Monday, December 6, 2010

Wikipedia: From Knowledge Base to Encyclopedia

A momentary respite from my absence, potentially prolonged depending on how things go.

One of the things which depresses me about Wikipedia is the extent to which it has declined from its initial explosion; it's trying to be a reputable source of knowledge, which to my mind is contradictory to both its mechanisms and its community.

What was beautiful about you, Wikipedia, at least for me, wasn't that you were 100% right, but that, 100% of the time, you had some kind of information about something.  I didn't want just another encyclopedia; there are already encyclopedias out there.

"We should be respectable and authoritative" - no, you shouldn't.  That's not why I, or countless others, came to you.  We already HAD respectable and authoritative encyclopedias; free ones, even, as of the time you got popular.

There was a brief, beautiful moment there, when the drive to create information exceeded Wikipedia's ability to remove it again; you could find information about the characters in the webcomic Freefall, you could find information on (somebody's opinion of) proper oral sex technique, you could find an editing war going on between a company and people trashing it.  Wikipedia wasn't merely an encyclopedia, it was an -internet- encyclopedia.

For all your work, you're still not authoritative; if I'm building a bridge I'm not going to get the shear strength of a magnesium-coated steel beam from you, you're no good to someone writing a paper as a source, I can't rely on you to say anything about climate change (your pages contradict each other for crying out loud).  You're not independent; your emphasis on authoritative sources and marginalization of things like blogs means anything ignored by the mainstream media gets ignored by you, as well.

You're still kind of good for getting the gist of something when detailed factual information isn't necessary, or quick refreshers for information I've already largely internalized and would recognize serious issues in.

But you aren't wild and free anymore.  You have massive lists of information you intend to delete - not because it isn't true, not because nobody wants it, but because it doesn't fit your vision of yourself.

Your time is limited.  The vision you're trying to constrain yourself to is not the vision which made you great.  What you are trying to be, others are better at being.  You're jockeying to be a third-rate encyclopedia.

Well, I have a first-rate encyclopedia.  If that's all you are going to be, I don't need you anymore.

What do I replace you with, however?  That is the question.

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