by Timothy Lee
Thu, Mar 6th 2008 11:32am
Techcrunch has a profile of Biographicon, a site that touts itself as a site "for everyone's biography." I wish them the best, but I think they might have some trouble making their concept work. The idea behind the site is that it would be similar to Wikipedia, but without the notability requirement that limits Wikipedia entries to relatively famous individuals. The problem is that Wikipedia imposes these limits for good reasons. Although I've criticized Wikipedia for applying the requirement too strictly, I think it rests on a fundamentally sound insight: the wiki editing process will only work if there is a non-trivial number of people who aren't closely tied to the subject. One of the core tenets of the Wikipedia editing process is that the articles are not the authors' own opinions. Rather, they are summaries of facts that can be found in reliable sources like newspapers and magazines. This helps make the articles even-handed by giving the process some degree of objectivity. Anyone can look at the reliable sources cited and verify that they're being summarized accurately. The problem that Biographicon is likely to face is that the only people with information about most people (or the motivation to write an article about them) are the people themselves, and those with close ties to them. As a result, a Biographicon page will likely be little more than personal home page, often maintained by the subject or his close friends. The other option is even worse: somebody's enemies might come along and add unflattering information about an individual, sparking a prolonged edit war. Either way, there's no reason to expect the pages that result to be particularly accurate or well-written. The "wisdom of crowds" only works when you're able to muster an actual crowd, and it looks to me like Biographicon will have difficulty achieving the necessary critical mass for pages about people nobody's heard of.
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