Register says Wikipedia is Crap

First it was blogs. Now The Register is bashing Wikipedia and then goes on to make fun of all this "Web 2.0" stuff. Is it me, or does The Reg take perverse pleasure in finding overhyped straw men to burn?

It's quite true that Wikipedia is overhyped. It's nothing like the Encyclopedia Brittanica. On the other hand, it's a hell of a lot more convenient. However, I think The Reg gets it wrong as to why Wikipedia's quality is not so great. The reason Wikipedia is not as good as it could be is because of its incestuous nature. External links are discouraged in favor of internal links to other content within Wikipedia. The major problem with this is that the smartest experts in any given field probably have their own web sites and can't be bothered to write in Wikipedia, so why should random people be paraphrasing information that's already freely available elsewhere? Decentralized knowledge is not about letting anyone edit your one site. It's about finding and linking to the best content that's available. The best most people writing on Wikipedia do is paraphrase what they find elsewhere. If paraphrasing is so great why do we need hyperlinks in the first place?

In my opinion, sites like del.icio.us and Digg and blogs, and even dmoz.org are better examples of what the Web 2.0 will look like than Wikipedia. Of these, I think blogs in general, through the use of aggregators, are the closest to what the future will look like, because by choosing which blogs you read you're basically getting your links from those you trust rather than from any random Joe who happens to register for an account or have a web site. Of course, blogs don't come anywhere close to collecting links to all the knowledge on the web, and there needs to be a search engine that takes into account which blogs you read and which blogs they link to, etc, in ranking its results (unlike Technorati, which just counts the total number of inbound links) but we're getting there.

If Wikipedia had strived to be an editable-by-anyone collection of links to the best information and annotations of those links, it would be much more useful than it is now.

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I had typed "I respectfully

I had typed "I respectfully disagree", not "fully disagree" at the beginning of the last paragraph. Don't know how it got clipped.

I didn't know anyone still

I didn't know anyone still read the Register.

Wikipedia Wars Why the

Wikipedia Wars
Why the haters are right, but also wrong....

It never surprises me when

It never surprises me when mainstream media publications like the Register disparage blogs. And neither does it surprise me that it would sniff at Wikipedia. They've greatly enjoyed their place as information authorities, and they're defensive about it. Whenever anything is decentralized, the former residents of the center will moan about the loss of standards. The Register writer longs for "traditional" media that people could "trust." Well people didn't trust the New York Times, Encyclopedia Britannica, Time Magazine, and ABC, because they were necessarily beacons of truth. They trusted them because they were one of three or four choices available to them, and nobody was saying anything different. Yes, with a rough and tumble format like Wikipedia, you're going to get some loony entries. But you're also going to get excellent articles on each of 5 different strains of libertarianism, on Augustan literature, on the Battle of Agincourt, on J.K. Rowling, on eBay, and hundreds of interesting, but obscure topics. I know before reading a Wikipedia article that the writer might not hold a doctorate in the subject. But if some guy somewhere is passionate enough about, say, Digital Rights Management to sit for 4 hours and write a Wikipedia article about it, excuse me if I choose to read what he has to say, instead of waiting for 5-10 years for Encyclopedia Brittanica to muster up the interest to commission an article about the subject. And God-forbid the DRM article has an error! The only big-time harm that media errors can make are when people slavishly "trust" the information source, the way all of America would still be "trusting" CBS about Bush's military-service-dodging memo, if it weren't for blogs.

Sean, I respectfully disagree with your Wiki-links idea. I've tried using the internet itself as a quick basic reference source, and Wikipedia is much nicer. When people are writing with the idea of it being an encyclopedia article, they go about it much differently than when they're making a regular web site. The Wikipedia format generally drives its writers to write concisely and thoroughly cover the essentials of the topic in a way that's lacking in most info-sites on the web. If other info-sites started tailoring their content to be used better as a reference source, than a Wiki-links project might work.

I'm not even a regular

I'm not even a regular Wiki-fiddler myself, but this is silly. Run through that article again and mentally replace "Wikipedia" with "weblogs," and it looks suspiciously like many of the idiotic MSM hitpieces on blogs that fundamentally miss the point.

For starters, the restaurant analogy doesn't even make sense because, hello, Wikipedia is free. It's a volunteer service that depends on people to contribute their knowledge; it's not a business, it's a giant hobby. The unspoken assumption here seems to be that Wikipedia is supposed to be an online equivalent of Britannica. It's not. It has advantages and drawbacks compared to a "proper" encyclopedia just as blogs have advantages and drawbacks compared to legacy media, but as long as one is aware of this then there's no problem. It's also an ongoing work in progress that's still in its childhood, so expecting the entire thing to be top notch quality RIGHT NOW is unrealistic. (Though I have no idea what they mean about the writing; most articles seem perfectly readable to me.)

On the other hand, there is

On the other hand, there is probably more useful and more accurate information in Wikipedia than there is at The Register.

I think one has to look at Wikipedia as a "demonstration of concept." What I think it shows is the conceivability of creating a reference work based on the work of many people, which can be kept up to date continuously. I have bought many monographs and other references over the years, and in some rapidly evolving areas they became incomplete and in some cases inaccurate in a matter of a few years. Just like Wikipedia, multi-authored texts can be quite spotty in quality, some chapters hardly worth reading.

At times Wikipedia can be quite amazing. I was fascinated at how rapidly entries for the Gulf hurricanes would be updated. Show me the Encyclopedia Britannica entry on Hurricane Rita.

I respectfully disagree with

I respectfully disagree with your Wiki-links idea. I’ve tried using the internet itself as a quick basic reference source, and Wikipedia is much nicer.

Daniel,

How did you go about finding the information you were using as a reference source? I don't really know of a directory dedicated to finding the best source of information about any given topic, just search engines and directories that try to get as many links as possible. Most directories and search engines focus on quantity, not quality. Google was pretty good at finding quality at first, before it had monetized links, but Google is now a victim of its own success.

Regarding the cutting off of the text at the beginning of your second paragraph, the text is there in the database, but gets cut off in the HTML source when it's rendered. It's probably a bug in one of the rendering plugins we're using.

The wikipedia is a work in

The wikipedia is a work in progress. Yes, it's been X number of months or years since the start of the project, but so what? I don't know how long an encyclopedia is supposed to take. Do you? Does anyone? Especially one like this? Maybe it will take ten years, maybe twenty, to rival other encyclopedias. The claim that now is the time at which it can appropriately be judged a success or a failure is highly debatable. Since it is so debatable we should change the question to one less debatable. I think a much better question is not, how good is it today, but, is it improving (and if so, how rapidly) or is it deteriorating (and if so, how rapidly). Because, if it is getting better, then that will suggest that it is a success, but if it is getting worse, then that will suggest that it is a failure. The prime weakness of the Wikipedia is that it is open to vandalism, either intentional or unintentional (i.e. stupid, ignorant, or misinformed contributors). So a key thing to check is how much the potential for vandalism is realized, whether the vandalism swamps the real improvements, or whether the real improvements swamp the vandalism.

And the way to check all this is not to look at the articles, but to look at the changes, because the question is not about the current snapshot, but about the ongoing process of change. You can look at the recent changes to the Wikipedia by visiting this page:

Recent changes - Wikipedia

What you might do here for example is to pick some random changes to see whether they are improvements or vandalism (intentional or unintentional). This will give you a sense of the direction the Wikipedia is going.

I did this just now. Judging by the sample I checked (about 20), the vast majority of edits are slight changes of style and format, with a small number of substantial content changes (alterations or additions). There are however so many changes in total that there must consequently be a substantial number of substantial content changes. Finally, all the changes I saw were either indifferent or constructive, none destructive.

Judging by the changes I saw, whatever Wikipedia is now, it is rapidly getting better. If it sucks now, it is rapidly sucking less.