolete in a couple years!" This is a boundary dispute -- and, in the context of newsroom cutbacks and layoffs, one that strikes fear and pissed-off-ness into the hearts of journalists who can see one side of the coin (that Wikipedia is not a good replacement for a newspaper) but not the other (that almost nobody expects wikipedia to be a replacement).

Update: Here's a good deconstruction of the WaPo piece that I swear I didn't see before I wrote this. And here's an even better one via the Signpost

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