Jimmy Wales skeptical of wisdom of the crowd

by Ruud Hein August 19th, 2007 

jimmy-wales  Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, on "wisdom of the crowds":

"In general, I'm pretty skeptical of the idea. And I'm very skeptical of it being applied to Wikipedia in particular."

The concept of a self-regulating online community where the best bubbles up and the worst gets buried, is a myth.

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As a moderator on Cre8asite Forums I would like to believe that it is possible to open a site to anyone, give them almost full editing powers — and wait for the pure quality to just burst forth. But I would be insane to up that hope, that dream, to implemented reality.

Yet that very mechanism is what powers sites such as Digg and Wikipedia.

I have a problem with one and not with the other, and here's why: no-one in even a remotely right mind will point to Digg and claim "it is so" because Digg said so. The same can't be said for Wikipedia.

Wikipedia has become the "factual" information source to link to. And despite Web 2.0-bubble speech of "wisdom of the crowds" the only reason it has become so is because it is the sole linkable source of such information.

See, other true encyclopedia with quality-control teams and editors, such as Encarta, operate in some non-existent outdated subscription era. They are link challenges because the good stuff is behind bars.

Now this is a funny situation because on one hand they have people working to raise bars to keep crap out while on the other hand they have people working to raise bars to discourage access to that quality content they have.

That's just plain weird. There's a clear and apparent lesson their regarding this type of subscription model.

bookburning But for Wikipedia's there is another lesson. One that revolves around my favorite marketing questions; who, why.

Why make an online encyclopedia. Who is to benefit from it.

With Encarta and Britannica it is clear. They do it to make sell and make money. And the people who work there do it to earn a living.

So what about Wikipedia?

The people working on Wikipedia do it out of idealism and pure personal gain, be it popularity within or outside of the community or direct commercial gain such as SEO and SEM….

In other words, the people writing Wikipedia's content write what they do because they have direct personal gain from their presentation of their facts the way they see them.

That's why, for example, the CIA, FBI edit Wikipedia. Direct gain. It's why Scientology edits entries to "remove rumor", "rearranged links", chang the content of the Tom Cruise entry or add links to their sites and fronts on pages about schizophrenia or depression.

How we can say with so much authority that they did so?

Thanks to WikiScanner, a site which traces edits on Wikipedia back to its originating computers.

According to the New York Times "Jimmy Wales, founder of the Wikimedia Foundation, which runs Wikipedia, says the site discourages such "conflict of interest" editing. "We don't make it an absolute rule," he said, "but it's definitely a guideline.""

Jimmy… that's nonsense. There are no absolute rules on Wikipedia, there is no guideline. There is only he who has the longest edit-breath, isn't it?

"Wales claims sole credit for Wikipedia. But an early partner, Larry Sanger, says that it was a joint effort and that he deserves to share in the accolades.

Wales is sensitive about the spat. He once edited his biography on Wikipedia to excise any mention of Sanger, who has since created a competing online encyclopedia.

Editing your own entry is considered bad form by the Web site's community and Wales subsequently apologized, although he said he made the changes for the sake of accuracy."

Sure. Of course. But having taken the majority of the accolades, "being" Mr. Wikipedia, now with Wikia, the Wikipedia founder looks to strike it rich.

See, the question remains: why make it, who benefits from it.

Ruud Hein

My paid passion at Search Engine People sees me applying my passions and knowledge to a wide array of problems, ones I usually experience as challenges. People who know me know I love coffee.

Ruud Hein

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