People like me (and I’m still a relative newbie, having joined the chorus only in the last ten years) have extolled the virtues of decentralized information management for some time. And the rise of the Wikipedia has made a wonderful argument that the collective knowledge of the masses far outstrips any single person’s knowledge.
At least, I thought it had. Not exactly, Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia’s founder, said at the opening of the three-day Wikimania event in Cambridge, MA. Wales said the project needed to expand its advisory board and launch an initiative that will provide better quality assurance for entries – hardly the type of statement one would use to convince people that the wisdom of the masses works just fine. Partly, he was reacting to a mini-scandal in 2005:
From this IDG News Service article:
The negative publicity reached fever pitch last year when John Seigenthaler, a U.S. journalist and former political aide, wrote an article about what he found in a Wikipedia biographical listing about himself.
The defamatory content, which had sat mostly unaltered for four months on the Wikipedia site, linked Seigenthaler to the assassinations of both U.S. President John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert F. Kennedy, the U.S. Attorney General, for whom Seigenthaler had worked as an assistant.
Of course, the move toward improving accuracy doesn’t necessarily undercut the idea it’s better to tap the wisdom of the masses than simply to rely on a single source. It does, though, begin to give us a guide for how companies might begin to look to harness the power of collective information.
And the best lesson that companies may learn will come from one of the biggest challenges facing Wales and his advisory board: how to prevent egregious errors of fact, without imposing their will on the community, and potentially creating not only headaches, but also an implosion of contributors.