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It's kind of handy, but it's not Jesus..
So Wikipedia are having a little fundraiser.. if my guesstimates are correct, they're aiming for $500k, and with just three days to go they're on about half of that. I am not even remotely shocked.. So first off, imagine that you're contributing to Wikipedia - where does that money go, in the long run? What long term goals of the business do those donations support? Founder Jimmy Wales explains..

"I can’t speak for everyone, but I can speak for myself. I’m doing this for the child in Africa who is going to use free textbooks and reference works produced by our community and find a solution to the crushing poverty that surrounds him."

I for one am thrilled by this prospect.. school children everywhere will someday be able to learn about rupees from a copy of Wikipedia. I'm not talking about rupees, the currency of Nepal (60 words), or rupees, the currency of Pakistan (540 words). No, I refer of course to rupees, the currency of Hyrule, setting of the Legend of Zelda series of computer games. At 720 words, it is the longest article about rupees, except for the one for the Indian rupee, which comes in at 750.

So let's put that into perspective.. The currency of Zelda is better represented than that of Mauritius, Nepal, Pakistan, Seychelles, or Sri Lanka.. One might argue that the fact that I now know which countries use rupees means that in spite of the poor proportion of real information in Wikipedia, it's still educational.

But then why not use Google? Consider the World Wide Web - could you not also call that 'the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit'? Does it not operate on the basis of context-sensitive hyperlinks between related topics? And surely Google contains more information than Wikipedia - at present Google links to 5m pages that include the word "rupee". But as anybody will tell you, it's about quality, and about extracting the useful data while rejecting the rubbish.

A concept which doesn't work within the Wikipedia model, and never will in its current incarnation. Because everything is up for debate, by their own definition there is no finished article, which means information is always incomplete and potentially inaccurate. So back to the quotes..

"But for this child, a website on the Internet is not enough; we need to find ways to get our work to people in a form they can actually use."

A form they can use that isn't the Internet? Do they perhaps mean 'books', that well known medium for information sharing that dates back 2,000 years? But what if there's a mistake? How am I meant to edit the text in the book if I can contribute something of more worth? The truth is, I can't, at which point, the entire enterprise boils down to an encyclopaedia, except it was written by idiots.

The notion is that an infinite number of monkeys with typewriters, in an infinite amount of time, could produce the complete works of Shakespeare. In fact, only one of those factors needs to be infinite - after all, if the monkeys are infinite in number then they will instantly produce the work. Sadly, the monkeys are finite, so the project will take considerably longer. Especially since the typewriter thing only works because the monkeys are hitting random keys. I fear that monkeys who are preoccupied with Klingon culture and open source software may never produce anything of value..

And so onto one last quote..

"We’re already taking back the Internet. With your help, we can take back the world."

In light of what I just said, this gives me visions of riding along a beach and finding the statue of liberty half buried in the sand...

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Some of that is a bit disingenuous. Whilst I don't really think much of the weak and flaccid rhetoric quoted of Jimmy Wales, some of your points are evidently not thought through at all:

1/ Rupees. Okay, so it's funny. But you've constructed that point in a way that sweeps the entry contradicting your humour-driven-point under the rug. Hyrule rupees are, in fact, not the rupee definition with the highest word count. I can't explain and will not try to defend the lack of information for other currencies. I would be interested, however, to see how much of a wordcount these currencies were granted in a more traditional encyclopaedia. Would that wordcount equate to Wiki's? Would they even be granted independent entries, or rather tucked away in parentheses in a section on that nation (itself shorter than most ten-year periods of European history, of course).

2/ Google / WWW as an alternative to Wikipedia. Finding basic info on wiki is typically a lot easier than via any web search. If you know what you're looking for, you know where to look. Same reason that yesterday I looked up Janus on Encyclopedia Mythica rather than on Google. Plus, the WWW cannot be described as "the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit": you can add to what's there, but that's not the same. I doubt that I would achieve much success when trying to write to BP and pointing out that their renewable energy statement is actually an exercise in smoke and mirrors.

3/ "Because everything is up for debate, by their own definition there is no finished article, which means information is always incomplete and potentially inaccurate." Isn't this true of everything? All information is essentially based on an understanding that is as complete as we can manage. Whilst Wiki has a highly erratic signal-to-noise ratio, particularly with newer articles, this does not preclude accuracy. Traditional encyclopedias also contain errors and incomplete information, and can be every bit as uneven in their coverage.

4/ Edit the text in the book: well, if you want to be picky, you could use something known as a "pencil" or "pen", which in certain forms predate even the book. If you wanted to go to the source of the entry, then you could perhaps arrange a method of editing the website. I think going into the economic availability of any of these methods, or even buying an encyclopedia, would be too much of a fuzzy area to be addressed right here, but I'm just sayin'.

5/ "[...] the entire enterprise boils down to an encyclopaedia, except it was written by idiots." Now you know that that simply isn't true. I'm sure I don't need to even begin explaining this one.

6/ "We’re already taking back the Internet. With your help, we can take back the world." Given the threats to the "free Internet" as we understand it today that are looming on the horizon, I don't think we should be so quick to scorn powerful and useful case studies and rallying points for online activists. Also, I think Jimmy Wales is full of shit.

P.S. I'm not trying to tout Wiki over traditional encyclopedias; I see them as two different tools suiting different requirements. Just so that I'm clear. :)

P.P.S. It's interesting that Wiki is having a fundraiser when so very recently it was publicly stated that they were seriously considering putting advertising up on the site.

1. I did mention that Indian Rupees have more words.. I would also have mentioned the fact that there's an entire section on the cultural history of the rupee on there as well, but it would contradict my point, and I can't have that. I'm sure I could find a genuine example (e.g. Klingon Language having more information than another, more real language), but I stumbled upon the rupee thing by chance, and I wanted to use it :o)

Nor do I dispute that a traditional encyclopaedia would probably relegate them to a footnote. I just think that it's important to point out quite how much trivia there is on that site, and the way in which it potentially eclipses the useful information. A true encyclopaedia only includes the latter, whereas Wikipedia makes no distinction between the two.

2. "If you know what you're looking for, you know where to look" - I find the same on Google a lot of the time, knowing how to correctly put together a search phrase with the appropriate "s and -s tends to work okay.. I'll confess, I use Wikipedia in preference to Google a lot of the time, partly because of the fact that it's written as an article, and partly for the hyperlinks to other articles - I can spend ours going from topic to topic. I don't refute the usefulness of Wikipedia - just its own view of itself as the repository of all knowledge.

3. Wikipedia is based on the very notion that everything is always up for debate at any time. A written encyclopaedia works because it is written by experts and proof-read before publishing. Wikipedia 'works' because it is written by idiots, but sanity-checked by enough people to fix that. Wikipedia needs the net in order for its operating model to work, and taking it away from the net breaks that.

4. Noted, though again, you end up being better off just having it on the Internet anyway :o)

5. I stand by the idea that it's written by idiots. Myself included. I don't doubt that a great many articles are written by experts (myself included ;o), but they are then edited and played with by idiots. And those experts who stick around policing their own articles are idiots, because of the sheer futility of doing so (myself included). It is not within the spirit of Wikipedia to check your own articles daily and revert out any edits by anybody, yet a lot of the experts on there do so. I think they're right in doing it, but it's not the wikipedia way, which to me suggests that the wikipedia way is the wrong way.

6. Pfft, you and your communist conspiracy theories ;o) There is no threat to the 'free Internet', there is merely the redefinition of 'free' to something a little more inkeeping with the sorts of laws that have always existed in more easily policed areas. I'll be sad to see increased regulation of the Internet, but it's always the way - legislation follows technology, and for a little while you can get away with stuff, but ultimately it falls under the same restrictions that we live with and accept daily. And the sad thing is, I remember an era when I had more time to care, but that's been gone a while..

And I agree with your view - they are different tools with different applications. I enjoy using Wikipedia rather a lot. I just get fed up with its view of the world that puts it at the centre of the fight for freedom of information. Just because anarchic systems can be better than structured systems, it does not follow that they are always better.

As far as I can see, Wikipedia is possibly the sum total of all pop knowledge. And that's fine by me - I want an overview of relativity, not a detailed thesis. I want a brief history of the evolution of the USA, not a blow by blow account of every battle and land snatch. It's wonderful for trivia like that. I just don't like that it thinks it's better than it is.. (and for that, I am an almighty hypocrite ;o)

Right, sorry I took a while to reply. It's a basic law of Me that the time I take to reply to something is in direct proportion with its length. ;)

1. I know you mentioned it, but it entirely undermined the point you went ahead and made in spite of it. i can't really argue with your justification though!

I agree with the trivia / useful information thing. I mean, almost all trivia is useful in context, but for the most part it would be expected in a specialist encyclopedia, not a traditional one.

2. "I don't refute the usefulness of Wikipedia - just its own view of itself as the repository of all knowledge."

Heh, that's more or less my view, although I've not openly criticised Wikipedia as I seem to have avoided all the politics and publicity. If Wikipedia is being proposed as something that it's not, then it's fair enough that arguments are being made that state the obvious. All the same, I've not really seen much analysis of such claims, but I have seen a lot of breakdowns comparing Wiki with a trad.encyc. Where did all this start?

3. AFAIK entries can be locked once they're regarded as established and it would take some concerted effort to edit one. Hmm, i can't remember what this point originally was. Was it the dead tree Wiki thing? If so, sure, Wiki doesn't work away from the net. However, if what is being proposed is highly affordable versions of Wiki distributed to netless areas, then that's better than nothing. Trad.encycs are not cheap, whatever else they may be.

Sorry, I'm writing these replies at work and they've removed our 'net access. I can't check to be sure, so sorry if that's a complete digression.

5. I suppose this one depends primarily on how you abstract "the masses". Personally I despise the assumption that "the masses" are "idiots", as it makes specious subjective exceptions only on demand. But that *is* a digression. I accept your point about experts having to hang around to undo harm. It's a contextual contradiction, I suppose. But what would you propose as an alternative?

6. Don't call me a communist, you filthy western infidel pig-dog consumerist.

In all seriousness, I'm not talking about national or international agreements on legislation allowing police or intelligence orgs to fish out data - that's small fry by comparison. There are some concerns amongst the uber-geek community regarding the companies that own the pipes that the Internet is pretty much based on. They're pressing for changes in US law that would basically allow them to moderate permissible content on one tier of the 'net. What we basically have is conflict, fought through the US legal system, between these old-style corps who regard the 'net as a method of distributing selected content to consumers and the new upstarts like Google, Yahoo! and even MS, who regard the 'net as something with a lot more potential than that. I don't pretend to understand the law or the technical side of things, but it's something I'm watching for more information on. IIRC I picked up on it via Cory Doctorow on Boing Boing!, and he knows his stuff. I can't get the link right now, but I'll try and remember to add it to this comment before I post it tonight. If not, remind me and I'll fish it out some other time.

I now return to Wiki to note that I entirely agree with your last two paragraphs. :)

(Deleted comment)
What a horrific image..

oh you're such a jaded cynic :P

just wanted to leave a comment to say "hi" - you're incredibly intelligent and well-spoken, and i could use some of that on my friend's list. do you mind if i add you?

Hello James, many many light years ago, I had a rush of very horrific events that had me, basically, tied and far to busy to maintain a community i had created called ask_me_anything, I'm back now, with much more time on my hands, and very proud to see that my pick of a maintainer, a pick i took by a very good gut feelign about you, seems to have done a terrific job, I remember you telling me that, the day I would feel ready to take it back you would gladly had it over, I am ready, and have the time to take it back, BUT, I would still appreciate if you stayed as a moderator, in fact, the only moderator. :)

Cherrio James !

Sure thing.. you'll have to rejoin, as I seem to only be able to grant Maintainer status to people who are already members. But once that's sorted, it's all yours :o)

The following changes have been made:

added: Maintainer

Well,hi there!My name is Lina and Im from Ukraine.Your writings are very interesting and Im excited about them.Its a pitty that i write my journal in russian and you cant read it if you want,but i think in future i will use english to express myself.Hope to hear from you soon.Bye

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