10 May, 2007
Okay, time to write something else besides just Weekend Design Challenges. Funny how you get less interested in writing stuff when you have actual, fulfilling work to do.
Anyway, I wanted to write about the brave new world of Web 2.0. This time, the world is going to change because people have harnessed the wisdom of crowds to create bold new content!
Those two lines should be worth about a million in funding in today’s investing climate! ;)
But, as wonderful as the whole Web 2.0 hype is, there are some problems with it. What happens when you rely on common people entirely for content? Well, you get content created by common people. That’s not always a good thing.
One of the darlings of Web 2.0 is Wikipedia. The premise of the site is both intriguing and shocking: allow everyone to come and edit a site that covers all sorts of topics. Want to learn the basics of some topic, such as fiat currency? Wikipedia is a generally a good place to go learn the basics of a topic.
But, the collaborative nature of Wikipedia is both its strength and its weakness. The theory is an economist can come along and edit an article on fiat currency to include links to information. Unfortunately, some conspiracy theorist can come along just as easily and post a rant about how leaving the gold standard let lizard people gain control of our vital assets in the U.S. In general, you have to take what you read with a grain of salt. So, it is usually a good idea to use Wikipedia as a starting point in your research, not as an authoritative source on information. (For a humorous take on this, see this story about Wikipedia Brown, a spoof on the old Encyclopedia Brown stories.)
Of course, the people in charge of Wikipedia have seen this problem, so they came up with some guidelines to define what Wikipedia is and how to judge contributions. As with most online communities, you can’t define strict rules and expect them to cover every situation; therefore, Wikipedia’s guidelines are not always strictly enforced because there are always exceptions. It’s been interesting to see how Wikipedia has put in more and more restrictions and guidelines as some issues have become threats to the site. Likewise, it is interesting to see how other sites have tried to replace Wikipedia but have failed.
However, these rules cause some problems. A friend and colleague of mine, Elonka Dunin contributes to Wikipedia regularly. She has told how she was the victim of internal politics when she was nominated as an administrator on Wikipedia. Unfortunately, you see competition and jockeying for position in almost any situation where you have a community of users. Online game developers know that some people are more interested in playing politics (and trying to drag the administrators into this game) rather than play the game provided. Unfortunately, Wikipedia is no different in that some people would rather engage in personal politics rather than try to contribute to the site.
As another example, take the article on DKP (Dragon Kill Points). Currently, the article is up for deletion (for the second time by the same person, you might notice). Despite the fact that the article is quite well-written and informative, it happens to potentially run afoul of a couple of Wikipedia’s guidelines in at least one person’s opinion. So, there’s a discussion about if the article should be deleted.
The primary accusation, according to the deletion discussion page, is that the page on DKP is full of “original research” because there are so few citations. Some believe this is sufficient reason for deleting the page from Wikipedia. As I mentioned in a comment on the deletion page, the problem is that references tend to be temporary because they’re hosted on guild websites. There are few references because the references tend to change (or sometimes even disappear) rapidly. If a guild page linked by the article changes to a different DKP system, does that invalidate the previous system since there is no longer a reliable page to link to? According to some of the rules sticklers on Wikipedia, it seems so. Yet, I’d argue that Wikipedia is an acceptable place for this type of information because it is likely to be more permanent than some guild webpage describing their DKP system. Most people reading this blog will understand the importance of a reasonably complete DKP discussion, but what about someone without a knowledge of MMORPGs?
Further, it’s interesting to take a look at the history of the person requesting the article’s deletion. It appears that this user is primarily interested in astronomy and information about a few U.S. states; so, what authority does this person wield to request the deletion of this type of article, besides being someone who can use Wikipedia? Further, the person seems more interested in trying to get articles deleted rather than contributing information to topics outside very narrow interests.
How does this affect me? Well, despite potentially being “original research”, this is one of the most complete descriptions of DKP available online. I wanted to share this information with some of the people I’m working with on my current project to give them an idea of some of the rules players come up with in other games. So, I was a bit shocked to see that the article was up for deletion. In my opinion, this article is one of the high points of Wikipedia. Yet, someone can come along and disrupt a useful article such as this one for whatever reason strikes their fancy.
So, count me as another person who is not endlessly optimistic about how Web 2.0 will necessarily change the world more significantly than Web 1.0 did.