On Monday O’Reilly Radar reported about a website which orchestrates a preparation to a class action lawsuit against Wikipedia (http://www.wikipediaclassaction.org/). The basic idea is the accusation of Wikipedia that the information posted there is inaccurate and leads to defamation of some people.
The story behind this case is a long one. The summary of events (from the Wikipedia’s point of view) can be found here. It seems – at least after reading the Wikipedia’s version – that the whole “class action suit” is just an attempt of retaliation, made by some people, whose dubious business practices were accidentally uncovered by Wikipedia members. The case itself – if it will ever reach the court – might become a precedent, particularly important as we enter the world of Web 2.0 and user-generated contents.
But there is another aspect of this case, which interests me, probably, even more – and it is a question of Wikipedia’s accuracy in general. The next post on O’Reilly Radar is also dedicated to this question, since it talks about an experiment carried out by the “Nature” journal. They run 42 science articles in Britannica and in Wikipedia by a team of experts. It turned out that Britannica has on average about 3 inaccuracies per article, and Wikipedia – about 4.
Though it may seem as an impressive achievement for a team of voluntary unpaid editors, I am still not convinced in the quality of Wikipedia. The problem which concerns me lies in the area of “common misconceptions”. Since the editing process is open to everybody, I am afraid that the real facts that contradict with some popular belief will be edited out in favor of incorrect, but widespread opinions.
Which, in turn, brings in a discussion of the changes to the process of acquiring knowledge that are brought by the Internet. Not so long ago, the answer to the question “Where do I get knowledge about X?” was “Go read a book” or “Go ask an expert”. No the answer is “Ask Google”, or “Check the Wikipedia”. The knowledge of the experts is slowly being replaced by the knowledge of the crowd. The consequences of this process for our life and our society may be quite deep, and, I am afraid, quite negative.
Technorati tag: Wikipedia