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Wikipedia: magic, monkeys and typewriters

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Excellent article! Well balanced and thoughtful! Ok, well, entertaining anyway.

Jimmy Wales


Collective intelligence? Er, Don't you mean collective stupidity?
None of us is as dumb as all of us or "Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups" - Despair.com
Henry Schlarb

Your Baby Washington example highlights the problem I've always wondered about with the "you can fix it yourself" attitude - if you don't know about a subject then you won't know that it's incorrect. And if you already know enough about a subject to be able to recognise and correct an incorrect wiki entry, then you probably won't need to be looking it up in the first place.
Which means that since anyone needing accurate information cannot rely on it, the only real use for wiki as it is now is for "experts" to show off their knowledge and/or pour derision on others for their lack thereof. Although the people who are actually expert in anything useful will of course not be participating as they'll be too busy getting paid for their expertise to write entries for real encyclopedias - the success of wiki relies on people willingly putting themselves out of a job out of the kindness of their own hearts!
That said, if I ever need to know anything about Klingon, wiki will be the first place I look... right after I hurl myself in front of a moving train.

Matt Javes


The late Robert A Heinlein opined that the intelligence of a mob should be calculated by taking its average and then dividing by the number comprising it. As far as he was concerned, any sizable group had less intelligence than a flatworm....
JB Kelley

I once heard that the way to calculate the collective intelligence of a group was to take the intelligence of the least intelligent member of the group and divide by the number of members in the group... That could explain alot about the quality issues with wikipedia :-)
Stacey Millions

I tend to regard Wikipedia as the ultimate monkeys generating Shakespeare experiment, so I'm largely in agreement with you. As for Britannica, though, one thinks of Christopher Tietjens in Ford Maddox Ford's Some Do Not - with a hobby of logging all the errors in it.

George Jansen


Glad to see the rubbish that is Wikipedia is finally being highlighted. With an encyclopedia you are talking about *absolute* quality. If your encyclopedia is meant to be a serious reference work then nothing should come higher than quality and the accuracy of entries. Wikipedia is fatally flawed because of its "come hither" approach - there is no system of peer review, no system to rate and appraise the quality of entries and no system to determine the fitness someone has for editing or creating entries.

As Carr said "...an encyclopedia is best judged by its weakest entries rather than its best."

The fact that Wikipedia lets people write rubbish and then legitimises the propagation of said rubbish makes us all poorer. Wikipedia is letting itself stand for insularity, trivia and subjectivity. It seems pretty unlikely to me any serious an encyclopedia needs entries on something as pitiful as "Klingon" - another cultural cul-de-sac which also, quite frankly, demonstrates the hold suburban America has on these reference works.

Unfortunately by its nature, Wikipedia under-estimates the effort actually involved in creating an authoratative encyclopedia - a true encyclopedia is an enormous undertaking by any measurement. Single entries may take months to write before they are even sent for review by people with legitimate expertise, either through their experience or qualifications.

Just having a keyboard and Internet connection shouldn't grant that kind authority. Perhaps Wikipedia should look to the world of peer-reviewed journals to get an appreciation of how knowledge needs to be filtered and distilled and even argued over before what your writing is fit for consumption.

Kevin Hall

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