A View from Brad King

Wikipedia Cofounder: We Need To Improve Entries

The cofounder of the largest online encyclopedia says it’s time to focus on the quality of the site’s entries, instead of the number of entries.

  • August 7, 2006

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.

Become an MIT Technology Review Insider for in-depth analysis and unparalleled perspective.

Subscribe today

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Plus.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus ad-free web experience, select discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.