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A Manifesto for Taking Wikipedia into the Physical World

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One of the huge successes in the last few years on the net, has been the blossoming of Wikipedia. I regularly consult it nowadays for information and with increasing frequency.

If you don’t know about Wikipedia, here’s a very brief catch up. It’s a multi-authored, free, multi-lingual knowledge repository. Anyone can update or correct it in real time (which is a bit spooky), so it’s really the people’s encyclopedia.

Clearly, this also means that facts can be wrong, as you’re relying on the voluntary contributions of ordinary people, not necessarily experts in their field. Facts could be wrong accidentally or deliberately – although encyclopedia terrorism is a bit of a sad way to spend your time. However, the contributors are self-policing, with errors corrected and information being added all the time.

There are over a million articles available now, in contrast to the traditional Encyclopedia Britannica’s 65,000. Personally, I’ve never found a mistake, but I’ve never found one in EB either, though there are apparently quite a few.

One of the most exciting things that’s going to happen in the next 10 years, in my view, is that the Wikipedia will move into the physical world. It may not be a Wikipedia initiative (ie it might be a new and different organisation that makes it happen), but the principles will transfer and apply.

Let’s look at how this might work.

You’re in London and are standing in a pleasant, sunny street in Camden Town. City life is going on around you and you fancy the idea of knowing a little more about where you are right now.

Using your phone, as if it was a PC mouse, you uncover snippets of information from the world around you. You click on an old house in the road and a wealth of digital information comes onto your phone screen. Some contain video and audio links.

You learn that the house is on the site of one lived in by Charles Dickens’ wife after their separation. You’re interested in Dickens so you poll the area and find that there’s actually a tour of Dicken’s Camden Town that afternoon.

Out of curiosity, you look up how much this kind of house would be worth, what local rates and taxes are. And you read a review of a local citizen’s view of schools in the area.

Moving on you see a tree, which looks unusual and casually click on it to reveal its genus. Then you click on car you like the look of, to find out how much it would cost second hand (2003 model), where you might be able to find one and what the gas consumption is like.

You get the picture, I’m sure. But how does this all work?

The information would be from a variety of new and existing online sources. Some compiled especially for the Mobile Wikipedia by citizen contributors, some merely linked to sites that are already there. Citizen journalists would create the physical world links and then edit how the information was presented online – probably when they were back at a terminal more suited to the purpose. This might be a PC, or when they were able to dock their phone into a larger screen and keyboard combo.

Like the original Wikipedia, it would have potentially unlimited links and content and would be self-editing.

Technically, there are two choices. The low tech version would be a physical link, which was visible to the user. An example, might be a Yellow Arrow with a code to input into your mobile. More sophisticated, something like a Shot Code which allows you to take a photo of it with your phone and thus link you to the information.

Realistically, these methods are not too good long term. We can’t have Yellow Arrows stuck all over the place, after all.

Much better and altogether slicker would be something along the lines of the Siemens Digital Graffiti. This would allow you to discover links manually. But in the short term, while the world was being populated with links, your phone would alert you when a link was in the area and provided you’d activated that facility and that the alert corresponded to a stated interest.

This would allow three people to walk down the same street together. Anne gets nothing sent to her phone. Bill gets Wikipedia style information on everything available – he’s that kind of guy. Charlie gets a marketing coupon for a secret sale a local man’s clothes shop is giving – he’s such a fashion victim.

So, to be clear. No marketing messages if you don’t want them. And these would be targeted to your profile and preferences.

So will Jimmy Wales, the man with the vision, money and drive to make Wikipedia happen rise to this next challenge? Or will someone else pick up the gauntlet and create this huge legacy that few people ever have the opportunity to even contemplate?

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About Russell

  • Revtim

    I was familiar with Wikipedia, but I had no idea it was a “knowledge suppository”. Like a sap I’ve been reading it, when I could have been absorbing the knowledge through my colon!

  • http://selfaudit.blogspot.com Aaman

    Should that be ‘repository’?

  • http://victorplenty.blogspot.com Victor Plenty

    Supposedly.

  • Sunny

    Above comments made me giggle; a great thing for a Monday morning.

    That being said, I use Wikipedia on a fairly “regular” basis.

  • http://www.br1an.net Brian

    Integrating GPS data into the wiki, aka taking Wikipedia into the physical world, is nothing new. WikiProject Geographical Coordinates is well established.