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parallaxicality
2009-Nov-26, 11:36 PM
The latest doom prophecy for Wikipedia:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125893981183759969.html

Now I am no wikivangelist. I may spend most of my free time in that intellectuals' foxhole but only because it's slightly better than World of Warcraft. A 49,000 decline is steep, no question, especially when compared with this time last year, when it was just 4000. But Wikipedia could probably run itself with about 2000 dedicated volunteers. And it certainly doesn't seem to be losing its popularity (given that it is pretty much the only free information resource online, that is unlikely to change). Wikipedia runs itself through financial contributions, and there don't appear to be any fewer of those.

I understand why people are leaving. Editing Wikipedia is not fun these days. The wild west has been tamed; Wikipedia has articles on pretty much everything now, which means new articles, unless they are about new things, like the UK floods, have essentially ceased to be created. Back when I was a wikilad, you could write unsourced opinion pieces and call them articles. Nowadays, a statement is not likely to survive for five minutes unless it is double-sourced, backed up, grammatically correct and adhering to a neutral point of view, which usually means the point of view of the guy who has the article on his watchlist. One screaming, self-righteous egotist who refuses to leave until everyone else tells him he's right can ruin the show for everybody. Pages do tend to be controlled by whoever has the most stamina and determination, rather than by whoever is right. And to top it off, Wikipedia's self-appointed enforcement agency is woefully inadequate at dealing with these issues.

But I don't really understand how this could be made better without radically overhauling the open source principle. A self-generated hierarchy like Wikipedia's eventually develops into a hissing, spitting chimp troop, as established rulers take out their anger on the newcomers. I'm not well versed in the supposed "cabals" who secretly ensure that articles reflect the point of view of the Israel lobby, or Iranian intelligence, as I very deliberately don't edit controversial articles, but I have a feeling they are mostly exaggerated. The daily reality is hellish enough. I'm not sure what this means; since nothing like Wikipedia has existed before, there is nothing to base a prediction. But the future of Wikipedia will definitely be different from the past.

grant hutchison
2009-Nov-26, 11:55 PM
... given that it is pretty much the only free information resource online ... Ummm. What?
That's perhaps going to require a little clarification, for those of us with bookmark files that point to hundreds of free, high-quality, reputable information sources on-line.

Grant Hutchison

parallaxicality
2009-Nov-27, 12:10 AM
I'd be interested to see what you mean. Because in my experience nothing of Wikipedia's detail is available without a subscription.

grant hutchison
2009-Nov-27, 12:31 AM
I'd be interested to see what you mean. Because in my experience nothing of Wikipedia's detail is available without a subscription.Well, see my posts passim: I provide a steady trickle of references on various specialist topics, and I never use Wikipedia. You surely must be aware that the internet is positively awash with freely accessible review papers, teaching notes, entire lecture courses and special interest pages.

Grant Hutchison

SolusLupus
2009-Nov-27, 12:43 AM
Yes, but all of them are focused (extremely so compared to Wikipedia). Acquiring said links takes a huge amount of effort, whereas Wikipedia has a great deal of information available at one location. That seems to be what parallaxicality is saying.

parallaxicality
2009-Nov-27, 12:46 AM
plus it obviously helps if you know where to look, whereas if you rely on Google you're not likely to come across those sources.

grant hutchison
2009-Nov-27, 01:05 AM
Acquiring said links takes a huge amount of effort ...Not really. Some search skills, and a little critical appraisal. In my case, using a little time and some pretty generic skills in order to access pages specifically written by accredited experts gives me huge pay-back in terms of having confidence in the material, and in reading a more coherent and structured presentation than wikis sometimes generate.


... whereas Wikipedia has a great deal of information available at one location. That seems to be what parallaxicality is saying.That would make sense, if that's what parallaxicality means. But it certainly doesn't make Wikipedia "pretty much the only free information resource online", which is the phrase that baffles me.

Grant Hutchison

grant hutchison
2009-Nov-27, 01:12 AM
... whereas if you rely on Google you're not likely to come across those sources.But you do. I'd say most of my on-line sources were originally found by individual web searches.
Use appropriate search terms; look for academic URLs; scroll past the Wikipedia page and all the annoying pages that just copy Wikipedia. The required search strategies can be easily taught to school-children, and I know of schools that specifically forbid Wikipedia references in homework, just so that children are forced to exercise such basic internet skills.

Grant Hutchison

parallaxicality
2009-Nov-27, 02:13 AM
Let me give you an example. I want to know the visibility of Halley's comet in 1986 vs its previous apparitions. Wikipedia says that it was the least visible apparition ever recorded. This seems like a bold claim, so I want to research it.

So I type in "Halley's comet" (exact phrase) 1986 visibility

After Wikipedia's page, I get a short piece on the Orionids from NASA, a few lines of text from nineplanets.org, a webpage of uncertain provenance that deals with one person's cometography, a brief timeline of the 1986 approach, a scattershot collection of fragmented sentences from the Cambridge Institute of Astronomy, a tinny and uninformative (as usual) comet piece from NASA's Solar System exploration site, and so on.

this

http://www.mhest.com/spotlight/pluto/pdf/Sample_Halley'sComet.pdf

is the only decent source I find (it doesn't answer the question, but it at least answers a few more I hadn't asked). After that, the queries start running into squidoo and Conservapedia.

So, a Google search produces one decent site. There are better articles listed of course, but to get at them you need a subscription. So yes, there probably are alternatives to Wikipedia out there, but I wouldn't exactly say the web is awash with them.

SolusLupus
2009-Nov-27, 06:04 AM
This comic strip reminds me of this thread:

http://www.unshelved.com/archive.aspx?strip=20070625

That is all.

imickeyyy
2009-Nov-27, 06:21 AM
I must say that I agree with Grant Hutchison on the availability of information from a Google search granted one used the proper search queries. I don't think I have ever found research information (aside from leisurely reading articles) on Wikipedia as it was just as quick finding more specific information with a quick Google search.

That being said, much of the reason I do so is that Wikipedia is still not (at least to my knowledge) accepted as a credible source of information due to the open-source structure.
Do you think that Wikipedia will ever be accepted as a viable source of credible information (or is it already?)?

WaxRubiks
2009-Nov-27, 07:40 AM
perhaps they need some sort of certificate system, where by a page is protected, is then evaluated by experts(however that would be determined), and then given a certificate, whereby that page, and anything from it, could be considered fit for reference by more people, or institutions.
The pages could still be edited, but with more discussion and consensus.

I noticed that the "Earth" page was protected, and some others are already too, to prevent vandalism etc.


The more pages that are referenced by respected organisations, the more credibility that would give Wikipedia.

Lianachan
2009-Nov-27, 08:50 AM
I must say that I agree with Grant Hutchison on the availability of information from a Google search granted one used the proper search queries. I don't think I have ever found research information (aside from leisurely reading articles) on Wikipedia as it was just as quick finding more specific information with a quick Google search.

That goes for me, too. Overall, though, most of my research information is from archaeological papers and books. Sometimes these are online, especially the papers, but they generally tend to be paper. There are, though, also several excellent (and respected/reliable) free sources of information in this field online.

grant hutchison
2009-Nov-27, 12:43 PM
Let me give you an example. I want to know the visibility of Halley's comet in 1986 vs its previous apparitions. Wikipedia says that it was the least visible apparition ever recorded. This seems like a bold claim, so I want to research it.

So I type in "Halley's comet" (exact phrase) 1986 visibilityWell, I don't want to get into a competition about search strategies, but just let me point out that you're being overspecific there, which may account for your difficulty. You want to compare across apparitions, so forget the "1986". You want to capture various ways of designating Halley, so go for "Halley" and "comet" as two separate terms: that'll capture all instances of "Halley's comet", and more besides.
So I enter:

Halley comet visibility

The second hit is to something called cometography.com, which has the appearance of a special interest site (since someone has gone to the trouble of giving it an evocative name), so I follow that and find that it's indeed a special interest site offering a basic page (http://cometography.com/pcomets/001p.html) on Halley. This confirms the relatively poor appearance in 1986 and describes some others for comparison. After a bit of browsing of this site, I bookmark the home page (http://cometography.com/index.html) as a good comet resource for the future: it's run by an author with a record of publication (http://cometography.com/cometography.html) on this topic, with a prestigious academic publisher.

The second page of hits gives me a link to The visibility of Halley's Comet (http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/1979JRASC..73...24B) (1979), with free full text from an academic journal, going into great detail about comet visibility and Halley's history, and an abstract which tells me:
The comet and the earth will be on opposite sides of the sun in February, 1986, making the circumstances of the next appearance the worst in over two thousand years.Job done, and I've acquired another bookmark to another free on-line resource.

It's taken me (much) longer to type this reply than it did to rustle up the references.

As I say, I've no desire to get into a long series of "Google-fu v. Wikipedia" exchanges (and I note that both the above-cited sources turn up with your search strategy, too). Such a contest won't prove very much except that we're each comfortable with our own approach to knowledge mining. All I can report is that I've never remotely reached a point at which I've thought, "Oh, this is going nowhere, let's see what Wikipedia says." :)

Grant Hutchison

parallaxicality
2009-Nov-27, 01:43 PM
I don't want to get into a debate either. I'm a researcher in training so if I have a flaw in my search strategy I want to know about it. I'm perfectly happy to be wrong. :)

grant hutchison
2009-Nov-27, 01:55 PM
I don't want to get into a debate either. I'm a researcher in training so if I have a flaw in my search strategy I want to know about it. I'm perfectly happy to be wrong. :)Your search strategy seems to have worked fine, since when I use it I turn up the two sites I've already referenced. :)
So I wonder why they didn't stand out for you.
I'm guessing cometography.com is the one you said had "uncertain provenance": it takes a couple of clicks to get to the author's impressive bibliography. I feel more comfortable with that background than I do with a Wikipedia article, to be frank. :)
Did the journal link put you off because you anticipated it would be subscription-only? But even the abstract gives you an answer to your question, published in a peer-reviewed journal, and the free full text simply puts icing on the cake.

Grant Hutchison

Hlafordlaes
2009-Nov-27, 02:03 PM
I am in favor of "and" in lieu of the "or" in Google-fu vs Wiki debate. As a start on a topic, I find Wiki to be just fine, only just not definitive.

Eg, I recently was looking on Wiki at the ingredients for Fufu, a West African dish I will be eating often in Ghana when I get there, to see if it contained any foods from the Solanaceae family. (That was because I have recently discovered I am allergic to potato, tomato, eggplant and bell pepper (all give me IBS)). Answer: as prepared in Africa, no, but as prepared by immigrants in the US, it might (made from potato flakes instead of yams, etc.) The stew, as opposed to the Fufu itself, does often contain tomato, but in amounts I think I can ingest.

Now, to research potato allergy further, I went on to specialist sites to see what was really going on.

I suppose that for serious scientific research, Wiki is not an option, but heck, for the odd "Topic 101" intro, I find it great. As for politically-oriented topics, I think bias is woven into the fabric of the subject no matter where/what I read.

parallaxicality
2009-Nov-27, 02:17 PM
I learnt a new word today; google-fu. Thank you Urban Dictionary.

mugaliens
2009-Nov-28, 03:39 AM
It's not so much doom as it is the simple process of maturation. Wikipedia is coming of age. It doesn't need nearly as many people to maintain it as it took to build it.

grant hutchison
2009-Nov-28, 03:56 PM
If I were a Wikipedia user, I'd be fretting just a little about the process driving the departure of editors. Presumably there's an evolutionary aspect to it: those who are still finding fulfillment (or at least distraction) by working on Wikipedia will tend to stay; those who now find it unfulfilling will go.
A look at the Discussion pages certainly shows Wikipedia as "Nature red in tooth and claw": quite a harshly selective environment, to my eye.
So is this selection process picking out editors who have an aptitude for writing accurate encyclopaedia articles? Or are the "fittest" who remain actually being selected for some other personality traits that are unrelated to encyclopaedia writing? One would hope for the former; I suspect the latter. But perhaps that's just me.

Grant Hutchison

parallaxicality
2009-Nov-28, 05:29 PM
I'd say the truth, as always, is somewhere between your two positions. How far it swings one way or another I'm not sure, but yes, the web is replete with the sob stories of ex-Wikipedians driven away by authoritarian, overzealous or just plain mean users. Wikipedia doesn't deal with these people very well, and it's largely the media's fault I think. Every time Wikipedia screws up, it ends up laughed out of court on the evening satire shows. This leads to a culture of paranoia among Wikipedia's self-appointed governing elite, determined to ensure that the encyclopedia is treated as a respectable resource. This in turn leads to at times petty and arbitrary rule-enforcement by hidebound administrators, who often don't care if they are ribbing a recalcitrant established user or a panicked neophyte (and are often wrong to boot). Eventually, a backlash to this behaviour develops, leading to a cult of the outlaw revolutionary, who comes onto Wikipedia determined to break the corrupt, sclerotic rule of the powers that be. As a result, bullying, arrogant and pig-ignorant users are often dealt a soft hand by forgiving lower admins, determined not to appear too strict. But, eventually, even these editors can be broken. I've recently celebrated a series of victories (if they can be called such) against a number of longstanding editors who have attempted to lord over several of the articles on my watchlist. It took several months in the case of one and two years in the case of the other,* but they have been corralled. So the system can work, if you're willing to stick it out.

*I must take this moment to apologise to to the charming citizens of Santa Fe, New Mexico, who as a result of the misadventures of a single rogue editor now have virtually no anonymous access to Wikipedia's edit space from any of their public computers

grant hutchison
2009-Nov-28, 05:34 PM
I'd say the truth, as always, is somewhere between your two positions. ...Well, the remainder of your post seems like an exhaustive confirmation of the latter of my two positions. :)
You've described a harshly competitive selection process that is completely divorced from anyone's aptitude for writing clear and factual encyclopaedia entries. In fact, you don't even mention actual encyclopaedia content.

Grant Hutchison

tashirosgt
2009-Nov-28, 05:38 PM
The Wikipedia has an inferiority complex. The critical notes that its software or editors use to annotate its articles imply that the Wikipedia aspires to be a "legitimate" encyclopedia, i.e. a collection of dry articles that are not of much use to practical people. For example, I've seen Wikipedia notes in mathematics articles that criticized the article for giving extensive examples! I'd prefer to have a Wikipedia that wasn't trying to imitate traditional encylopedia articles, which are often useless.

The Wikipedia does have discussion pages for each article. Perhaps no form of online discussion can ever achieve the ideal of "reasoned debate". However, the format of moderated discussion forums seems to be the best attempt so far. I think the Wikipedia should replace the format of their discussion pages with software that duplicates the functions of a forum. What the discussion pages need are moderators to organize them, ban irrelevant posts and posters etc. not necessarily moderators who are experts in the article being discussed. The current method of treating the discussion page as just another page in the Wikipedia doesn't work very well. For example, a malicious person can deface an entire page. On a forum, he can only make isolated posts.

The practicality of using a forum for discussing each article depends on how hard it is to configure forum software. (Perhaps the administrators of the current forum can comment on this.) If it's too hard now, perhaps software can be developed to make it easier.

Romanus
2009-Nov-28, 07:55 PM
I went through a pretty robust Wiki editor phase a couple of years ago, posting and editing numerous articles. These days, though, I limit my activities to occasionally correcting grammatical errors and adding links; I rarely even undo vandalism. I really got sick of solid, referenced, well-written material getting deleted and mutilated in ways I never did to other articles, typically without comment or reason. I'll hardly waste my time in an edit war with TaktheMagnificent23438...

I still think Wiki is a great resource, the very epitome of digital flexibility and democracy. I still visit it regularly. That said, my op is that if it's not on Wiki, folks can learn about Topic X the old-fashioned way, like oh, most of us did until 8 years ago.

To cover my bases: YMMV.

parallaxicality
2009-Nov-28, 10:20 PM
Well, the remainder of your post seems like an exhaustive confirmation of the latter of my two positions. :)
You've described a harshly competitive selection process that is completely divorced from anyone's aptitude for writing clear and factual encyclopaedia entries. In fact, you don't even mention actual encyclopaedia content.

Grant Hutchison

Well, to be fair, the ability to write clear and factual encyclopaedia entries is is more than a little important. But so is the ability to locate reliable, notable secondary sources and that's where most people come unstuck in my experience.

grant hutchison
2009-Nov-28, 11:16 PM
Well, to be fair, the ability to write clear and factual encyclopaedia entries is is more than a little important. But so is the ability to locate reliable, notable secondary sources and that's where most people come unstuck in my experience.I don't think we disagree. I was careful to mention that there are two components to writing encyclopaedia entries: I wrote "clear and factual".
You need careful writing and exposition to get the clarity, and you need to be able to find good-quality sources if you're to get the facts straight. I'm suggesting that the working environment of Wikipedia editors, as you describe it, is driving selection for a completely different skill set.

Grant Hutchison

parallaxicality
2009-Nov-29, 12:02 AM
Well I don't know. I like to think I have the prior skillset and I've been editing Wikipedia for three years. But then I was lucky to start at a time when Wikipedia still had a whiff of the wild West about it; you could still write clunky opinion pieces and call them articles, and, as you learned the tricks of the trade, refine them until they reached the in-house standard. That kind of faltering is no longer tolerated. And while there certainly are encamped special interests in certain regions of Wikipedia (at least so I'm told, I've never been stupid enough to go there), most of the people who complain about "cabals" and "conspiracies" that I've met tend to be egomaniacs with an agenda to push who are upset that anyone might actually disagree with them.

grant hutchison
2009-Nov-29, 02:15 PM
Well I don't know. I like to think I have the prior skillset and I've been editing Wikipedia for three years.I've never said that you didn't have the "encyclopaedia article" skill-set, and I apologize if anything I've said seemed to suggest that.
But I've suggested that the working environment in Wikipedia seems (from your description and my own observation of the discussion pages) to be selecting for a skill set (or at least, a personality type) that is pretty much unrelated to the skill set that writes good encyclopaedia articles.
By chance, there will be people who can work well in the Wikipedia environment and write good articles. But if I think of my friends and colleagues who can write good teaching articles, there aren't many (I can't think of any) who would put up with the environment you described for longer than a minute.
In fact, my colleague who writes the best structured articles at an introductory level has a large sign on his wall. It reads:


You can't correct the Internet
(You can't even correct Wikipedia)


So I'm guessing he wouldn't fit in well. :lol:

Grant Hutchison

Tensor
2009-Nov-29, 03:12 PM
Just my two cents. I do use wikipedia. Generally, I go immediately to the references, and start searching those. For some things, Wikipedia is the simplest and easiest way. I generally vet the article before posting a link to it. I (and others here, like Grant) do have an advantage that I can see, we've had enough background in math and physics to know when an article is factual enough to use it.

mugaliens
2009-Nov-30, 02:07 AM
So is this selection process picking out editors who have an aptitude for writing accurate encyclopaedia articles? Or are the "fittest" who remain actually being selected for some other personality traits that are unrelated to encyclopaedia writing? One would hope for the former; I suspect the latter. But perhaps that's just me.

Grant Hutchison

Good point. I stopped logging in to do edits when some knuckle-dragging mod (they call 'em "admins" over there) kept playing king of the hill with his NPOV. The community, quaking in fear, refused to do anything about it.

My conclusion is that Wikipedia succeeds on the 95/5% rule: 95% of humans are law-abiders, and only 5% are criminals. Unfortunately, of the 95%, perhaps a 1/10th of them have the courage to enforce the rules.


For some things, Wikipedia is the simplest and easiest way. I generally vet the article before posting a link to it.

Same.


I (and others here, like Grant) do have an advantage that I can see, we've had enough background in math and physics to know when an article is factual enough to use it.

And biology, chemistry, engineering... :)

DrRocket
2009-Nov-30, 03:21 AM
If I were a Wikipedia user, I'd be fretting just a little about the process driving the departure of editors. Presumably there's an evolutionary aspect to it: those who are still finding fulfillment (or at least distraction) by working on Wikipedia will tend to stay; those who now find it unfulfilling will go.
Grant Hutchison

I have a suspicion that the thing driving out some Wiki editors, based on rumor I admit, is that the content of some articles is driven by people with not quite the expertise that they think they have who make changes to that which is written by experts. After a bit of this the experts are likely to leave. It is more than annoying to argue with an amateur about someting that one knows quite well as a professional.

In contrast to commercial encyclopedias, the authors of Wiki articles are anonymous and self-selected. I amazed at the general good quality of Wiki articles given this characteristic. Amazed but cautious.

I find Wiki generally useful, but suspect. Some things with which I have first-hand expert knowledge are reported inaccurately in Wiki. So when I use Wiki, I either use it for convenience as a reference, already knowing the subject, or else I use it as a starting point for further research, recognizing that the Wiki article itself may be misleading. What I do find useful in Wiki is the ready list of additional references, many of which lead directly to authoritative and reliable sources.

Just as unreliable as Wiki, and perhaps more so, are articles that one finds in ArXiv that are not reflective of articles published in reputable journals. And note that I said reputable journals and not peer-reviewed. There are some journals that might be called "peer-reviewed" that are not reputable -- organs for the lunatic fringe.

I am a bit dismayed at what I perceive as a widespread overreliance on sources found exclusively on line at the expense of classic textbooks and journal articles. Well-known text books and journal articles that are not only peer-reviewed but well-known and often cited are to me the most reliable sources. Moreover, the theoretical articles in this class are usually also checkable by the act of reading then and applying logic to follow the logic of the author.

Disinfo Agent
2009-Nov-30, 03:58 PM
I have a suspicion that the thing driving out some Wiki editors, based on rumor I admit, is that the content of some articles is driven by people with not quite the expertise that they think they have who make changes to that which is written by experts. After a bit of this the experts are likely to leave. It is more than annoying to argue with an amateur about someting that one knows quite well as a professional.

In contrast to commercial encyclopedias, the authors of Wiki articles are anonymous and self-selected. I amazed at the general good quality of Wiki articles given this characteristic. Amazed but cautious.I agree. However, experts can get annoyingly dogmatic and pedantic, too. Sometimes their desire to use the latest state-of-the-art terminology ends up obscuring instead of illuminating.

Wikipedia has tightened its rules concerning references in articles. In some cases the result was that correct but unreferenced material was removed, and replaced with referenced but inaccurate or outdated material. References are not everything, nor is Wikipedia's goal, as I understand it, to be a long list of scholarly references (not that such a list couldn't be a useful thing!)

SolusLupus
2009-Nov-30, 05:13 PM
This is the way I see it:

No encyclopedia -- none whatsoever -- can be perfect. Furthermore, no encyclopedia -- none whatsoever -- can broach every single topic in the world accurately. So the question is, what goals do you want your encyclopedia to have?

Wikipedia goes for breadth. It tries to remain accurate, true, and it tries to implement measures for such. But there's no way it can be completely accurate without heavy trimming.

Wikipedia also seeks to remain current; once an encyclopedia is published, it doesn't take long before the information is obsolete or incomplete, whereas Wikipedia (I use to refer to its general user base) can have an article about an event just days after it happened, or it will edit an article just days after something new has been uncovered.

neilzero
2009-Dec-01, 03:33 AM
I like wikipedia, but I do read the comments. The comments are often misleading, but sometimes make me aware of alternate opinions which may soon replace present mainstream opinions. I make occassional comment, but almost never edit the artcle. Neil