Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Wikipedia vs. Encyclopedia

The growing popularity of Wikipedia has lead to a proportional growth in stories about Wikipedia, so I figure I'll contribute to the proportional growth to blog posts about news stories about Wikipedia.

A lot of people equate Wikipedia with the free/open source software movement. FOSS is close to my heart, but I'm also a sharing sort of person, so I'm happy to let anyone share in the glory that is peer collaboration and review. However, Wikipedia is different from FOSS in one critical regard. When I release code, submit a patch, or give user feedback I care about the authenticity and reliability of what I'm submitting to the community for reasons other than altruism. I do it because it impacts me. I give faulty feedback on a bug in an application I use, then that feedback is only going to slow the fixing of the bug... a bug I want eliminated. My interests align to ensure good behavior.

Such is not always the case with Wikipedia. See, I'm not required to cite my own article... especially when I know I've filled it with politically biased or just plain inaccurate statements. As such, my interests are not necessarily aligned. I may take great delight in detailing how Seattle is home to the world's largest skate park, but it won't be true... and the falseness does not impact me.

So, why is this interesting... Because Nature, a legitimate publication, setout to look at the level of inaccuracies found in 50 select science articles found in Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia Britanica. Turns out that Britanica is only slightly better. This is interesting, because with the traditional encyclopedias the incentive for authors is supposed to be financial remuneration. And yet, without any remuneration on the part of Wikipedia authors they are achieving practically the same result.

So it's time to go back to the drawing board as to why this is the case. The past 400 years of intellectual property law says this isn't supposed to be happening. This question needs to be answered.

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