Wikipedia and Wisdom of Crowds

 Posted by (Visited 17125 times)  Misc, Reading
Jul 122006
 

There’s some debate these days about Wikipedia and the wisdom of crowds. Then again, there always seems to be debate about it. The thing that I keep noticing, though, is people using a generic definition of “wisdom of crowds” that is quite different from my reading of the empirically verifiable parts of Surowiecki’s book.

Technically, Surowiecki’s conception of “wisdom of crowds” is ONLY applicable to quantifiable, objective data. The very loosey-goosey way of using it to discuss any sort of collective discussion and opinion generation is a misrepresentation of the actual (and very interesting) phenomenon.

You can summarize the core phenomenon as “given a large enough and varied population offering up their best estimates of quantity or probability, the average of all responses will be more accurate than any given individual response.”

But this is of very narrow application — the examples are of things like guessing weight, market predictions, oddsmaking, and so on. The output of each individual must be in a form that can be averaged mathematically. What’s more, you cannot use it in cases where one person’s well-expressed opinion can sway another, as that introduces a subsequent bias into everything (which is why the wisdom of crowds doesn’t always work for identifying the best product on the market, or the best art, or the like).

Using it for subjective things, such as opinions on politics, is a mistake for sure. And using it as a shorthand to describe the continuous editing and revision that appears on Wikipedia is also a mistake.

Wikipedia does not operate by wisdom of crowds. It operates by compromise and consensus, which is a very old mechanism (whereas the wisdom of crowds phenomenon is of relatively recent vintage).

The basic example of Wisdom of Crowds is “get 100 people to guess how many beans are in a jar. Nobody will be right, but the average of their guesses will be right.” It is important that the 100 people not be experts, specialists, or all completely ignorant either — you want a diverse group on every axis you can manage.

So, my prescription: to apply the wisdom of crowds to Wikipedia, ask 10000 assorted people to give a percentage estimate of the accuracy of Wikipedia. Then average the results. What you get back will be close to the actual accuracy percentage of Wikipedia. Then you can go argue about that to your heart’s content. 🙂

  47 Responses to “Wikipedia and Wisdom of Crowds”

  1. Raph Koster discusses Wikipedia and the wisdom of crowds: Wikipedia does not operate by wisdom of crowds. It operates by compromise and consensus, which is a very old mechanism (whereas the wisdom of crowds phenomenon is of relatively recent vintage).

  2. sono condivise e corrette in un ambiente comune, fino ad arrivare ad un accordo finale raggiunto da tutti. La Wisdom of crowds si può ottenere solo nelle situazioni in cui i diversi input di informazione siano indipendenti. Ma ciò, critica Raph Koster, può avvenire solo quando si tratta di mettere assieme informazioni quantificabili: è infatti impossibile tenere isolate persone che danno giudizi (poiché sono influenzate da altre persone) e quindi far valere la Wisdom of crowds nei casi di dati

  3. one collective verdict. And the people in the crowd need to be independent, so that they pay attention mostly to their own information, and not worrying about what everyone around them thinks.” Cass Sunstein, author of the excellent Infotopia andRaph Kosterqualifies the usefulness of the Wisdom of Crowds further: “Technically, Surowiecki’s conception of “wisdom of crowds” is ONLY applicable to quantifiable, objective data. The very loosey-goosey way of using it to discuss any sort of collective

  4. s experiments etc. It sort of sounds like practical application of statistics and probability, but I wonder also is it just probabilities? While I listened, I also googled “wisdom of crowds critique” and this was myfavorite critiqueof what I skimmed…. Conclusions: interesting concept, not enough specific application to education to really hold our attention. But I realized that when I’m in groups that start heading towards group think, it

  5. Hmm.

    I would agree that the original author is confused about what the Wisdom of Crowds is all about but I do think that a lot of what wikipedia does is “applicable to quantifiable, objective data”. With an Encyclopedia or Dictionary you are really trying to capture the central concepts or ideas that people would associate with a certain word or phrase. The “correct” definition is not so much a matter of opinion as it is a correct interpretation of the spread of notions on what that particular word means. If I think that “boot” means the trunk of a car and you think it means the thing on your foot then it’s not a matter of opinion but rather a matter of usage. An American English dictionary will be correct in defining the word as footware because that is how the vast majority of Americans use the word and similarly for an British English dictionary which adds the car-storage definition.

    It is slightly more complicated for an encyclopedia but roughly the same and the same principles are at play. With a jar full of beans you will have those who greatly underestimate and those who greatly overestimate balance each other out. On Wikipedia, presumably, with a political issue, you will have the hard right and the hard left balance each other. The quantifiable data they are working with is probability spreads on how many people would consider certain pieces of information as central to the understanding of a given concept.

  6. The key differences are:

    most topics in Wikipedia are not going to be quantifiable. They may be verifiable but that’s different.
    edits in Wikipedia are serial and public, not parallel and anonymous. You get feedback effects.

    In the case of a political issue, there’s degrees of bias or slant to be introduced into the material; there’s demagoguery and rhetoric that can make one version sound more compelling; there’s (in Wikipedia’s case especially) the fact that you are working with a community of interest rather than randomly selected people.

    If 10,000 people each wrote an article on Bush, and then somehow you were able to take the “average” of that article, then yes, you might arrive at a true Wisdom of Crowds effect as regards the opinion of Bush — you’d arrive at the average opinion. You would not be using Wisdom of Crowds for accuracy of factual info, as WoC says nothing about that, and in fact expertise is preferable in that instance.

  7. most topics in Wikipedia are not going to be quantifiable.

    Read again how I defined the quantifiable data of Wikipedia. A word is as it is used. Wikipedia isn’t trying to write down the stone tablets that define irrecovably what a given word means but rather it is trying to capture an accurate notion of what ideas, facts and notions people most commonly associate with a word or phrase. The quantifiable data is data like:

    85% of the world thinks that the most important aspects of George W. Bush’s presidency was his handling of the 9/11 tragedy.

    In practice Wikipedia’s quantifiable target is acting as a filter in determining which concepts/facts most people agree are important to associate with a given word.

    I agree that the sample of contributors is not perfectly distributed and I htink that is a signficant problem for Wikipedia. But I don’t agree that the data is unquantifiable.

  8. Hmmm. Good point on the wisdom of crowds, using your example that is not what wikipedia does, but you have to admit in order for the corrective consensus to form, you need a pretty big crowd, often with many, many members making small changes, rather than total solo rewrites. Overall I like the approach, but it takes time to settle before the crowd flattens a topic, and the more obscure a topic is, the less the crowds work on it and that is where you still find some pretty off base stuff.

  9. I need to point out that I am not down on Wikipedia at all — I love it. I just wanted to point out the misuse of the term “wisdom of crowds” as regards how Wikipedia works.

    Gabe, I agree with you on the sorts of quantifiable data that can emerge — that’s what I was getting at in my reply to you… What wisdom of crowds cannot do is give you an accurate take on the content that then gets included. To use the political example — the Swift Boat thing in an entry on Kerry would probably emerge as something that needed to be mentioned via WoC methods, but wisdom of crowds will not necessarily help with the entry picking one side or another in the debate.

    Also, to respond in part to Brett — I seem to recall some stats circulated not that long ago that seemed to indicate that many if not most Wikipedia articles have actually had very few editors, and that often these were the most accurate (presumably because the few were experts).

  10. […] Comments […]

  11. So, my prescription: to apply the wisdom of crowds to Wikipedia, ask 10000 assorted people to give a percentage estimate of the accuracy of Wikipedia. Then average the results. What you get back will be close to the actual accuracy percentage of Wikipedia. Then you can go argue about that to your heart’s content.

    I think that anyone who has anything to do with Wikipedia has either already argued to their heart’s content (and probably much more); or else they’re getting there fast.

  12. As I’ve said on TN, it’s not that people are misunderstanding the term “wisdom of crowds,” which has its own Internet legs now anyway, or that they are misapplying the term to something that’s not involving a wise crowd, it’s that to justify the evils of Wikipedia, people often invoke what they imagine to be the wisdom of crowds, that anybody and everybody can correct it. They can’t. And that’s why it is a powerful, insidious force stealth-affecting consciousness everywhere, because people can invoke these lame concepts around it to legitimize it. More from Lanier here.

  13. There is also news on the promotion of Yahoo Answers as another mechanism of WoC.

    On a related issue, the concept and application of consensus estimates of earnings by Wall Street analysts has been heavily researched. Starmine has built a business around evaluating the “wisdom” of Wall Street analysts and quantified their performance.

    As for Wiki, it’s less an issue of WoC, but more an application of additive KoC (knowledge of crowds). Like Prokofy implied, crowds and collective consciousness are often wrong. People used to think that the world was flat and many still hold on to their own perceptions regardless of any facts.

    If Wiki is not a function of additive KoC, then I’ll have to conclude that it is a function of MoC (mediocrity of crowds) 🙂

    Frank

  14. Also, to respond in part to Brett — I seem to recall some stats circulated not that long ago that seemed to indicate that many if not most Wikipedia articles have actually had very few editors, and that often these were the most accurate (presumably because the few were experts).

    Huh, I read just the opposite: more editors usually means more accurate. What you may be referring to are the outliers: controversial topics wherein many people try to impose their own POV.

    … it’s that to justify the evils of Wikipedia, people often invoke what they imagine to be the wisdom of crowds, that anybody and everybody can correct it. … More from Lanier here.

    Lanier’s “digitial Maoism” critique is interesting, but as demonstrated here, he fails spectacularly to apply this at all to Wikipedia. And he seems to admit his critique doesn’t apply to any actual dangers yet but rather some vague examples of Silicon Valley rhetoric he has heard of late.

    Also, he holds MySpace up as an exemplar of social interaction that saves us from subservience to data. Ick. I think even a lot of MySpace users understand MySpace is mostly a collective heap of garbage data that users are obligated to use to mainatin social standing only because everyone else is using it.

  15. that anybody and everybody can correct it. They can’t.

    Out of “anybody and everybody” who is capable of reading the contents of Wikipedia, an overwhelming majority are also capable of making changes to it.

    I think it’s funny how Lanier’s essay only recently made it to Terra Nova; I was through with it weeks ago, and I didn’t even realize it was the same thing at first. The discussion is becoming very tired. Y’all are starting to use That Which Has Already Been Said (known herein as hyperlinks) as evidence. Which usually means there is nothing new under the virtual sun, just a chasing after the wind.

  16. Wikipedia is evil? Huh?

    Apart from the huge number of anime references (I like anime, but it doesn’t deserve to be given the same weight as actual information), and how surfing it can eat your time, I’ve apparently missed the insidious conspiracy part.

    Use it like a regular encyclopedia — looking up historic events, geologic facts, etc — it’s very handy. Not entirely complete, and as I said sometimes it fails to distinguish between fluff articles and useful info.

    But evil? Where did that come from?

  17. > I think it’s funny how Lanier’s essay only recently made it to Terra Nova; I was through with it weeks ago, and I didn’t even realize it was the same thing at first. The discussion is becoming very tired. Y’all are starting to use That Which Has Already Been Said (known herein as hyperlinks) as evidence. Which usually means there is nothing new under the virtual sun, just a chasing after the wind.

    Oh, yeah, I’m cool, too, Michael, I noticed it weeks ago, too, read it, and tried to figure the guy out AND figure out why no one was discussing this! I was just about to blog it myself when they did. No, I hadn’t heard of him because no, he’s not a household word, as much as he may be a guru in this field of tekkies on the Internet. I studied it, and I was very impressed that someone of this class of people was getting the dangers of social software in taking away freedom and individuality and imposing the worst kind of horrid mediocre conformity — all the worse for the hubris and intelligence of sorts with which some scientists will defend it fiercely.

    I figured no one talked about it because either they hadn’t seen it yet, or they hoped it would go away, because it’s NOT the ideology that most tekkies have and wish to impose. He’s a minority on this, and the haste and great lengths to which everyone else in the guru class lined up to rebut him without seeming to rebut him is proof of that.

    There’s nothing tired at all about what he said; in fact it goes to the core of everything, and is *the* Great Debate. Evidently it’s not one you want to have, because you wish to have your side prevail, and the best way to do that is to disparage the other side’s views.

    I’m puzzled by the fact that Raph, who seems from all his other postings and his biography to be “on the same page” with what Jaron is saying, seems to be busy setting people straight, too.

    Raph’s contribution in this seems to consist of elaborately and patiently telling us all that ‘wisdom of crowds’ isn’t the thing to apply as a concept to Wikipedia, although…Jarod Lanier himself did this, and rightly did this, and there is ample reason to discuss the same together precisely because of the fiction around Wikipedia that it builds in crowd-induced freedom of correction. It doesn’t.

    So many participants also seem to be busily setting everyone else straight about James S’s original caveats, which are on the Random House, and which yeah, we all read ages ago and absorbed.

    Your link, and other links interviewing Jaron on this concept of Digital Maoism, all deal with Wikipedia and the “wiki” concept in general, which I personally find suspect, and whatever its uses, a growing evil, yes.

    Yes, it’s evil, because yes, what we’re dealing with here is a lot of Digital Maoists trying to dress up their digital Maoism in cyber clothing by dismissing the definition of the threat as tinfoil hattism. And that’s why I’m so hugely happy that this guy that you simply cannot accuse of having a tinfoil hat is sounding the alarm. Thank God.

  18. Again, my point as regards “wisdom of crowds” was to simply try to keep the usage of the phrase more precise. It didn’t have anything to do with the argument over digital maoism or even the validity of Wikipedia as an information source.

    FWIW, Lanier’s essay actually did get debated quite a lot in those tekkie circles (Googling for “‘digital maoism’ lanier” pulls up over 30,000 hits).

    Personally, I think that both the “evil” and “unmitigated good” ides of the argument have been somewhat reductionist. Not all collective action is bad, and not all individual action is good — for individuals or society.

    In the case of information, collective pooling of information is the basic precept of the library, which has been a driving force for civilization. Libraries get culled of books too, just more slowly than Wikipedia gets edited. Subsequent editions of books get revised, often without the author’s consent (heck, first printings get revised without the author’s consent sometimes!).

    If Wikipedia were the sole source of information, then yes, I would be troubled. But it’s not, and given the Internet’s structure, won’t be.

    Consensus isn’t always evil. Espcieally if consensus arrives at the conclusion that “we probably need to represent multiple viewpoints on this topic.”

    The thing that enthuses the tekkies is the notion that previously, the Wikipedia equivalent was written by a tiny cabal of white men. In fact, once upon a time, it was written by a single white man. This sort of individual contribution certainly contributes a point of view, but more points of view are always better — a case where inclusion (not necessarily collectivism) can help.

    There’s no doubt in my mind that some of the perils that Lanier cites are real… but at the same time, some of his points seem to pointing at a problem that doesn’t quite seem to have manifested.

  19. >Again, my point as regards “wisdom of crowds” was to simply try to keep the usage of the phrase more precise. It didn’t have anything to do with the argument over digital maoism or even the validity of Wikipedia as an information source.

    I think you succeeded in doing that, you’ve established, just like James S. originally did and his more thoughtful proponents, what the limits of wisdom are. Thank you. Now I’d like to have more querying of the validity of Wikipedia, please, and indeed, an examination of any info wiki.

    >FWIW, Lanier’s essay actually did get debated quite a lot in those tekkie circles (Googling for “‘digital maoism’ lanier” pulls up over 30,000 hits).

    Oh, dear. That didn’t last long, your claim that you understood the limits to wikification and googlization. You just claimed that 30,000 hits on Google “means something”. That it is “proof” of the “authority” that “FWIW” Lanier’s essay “actually did get debated quite a lot”.

    1. My original claim on Terra Nova, was that thank God it was finally being debated. It wasn’t being debated *in influential, important blogs like Terra Nova where it counts because it affects thinkers who affect game gods*.

    2. I didn’t take a snapshot of google that day, but if there are 30,000 hits today,it’s because the spider went out from TN and relatd blogs and gave it lots more thrashing. So your googloid factoid that “30,000 hits” is some kind of counterargument to my claim that “it wasn’t getting discussed seriously” is just not valid — it’s not a “before” and “after” scientific snapshot. Furthemore, it’s frankly beneath you, enlightened game god that you are, Raph, to be shoveling server statistics to me of the likes of “30,000 hits can’t be wrong”. Ugh. You know that it only played in Peoria if it didn’t get on TN or 3pointd or the influential blogs. It did, finally!

    3. Personally, I think that both the “evil” and “unmitigated good” ides of the argument have been somewhat reductionist. Not all collective action is bad, and not all individual action is good — for individuals or society.

    Well, this is the Internet, dude, and we have debates among anonymous strangers with only attention spans to read items as wide as their hand or half-screen. Enough collective action is bad on the Internet in the way Lanier was talking about that he had to speak out; enough individual action that is bad is getting a cover under the blessing of social software, btw, that it’s worth discussing, too.

    >In the case of information, collective pooling of information is the basic precept of the library, which has been a driving force for civilization. Libraries get culled of books too, just more slowly than Wikipedia gets edited.

    Here is where I can only gape. Huh? The culling of a library is like deleting on Wiki? Blink. Yeah, pooling info civilizes. But libraries are run by the public, the government, or by private boards, and often they have Friends of the Library type of non-profit entities in each community. These entities hire people called “librarians” with credentials from credentialled institutions called “universities”. Those people might cull a book now and then. These decisions can be made against a set of criteria: old collection worn and not getting used; not enough space and new books coming in (I used to work in a village library so I remember these decisions) or “out of date in the field, more research done, better materials available” etc.

    On the wiki, not only is there the anonymous problem, or the non-credentialed problem (which can be a plus, given that credentials don’t always equal authority) but the arcane nature of the locked lists, etc. Of course there is the “group as its own worst enemy” problem and the “caretakers” of Wiki who are kind of a rough equivalent of the “Friends of the Library” except they don’t perform the same functions and aren’t as transparent. I don’t know the criteria for Wiki culling as a whole; there may not be any. I see that arbitrarily, stuff is culled from wikis that I’ve personally been involved in, and the grand Wikipedia, too. Deleting on Wikipedia is a rapid, constantly changing, hyper-accelerated affair. Culling in libraries happens more slowly, with deliberation, and probably with a lot more justification — you couldn’t just cull lots of brand-new books, or cull all the works, of say, Mark Twain or Noam Chomsky, for no reason. In some communities these kinds of things happen; they don’t happen without some fuss somewhere in a larger context.

    >Subsequent editions of books get revised, often without the author’s consent (heck, first printings get revised without the author’s consent sometimes!).

    This is another eyes-bug-out experience. The *lengths* to which people go to justify the Wiki are appalling, Raph. Please think about this. I’ve been involved in lots of books, and editions of books. Author’s consent is something pretty carefully handled in most houses. Of course, any author who wants his work published will have to yield to editors and publishers on some things. Sometimes corrections or changes of emphasis sought in later editions can’t be made, or won’t be made. But to characterize book-publishing in general, especially university or academic publishing n this way, as “it’s the norm” or “sometimes” or “heck, even this” just seems to carry a whole lot different flavour and weight than what happens on Wiki and wikis in general — arbitrary, fast, unjustified, unaccountable. Perhaps you have had some specific personal experience of a book getting sawed at in ways you don’t like. As a translator, I’ve been caught in the middle of this kind of situation many times. But I also know that there is process, discussion, a paper trail, justification, rationales made in the slower, more thoughtful and rational process of book editing and publishing than is ever approximated in the Wikification of facts and ideas. I also chuckle at the way the “Prokofy Neva” section of the SL entry on Wikipedia is changed and contested and even urged to be entirely deleted constantly LOL to take one tiny example. Are you happy with what they put up for your entry?

    >If Wikipedia were the sole source of information, then yes, I would be troubled. But it’s not, and given the Internet’s structure, won’t be.

    Beg to differ. Google just about any major topic. Sadly, the Wikipedia entry comes up first, put into that place by scores of clickers. That’s why I have come to worry more about this.

    You know, when we thought about Fahrenheit 451, with books being burned, and people having to walk around and memorize books to pass them down, we thought that was the only problem, saving books, and saving people who memorize books. We didn’t think that the book itself as an institution would be destroyed by something like fire, but not physical fire. The book represents the author’s individual expression, the publishing house’s editorial judgement, and the public’s access. With Wikipedia and Google, all those three things are burned away to the point of unrecognizability. There is just endless cutting, pasting, aggregating, botting, meta-grabbing, homogenizing, linking, delinking, deleting. No one has to take any accountability for it.

    >Consensus isn’t always evil. Espcieally if consensus arrives at the conclusion that “we probably need to represent multiple viewpoints on this topic.”

    This is one of those hortatory statements in blog discussions that I can never understand. You feel the need to set me straight, understood. Why would I need a lecture about consensus not being evil, however? What rational person would accept that “consensus is evil”? Consensus is necessary. If Wikipedia represented that process, it might be better accepted by its critics. But it isn’t consensus. It’s fake consensus thrown up as a shield against unaccountable arbitrary judgement, and sometimes hijacking. Sometimes, the worst thing Wikipedia does is try to “represent multiple viewpoints” because in its zeal to do an endless loop of “on the one hand” and “on the other” it dumbs down the discussion, delegitimizes the taking of a point of view, removes any moral framework and then ultimately, any sort of framework at all.

    >The thing that enthuses the tekkies is the notion that previously, the Wikipedia equivalent was written by a tiny cabal of white men. In fact, once upon a time, it was written by a single white man. This sort of individual contribution certainly contributes a point of view, but more points of view are always better — a case where inclusion (not necessarily collectivism) can help.

    I’m not sure which encyclopedia system of old you’re going to characterize as being “written by a single white man”. I don’t think anything magical is conferred on anyone by being non-white, or white. Inclusion is good, but if the point is to abandon judgement and celebrate diversity for the sake of a fake mosaic of factoids, where do we benefit? Editorial judgement isn’t evil — any more than consensus isn’t evil. Indeed, consensus is merely when somebody’s editorial judgement is able to prevail over a group.

    >There’s no doubt in my mind that some of the perils that Lanier cites are real… but at the same time, some of his points seem to pointing at a problem that doesn’t quite seem to have manifested.

    Oh, it’s manifested all right! Second Life is a thriving example, of course, but so are many social software type of communities, softwares, experiments where there is a hideous conformity imposed by a tiny sectarian and determined technological elite, that is always able to point to ostensible inclusivity, freedom, democracy in this or that clickable Internet thingie as a rationale for their power.

    This has led me to conclude that open source=closed society.

  20. Well, this is an interesting debate…
    As a data miner number crunching monkey I can appriciate the open nature of wikipedia. Its utility as a source of data and information is obviously beneficial. It is not the end all, be all of all data, neither is Google for that matter. Although I admit Google is a pretty Algorithim…
    I dont see any great conspiracy of “opinion by omission” but maybe thats because I read the science/mathmatic/statistics sections. Theorems and fundamentals are less up for debate, than say social commentary, this is not to say it doesnt exist, just that its less likely to occur.

    The fact is the world is getting more interconnected, need proof…google it (control and attribution are really code for institutionalist/organizational reliance on the premise my vested interest in the output means I should get paid Sorry, I disagree, people who produce should NOT always get paid, if what they produce is Craptastic, the market agrees with me, open source agrees with me and more importantly people in third world countries (and thier governments) agree with me. The reason? They HAVE more barriers to entry then 1st world nations.

    The real arguement is who gets to put thier fingers in the pie, and who dosent. Now people have cited the mediocre as being the result of open information and open source tools and resources. I dismiss that. Mediocrity is the result you get when code is closed source and proprietary, when tools and resources are locked down behind licensing agreements and fee structures.

    The very ability of this or any site to run would have been diminished substantially if the UNIX kernal were not developed by consensus…

    So Im sorry, I dont feel open source or open information resources are a bad thing, they provide access that might otherwise be lacking in places (where theres a digital chasm not a divide I might add) where open forms of information (even questionable sometimes erronious information) are needed. Libraries may carefully cull thier collections, good let them do so, they’ve been doing a good job keeping Librarians employed for awhile now. Freinds of the Library in Podunkville USA dont help get information out to people in Africa, something desired (required) in a global interconnected economy.

    In the mean time lets get information out to some kid in Uganda whos just now getting a 12 buad dial up connection, he doesnt give a whit if the maoist technocrat collectivie has decided it dosnt like the rantings of the Technocratic bloggers and has deleted thier entries. He does care if he can get information about Emerson, or Irrigation, or Mathmatics or a Google Earth Map….thats what Google and things like Wiki are after….

  21. For the past two years, I’ve found the Wikipedia more and more useful to the point that anytime I encounter an unfamiliar term, I can use the Wikipedia; the times it has failed me I can count on one hand. Of course the Wikipeida most often lacks the polish of traditional encyclopedias in the coverage of traditionally encyclopedic subjects, but its coverage of non-traditionally encyclopedic topics has extended its usefulness far beyond that of traditional encyclopedias (which, face it, have typically only really been useful as dry ways to get the most basic facts of a topic), and in contrast to, say, the Britannica, the Wikipedia seems to have a much better sense of what’s important/interesting about a subject. Unlike the web at large, the Wikipedia community attempts to present all notable sides of a topic in a clean, organized way (of course, these virtues are just ideals which are rarely perfectly achieved, and, in a minority of cases, not remotely achieved).

    You make a charge of tech elitism, but the idea that readers can’t be trusted to understand the wiki editing process and read critically is just as elitist, if not more so: not all people read critically, to be sure, but since when do we protect other people from their own lack of sense, and how is this problem unique to the Wikipedia, or even the internet? I use essentially the same thinking process to evaluate the value of Wikipedia content as I do with any webpage, and that skepticism isn’t something to discard when reading/viewing traditional sources. If I told you I wholly trust by-lined stories in traditional sources, you’d think there’s something severly lacking in my critical reasoning and imagination.

    The authorlessness/pseudo-anonymity of Wikipedia surely is different from traditional sources, but how exactly? In my experience, Wikipedia content does eventually have acountability even if the author does not; bad content just may take a while to get corrected. Similarly, print journalists often put some wildly wrong things in their articles, but these errors are typically non-controversial and only detectable by experts.

    The larger difference, it seems to me, is that Wikipedia policy disallows original research. Aside from that, the large majority of Wikipedians recognize and value verifiability just like creditionaled experts; the Wikipedia works as long as this faction out-edits the rest. The same amount of caution that academics and journalists take, however, is not appropriate because, in the interests of expansion, information that sounds OK is allowed to be published before verification (this is a part of the “be bold!” policy); the Wikipedia is not an authority of information upon which to build definite knowledge and new research.

    And speaking of eliteism, ironically, a portion of the Wikipedia community itself exhibits a strain of anti-elitism, but most of these anti-elitists rail against gate-keepers, not the traditional standards of verifiability.

    Petra wrote: With Wikipedia and Google, all those three things are burned away to the point of unrecognizability. There is just endless cutting, pasting, aggregating, botting, meta-grabbing, homogenizing, linking, delinking, deleting. No one has to take any accountability for it.

    You leave out any kind of detailed critque of this or any proposed alternatives. If you’re going to claim that the Wikipedia is currently and/or potentially evil (and let’s just limit it to Wikipedia for simplicity), I think that’s an unintuitive enough claim that the burden of proof rests upon you.

    Once you substantiate and clarify the critique, I’m wondering what your proposed alternatives are. All I’ve taken from Lanier’s criticisms and your posts is that ‘some tech elites are engaging in rehtorical overreach/bullying’. What’s new about that, and what bad choices is it influencing techies and non-techies to make?

    The only solid criticism I took from your post is:

    Sometimes, the worst thing Wikipedia does is try to “represent multiple viewpoints” because in its zeal to do an endless loop of “on the one hand” and “on the other” it dumbs down the discussion, delegitimizes the taking of a point of view, removes any moral framework and then ultimately, any sort of framework at all.

    The Wikipedia is not a forum of discussion except for the purpose of producing the encyclopedia. An encyclopedia is not an abitrar of truth except in the sense that it must judge what are the notable POV’s surrounding a term. For example, take the table of contents of the article on Electricity:

    * 1 Concepts in electricity
    * 2 History
    o 2.1 Ancient
    o 2.2 Modern
    * 3 Electric charge
    * 4 Electric field
    * 5 Electric potential
    * 6 Electric current
    * 7 Electrical energy
    * 8 Electric power
    * 9 SI electricity units
    * 10 See also
    o 10.1 Devices
    o 10.2 Engineering
    o 10.3 Safety
    o 10.4 Electrical phenomena in nature
    o 10.5 Electricity in entertainment
    * 11 External links
    * 12 Notes

    The POV most represented here is that of scientific consensus. The second most represented is the historical perspective. Then at the end there are ‘see also’ links to articles about more practical concerns about electricity, such as safety and perceptions in pop culture (the entertainment bit). I would find it legitimate if they added down there a short link to pages about various crackpot theories about electricity (under a more neutral heading, of course), but that’s a close call. My point is that the editors seem to have had no problem evaluating POV’s for inclusion and giving them appropriate emphasis.

  22. >In the mean time lets get information out to some kid in Uganda whos just now getting a 12 buad dial up connection, he doesnt give a whit if the maoist technocrat collectivie has decided it dosnt like the rantings of the Technocratic bloggers and has deleted thier entries. He does care if he can get information about Emerson, or Irrigation, or Mathmatics or a Google Earth Map….thats what Google and things like Wiki are after…

    This is silly. We don’t need to invoke third-worldism and fake, patronizing notions of helping live brown boys instead of dead white guys. Sure, the kid in Uganda might benefit from the good parts of Wikipedia, if we are to posit that scientific data or facts about the physical, natural world are what it does best; he might benefit from old-fashioned books or pamphlets if he has no Internet connection. Let’s pretend he does, and that the electricity chapter is useful (I’ll be there are people who could disagree if they know enough about the subject). to that, I can only say, so? Life isn’t only about electricity.

    If this kid is *also* going to imbibe history, politics, psychology, sociology, etc. from Wikipedia, then he is in for a biased, selective, arbitrary, decidedly ideological ride. Being half-educated on the Internet — and aggressively half-educated — is one of the things that makes the down side of the Internet, for both propagandists and their consumers. The Lord’s Resistance Army can use the Internet just as easily as CARE International. The kid can click anywhere he wants. There’s no guidance or judgement, just endless links and links artificially boosted to the top through the self-same Google and Wikipedia. What kind of family, school, nation, context does he have to withstand his half-education? Maybe none. Maybe his relatives died of AIDS, the rebels took over his school to camp out, and his nation is a failed state. So the Internet is going to bring up people of the world like this? And you think that’s going to be just fine? If you have never been on Internet NGO groups about all kinds of topics, you can’t imagine how hate spreads, sometimes under the guise of combatting hatred.

    Now, why can’t the Friends of Podunkville be sending books or relating to kids in Africa? Of course they could. And they do. It’s quite common for school children in the US to form links with children in other countries in schools and help them, correspond, send books; perhaps this isn’t very common for public libraries but to imply that Podunkville is doomed to helpless bourgeouis uncool unconnectedness or irrelevance is just plain silly. They can be as connected as the people in Uganda. Why does the kid in Uganda’s connectedness trump their connectedness?

    >Re: “The authorlessness/pseudo-anonymity of Wikipedia surely is different from traditional sources, but how exactly? In my experience, Wikipedia content does eventually have acountability even if the author does not; bad content just may take a while to get corrected. Similarly, print journalists often put some wildly wrong things in their articles, but these errors are typically non-controversial and only detectable by experts.”

    Here’s the difference. Wire services which are non-profit service-oriented institutions have to “sell” a number of certain stories every day to stay viable; commercial news media run as businesses have to sell their air time or issues of papers. They have to answer to a bottom line. If they put out uncorrected dreck all the time, they lose customers and advertising ultimately. They have to build a reputation for accuracy and keep setting the record straight or lose business.

    Wikipedia is not only free of authors; it’s free period. And when something is free, you get what you pay for: 0. There is nothing to make it accountable, because unfortunately, lofty aspirations alone of socialist-style utopian ideologies don’t enforce accountability; bottom lines in business operations have a way of doing that better, like it or not.

    Put a price tag on Wikipedia and see how many people will subscribe *then*.

    Well?

    You mention the various “crackpot theories”. I find on any given Wiki page in any field I know, they’ve sometimes listed these unnecessarily, in some kind of nutty striving for “objectivity” by including “everything” that comes along or they *think* might come along; worse, the nutty stuff meant for the end often weaves back into the body.

    I’m not an expert on Wikipedia. I’m not an informed corrector of Wikipedia. What I’m doing is chronicling the effect I see on thinking and group discussion. On many forums, especially, it’s all too common to go fetch the Wikipedia link, as the handiest. In offices, people rushing on deadlines, go fetch Wikipedia and spout it as if someone else can’t go look at Wikipedia and see where they got it. It’s everywhere. And that’s a very worrisome thing.

    >You make a charge of tech elitism, but the idea that readers can’t be trusted to understand the wiki editing process and read critically is just as elitist,

    This is a curious statement. I said on TN that the very point of the editorial process and the journalistic process is that the good journalist *lets the reader make his own judgement*. He supplies all the POVs and the Five Ws. The reader isn’t bludgeoned. He is persuaded after reading all evidence. He might come to a different conclusion than someone else in another context, but at least he has the facts.

    A newspaper or magazine has an editorial board so as to assume *public responsibility*. They serve *the public’s right to know*. The public? Remember the public interest? Not just random clickers. Not anonymous people. People who can write letters to the editor; people who buy papers and exercise the right to buy another paper, as well. The editorial board may be just as elitist as the hidden tekkie group, possibly more so (and that’s why the tekkie elite group was able to successfully run revolutions against them and hold them up to ridicule or to overthrow) — but then, the editorial board had names, addresses, accountability, a record. You know where they stand. They have a “line”. You don’t like that “line,” you buy another paper. But most people concede that there are “newspapers of record” that more or less bring you the story — but of course all of us have varieties of sources to make up a news/info menu each day, and that’s vital.

    The tekkie elite first proclaims it’s no elite by caricaturing the Man and the evil editorial white guys, especially dead white guys, and then turns around and shuts out the public, doesn’t care about the public interest, because it has this fictional cover — the idea that anyone can contribute, and correct — they think the public interest will just take care of itself through coding of website interfaces. If you really, really want to, you’ll make a correction. So they use that to cover a multitude of sins.

    As to proposed alternatives, the first thing to do is delegitimize Wikipedia by exposing its flawed methods and processes. It’s good on some things; it’s awful on others; but it’s process is the main problem with it. This needs exposing, exposing, and more exposing. That will help it stop rising to the top of every Google search. And more educational work has to be done to get people to think critically with the Socratic method, and triangulation of sources. For example, many, many people are speculating this or that about Jaron Lanier’ intent or what he meant, but almost no one has actually put journalistic questions to him except the Boston Globe. That’s one of the pitfalls of the Internet, lazy journalists and bloggers just keep endlessly pasting and pasting and never pick up the phone live and get some fresh and direct answers and insights.

    I think it’s only a matter of time before there will be a Wikipedia backlash. Significant groups of people will begin to create alternatives. They may be much smaller because they won’t have that aggressive viral quality that gave Wikipedia its fuel. Until then, sites like the Yahoo answers are good antidotes because they have the signed essays and the lists of sources with links with brief descriptions, not woven into that kind of porridge essay that Wikipedia concocts, but standing alone and identifiable in each case.

    With this paragraph, you’ve completely sunk Wikipedia for many serious, thinking people, especially any columnist or journalist who doesn’t wish to be a lazy paster:

    “The larger difference, it seems to me, is that Wikipedia policy disallows original research. Aside from that, the large majority of Wikipedians recognize and value verifiability just like creditionaled experts; the Wikipedia works as long as this faction out-edits the rest. The same amount of caution that academics and journalists take, however, is not appropriate because, in the interests of expansion, information that sounds OK is allowed to be published before verification (this is a part of the “be bold!” policy); the Wikipedia is not an authority of information upon which to build definite knowledge and new research.”

    Why?

    Why the speed and haste?

    What makes it sound OK and why?

    And why does it not then get checked?

    What, the speed of the global village mass communications are such that we can’t check, we can’t research, we have to to just throw up stuff uncooked all the time?

  23. So permit to play, “Is this what you (Prokofy) mean?” again: It doesn’t matter what the original intentions or meanings are. The way things are going is more important. And the way things are going is pretty bad.

    I agree with that.

    Ultimately, however, I think you need to recognize that the Internet is only speeding up what is a cultural and psychological phenomenon. People weren’t doing more before the Internet; they just produced less. What we have now is greater total production, and thus a larger amount of crap, but more of it’s good. And more importantly, more of it is linked. In short, the pyramid gets larger.

    Before the Internet, we had publishing houses. Before that, we had printing presses. And before that, the dreadful Rumor. In improving the communication of good information, we also improve that of bad communication.

    And because I’m from the UW iSchool, I want to plug the Credibility Commons. People are working on it. Slowly, because fact-checking, research, etc. are slow. We’ll get there; it will just take a couple decades.

    Remind, people, additionally that Wikipedia is a portal site, not merely an encyclopedia. Like Jimmy Wales says, this is where you start, not where you end. They really ought to make that more obvious.

  24. The Wikipedia is free and on the internet, with no ads and they don’t ask you to register. Given that, I think they do a darn good job. Yes, if you google something the Wikipedia is likely to be one of the top three sights, but unless your query has a dedicated website (such as Coke.com) the other choices are likely junk or selling something. Try “Cows” and tell me which site listed might provide some basic info about the animals. Mind you, you might have been looking for silly shockwave animation about armed cows, in that case you are doing just fine.

    So it’s all in how you use it, I treat it sort of like first-aid for information. What was the name of that guy that left the Beetles before they got famous? When did the first US release of a Final Fantasy game happen? Do waffles need that grid like patern to be waffles or would anything made with waffles batter be a waffle? These are the sorts of things that I might want to know the second I’m pondering the question. Something like “Should the US go to war with Iran?” or “Should I have open-heart surgery?” are questions that require deeper research that a free website is going to provide.

    If you have an idea for a better way to set up an encyclopedia online for free, I’m all ears. Oh, and the answers above are “Pete Best”, “July 12th, 1990” and “It would seem to need a waffle iron to be a waffle.” The last one does waffle a little. 🙂

  25. Like Jimmy Wales says, this is where you start, not where you end.

    Exactly the point I tried to make in the discusson on Terra Nova, although it was broken and wouldn’t take my comment at the time. Wikipedia is not, and shouldn’t claim to be, a definitive source for information. Wikipedia, at its core, is just a filter on large amounts of content and it does a fairly good job for a fairly large %’age of its content. It’s goal is not to define but to estimate what facts or ideas people think are relevant to a certain subject. Proponents and opponents of Wikipedia both need to understand this better and not expect something like Wikipedia to be what it is not.

    All sources are biased. It’s not clear to me how anyone could look at the modern media critically and not find bias everywhere, even with editorial checks and balances. Watch Broadcast News for some 20 year old commentary on this trend. So wikipedia can contain bias? And…? It’s not perfect but what information source is? How many scandals have newspapers like the NY Times or network news had in just the past few years regarding bungled reporting?

    Accountability is great. Criticism of ideas is powerful and important. But it doesn’t have to be fulfilled through only one model. Wikipedia IS invoking (imperfect) modes of self-correction just by inviting so many people, from so many backgrounds, to be its caretakers. It may not work all the time but it sure is a great place to start when searching for information.

  26. Even what I’ve seen of Wiki history — and this is history or the British Empire I’ve been reading recently, possibly some of the most contentious stuff in the world (or it was 40 years ago) — has been calm, rational, and factual. Perhaps even surprisingly so. It presents opinions as opinions, and analysis as analysis.

    And as for having to pay for Wikipedia — people already pay for it. They pay for their internet connection, which covers the operational expenses of copying Wiki’s information down to their own hard drive. Of course there’s another side of it, the server side. But this is cheap enough for donations to cover it, I believe.

    That’s the bottom line… it’s cheap, by its very nature. Does this mean it has no value? Not in the slightest. Do my sons have value beyond what I have to shell out for their upkeep? Would I value them any less if they cost nothing to raise?

    If you’re looking for a contentious issue, like say the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Danish political cartoons of Mohammed, or other issues the chattering classes are divided about, Wiki’s going to reflect that division by its very nature. You’ll probably see some views that upset you. What do they do then? They actually do what you propose… They control contributions.

    (Although reading up on the cartoon issue, it looks to me like they’ve actually got the article hammered out into one that’s calm, rational and factual.)

    I’m beginning to think the “Evil” people here are attributing to Wiki is an entirely theoretical, in potentia kind of evil, not borne out in practice.

  27. You know, I want to back up and ask Prokofy a question, because I feel like somehow I don’t quite understand what she’s getting at.

    You object quite strongly to the tekkie elite, handpicked cabals picked to help run worlds, “friends-of-developers” sort of groups, etc, we know that from other posts.

    But you dislike Wikipedia, Google, and other forms of collective action, also quite strongly, because you want authority, points of view, analysis, and credibility.

    I see these as being opposing worldviews. My own position is somewhere in the middle, and I see both sorts of structures having value under different circumstances — so for example, I see value in having a handpicked advisory group of players in running a virtual world, and I also see value in having voting and referenda — one is like a cabinet, and the other is like Congress perhaps.

    Similarly, I don’t at all mind there being a search system that is driven by votes, as Google is, and a system driven by authority, as About.com is.

    I don’t mind there being a portal source of information driven by votes (as Google is) versus one that is driven by a cabal, as Wikipedia is.

    And I don’t mind there being a database of info that is assembled communally, as Wikipedia is, versus there being one that is assembled privately without public participation, as Britannica is.

    So I am left confused as to the precise it is you are actually disliking in these various models, because it feels like what you like in one is what you dislike in the other.

  28. Raph, I object strongly to hand-picked dev groups and elites because they aren’t accountable, they accept no corrective from those outside their circle, they disdain input from those they view not proficient in their limited rote-learned technology, they brook no dissent. That makes them illegitimate authorities. Authority in and of itself isn’t illegitimate. But to be legitimate it has to be enlightened even if despotic. What is it to be enlightened? To accept and heed feedback, especially feedback outside the loop, to admit the facts, not to drink the Kool-Aid. Hand-picked advisory groups shore up the ruling authorities notions; cabinets are *not* hand-picked advisory groups if you consider that the presidents doing the picking are first *elected* and those cabinet members have to have some credibility — and are subject to a lot of media and other public scrutiny.

    Often in these debates in SL some Euro-socialist will disdainfully tell us that you can’t work in big groups with lots of untidy input, you need parliamentary committees and standing bodies that do the work. So they then make the leap to say that these soi-disant “parliaments” of experts at the Linden’s elbow are somehow legit. But they aren’t parliaments, and they aren’t bodies that were elected, and then appointed by the elected.

    The reason I’ve come to dislike Impedia (what I’m now going to collectively call Google, Wikipedia, delic.io.us, etc.) is that they hold up the guise and shield of collective action, but are NOT that. You yourself show us that. They are not what they claim. They aren’t collectives; they are mobs, clicking on what one cabal often google-bombed. They are what ever invisible unaccountable sect achieves when it seizes power. Perhaps if they were authentic collective or collaborative entities, one wouldn’t come to mistrust them. But by their fruits ye shall know them.

    Google isn’t driven by “votes,” Raph, and to use “votes” in this fashion does a grave disservice to real authentic one-person-one-votes that are tabulated democratically. As Stalin said, votes don’t count; what counts is who counts the votes. Votes do not count in Google. What counts is the coded, machine-like manner, run by experts, in which the votes are counted. And they are counted in this way: whoever google-bombs or pays for or jacks up their link to the top is rewarded with more “votes” or clicks.

    Now, you may believe there are all sorts of corrective, organic, chaotic, forces at play here on that “Link is King” stuff, but I am so often disappointed.Just pick any topic today, like let’s see what “anti-semitism” pulls up today: http://ddickerson.igc.org/antisemitism.html as the first hit and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-semitism. Well, it can and DOES get worse, as we all know! But neither of these 2 sites are the real authoritative sites on this very important issue of anti-semitism. Nor is anything else in the top 10 returns of the links that just happen to be there. They are not votes, they are not authoritative. I didn’t vote for them. Neither did you. Neither did, I dunno. 7 million people in New York or 10 Million people in Belarus. What kind of “vote” is this vote of which you speak, Raph? And is clicking and voting and pushing to the top in this random way really something that we really can declare as “authoritative” — which you are doing?

    Contrast this with about.com: http://atheism.about.com/b/a/021976.htm?terms=anti-semitism A signed entry, an essay called “Anti-Semitism v. Anti-Israel” — helpful, and not definitive by any stretch, but then, you have to learn that on the Internet, you need to do your homework and research, you can’t let bots and mobs deliver your term-paper-mill results for you.

    I have to keep going back to concrete examples like this to make the point.

    It would be fine if we had Britannica, Wikipedia, as a site known for what it is, a communal aggregation of often sectarian viewspoints, and then more editorially-responsible sites like about.com What we have is Google, returning Wikipedia in the first call. What we have is everybody citing Wikipedia. Wikipedia impedes research, thought, rational discourse.

    It would be fine, in other words, if all these things existed, and none took over. But Wikipedia has now taken over, helped by Google — and helped by figures like you who are sprinkling such holy water on it.

  29. See, Raph, I noticed that, too, (and someone on TN mentioned it), but I figured commenting on it would be inflammatory. =P

    But consistency aside, the point is not a bad one. See, StGabe, yes, Wales says that. I say that. You say that. But we also happen to be, at the very least, in the top 50% of Internet surfers. And I know that, as often as not, Wikipedia is where my research stops, because I’m not looking for anything in depth. This is not necessarily bad, because if not for Wikipedia and Google, I wouldn’t want to spend the extra effort to do more research.

    And it’s not like anyone is going to do it for me; they don’t know my question, so how would they answer, even if they wanted to?

    To take the point I made in #18 one step further: Say there’s a craze of “OMG! Teh sky is falling!” spreading on the Internet (which there usually is). It’s a rumor, which spreads like wildfire. Faster than it used to spread. But the speed of propagation isn’t a factor in its truth value. The sky might really BE falling, and that speed would help warn people sooner and faster.

    Off-topic, your site’s been down, Raph. Explosion?

  30. I read Prokofy as wanting more accountability in the process. Are the tekkie cabal accountable to the masses? Are the wikkies accountable?

    Or are we letting the tyranny of the masses/majority take over without any form of ASSUMED accountability back to the massess/majority.

    Her example of the editorial responsibility of an Newspaper editor indicates such.

    But, that’s just my take, so will wait for Prokofy’s response.

    Frank

  31. Yes, that’s pretty much it, Frank. BTW, I’m transgendered as my avatar, so Prokofy is “he”.

  32. But neither of these 2 sites are the real authoritative sites on this very important issue of anti-semitism.

    Sure, but the wikipedia article seems well thought out and an ideal read for someone who just a second ago said “Antisemitism? I’ve heard that word used a lot, but what does it mean?” And also for someone trying to nail down some ideas about the topic, and where it came from. Again it seems like your complain here about the article is that it was published on Wikipedia, and that it came up fast on a Google search. If it was published on Britannica.com would there be anything wrong with it? Is there a better introduction to anti-semitism on the internet? No website is ever going to be the expert on all topics, and no one is ever going to know what sites are experts for what topics until they first grasp the basics of the topic. Are you just saying “They ain’t all that and a bag of chips.”? I can agree there. But it’s what we have at the moment, and we are thankful for what we have. Oh, and sometimes we are lazy, mostly on days ending in “y”, and will buy the first car we test drive and eat at the nearest fast food place and take the first data set if it fits with our worldview. So, yes, if it’s the most popular it will be the most used, and many will not research the topic further, even with links at the bottom of the page. But some of those guys would have skipped this stage altogether if not for the promise of easy quick info from the internet.

  33. Oh my… the wisdom of crowds! The very term makes my nails curl in shudder. If crowds are anything it is dropping the average IQ far below the IQ of the most stupid member of it.

    First, the balancing of guesswork errors in matters of simple things at had, like the beans in a glass, is hardly wisdom, its not even knowledge! I hardly doubt in ANY term that matters any sane person would make a poll to have the answer, but ask a specialist OF COURSE. You may try it with letting the passengers of a jet plane fly instead of the pilot, or go to 200 strangers to speak about your neurosis instead of a psychoanalyst. 10000 illiterate fools would not make a Shakespeare sonnett in a millenia, or a Theory like Einstein’s, or a Bach sonata or create a spaceship. If crowds where wise, specialists would not earn so much money.

    Our modern society has become more and more complex to a dregree that everybodies average education is worth less and less. How much posion in your food you can survive, and what IS a poision? It nuclear power safe? Who began the terror war?

    In every matter of simple statitics in a very simple question referring to something of trivial experience you may equal out the usual guesswork errors, but thats all. I am not even beginning to bring in any questions of taste or opinion like art or politics, but if anything Wikipedia proves that there is no replacement for an encyclopdia made by experts. All else is listening to gosspip and hearsay!

  34. Proke-

    I notice you’ve picked for your example one of the most contentious issues of our time, one upon which literally rests the Fate of Nations.

    I’d like to repeat that Wiki will reflect whatever divide or controversy exists on these issues, and may end up taking — or appearing to take — a side. (Or acknowledging there are two sides to the issue, which many hard-liners oppose).

    Maybe the issue is near-and-dear to you and looms larger in your consciousness than the vast majority of subjects Wiki covers, but I’d say that this sort of thing is the exception rather than the rule.

  35. Rik, so why deliberately dumb down the entire Internet, just because some people need to catch up and do their homework? What or print encyclopedias taught you to do was read, do your homework. If you merely copied out of the encyclopedia, the teacher would instantly give you an F. The encyclopedia was understood to be merely a base, the starting point, and you’d have to then learn about a subject enough to be able to research it. All Wikipedia does is serve up the hash — and to be sure, hash with links, but often links only to their other hash, or sources of which they’ve made a hash.

    It’s not that just this one article came up quick on Wikipedia. It’s that nowadays, just about any topic or person or concept you research has Wikipedia coming up in the first 10 entries. If Britannica.com or any other sole entity like that always come up in the first 10 searches, or worse, in the first search, I’d worry, too.

    I don’t understand why people in the news and information business, if they are genuinely serving the public, would want to create people who are lazy and drive to the drive-in on days ending in “Y”. They ought to educate and inform, not spoon-feed. The idea that I’m supposed to arrange the knowledge to play to the lowest common denominator never enables those least informed to become more so, and subjects everyone then to their often aggressive and belligerent half-education.

    The “anti-semitism” entry is of course going to be very controversial; indeed Google was notorious for being the service that kept turning up the major sites of anti-semites filled with hate speech as their number-one return, prompting all kinds of groups and institutions to try to work against this. The response of Google, and of supporters of the dumbing down of the Internet was to shrug, and say it was ‘what people clicked on’ or that the Internet is neutral, and what shows up, shows up.

    Jam,(since you consistely keep calling me Proke despite corrections), let me make an assumption right back at you, “Maybe the issue is near-and-dear to you and looms larger in your consciousness than the vast majority of subjects Wiki covers” — I’ll bet I know where *you* come down on this very controversial subject, which always involves either picking one side or the other, or pretending you haven’t already done so with some platitude about peace. I could do a search on concrete berms, and I’d find problems, I’m sure. I chose one that is already in the news and being discussed. Do me a favour and pick a topic near and dear to your heart (the one I chose isn’t some “near and dear” so much as it is merely already discussed and obvious). Go on, test it out, find your beloved topic, I dare you, and let it show up on about.com, britannica.com, google, wikipedia, etc. Be honest in your report.

  36. If programmers have influence, it is not in their rhetoric, it is in their code. I take it you think non-programmers should be able to dictate the features of software, but this is a silly thing to say because many commercial programmers (and an increasing number of open source programmers) have long tried to think of a way to make this possible. This is a lofty goal because, setting aside the group of non-programmers who have no idea what is actually feasable or practical to implement, you still have the problem with users that: a) they want everything; b) different users want contradictory things (and sometimes an individual user wants contradictory things); c) they don’t want any hic-ups. Programmers are typically frustrated like users because they have to fight to get the rest of the team to implement their ideas.

    Google isn’t driven by “votes,” Raph, and to use “votes” in this fashion does a grave disservice to real authentic one-person-one-votes that are tabulated democratically. As Stalin said, votes don’t count; what counts is who counts the votes. Votes do not count in Google. What counts is the coded, machine-like manner, run by experts, in which the votes are counted. And they are counted in this way: whoever google-bombs or pays for or jacks up their link to the top is rewarded with more “votes” or clicks.

    Google did not choose a popularity algorithm based upon tech elitism and ideology but rather need. Remember the bad old days when ranking could be cheated just by keyword spamming? What’s the alternative to popularity ranking? Ranking by authoritativeness? How is that supposed to work? There is no alternative to statistical analysis for searching all the text on the web, and we can’t get all kinds of data we might want. If you want a web directory rather than a search engine, use a web directory. In fact, the Wikipedia makes a very good such directory if you use the further reading and related links sections (take for example the anti-semitism aritcle).

    Often in these debates in SL some Euro-socialist will disdainfully tell us that you can’t work in big groups with lots of untidy input, you need parliamentary committees and standing bodies that do the work. So they then make the leap to say that these soi-disant “parliaments” of experts at the Linden’s elbow are somehow legit. But they aren’t parliaments, and they aren’t bodies that were elected, and then appointed by the elected.

    I take it you have many chips on your shoulder about Linden Labs. I’m guessing the problem comes down to some combination of: a) your opinion/concerns are an uninfluential minority; b) it’s opposed or not conducive enough to Linden Labs’ interests. This is a very frustrating position to be in, undoubtably, but what is the solution?

    Contrast this with about.com: http://atheism.about.com/b/a/021976.htm?terms=anti-semitism A signed entry, an essay called “Anti-Semitism v. Anti-Israel” — helpful, and not definitive by any stretch, but then, you have to learn that on the Internet, you need to do your homework and research, you can’t let bots and mobs deliver your term-paper-mill results for you.

    If you want individual opinions, you should not be reading an encyclopedia, professionally vetted or not. Perhaps your objection is to encyclopedias in general. And if you’re thinking just in terms of students and term papers.

    As I said from the beginning, this whole argument comes down to, ‘people are becoming lazy/complacent/obsequious to false authorites under the nefarious influence of techies’. First, the laziness was there to begin with. Second, have you been on the internet? You think people are just surrendering their own judgement? Nonsense. Most people are scaling their trust of Google searches and Wikipedia content to the situation. That some people do not think critically is not a new problem.

    It would be fine, in other words, if all these things existed, and none took over. But Wikipedia has now taken over, helped by Google — and helped by figures like you who are sprinkling such holy water on it.

    You say the real problem is that people are not treating these sources appropriately, but where is the evidence for this? Outlier examples (anti-semitism), andecdotes, and the rhetoric of a few bloggers (which you are not portraying fairly, btw) is not sufficient.

  37. I take it you think non-programmers should be able to dictate the features of software, but this is a silly thing to say because many commercial programmers (and an increasing number of open source programmers) have long tried to think of a way to make this possible. This is a lofty goal because, setting aside the group of non-programmers who have no idea what is actually feasable or practical to implement, you still have the problem with users that: a) they want everything; b) different users want contradictory things (and sometimes an individual user wants contradictory things); c) they don’t want any hic-ups.

    Absolutely, programmers should dictate features of software. Absolutey! Because this is SOCIAL software, affecting EVERYBODY. They can and should get a say. A virtual world’s features are especially important to have participation about because they affect everybody A LOT and in 3-D!

    You take this in a very literal, tekkie construct, batting away know-nothings, and feebs who didn’t learn to program, as if they are just a nuisance. But the concerns they bring may simply be from other fields of human knowledge, perhaps sociology, politics, philosophy, economics, etc. Perhaps, despite your vast coding knowledge and manipulation of machines, you just don’t know anything, really, about those fields, despite your possible conviction that just knowing numbers, math, programming, and programs, that you can reduce any field to a set of integers and false/true propositions.

    In fact, it’s good for people in a social software setting to say, hey, we want this. It’s good that game gods say, oh, that’s not feasible, but honest to God, how would these lame game gods ever get ideas unless so many of us kicked against the goads, unless we asked for stuff we wanted, unless we pushed them to think harder how to create stuff? The idea that everything must spring from their heads and flow down from level to level like Plotinus’ spilling of being from the One, is just plain stupid. They have ideas, they are users. They live in it. They should have a say.

    >Google did not choose a popularity algorithm based upon tech elitism and ideology but rather need.

    I’m not an expert on Google’s alogrithms. But I have to ask the obvious here: who determined the need? How? And who the hell are they? I sure as hell don’t *need* Wikipedia to spring up like a weed every time I search a term; yet it does.

    >I take it you have many chips on your shoulder about Linden Labs. I’m guessing the problem comes down to some combination of: a) your opinion/concerns are an uninfluential minority; b) it’s opposed or not conducive enough to Linden Labs’ interests. This is a very frustrating position to be in, undoubtably, but what is the solution?

    I hardly think it qualifies as “having a chip on your shoulder” to criticize elites. It’s done all the time. What, it’s ok for you to knock Bush or Blair but it’s not ok for me to criticize Philip Linden? Huh? Actually, I think probably my opinions are closer to the majority of users than the opinions of early adapter tekkie elites ROFL.

    As for “their interests,” sure, they have their interests. Those interests include taking our tier payments and making some of us partners in projects. So, I don’t think they get to live in a paradigm where “their interests” are so isolated from “what’s good for the country”.

    >Most people are scaling their trust of Google searches and Wikipedia content to the situation. That some people do not think critically is not a new problem.

    Many people, including myself, no doubt bat away the silly Google dumbness and Wikipedia pablum that gets sent up in the first search, and either uses further links down farther, or refines the search, or looks within the Wiki article for some better leads, or switches to Yahoo. I find, frankly, more and more, I’m doing that as an antidote to the Google problem of serving up Wikipedia, and it’s odd, because I always felt before that Yahoo was by far the weaker search engine. With their about and their answers, and news clippings, however, I’m back looking at it.

    Millions of people have been helped — helped! — to be lazy and not think critically by the googlization and Wikipedification of learning, research, and writing. Worse, in their half education, they grow aggressive and condescending, as if their link to a half-baked source repeating some oft-old urban legend or hoax is the truth. Reasonable adults in technically complex jobs requiring a scientific or engineering education actually sit and discuss hoaxes like “there was no crash of the plane in the Pentagon” and even trade “real movies” of this fake non-event.

    You say the real problem is that people are not treating these sources appropriately, but where is the evidence for this? Outlier examples (anti-semitism), andecdotes, and the rhetoric of a few bloggers (which you are not portraying fairly, btw) is not sufficient.

    I think there’s plenty of evidence, which we can find first and foremost by the highly troublesome problem visible to all: Google is turning up Wikipedia more and more as the first source on many, many searches.

    Anti-semitism as a topic isn’t an “outlier,” but emblematic of how the more difficult an issue, the worse Wikipedia performs, and multiply that by all the difficult issues out there, and you have a mess.

    I don’t know which bloggers are not being quoted fairly, but ultimately, I can only invite you to sincerely make this inquiry: pick your favourite topic. Read it on Wiki, read it elsewhere, and give a faithful report.

  38. Sorry, that first paragraph in your previous post is yours, not mine. I have to say I don’t find this blog very useable in terms of being able to pick out snippets of posts and have them instantly show as somebody else’s post you want to resopnd to. It’s not intuitive, it doesn’t work like others, etc. etc. Yeah, I see the QUOTE button. Oh well, it’s my problem.

  39. It’s not that just this one article came up quick on Wikipedia. It’s that nowadays, just about any topic or person or concept you research has Wikipedia coming up in the first 10 entries. If Britannica.com or any other sole entity like that always come up in the first 10 searches, or worse, in the first search, I’d worry, too.

    It’s the nature of the internet. A few things are going to be more popular, Google, MySpace, Ebay, Amazon, a handful will wait in the wings to try and steal a chair at the table and most will lose their investment (or sell to someone who either sits at the table or loses their investment). It’s not much better in the “real world” where Wal-Mart’s power over DVDs, video games and toys is crippling.

  40. […] Recently, there has been some discussion about The Wisdom of Crowds and Wikipedia. There’s this article which is commented by a blog, which in turn is commented by another blog, and so on. People have interesting opinions on this phenomenon, but instead of jumping into the fire, I thought I’d offer a slightly amusing anecdote. […]

  41. It’s the nature of the internet. A few things are going to be more popular, Google, MySpace, Ebay, Amazon, a handful will wait in the wings to try and steal a chair at the table and most will lose their investment (or sell to someone who either sits at the table or loses their investment). It’s not much better in the “real world” where Wal-Mart’s power over DVDs, video games and toys is crippling.

    Actually, no, it’s not the nature of the Internet, which is merely a tool, it’s the nature of lazy people who don’t want to do their homework and engage in even the most basic of research tasks, in part because in schools, they aren’t even taught the Five Ws for journalism any more. I don’t see that just because big things get bigger that we have to celebrate it, and act like urbane, sophisticated Internet pundits telling everyone sagely that there are those who must “steal a chair from the table”.

    I don’t find Wal-Mart’s power over DVDs and games “crippling” in the slightest. Wal-Mart is merely the latest fashionable punching bag of the far left and the zealously ideological like the moveon.org gang. There’s nothing particularly “evil” about Wal-Mart, it’s just a store and a distribution store. Where I live, all kinds of stores from Barnes and Nobels to Hi M to Virgin Records supply DVDs and games and Wal-Mart doesn’t even have a store for 50 miles. Wal-Mart is mainly a suburban phenomenon, and frankly, I like going on treks there now and then because the clothes and kids’ shoes are cheap. If you’re going to crank up some whine about how the items are made in third-world sweatshops, please do, but then include not only Wal-Mart, but most industry of developed countries depending on developing countries who develop in this way.

    Toys R Us has far more the crippling hold on toys than Wal-Mart, I’m thinking you’re just not much of a shopper.

  42. a. I find it somewhat interesting, and curious that your socio-political rhetoric ( fighting the burgeois shop keepers and “The Man”) must get rather tiring, notwithstanding circular inconsistant logic, and actually somewhat offensive that you assume (nay Stereotype in fact) all “Tekkie Elites” and programming monkeys as somehow inferior unlearned, socially regressive or shall we say “know-nothings and feebs” who didnt learn any philosophy, psychology, sociology or any other soft “ologies”.

    I can only think this opinion must refelct a lack of exposure or perhaps my experiance is skewed and many of these tekkie feebs (and creative artisits, and poets, and musicians) I know who program are some kind of anomoly. In fact I posit that many tekkies who you seem to distain come from a broader background that you think…..

    b. That you dont understand something and therefore it is somehow bad, and must result always in lazy, lethargic and acquiescent consumers and populations, (victims of an all knowing and malicious techno-illuminati no less?) is naive. Its similar at law, your ignorance of the law and regulation does not excuse the crime just as a failure to understand an algorithim and empirically etrapolate an opinion based on supposition does not excuse your ignorance or the algorithim.

    I will help you out (see I guess that old philosophy professor was right about Kant eh?) if you can be bothered:
    Start here:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Data_mining
    then go here:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_priori
    and here:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reductive

    Now I shall explain: While the google algo, is proprietary we can make certain assumptions about its features, of course bear in mind that some consumer constraints effect this (after all businesses have to actually make revenue rather than sell vaporware or idealized versions of reality, cf. 2000 Tech Bubble: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tech_bubble or http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Power_elite) mainly that this Algorithim or piece of code, you distain and seem to have an irrational fear of and/or attribute so many things to, actually does in fact work via “popularity” coded reductive a priori inputs actually.

    As you can see, not from the surface, but perhaps from a deeper understanding of the text that things like google and wikipedia are mere tools and resources, that lazy people will stop thier reasoning process and not be bothered to learn more cannot be helped, just as forced and coerced understanding cannot motivate…..

    But really feel free to ignore this as I am just “silly” 🙂

  43. Toys R Us has far more the crippling hold on toys than Wal-Mart, I’m thinking you’re just not much of a shopper.

    Actually, awhile back Walmart took over the number one spot for toy sales, about the same time KB Toys started to have real cash flow issues, because they could no longer get the kinds of prices they used to. Right now if someone (Mattel, Whamo, Wizards of the Coast, etc.) wants to make a toy, and Wal-Mart says they aren’t interested, there’s a very good chance it doesn’t get made.

  44. […] Koster extends this key point in a subsequent blog post: Technically, Surowiecki’s conception of “wisdom of crowds” is ONLY applicable to quantifiable, objective data. The very loosey-goosey way of using it to discuss any sort of collective discussion and opinion generation is a misrepresentation of the actual (and very interesting) phenomenon. […]

  45. […] have written about The Wisdom of Crowds before many times (see here, and here, and here…). In short, given a problem with a fully objective, quantifiable answer, taking the average […]

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