by Timothy Lee
Thu, Mar 6th 2008 11:32am
by Mike Masnick
Mon, Mar 3rd 2008 2:16pm
from the abuse-of-power? dept
by Timothy Lee
Wed, Feb 27th 2008 10:31am
from the 1-percent-of-a-big-number dept
The distribution of edits on Wikipedia is what's known as a power law, and power law distributions are ubiquitous in human societies. You can find power laws in the distribution of income, website traffic, book and CD sales, city populations, and dozens of other phenomena. Indeed, democracy itself is subject to power laws; the most politically active voters contribute the vast majority of volunteers and campaign contributions. The fact that Wikipedians' contributions follow a power law distribution doesn't mean that Wikipedians are telling "fairy tales about the participatory culture of Web 2.0." What makes Wikipedia different from traditional encyclopedias isn't a more "democratic" distribution of contributions, but the vastly increased number of people who are able to contribute when the encyclopedia is organized in an open fashion. This has produced an encyclopedia that is far more comprehensive than any commercial company could hope to produce.
from the the-knolipedia dept
With the possible exception of our allegedly-sexual-predator-filled social networks, it seems safe to say that there's no internet phenomenon that causes quite as much finger-wagging consternation as Wikipedia. Is it credible? Complete? A worthy reference material? Personally, I'm content to leave these questions to the world's concerned librarians.
One thing that's not in question is whether Wikipedia is successful. But why aren't its competitors? Linux News' Mick O'Leary discussed the issue yesterday, specifically examining why Veropedia and Citizendium's efforts to improve upon Wikipedia don't show much promise for attracting a following. O'Leary's diagnosis of the problems with the sites' underlying models is almost beside the point: despite Wikipedia's content being reproducible under a GPL-like license, neither project has decided to use a forked Wikipedia as a starting point. As a result they simply don't have the content to count as a viable alternative.
But, as Bennett Haselton convincingly argued on Slashdot last week, this is a problem that Google's upcoming Knol initiative is unlikely to face. The prospect of ad revenue (and page views supplied by a presumably friendly PageRank) will no doubt prompt a flurry of copy & pasting from Wikipedia. And although Google's Knol announcement is a little vague, their professed light-touch approach to content sounds likely to make Wikipedia-licensed content okay for Knol. Even without an automated forking process, it seems certain that Knol will wind up mirroring large parts of Wikipedia.
But after that initial land-grab will Knol be able to take the ball from Jimmy Wales' leviathan and run with it? It depends what Google is banking on. Veropedia and Citizendium's examples strongly imply that Knol's focus on authorial accountability won't be the deciding factor in its success. A human name and grinning headshot may be more immediately comforting than an inscrutable pseudonym, but they only confer modestly more meaningful vetting opportunities than does Wikipedia's contribution-tracking system. Seriously evaluating an author's background, perspective and credibility will be a time-consuming task no matter what the underlying system is.
But if Knol instead relies on Google's built-in promotional advantages -- aka search result dirty tricks -- it's got a real shot. Wikipedia is proof that a wiki reference tool's value is largely derived from the network effects it enjoys, and currently most of those effects are driven by the site's high placement in search results. What will happen if Google decides to put Knol on an equal footing? Given Wikipedia's liberal licensing scheme and Knol's plan for more aggressively attracting content, the coming wiki showdown may wind up being decided by pure brand power more than anything else.
by Michael Ho
Mon, Jan 21st 2008 10:51am
from the isn't-that-part-of-the-job? dept
Fortunately, the AFP realizes that fact-checking is an important part of its journalistic mission, but it seems a bit disappointing that this basic principle of responsible news reporting needs to be re-affirmed for "new media" sources. Then again, there will always be mistakes in any kind of research, so the real lesson here may be that there is an equally important basic principle of reading the news: "Don't believe everything you read."
by Michael Ho
Wed, Jan 16th 2008 8:40am
from the If-Obscurity-Is-Good-Enough-For-Security,-It's-Good-Enough-For-Education dept
by Timothy Lee
Mon, Dec 10th 2007 10:32am
from the peer-review dept
Techdirt's own Insight Community is similar in some ways to the Yahoo! and Google Answer programs. The failure of Google Answers might be a reason for pessimism, but I think there are a few key differences that make TIC more likely to succeed. First, the community is sharply focused on a fast-changing industry where expertise is especially valuable. Second, TIC is focused on providing insight and analysis, not just plain facts. With factual questions, a customer will typically be seeking a single correct answer. But with strategic business questions, there usually isn't one right answer; companies are often interested in hearing about several different approaches, and there can be a lot of value in seeing the arguments that experts marshal for various options. Finally, Techdirt is much more selective about the experts it brings onboard, using experts' blogs and other writings as a way of identifying those who know what they're talking about and can communicate it clearly. That gives the TIC a great signal-to-noise ratio.
by Timothy Lee
Thu, Dec 6th 2007 8:50pm
from the positive-spillovers dept
But at the very least, Durova is right about one thing: the way you gain power and influence within the Wikipedia community is by making thousands upon thousands of helpful edits to Wikipedia articles. To the extent that there are competing factions battling for control of the site, they conduct their battle by competing to make the best contributions to the site, thereby earning the respect of other Wikipedians and enabling them to win election to leadership positions like the site's Arbitration Committee. If you peruse the comments people make when they're voting, you'll see that a lot of people vote against individuals because they haven't been on the site long enough or haven't made enough contributions. What this means is that it doesn't matter very much how paranoid, vain, or power-hungry the senior leadership of Wikipedia is, or that there might be factions plotting to seize control of the site away from the current leadership. In fact, it might actually be good for the rest of us if that's true, because it will spur each faction to re-double their efforts to do more editing in the hopes of earning the support of rank-and-file editors.
There's an obvious parallel to real-world human societies here. People often criticize capitalism for promoting greed, but that's not quite right. Greed has always existed in human societies. In pre-capitalist societies, the way greedy and ambitious people got ahead was largely by conquering new countries, enslaving their inhabitants, assassinating political rivals, lobbying the government for monopolies, and engaging in other wasteful and destructive activities. The rise of capitalism didn't abolish greed and ambition, but it harnessed it for the public good. Now, if you want to become rich and powerful, one of the best ways to do it is by creating a company that produces goods and services consumers want. (You can also still get ahead by lobbying the government for special privileges, so the system's not perfect) The better you are at serving your customers' needs, the richer you get. In a competitive market, it doesn't really matter if our elite businessmen are nice people, the system is set up so that they're driven by their own self-interest to do things that benefit their customers. By the same token, it doesn't matter if, as critics claim, Wikipedia is run by a paranoid cabal; the system is organized so that they have to continue contributing positively to the site in order to maintain their positions of authority.
from the perfectly-normal dept
by Mike Masnick
Tue, Nov 27th 2007 5:19am