Thanks to Donald Clark for this guest contribution.
In January I blogged a "Seven Wonders of the Digital World" list:
- Toy Story
- World Wide Web
Lots of people posted with suggestions; Google Earth, iPOD, eBay etc. But Wikipedia remained a firm favourite. The more I use it, the more wonder it induces. But is Wikipedia full of crap data? Research published in Nature (December 2005), a blind trial in which experts were sent randomly selected articles from both Wikipedia and Britannica, found that both contained inaccuracies, but the difference was marginal.
What is revolutionary is the philosophy - Jimmy Wales's approach to knowledge capture and sharing is what he describes as "anti-credentialist":
"To me the key thing is getting it right. And if a person's really smart and they're doing fantastic work, I don't care if they're a high school kid or a Harvard professor; it's the work that matters.... You can't coast on your credentials on Wikipedia.... You have to enter the marketplace of ideas and engage with people."
How about that for a poke in academe’s eye?
Are traditional media source error free? No. How many of these errors are retracted? Some, but not many. How quickly are they retracted? Days, weeks and sometimes months later. Wikipedia is a dynamic 24/7 source with thousands of new articles appearing every day, along with search capability, links, edit trails and discussion groups. These features make it a very different type of resource when compared to print periodicals. So to compare the two is to confuse two different models of knowledge creation, management and distribution.
Wikipedia now has a permanent presence and has made a significant contribution to learning. Its high search engine rankings show that it’s being heavily used by millions of people in every conceivable learning context; in schools, colleges, universities, workplaces and at home. What’s more astonishing is that it was wholly built and edited by these self-same people.
Jimmy Wales has reversed the traditional publishing model of expert writes, everyone else pays. In Wikipedia, everyone writes and no one pays. This is a radical shift in publishing and a radical shift in the way knowledge is being made available on the web. It is truly one of the wonders of the web.