Monday 3 March 2008

Wikipedia rage

I was moved to make the following comments recently:
Every time I search the web for something for T325, alkaline batteries, proton exchange membrane fuel cell, wikipedia is always there among the first few results. And it generally is very useful (although rarely sufficient to get the understanding that I want).

It is beginning to annoy me. Wikipedia-rage. (Particularly since I've just read that the originator of wikipedia originally got rich from a search engine designed specifically to locate pornography on the web.)

Actually I think Wikipedia is quite extraordinary.

Some sceptical colleagues have argued recently that there have been lots of over-blown claims for Wikipedia, and you could find equivalent claims having been made about conventional encyclopaedias in the past. That may be true, maybe you can trace a continuum from the great historical encyclopaedias to Wikipedia, but sometimes incremental quantitative changes build up to a qualitative change, or so it seems to me. It is like emergent properties. The old issue of reductionism again.

Here's one feature of Wikipedia that I'm fascinated by. You have to keep working on an entry, otherwise it will deteriorate. There is so much vandalism (some of which is really bizarre - what on earth posses someone to insert the word 'Gay' in the middle of a description of fuel cells?) that unless someone is there to sort it out, the entry, I believe, would sooner or later be worthless. There is a similarity here with a living organism. OK, I know that saying something is like a living organism, calling something 'organic', is a cliché. But I happen to think it says something useful here.

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