Social Media

Wikipedia Walking

Seth Finklestein provided great coverage on the recent controversy over Wikipedia editor/community manager “Essjay” (onetwothreefourfive, and six).

The gentleman in question misrepresented himself as a tenured professor, both in an interview and in Wikipedia. Rather than show him the door, Jimmy Wales defended him–boys will be boys or some rot. It was only when Wales found out that Essjay lied to people ‘within’ the Wikipedia community that he was subsequently banished.

Essjay’s apology, if such can be said about it, was that he fabricated the information about himself to protect himself in this dangerous world. You don’t know how much my fingers itched to go out and do a little ‘self-protecting’ with my own page. Letsee…triple PhD holder, Pulitzer Prize winner, former Ms. Universe.

I refrained though. Instead, I invite you all to do the same–the three most colorful entries get a copy of either Practical RDF or Learning JavaScript, or the upcoming Adding Ajax.

Essjay’s ‘apology’ was an unbelievably silly excuse, but the irony doesn’t enter the picture until you view Essjay’s farewell page. Checking the history, most of the critical comments have been edited out.

I’ve recently stopped using Wikipedia, or stopped using it as an original source. I’ve found two things:

First, Google’s results have degraded in the last year or so. When one ignores Wikipedia in the results, on many subjects most of the results are placement by search engine optimization–typically garbage–or some form of comment or usenet group or some such that’s not especially helpful. Good results are now more likely found in the second or third pages.

Second, I find that I’m having to go to more than one page to find information, but when I do, I uncover all sorts of new and interesting goodies. That’s one of the most dangerous aspects of Wikipedia (aside from the whole ‘truth’ thing), or any single-source of information: we lose the ability to discover things on the net through sheer serendipity.

I still respect many of the authors in Wikipedia, and think it’s a good source. However, this event only strengthens my belief that Wikipedia should be pulled to the side for search engine results, like the Ask definition for words that match in Google, and people go back to searching the web by actually searching the web.

PS, also read the comments associated with Seth’s posts.

Interesting how hard items like ethics, honor, and truth metamorphose in the the soft environment encompassed by so-called social software.

Jason Scott has more on this issue.

Nick Carr’s thoughtful take.

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