Whenever I finish a book I update my Shelfari account; I enjoy being reminded of the books I’ve read, it’s amazing how quickly you forget them (and how few I actually finish). Anyway, today I added ‘Free’ to my shelf (after reviewing it over at the Online Journalism Blog) unfortunately someone has slightly edited the details:
(Nb. In case you haven’t read it, it’s nothing to do with Jesus).
Allowing users to contribute always risks the inclusion of misinformation and disinformation but, as with sites like Wikipedia, it is expected that the crowd will be self-correcting. However, unlike Wikipedia, Shelfari review the edits. Although the usefulness of the review is obviously open to question if they can’t spot such a glaring mistake in what is likely to quickly become a very popular book. Shelfari have managed to slow the self-correcting ability of the crowd, without the ‘review’ process adding any benefit!
There’s an interesting story at ReadWriteWeb about the journal RNA Biology insisting that authors submit a Wikipedia stub article along with their main journal article (see guidelines). Rather than a stub article in the main Wikipedia space, it is merely asking for a stub article within the author’s user space, although for some articles a main Wikipedia stub may be more appropriate. ReadWriteWeb comments:
The relationship between academia and the Wikipedia has always been an uneasy one, and it will be interesting to see how the academic community is going to react to this experiment.
With the majority of stubs being placed in user-spaces, rather than the main Wikipedia space, it is likely to be perceived as extra work with little extra benefit by academics. It will, however, hopefully encourage more academics to contribute to Wikipedia more widely, which can only be a good thing for Wikipedia.
Does the academic community have an ‘uneasy’ relationship with Wikipedia? Or merely get exasperated with some of the more crowd-happy evangelists, and those who fail to recognise its potential drawbacks. The crowd is great up to a point, but there is still a place for experts and authoritative sources.
Finally Google’s Knol is launched (after months of waiting). It’s basically all about putting the author back into the publishing process, something that has been lost in the Wiki-verse.
You can never tell how these things are going to pan out until the uneducated marauding masses get involved and try to make some money out of it, so it is far too early to tell whether Knol is going to be a serious content provider or not. However, I am sure it won’t be long before academics are comparing Wikipedia and Knol pages. In fact as I type this someone out there is probably comparing two pages and hoping to make a bit of a media splash. Unfortunately I will have to wait for Knol’s ‘Webometrics’ page to appear before I can make a comparison with any sort of authority.
One last point. As Danny Sullivan emphasises, this time Google’s product is known as ‘Knol’ not ‘Google’s Knol’. Is this an attempt to hide the Google brand as we begin to suffer Google fatigue?
Google have annouced that they will be releasing (at some point in the future) Knol, a tool that will enable users to write articles on topics they are hopefully knowledgable about and want to publish:
Our goal is to encourage people who know a particular subject to write an authoritative article about it.
The incentives to participate are the inclusion of your name, rather than the virtual anonymity of wikipedia, and you will be able to place ads on your articles if you wish to make some money.
It not surprising that Knol is already getting a lot of coverage in the Blogosphere, due to it being one of Google’s babies, but it is by no means original. Whilst it looks as though Knol will have a better facilities and provides the users with more rights to their content, in essense it is pretty much the same as Helium.com. Whilst Helium has some good articles, for the most part they are very poor, and I think the same will be true of Knol. Whether Knol is a success will depend on the ranking system and whether enough people get involved.
Personally I don’t think Wikipedia has anything to worry about yet, although Helium will have to up its game.
A German politician, Katrina Schubert, has filed charges against the German Wikipedia site over use of Nazi symbols. Whilst Nazi symbols are allowed for educational and artistic purposes in Germany, they are otherwise illegal. Whilst the politician has been criticised for failing to grasp the “self-regulating mechanisms that work in Wikipedia”, it is far better to question these mechanisms than blindly trust in the so-called wisdom of the crowd. In my experience too often the web 2.0 crowd includes a disproportionately large group of, for want of a better term, geek-survivalists.
When the geek-survivalists provide wikipedia with the specifications on every computer there has ever been, it can be useful. However, every single episode of Star Trek is sad, every gun there has ever been is concerning, and every intricate detail of an evil regime can be ghoulish. Whilst we can accept the pathetic excessive details of the Star Trek pages, and may even put up with the love affair with guns, if wikipedia does find itself straying into the realms of ghoulish fasination with an evil regime then it needs to be brought to account.
Whilst Schubert’s colleague’s criticism that “Right-wing extremism on the World Wide Web cannot be tackled via national criminal proceedings”, it is nonetheless a good place to start and encourage a wider debate.
Whilst Wikipedia is filled with articles of debatable accuracy, debatable worth, and a tendancy to be a lot more exhaustive in the geek section (at the time of posting there are seperate pages for both ‘Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’ episodes and ‘Star Trek: Deep Space Nine DVDs’), its having 2 million articles shows that it has a place in many people’s lives. Unfortunately, I fear, its ever increasing size and popularity means that it will gain authority in the public consciouness, which I think is a bad thing.
This is not to say that I am not a fan of Wikipedia, I use it daily, it is merely that I question the average users ability to investigate the authority of any web page, something that is only to be made worse by the inclusion of a recognisable brand name such as Wikipedia. Yes, errors will eventually be corrected, but that does not mean that what is being read is correct now.
I think it was David Weinberger who pointed out in his ‘Everything is Miscellaneous’, that Wikipedia is a great starting point for investigating a subject, unfortunately many people use it as the final word on a subject.
Whilst the web gives us access to more information than ever before, unfortunately our information skills were developed in an age where it was filtered by many professionals before it reached us.