Tuesday, January 27, 2009

To Wiki or Not to Wiki

The Wikipedia project started in 2001, and since then has completely changed the definition of encyclopedias. Wikipedia's strength is its collaborative nature and the user-generated content contributed to its knowledge base.

"This means that people of all ages and cultural and social backgrounds can write Wikipedia articles. Most of the articles can be edited by anyone with access to the Internet, simply by clicking the edit this page link."
The Wikipedia model has caught on and similar collaborative projects are shooting up across cyberspace. India recently launched 'Agropedia' : the agricultural Wikipedia.
Indian scientists have launched an 'agricultural Wikipedia' to act as an online repository of agricultural information in the country.

It aims to disseminate crop- and region-specific information to farmers and agricultural extension workers — who communicate agricultural information and research findings to farmers — and provide information for students and researchers.

Content will be continually added and validated through review and analysis by invited agricultural researchers, in a manner similar to that used by Wikipedia and using open source tools, says V. Balaji, head of knowledge management and sharing with the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), a partner in the project.

The site also houses blogs and forums where anyone can provide and exchange knowledge.

It is hoped that even where farmers have no access to the Internet, the Agropedia information can be used as a basis for radio plays, for example, says Balaji.

Agropedia's lead architect, T. V. Prabhakar of the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur, initially envisioned the website as the equivalent of Wikipedia for global agriculture three years ago, but for now it will concentrate on India-specific information.

On the other hand, Britannica has also started inviting users to be involved in the process of content-generation. But, they aren't exactly following the Wiki-model.

"We are not abdicating our responsibility as publishers or burying it under the now-fashionable 'wisdom of the crowds'," said the announcement.

Britannica will accept user edits and some new material, but it will all be vetted before showing up on the site (and later in the printed versions of the encyclopedia, which rather amazingly still exist). Editors who know their subject can make sure that the encyclopedia does not have to settle for "something bland and less informative, what is sometimes termed a 'neutral point of view.'"

Users who want to contribute their own pearls of wisdom to Britannica will need to register with real names, making the new Britannica model sound in many ways like the Citizendium project.

And yet, as Cauz's remarks about Google remind us, it is Wikipedia that routinely tops the search engine's results. When it comes to knowledge, Cauz doesn't believe that "good enough" is really good enough, but Internet users obviously don't share the same reservations.

When speed matters, the much-maligned "wisdom of crowds" certainly has something to offer. When it comes to accuracy, Britannica believes its more deliberate approach wins out.

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2 comments:

  1. It will be interesting to see how Wikipedia, Britannica and Citizendium pan out. Though there is a place for professionally edited and contributed information, the fact remains that numbers matter. Of the thousands of people contributing to medical articles on Wikipedia, how many don't know what they're talking about? My feeling is that "vetted" content will eventually lose to "free" content that is vetted by the very masses that provide it. I'll take an encyclopedia that has millions of 98% accurate articles over one that has thousands that are 100% accurate.

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  2. Why Matt, would you value breadth over depth? Philosophically, I'd agree with you in that the Wiki model is far more inclusive but I'm not sure I agree with you about accuracy versus width of coverage...

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