Friday, August 17, 2007

Michael Scott [The Office] and Jimmy Wales Explain Wikipedia

One of the few shows I do watch on TV (I Tivo it) is The Office. and yes - I even watch the reruns. Last night was a treat with Michael, played by Steve Carell, giving his Wikipedia impressions. Here's his clip from YouTube:

Tongue in cheek funny stuff but still - this is the impression many (especially those in the academic field) have and - yes - there is some justification.
Here Wikipedia founder
Jimmy "Jimbo" Wales discusses two different views of Wikipedia - Emergent Phenomena and a Community of Thoughtful Users:

Let's compare videos - Michael is taking the more common emergent phenomena perspective which, from Jimmy's perspective (and mine), is the lesser of the two. Here's a quote from an interview Jimmy did a couple of years ago with Mark Hurst from Good Experience. Jimmy was asked by Mark about Wikipedia's error correction after Jimmy had claimed a 5 minute turn-around time.

A lot of people, when they learn about Wikipedia, have this very attractive idea that it's an emergent phenomenon - the sort of thing where a million people add one sentence each to build the site. But really, the vast majority of changes on Wikipedia are made from a hard-core group of users. It's not a Darwinian phenomenon of millions of people, but rather a community of people. That core group is in constant communication, via IRC, and on the Web itself - they're always talking, in 40 languages, about the articles. That's how the site gets corrected so fast. People notice the change and very quickly communicate it through the community. The tight-knit group of users makes all the difference.

So it's not built and maintained by millions of people popping in, posting and popping out, never to return again. It's built and maintained by a much smaller community of thoughtful users that closely monitor and maintain content. Perhaps we could even say community members have some social "skin in the game".

How well does the Wikipedia concept work? According to the Wikipedia entry, as of August 14, 2007, approximately 7.9 million articles had been posted in 253 languages. 1.95 million of which are in the English edition.

How accepted is it? Let's consider academia - there is much criticism and controversy regarding the use of Wikipedia in the classroom - some faculty discourage use, some ban it and others allow it. Wikipedia has an excellent entry titled Criticism of Wikipedia linked here. I also (as referenced in link) would not consider Wikipedia a primary source just as I would not consider an encyclopedia to be a primary source..... however, most Wikipedia entries are richly linked to acceptable primary sources.

Wikipedia is likely one of the first places students (and faculty including myself) do go to start researching a topic - whether "banned" or not.

1 comment:

Mark Viquesney said...

I do not allow my students to use Wikipedia for their papers. There are still too many errors in many of the subjects. On the otherhand, I do tell my students that it is fine to use it to help locate primary sources. Since Wikipedia can be so fluid, I do warn my students "don't believe everything you read." If they keep that in mind, then Wikipedia can be a great jumping off point. I also realize that students will go to Wikipedia even I do "ban" it from their use.