Friday, July 11, 2008

In praise of Wikipedia

Seth Godin is complaining about some of the seemingly arbitrary choices done by the Wikipedia Collective Intelligence .

First let us look at his complaints:

1) The biography of George Costanza is five times as long as that of Tim O'Reilly.

Well I am sure at least 5 times as many people care about Goerge than Tim. Goerge Costanza is a figure of our modern psyche (at least in North America) in the same way Agamemnon might have been for the ancient greeks.

2) IBM and Jones Soda get a mention while Seth's old summer camp does not

Thank god for that.

Going past the misguided choice of examples, I think that Seth raises an issue that is worth discussing. Should Wikipedia be more tightly regulated? or less tightly regulated?

My first knee-jerk reaction would be, don't tinker with it if it is good.

Wikipedia is a miracle, our modern wonder of the world. The fact that a loosly regulated system with no hard incetives for participants has grown to be the definitive reference of our age is amazing. I think that this is due to a very delicate balance of control and loosness that the founders espoused.

If we play with this balance we are most likely going to cause harm as we are moving into uncharted territory and our only point of reference is Wikipedia itself, as no other system comes close to its magnitude in quality and size.

It seems that war between the deletionists and the expansionists is working very well in trimming the body of Wikipedia while keeping it growing in healthy areas.

So the answer to the questions of control, could indeed be "no answer". In other words, create an environment in which different opinions are allowed to flourish and to be combined into a 'wisdom of the crowd' decision that has so far proven wiser than the old encyclopedists.

This of course is all consistent with Seth Godin's own philosophy of digital marketing: create the tools, uleash them, and trust the masses to use them.

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