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Wikipedia 'to make universities obsolete'

Look out, Old Guard - it's the Khmer Rouge in nappies

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For most web surfers, the Wikipedia is simply an occasionally useful online resource that needs to be taken with a huge sackful of salt. For others, it's a poor excuse for a real encylopedia. But for its proponents, it's nothing short of revolutionary! It's Emergent[*], you see.

A column by veteran tech writer Al Fasoldt has provoked some furious defenses of the site, in a similar spirit to the ones we received here recently. What they lack in coherence, they make up for in passion. And in the absence of decent Flame of the Week material recently, we hope this will provide the same vicarious thrills.

Taking to his scooter, one young Wiki-fiddler roars into action.

"Old World is under attack. The authority of the book, authority of the journalist, authority of the teacher, is under direct assault by Wikipedia and other online efforts," claims the poster, 'Stephen'.

"It should come as no suprise [sic] a journalist and teacher ganged up on Wikipedia. Both have much to loose [sic]. Their claim? Authority. We will see much more of this backlash by the old guard in the future," he continues, confidently.

"The education system its self [sic] will come into question eventually. Universities are formed around libraries and libraries are physical things that require physical campuses. Take away the library, provide full access to every book ever writen [sic] online, imagine the consequences."

Which is an odd thing to claim, as your reporter can access the expensive databases at his wonderful local library for nothing, even when he's sitting 5,500 miles away.

A future where publishers throw everything they have online for free is then described, although the question of why these professional researchers should throw away their livelihoods away in such a fashion isn't explored. But let's not allow facts to spoil this titanic struggle for the future of learning.

"It's a war between the Old World of the past and the New World and those who 'get it' know whats happening on all fronts," writes Stephen.

Quite so.

We'll be asking the Chancellors of Oxford and Cambridge why they don't "Get It!" and exactly when they plan to close down their institutions very shortly, we promise. With such a mortal challenge to their legitimacy, they must be planning for that day already.

Meanwhile the excitable young Wiki-fiddlers, understandably, rather like the idea that they're writing the reference books of tomorrow, and so fill it with their favorite subjects, like minor Star Trek characters, Ayn Rand and junk science. (The entry on "memes" is almost as long as the entry for Immanuel Kant).

"It's the Khmer Rouge in diapers," observes one regular Register reader, which seems as good a description as any to us.

All of this obscures the potential of the Wiki as a mechanism for community groups and public organizations to publish information they already want you to have, a theme which we'll be exploring further this week. Alas, that's not very sexy, certainly isn't Emergent[*] and doesn't usher in a New World Order; it's just something that could prove to be a humble and possibly very useful bit of middleware. But that's if they can ever get round to agreeing on a mobile API. ®

[*] [adj] A word favored by computer nerds; mandatory for DARPA research applications; on recent evidence, a synonym for 'doomed'.

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