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Is Wikipedia the Emergent King?

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Steve Rubel thinks that Wikipedia is the Next Google, and he contends that it is powerful because it “provides access to largely accurate information that can be hard to find.” The basic theory is that one doesn’t need to fear Google, because much like the fear of Microsoft there’s always somebody out there trying to take down the king of the hill (as is currently happening in the Microsoft vs. Google conflict).

Rubel says:

“Like its predecessors, Wikipedia is powerful because it provides access to largely accurate information that can be hard to find. This king, however, is unlike any other because it operates in a completely democratic way. It’s run by the people, without any grand financial ambitions. This doesn’t mean its rule will be perceived solely as a benevolent one, however.

Already, Wikipedia instills a deeper fear than either Google or Microsoft did when they were at such a young age. It’s the emerging king. Will it face the same scrutiny and fate as its predecessors as it expands? Certainly. But this time it will be far more difficult to slow. Yes, King Disruptor III – Wikipedia – might rule for years. And perhaps this may just be the way it was meant to be.”

Meanwhile, this fellow says no way.

I tend to agree with the second opinion. It takes some seriously rose-tinted glasses to overlook Wikipedia’s serious flaws. I like it as a mechanism for finding some information, but for it to move from its current niche to the mainstream it has some very serious and often overlooked quality issues, largely stemming from what Rubel claims is one of Wikipedia’s strengths – its “democracy.”

As author Nicholas Carr observed when examining the quality of some of Wikipedia’s entries:

“This is garbage, an incoherent hodge-podge of dubious factoids that adds up to something far less than the sum of its parts,” he wrote.

Something that aspires to be a reference work ought to be judged by the quality of the worst entry, he said, in response to the clock-stopped, right-time defense of the project, not by the fact it’s got some good articles.

Clay Shirky and some of Wikipedia’s other defenders can blow off “absolute quality” all they want, but for the service to actually become the king it is going to have to come to a place where quality is, in fact, “job one.”

Author’s Note: This article was originally posted at Wallo World.

Wallo World

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About Bill Wallo

  • I could read Wikipedia for hours. The crosslinks of knowledge nuggets are endless, like crack for nerds.

    Alas, I agree with you that it could never be king like Googs or Microgates, because let’s face it— nothing blows up on the mainstream until it has corporate sponsorship.

  • I believe wikis in general are another platform that allows tremendous opportunity for collaboration and communication. Like blogging, they have certain upside and downside, but I think wikis will slowly but surely move into web-savvy consciousness.

    It will be interesting to see if wikipedia is the platform that becomes king of the hill or if something else will come along. The potential, however, is nearly unlimited.

    And nice job, Bill!

  • Berlin: I’ll disagree with you that the potential is nearly unlimited. The major roadblock in Wikipedia or something like Microsoft’s verison Encarta, is that it still is presented like reference materials aka the stack of thick volumous books that 90% of people avoid unless they were writing a term paper.

    Once a full video version of Wikipedia becomes a reality, that’s when it will appeal to the TV/movie dependent masses.

  • Hey, I like Wikipeda too, and wiki as a collaborative tool is an intriguing thing. But let’s make no mistake: Google became king of the search hill largely because it promised better search results, and delivered on that promise.

    The question seemed geared toward whether Wikipedia itself is the future, and its “democracy” may well impede its ability to become a definitive source for information. Wikipedia currently delivers upon the “democratic” ideal, but I don’t think that is as much of a selling point to the mainstream as “definitive information for free.” That would be the only tipping point for Wikipedia, and as Mark says, without corporate sponsorship (and undoubtedly a reduction in editorial democracy) I am not sure I see it happening.

  • Mary K. Williams

    “nce a full video version of Wikipedia becomes a reality, that’s when it will appeal to the TV/movie dependent masses.”

    Naw…I’ll take the written word.

    I love Wikiepedia and all its cousins, despite the shortcomings. I even posted an ‘article’ on WikieHow.

  • MKW: I’ll take the written word too. But my point is that for Wiki to become Googolian (if that’s a word), you need the non-written word masses to embrace it.

    In other words, Google brings millions of people to the pop culture garbage and adult/porn material that they so desperately lust after. Wikipedia has yet to function on that level.

  • Mary K. Williams

    Yeah Mark – I knew what you meant. Sort of like Wiki-etc. hasn’t been dumbed down yet? sorta?

  • maybe i’m missing something (and i AM operating on less than 50% brain power today) but google has been very successful without video, so why can’t wiki?

    (and keep in mind that i’ve looked at wikipedia only once..not really a fan yet)

  • Saleski: while Google isn’t video based per se, it acts as a conduit to get to the visual smorgasbord of the web. Wikipedia still is primarily text based, thus isolating itself from all of the people who don’t like to read beyond a couple grafs.

    Meanwhile, I suggest you play Bjork’s “Army of Me” really loud in your headphones. That should bring the other brain half back to life.

  • Let’s put it in practical terms. When people wanted to find out about Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction,” one of the most-searched for things in the history of the Internet, where would they go? Google, of course. How could Wikipedia hope to handle that type of thing?

    And how would the information be sorted? Google’s success is premised upon the hyperlink; Wikipedia is designed around the information hub. It works reasonably well as an information source, but I don’t see anybody telling me how the Wikipedia model could provide the same type of function as Google.

  • i suppose google does ‘isolate’ the folks who aren’t text-based. on the other hand, google gets a freakin’ boatload of hits every day.

    as far as wikipedia is concerned, for the the problem is in the format. it’s just plain ugly.

  • Mary K. Williams

    I dont think it’s ugly at all, but that’s just me. I find it very user friendly and lately I’ve been finding more and more stuff on there. Stuff I actually need.

    Of course, I have to keep in mind that the content might not have had the same fact-checking treatment as a ‘regular’ encyclopedia

  • Actually, a quick visit to the Wikipedia front page reveals that not only do they run a fully interactive Encyclopedia in at least 10 different languages but also WikiNews news service in 15 languages.

    There’s also a Library; a Textbook/Manual reference site; a Collection of Quotations; a Taxonomy of all Life; a Meta-Wiki; and The Wikimedia Commons, “which is a project that provides a central repository for free images, music, sound & video clips and, possibly, texts and spoken texts”.

    I think that is a pretty impressive achievement for a team of volunteers that relies upon donations. Whether they could or would compete with Google or MS is unclear.