Friday, January 30, 2004

This is a good column by Dan Gillmor on a resource I use regularly called Wikipedia. I even contributed a bit on the article on Psychohistory. I was unaware that there were other "Wikis" out there until this article. A quote:

"Wikipedia, an encyclopedia created and operated by volunteers, is one of the most fascinating developments of the Digital Age. In just over three years of existence, it has become a valuable resource and an example of how the grass roots in today's interconnected world can do extraordinary things.

Almost anyone can be a contributor to the Wikipedia. Almost anyone can edit almost any page. (Only serious misbehavior gets people banned.) Thousands of people around the world have added their expertise, and new volunteers show up every day.

It defies first-glance assumptions. After all, one might imagine, if anyone can edit anything, surely cyber-vandals will wreck it. Surely flame wars over article content will stymie good intentions. And, of course, the articles will all be amateurish nonsense. Right?

Well, no.

Wikipedia does have its flaws -- including recent hardware problems that have made the site hard to use pending the installation of new server computers. But its very nature protects it from some of those other woes, and it has emerged as a credible resource.

Wikipedia is based on a kind of software called Wiki. A Wiki allows any user to edit any page. It keeps track of every change. Anyone can follow the changes in detail.

A Wiki engenders a community when it works correctly. And a community that has the right tools can take care of itself.

The Wikipedia articles tend to be neutral in tone, and when the topic is controversial, they will explain the varying viewpoints in addition to offering the basic facts. When anyone can edit what you've just posted, such fairness becomes essential.

`The only way you can write something that survives is that someone who's your diametrical opposite can agree with it,' says Jimmy Wales, a founder of Wikipedia."

Wales is right. They have flags that note if a topic is "controversial" and the user can view the debate. All and all, pretty cool.

No comments: