Feeds

Google and the Great Wikipedia Feedback Loop

The information triumvirate monolith

High performance access to file storage

Google's Wikidependence is worse than ever. And Jorge Cauz thinks it's time for an intervention.

"If I were to be the CEO of Google or the founders of Google, I would be very [displeased] that the best search engine in the world continues to provide as a first link, Wikipedia," the Encyclopedia Britannica president told The Sydney Morning Herald last week during a visit Down Under. "Is this the best they can do? Is this the best that [their] algorithm can do?"

In an effort to unseat the Web 2.0-happy Wikicult, Britannica has revamped its online operation to accept edits from the world at large - while maintaining tight control over content through its existing stable of professional editors.

"What we are trying to do is shifting...to a much more proactive role for the user and reader where the reader is not only going to learn from reading the article but by modifying the article and - importantly - by maybe creating his own content or her own content," Cauz said.

But no matter what Cauz and company do with their venerable encyclopedia, they won't unseat the Wikicult unless Google unseats the Wikicult. And Google shows no signs of self-correction.

More than two years ago, über-blogger Nick Carr - who sits on Brittanica's board of editorial advisors - plucked ten random topics from his brain: World War II, Israel, George Washington, Genome, Agriculture, Herman Melville, Internet, Magna Carta, Evolution, Epilepsy. He then keyed them into Google, just to see how the search giant ranked the Wikitext on each topic.

As you might expect, Wikipedia never appeared outside the top ten search results. And in some cases, it was the top result:

World War II: #1

Israel: #1

George Washington: #4

Genome: #9

Agriculture: #6

Herman Melville: #3

Internet: #5

Magna Carta: #2

Evolution: #3

Epilepsy: #6

Then, last week, he repeated the drill. And Wikipedia was the top result for all ten topics:

World War II: #1

Israel: #1

George Washington: #1

Genome: #1

Agriculture: #1

Herman Melville: #1

Internet: #1

Magna Carta: #1

Evolution: #1

Epilepsy: #1

Carr sees this Wikidomination as "evidence of a fundamental failure of the Web as an information-delivery service."

The web, Google, and Wikipedia form a kind of "information triumvirate," Carr says - a triumvirate that has transformed the net "from a radically heterogeneous information source to a radically homogeneous one."

And he questions whether that's a good thing. "It's hard to imagine that Wikipedia articles are actually the very best source of information for all of the many thousands of topics on which they now appear as the top Google search result," he writes.

"What's much more likely is that the Web, through its links, and Google, through its search algorithms, have inadvertently set into motion a very strong feedback loop that amplifies popularity and, in the end, leads us all, lemminglike, down the same well-trod path - the path of least resistance. You might call this the triumph of the wisdom of the crowd. I would suggest that it would be more accurately described as the triumph of the wisdom of the mob. The former sounds benign; the latter, less so."

A fair assessment - though we would ask whether Google's role was "inadvertent."

High performance access to file storage

Next page: Goobage

More from The Register

next story
Windows 8.1, which you probably haven't upgraded to yet, ALREADY OBSOLETE
Pre-Update versions of new Windows version will no longer support patches
Android engineer: We DIDN'T copy Apple OR follow Samsung's orders
Veep testifies for Samsung during Apple patent trial
OpenSSL Heartbleed: Bloody nose for open-source bleeding hearts
Bloke behind the cockup says not enough people are helping crucial crypto project
Microsoft lobs pre-release Windows Phone 8.1 at devs who dare
App makers can load it before anyone else, but if they do they're stuck with it
Half of Twitter's 'active users' are SILENT STALKERS
Nearly 50% have NEVER tweeted a word
Windows XP still has 27 per cent market share on its deathbed
Windows 7 making some gains on XP Death Day
Internet-of-stuff startup dumps NoSQL for ... SQL?
NoSQL taste great at first but lacks proper nutrients, says startup cloud whiz
US taxman blows Win XP deadline, must now spend millions on custom support
Gov't IT likened to 'a Model T with a lot of things on top of it'
prev story

Whitepapers

Mainstay ROI - Does application security pay?
In this whitepaper learn how you and your enterprise might benefit from better software security.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.