Thursday, June 29, 2006

fyi Wiki Revolution a New Curve on Information Highway


Found content:

My take:
I recently used Wikipedia for the first time. I mean actually “used” Wikipedia for some substantive research project—not simply browse to and from it briefly. And it was useful, in much the same way as any other encyclopedia—as a reference book of final resort, after I’d extracted everything I need from primary research materials, and when I simply wanted one more relatively high-level take on my topics, so as to close off the research and get down to my own writing. Of an article to appear in August in Business Communications Review on new federation frontiers in IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS)—I looked up canonical definition/overviews of IMS, SIP, ENUM, and other related topics.

Wikipedia was useful, but not in any qualitatively different sense from any other resource on the Internet. Nothing wrong with wikis, but this “Web 2.0” notion that they—and their prime exponent, Wikipedia--are ushering in some “communal era” on the Internet is balderdash. That era’s been here since the dawn of the Web in the early 90s, and wikis are just another chapter. The Web was the true innovation—more specifically, the URL, HTTP, and HTML standards on which the Web was built. The Web made the world an open book to be populated and refreshed continuously from the edges, centers, wherever. As the found article notes, group authoring/editing sites have been around for quite some time on the Web before the name “wiki” started being applied to them.

This propaganda that “Wikipedia comes close to Britannica in terms of the accuracy of its science entries” is beside the point. What diligent researcher relies on any one reference work, and doesn’t cross-check each work against as many others as can be found? Are the editorial staffs/processes of any one reference work (including Wikipedia) infallible? How can anybody who has ever worked in a fast-moving editorial operation have any confidence in their ability to contribute day in and day out to production of a “single source of truth”? It all gets slapped together in haste by limited, benighted mortals. It’s all a sausage factory (in the words of the article: “an assembly line for knowledge”), and it’s usually no more “communal” or “social” than any other operation whipcracked under editorial overlords (who may be your bosses, in the Brittanica model, or who may, in the Wikipedia, simply be unseen cyber-colleagues with power to efface, erase, and overwrite anything you might post).

The old story from Detroit is that you don’t want to buy a car that was assembled on Monday morning (workers straggling back from the weekend) or Friday afternoon (workers with their minds on their six-packs, barcaloungers, and backyard barbecues). Likewise, you don’t necessary want to “buy”—without extensive cross-checking against other sources—any knowledge that gets assembled in Wikipedia. Especially when the entries there are unsigned by their authors, and there’s no indication of what changes were made by who and when. Research geek that I am, it’s important to me to see who authored a piece and what their qualifications/biases might be, so that I can determine the degree of confidence to place in some post. I’ve been in the IT industry as an analyst/pundit far too long to take anybody else’s “expertise” for granted: everybody’s selling something: everybody’s dissing something/somebody else: everybody imagines that they’re the victor who’s destined to write the official history of whatever.

At least with blogs (and “traditional” websites), there’s often a clear indication of authorship. Hence, of background, bias, and agenda. All of which you can factor into your decision to accept or reject something I’m trying to put across. No, I don’t allow readers to post direct comments to my blog, and I certainly don’t allow readers to overwrite what I post.

I’m simply trying to sell my own ideas. I’m not trying to put forth a be-all repository of unimpeachable human knowledge. And I’m not trying to build an ego-free reference work as a shared communal touchstone. I’m just sharing whatever local knowledge (or tomfoolery) pools between these ears.

Down here in Alexandria.