Wikipedia have much to do with the origin of the CyNet project. When back at the late 70s we were talking about Info-Nebula, one of the final products that we profiled was something very much like the Wikipedia concept. And when I first heard about it I instantly turned to a Wikipedia enthousiast. Then I sit back and gave it a second thought and took the time to observe. And came to the conclusion that while the concept is great the implementation isn’t optimal.
I read my first encyclopedia when 10 yo. The entire 12 volumes of Δομή, on a single go, only taking time to sleep; that was a whole summer project, and my parents where upset whit that. Then I asked for something different and some months later I received as a birthday gift the Grolier. And tried as much as I could to read it, not understanding english yet o_O. I still have with me the two volumes dictionary that helped me go through the most interesting entries. I learned a lot about how to use encyclopedias during this period.
First of all one have to admit that without enough experience in a particular field he can’t have a critical reading of any serious text concerning it. It isn’t quite a rule to avoid believing what is printed, it’s a consequence of a raw constat: many prints are not accurate, some others not even true. And in most domains it’s common to find controversies among experts.
But somehow, a choice of sources of information must be made. Not a single one, but as many as possible. And how many is depending on the interest one have for a particular subject. I was lucky enough to have several encyclopedias at home, a pile of dictionaries, full access to two libraries and special interest about what I was thinking about as a single subject; but never enough time to read every thing available. I rapidly learned to spot out what was consensual and concentrate in differences, because that was the most interesting part, different points of view, the space where things may happen.
Wikipedia could represent that consensual part and I understood it as such, with plenty of editors gradually sculpting the entries. And that could be the case if there weren’t people joking and/or trying to prove that their point of view is the one to keep, people who aren’t interest on Wikipedia but on an easily accessible public space to use for some other purpose then building an encyclopedia. I experimented several times altering an entry and follow-up the modifications other people introduced, ’till my contribution being completely wiped out. Most of cases resulted to something different in essence! The entry wasn’t completed, but rather replaced.
From this point I started considering what was the validity of my links directing to my entries not only to Wikipedia, but to any Wiki out there. Let’s say I give the definition of what a gene is, link to it within one of my posts and come back later to see that some creationist have change it. You may find me egocentric by I hate that. As the owner of a WikiPage, I’m able to set a list of trustful editors, allowed to contribute to the Wiki. Trusted ones, that will avoid changes just for fun. But what’s the point then? If I’m the owner I know those people and I can go through what they publish anyway. And if I think that the subject is of interest for a larger audience I can just make a list of links pointing to those documents and post it on one of my blogs. If I want trusted sources that’s the best solution.
On the other hand, Wikipedia isn’t about trusted editors, but about a lot of editors, some of them anonymous and a few even untraceable. And sadly, the result isn’t always consensus, but rather the last point of view posted. Certainly, you can start consulting the history of the entry and make your own opinion; but that’s time consuming and you may want to use the same amount of time to go through different sources, clearly identified. Thus the Wikipedia may be a starting point not to learn anything but to dig for outgoing links proposed by it’s editors representing those different points of view that are so valuable to start building the consensual and spotting differences. That’s how I use it. Entries that don’t provide outgoing links I don’t even make an effort to read them! Except for fun. Something a little bit more complex then a search engine, a place where people deposited links concerning a particular subject.
A good search engine could do the same job. I don’t mean Google or Yahoo! or anything of the sort; none is good enough for it for the moment. They lack what I expected to be a major input from the Web: peoples votes for documents accuracy!
Zephora’s laughing at the idea that Google’s entries couldn’t be influenced by users triggered this post.
Wikipedia is better than most of the web because YOU CAN CHANGE IT. And if you inform them that someone is acting in a malicious way, Wikipedians will actually track it to keep it neutral. Can you even imagine Google doing that for every webpage out there? Ha ha ha ha ha. Try getting an article that is libelous removed from the Google index, like a mean-spirited blog entry. Not going to happen (unless you’re Scientology).
If a user can inform Wikipedians, why he couldn’t inform Google? No, not Google in fact, but Google users, by providing tags/score for any page he is visiting. It is not about an engine to become trustfull, engines are build to provide analysis from content. They aren’t intelligent enough to be trusted. But people are. So, why not use people the same way as Wikipedia do, but coupled with the results from a search engine. And this is far from being Scientology. Just a little bit of technology to add to what already exist.
Imagine that while you are seeking information about something particular, you visit a page perfectly accurate and you can give it a 10/10 notation; then visit a page that have nothing to do about it and you go for a 0/10. If those feedbacks are attached to the pages progressively there will be a consensual notation of the pages content concerning a particular subject, isn’t it. And this will be nice to dispose of when you are hovering over a link proposed by the Search Engine: (8.5/10)±0.6 – 42, giving the average and standard deviation of the votes and their number.
Now, Google couldn’t just change it’s way to go, but they could add this to what already exist.
First of all, the searches concerned about should be those that may have an entry in an encyclopedia. Say I’m posting something about species evolution, discussing the matter or Darwin versus IDers. Tagging it enc:darwin, enc:ID, enc:evolution, either creating my tags or choosing from a dictionary of existing ones; so the Search Engine know that this is an encyclopedia entry [enc:xxxxxx] and index it as such. Then when a user use the Search Engine to get info about ‘darwin ID evolution’ the results include links to a enc page, the very same way that Google provide links to definitions of keyword actually. And the results page offers links only to those pages that are enc tagged. And for each of them clearly visible the score provided by visitors, as this is a enc dedicated page.
What would it take for?
- A enc:tag dictionary to start with, presenting at least the actual entries of Wikipedia.
- A feedback collector to get the scoring from users, with a small module counting entries, calculating mean and standard deviation and attaching the result to the page’s entry in the database.
- Maybe a cookie to be left on each user computer, so if he change his mind and want to reconsider the score of a particular page the previous score the necessary adjustments may be done.
Each contributor is posting on his own blog dedicated to the Encyclopedia. That could be even be blogs hosted by someone as much concerned about a Webpedia as Wikipedia’s founders. Tagging the posts adequately. Building the entry from scratch or editing a previous one and trackbacking to it to create an history. Or discussing a previous post and trackbacking it for history. Then the Search Engine indexes those pages making them available widely, for people to read them and score them, then harvest and present the scores to the next users. Allowing to reconsider the scoring as the user becomes more accustomed more experienced to the subject. Let me be foolish and imagine that personal preferences, I mean scores stored in cookies, may be used to present the results of the engine in a different order the one provided by general scoring; that’s very Web 2.0 isn’t it?
And that the user can also consider that a particular source of informations isn’t reliable and he don’t want it to appear in the search result he is getting from a particular search; that shouldn’t be much difficult the set it up as the source have it’s own blog characterized by a URL. See, no Scientology up to now, and that could result to a removal of a malicious (according to the user) page. I hope that will happen, as soon as possible 😉
What we will get?
- The equivalent of a Webpedia, not necessarily hosted by one organization. Making competition easy enough, for the associations to need to be the best to get audience.
- An average scoring for each entry’s variation, evolving over time.
- The ability to concentrate to some information sources and wipeout those we consider as not trustful or interesting.
- An easily traceable history of the evolution of an entry, using the trackbacks and links.
- The possibility to discuss each version, directly with the author.
- The ability to include every Web page to an entry by tagging it through a del.icio.us like service, that mean the possibility for any user to create it’s own collection of related pages.
- The extension of the scoring attitude to every Web page.
It isn’t about boycotting Wikipedia, but change it to make it better, using new possibilities (blogging wasn’t as trivial as today when Wikipedia started). Adding value by adding links to scored sources to come along with what already exist.
Any thoughts about it Zephora ? Or anybody else out there. I would be delighted to hear from Search Engines people or Wikipedian, those that could implement that.
Technorati tags: wikipedia, apophenia, zephora, comment.