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why i use google less now

If someone asked me to produce a nomination for the most amazing public project ever realized on the internet, it would probably be the Wikipedia.

For those just tuning in, a wiki is a website that allows anyone to add new pages and edit existing pages (basically). And the wikipedia is a very successful attempt to create an informative encyclopedia using this model. It's an open-source encyclopedia.

In fact, if you don't understand the difference between commercial software and open-source software, the wikipedia is a good way to understand it. Go take a look at the Encyclopedia Brittanica for a moment. What are it's defining characteristics? It has a unified editorial voice, professional research and editing, it's a little outdated, it's missing entries for rapidly changing cultural ideas and specific technical ideas, and it costs money.

The wikipedia? It's free. It has varying levels of quality and styles. It's has entries for everything from Britney Spears and Reality TV to BitTorrent. Most of these articles are of surprising quality.

More and more, things that I used to look up on google first for general knowledge, I now check the Wikipedia first to get a balanced and thoughtful picture.

Why does it work? Because there's a dedicated community of people keeping eyeballs on their own corner of the wikipedia, correcting errors and updating information.

But is it a perfect world? No, people obviously just fuck around with pages, and sometimes they stay for a long time. There is a page of short-lived or otherwise jokes that got posted to specific entries. Or, people have genuine differences of opinion that cause edit wars. Notably the sites for Bush and Kerry had some serious struggles in the weeks leading up to the election.

But in spite of wierdnesses, it is an incredibly informative document. When I first found it, I thought I could contribute to some topics I knew something about, but I was surprised (then) to discover how exhaustive the information about Tibetan Buddhism or PHP already is. I did however, end up contributing. I wrote the (unfortunately citation-free) October 2004 update about the conflict in Darfur.

Go take a look...do you know of any other interesting remnants of Wikipedia culture? Interesting, funny or amazing articles? Leave 'em in the comments!

Comments

This summer before I graduated, we spent some time looking at Wikipedia in my digref theory class. My feeling, after admittedly a small amount of surfing around, was the best entries were the least controversial ones. (ie non-political.)

:)

Hmmm.. makes me wonder if the info there would actually be accurate... or more like a opinion database sort of like h2g2.com...