Posts tagged ‘the starfish and the spider’

Why I love Wikipedia

Wikipedia has its critics to be sure.  How can an encyclopedia written by anonymous amateurs be considered a reliable source?  Why do so many people turn there to settle factual disputes in the heat of an argument.  (I’ll admit, one of the reasons I wanted to buy an iPhone was so that I woud have unbridled access to this treasure trove of knowledge).

The argument goes someting like: Wikipedia articles can’t be trusted.  ANYONE can simply write whatever they want, or edit an existing article, maliciosly (or unwittingly) re-writing history.  That is a valid concern.  I’m not sure I want my grandmother to be the one writing an entry on WW2.  (Her memory might not be very trustworthy).  But I believe this weakness is Wikipedia’s greatest asset.  It is the quintessential peer-edited jounral.  Errors are quickly dealt with.

In their book “The Starfish and the Spider” Brafman and Beckstrom write about the power of community collaboraion: “..put people into an open system and they’ll automatically want to contrubute.” (pg 74)  Wikipedia has a large user base that thrives off the chance to write, re-format, or edit erroneous information.

Of course it is a bonus that the real-time nature of an internet resource means that mistakes do not come with a costly printing price tag.

Everything (no matter the source) shold be read with a grain of  salt.  This applies to your printed textbooks and newspapers as well.  Errors find their way into all sorts of places.  We cannot escape that.  What we get from Wikipedia though is a vibrant community of collaborators who are excited about spreading and imporving human access to a limitless body knowledge.

January 16, 2009 at 6:47 am 4 comments

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