Wiki Gathering

Over at Salon, they have an interview with David Weinberger, whose new book, Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder, is making quite a stir. Towards the end of the interview (all of which is great) he has a revolutionary idea:

So should you believe what’s in Wikipedia? Jimmie Wales, its founder, would say no, not without checking. But I don’t think that’s going to be the final answer. Because we don’t have time to do more work. Today we work to believe what’s in the encyclopedia, tomorrow we have to work to believe what’s in the newspaper, what the sports score is, whether the recipe we just found online will in fact kill us. So we will evolve trust mechanisms that will give us the shortcuts we need.

We’ve already evolved tons of them, but these will occur at the metadata level. So, for example, there’s no reason that the International Astronomical Union couldn’t go through Wikipedia, find the articles about astronomy, and find the versions of those articlesthat it thinks are right. Can’t find one? Fix it up and make it right and point to that one. And it would build its own astronomical Wikipedia that is nothing but a metadata level. And if you’re a school kid and you want to know the truth about Jupiter, you go to the IAU Wikipedia, which only contains the pages that they certify. So there’s the authority again, but it’s pointing at other stuff.

We get so caught up in the arguments over whether or not Wikipedia or the Britanica is a resource worthy of our praise and use, that we forget to actually use it. Wikipedia, like any encyclopedia, is a basic level resource. It’s there to collect facts in one place so you don’t spend years trying to figure out what day Bonnie and Clyde were killed. It’s right there. Maybe some of the details are obscure but for your basic fact checking, everything you need is there. Why not, in the case of more complicated ideas, do what Weinberger suggested and make a topic-centered critical version of Wikipedia?

This is clearly the next step. Take what Wikipedia has done and expand it into a hybrid; an authoritative wiki. we don’t need just one that replaces the crusty old Britannica– we need dozens, one elaborate cooperative wiki, built and maintained by professionals in a given field to help the public and themselves keep abreast of what’s going on in that field. Wikipedia will always be there if you want a recap of the latest Doctor Who episode but when you want to know why Pluto is no longer a planet, wouldn’t it be great to have an IAU Wiki with an article by Neil deGrasse Tyson? Or perhaps an article by Stephen Hawking explaining the latest information on the Big Bang? Now, imagine that we have dozens of these authoritative wikis on every subject and field imaginable. We’d be the smartest monkeys in the universe.

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