Sunday, August 2, 2009

If a tree falls in the forest... part 1

Image of Earth from Galileo spacecraftImage via Wikipedia

I received an email on Friday that said, "Please take a look at the Encyclopedia of Earth and let me know what you think." So I did. There was a lot I noticed about the site which I could mention, like their copyright policies which are very progressive and quite awesome (CC 2.5 Share-Alike). I started right off wanting to like it.

I next moved to their reason for existence:

The motivation behind the Encyclopedia of Earth is simple. Go to Google™ and type in climate change, pesticides, nuclear power, sustainable development, or any other important environmental issue. Doing so returns millions of results, some fraction of which are authoritative. The remainder is of poor or unknown quality.

So I did a search on each of those terms and here's what came up: climate change-- Environmental Protection Agency #1 and Wikipedia #2, pesticides-- Wikipedia #1, nuclear power-- Wikipedia #1, and sustainable development-- Wikipedia #1.
Interestingly enough the EoE site never showed up in the results at all, or if it did, it was so deep that no human was ever going to see it.

Which begs the question: What's the point of having a so-called authoritative site if no one ever visits? Irrelevance and obscurity is fine, but you can achieve that without building a web site. If a tree falls in the forest...

Which brings me to my final point. If you want to make a difference you have to choose to engage with the people. There is no sense in building the web equivalent of the ivory tower. If you are an expert, and you find a problem in Wikipedia then you have an obligation to correct it. You have that power. Whether you like it or not, Wikipedia is the source that people go to for information. Shouldn't we all be working to make it the best source of information that we can? Building your own site is the web-world equivalent of taking your ball and going home. Which is a great strategy if being lonely is your goal.

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David Gerard said...

Note that experts who don't have the time or patience to become active Wikipedia contributors can help by noting stuff on article discussion pages, noting important missing stuff and listing references that other interested editors can then work with. Even minimal contribution like this is a great help :-)

Kevin Gamble said...

Excellent point David! Thank you!

Long time no talk. One of these years I will make it back to a Wikimania conference.

fajro said...


Kevin Gamble said...

Thank you Fajro. Not sure I've been Dugg before.

Steve said...

Alternatively, the experts can build these "ivory towers" (more generally called "silos" these days), license the text as creative commons no attribution, and we can incorporate it into Wikipedia for them. We have the obligation to go and find this material as much as they have the obligation to find the right avenue to publish it.

Bud said...

Well, they built their own site. That does not seem such a big deal to me. Yes, your points about contributing to the commons are valid, but with their licensing, that can happen.

What may concern me more is the extent to which we live in a Google (Bing?) organized world. Search engines do a great job of making commonly recognized and open authorities universally accessible. But, in doing so, they enforce the existing social ordering. Commonly accepted is not always correct.

I'd like to see a little more competition and entropy.

Kevin Gamble said...


Point definitely accepted. But what is is...

Part 2 of this post is about social networking/filtering-- which also suffers from a distinct lack of diversity. We cluster where we're comfy.


Bud said...

On a side note, pretty neat inclusion of friend feed in your sidebar.

Re social networking, while I agree with the empirical observation that we network where we're comfy (I do it, no matter how iconoclastic I style myself). But, you can engineer your networks for diversity, and it's adaptive to do so.