Inveterate Troppodillians (that’s not invertebrate Troppodillians) will know that I’m pretty interested in how ‘open source’ things are working out on the internet. Open source software like Linux particularly that under the GPL licence has demonstrated itself as a new and powerful economic form. That’s prompted lots of hype about ‘open sourcing’ various things.
It will be interesting to see how it all pans out. It’s hard not to be enthusiastic about Wikipedia. It’s an absolutely fantastic resource. But it too has its problems. Here’s a link to its founder conceding that it has some poor articles. The article then says this is a great step forward because only by understanding one’s weaknesses can one . . . yada yada yada.
But it holds Britannica out as the standard bearer for encyclopedias. I think that’s ridiculous. An open source encyclopedia will be worse than a proprietary one in some ways, and better in others. Whenever one goes to Wikipedia one is aware that it could be wrong (so could Britannica but the quality control is obviously kept above a certain floor whereas this may or may not the case with a particular Wikipedia entry).
But then again Wikipedia has strengths that Britannica will never have. It has incredible speed of response (I was looking up great stuff on Hurricane Katrina a few days after it had hit). It has breadth. What other encyclopedia has an entry on Troppo’s very own Rafe Champion?
And as for the errors, well I think one can acquire a pretty good ‘nose’ for an article that’s on the level. It’s like people. You can get a pretty good idea of whether you can trust someone from talking to them for a while. So while it would be nice if Wikipedia had the strengths of proprietary production, I’m quite happy that it has the strengths of open production. And I’m writing up a Wikipedia entry on my Dad which might prove to be of some use to someone sometime.