Google has been under attack recently, because its search results often seem to be overwhelmed by spam-generated links. On the other hand, Wikipedia has gotten many laudatory commentaries on the occasion of its tenth anniversary.
The timing here is interesting — Google, which is driven by computer-generated algorithms, is being “outsmarted” by human SEO engineers who have figured out how to “game” the system to get their sites a high ranking in searches. And Wikipedia, powered by smart human curators, has risen to become “a necessary layer in the Internet knowledge system.”
I’ve looked at several of the tenth-anniversary commentaries discussing the uniqueness of Wikipedia, and it’s surprising that I haven’t seen any that note the significance of its being a human-generated tool. TheAtlantic had a good round-up of commentaries by 13 “All-Star Thinkers” — Some of them do talk about the importance of collaboration in the working of Wikipedia, but none of them make the more basic, and, to me, even more acute observation that, in this age of the computer, it’s done by human beings!
In the Wikipedia article on Wikipedia, in the section The Nature of Wikipedia is this interesting quote from Goethe:
Here, as in other human endeavors, it is evident that the active attention of many, when concentrated on one point, produces excellence.
Indeed — As my library school teacher used to say “if there were enough smart humans we wouldn’t need to rely on computers.”
So — Librarians Take Note! Have you ever considered becoming a Wikipedia editor? — On the occasion of the tenth anniversary, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales is making an effort to foster more diversity in curation — He especially mentions reaching out to Libraries for help.
Finally, on a related thread — Another notable aspect of Wikipedia that hasn’t been mentioned in anniversary articles — Not only is it done by humans, but it’s done by humans on a volunteer basis — As I discussed in an earlier article, Daniel Pink uses this as a classic example of “intrinsic motivation” >> Wikipedia vs Encarta: The Ali-Frazier of Motivation.
- Wikipedia vs Medpedia: The Crowd beats the Experts
- Wikipedia vs Encarta: The Ali-Frazier of Motivation
Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey