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Letters Wiki-fiddlers* may be accused of many things, but having a robust sense of humor is not one of them. In the week that colleague Ashlee Vance pointed out a few failings in the archive that isn't an archive, we took a pop at the encyclopedia that isn't an encyclopedia. Our jibe that the Wikipedia is the world's most useless encyclopedia drew precisely two angry responses. But both illustrate the condition perfectly.

Writes " Fennec Foxen" -

What's with the jab at Wikipedia? "most useless"? Hmm. Let's check this detractor of Wikipedia out.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Register says: "The Register's articles frequently have an opinionated tone. Comment pieces are carried along with the news. The site gets frequent accusations of bias, which are printed in the "Flame of the Week" articles. As well as carrying its own content, licensed articles from other sites are included."

Okay, you insensitive clod (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Insensitive_clod), I'll give you a flame. Maybe it will be the flame of the week. The flame of the wiki, even.

Buckminster Fuller is "a plug for Eric "AI" Drexler", you say? Ok, let's go look at the article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buckminster_Fuller. In my Most Incredibly Scientific Scan, that page takes up four screens, with a little extra for navigation and disclaimers. I see the following text on Fuller (reproduced here courtesy of the GFDL with direct-linkbacks as a compliance option):

Fuller originated concepts explained in more accessible terms by K. Eric Drexler (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K._Eric_Drexler) e.g. anticipatory design became design ahead: "The use of known principles of science and engineering to design systems that can only be built with tools not yet available; this permits faster exploitation of the abilities of new tools." [1]

([1] is a link to http://www.foresight.org/EOC/EOC_Glossary.html). This paragraph is not even very close to the top. Yet the article is categorically a "plug"? Sure. You go on thinking that, and The Register is a plug for The Inquirer because it of the nine-word mention therein. Can I glance at your front page and call it a plug for IBM? It's certainly got more mention there than Drexler has at his article.

Well, as someone put it to me on the #wikipedia IRC channel: <geogre> TheRegister isn't always, mmm, objective and, uh, thoroughly researched.

So if you would, please, listen, pal: I don't care much what you think about Fuller and his shiny domes or his "woolly LSD-influenced" fan club. But for a site which Alexa ranks as the #621 site on the entire internet, I'd think you could show a little more respect. (Compare The Register, with a mere #2,675). There's more information than you can shake a stick at, useful and otherwise, and while it may lack a thorough academically-certified peer review, I think it's safe to say that it's a few dozen times more useful than you or your little buzzard could ever hope to be, the Bastard Operator from Hell section notwithstanding. You certainly can't begin to think you have a neutral point of view, and there's assuredly no way for anyone to correct the errors and misrepresentations your site puts out.

But please, go on, and insult Wikipedia and the wiki process and the contributors. We don't mind. I think we can handle the criticism. It's not like anyone who reads your site can believe ANY of your appraisals are unbiased. As a matter of fact, if you insult it more, maybe you can better convince people of its worth.

And reader "Yossarian4010" is even angrier.

Wikipedia "is the world's most useless online text"?

Fuck you. (If you don't like the Buckminster Fuller article, correct it.) I'd be more critical of Wikipedia if all you "mainstream" guys weren't so full of shit. What's worse: A few mistakes or lies in Wikipedia, where everybody's looking out for them, or a few mistakes or lies in http://www.theregister.co.uk/, where you "journalists" do all our thinking for us?

Grr!

There's nothing wrong with Wikipedia that isn't summed up by the fiddlers' problematic war cry of "if you don't like it, fix it!" It's really rather like being urged to liven up a boring stranger's very poorly-attended party by showing up. Of course it would make it more interesting. But why should anyone bother? There may be a good reason no one shows up in the first place.

Make no mistake, the small coterie of self-selecting wiki fiddlers have done a fine job of producing a hyperlinked encyclopedia that appeals to um, wiki fiddlers. Yards of text are devoted to things that interest, mostly, people who like to write online encyclopedias. It's very much a religious belief, the notion that good stuff will spontaneously "emerge". But what you end up with is a hypertexted junk where Eric Drexler gatecrashes the Buckminster Fuller section and where the entry for "memes" is as long as the entry for Immanuel Kant. (Needless to say, there's no entry for Mary Midgley. We could go on, but you get the general idea).

There's also the specific problem typified by the entry for El Reg which Mr Fox cites. (Quite apart from failing to understand that great institution, FoTW, which began by honoring the most libellous letter of the week). The Reg may merit many criticisms but failing to maintain "an objective viewpoint" is one we rarely hear. So many diverse and contradictory opinions are hosted here than you couldn't reasonably hold them all at once (without being the reincarnation of Gengis Khan, perhaps.) So the entry was clearly written by someone who doesn't enjoy newspapers, and in common with many techno-utopians, has a fear of contradictory opinions that resembles a misophobic's fear of leaving the oxygen tent. That's a pity.

So we wish them luck with the "emergent" project, and excuse us while we consult a real encyclopedia. There will be a few in your local library, and you can even find them online. ®

Bootnote: The reader-suggested term 'wiki-fiddler' was originally much ruder. But somehow we think the term 'wiki-wanker' gives the misleading impression that a wiki is necessary to enjoy the harmless pastime of onanism.

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