Sunday, March 12, 2006

Credibility, authority, and Wikipedia

Randall Stross at the New York Times covers some of the issues with reputation, reliability, and credibility in community-generated content, focusing mainly on Wikipedia.

Some excerpts:
The egalitarian nature of a system that accords equal votes to everyone in the "community" -- middle-school student and Nobel laureate alike -- has difficulty resolving intellectual disagreements.

Lay readers rely upon "secondary epistemic criteria," clues to the credibility of information when they do not have the expertise to judge the content.

[But] Wikipedia ... provides almost no clues for the typical article by which reliability can be appraised. A list of edits provides only screen names or, in the case of the anonymous editors, numerical Internet Protocol addresses. Wasn't yesterday's practice of attaching "Albert Einstein" to an article on "Space-Time" a bit more helpful than today's ""?
In fact, Wikipedia has had to back off on the idea of allowing anyone anywhere to edit. Anonymous users can no longer create new articles on Wikipedia. And some (especially controversial) articles are protected and only allowed to be edited by some in the community.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. Slashdot, for example, allows but discounts anonymous comments and has filtering mechanisms to promote useful information. Wikipedia eventually probably will be forced to develop some kind of reputation system and favor authoritative, reliable contributors.

See also my earlier post, "Yahoo Answers and wisdom of the crowd", where I said:
A popularity contest isn't the best way of getting to the truth.

People don't know what they don't know. Majority vote doesn't work if people don't have the information they need to have an informed opinion.
See also my earlier post, "Summing collective ignorance".

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