In his keynote talk at the recent Medical Library Association annual meeting, Clay Shirky told the story of how Wikipedia, which is done by volunteers, has far surpassed the Medpedia project, which was founded in 2009 as an expert-doctor-produced system to compete with Wikipedia. Marcus Banks’s write-up of Shirky’s talk has a good segment on this:

Skirky contrasted the entry for biopsy on Wikipedia to that for biopsy on Medpedia, which utilizes physician editors rather than the unwashed masses.  Turns out that the Wikipedia entry is much more robust and developed, a thorough introduction to the topic of biopsy available to all. On the other hand, Medpedia offers a puny paragraph and calls it a day.

In fairness, Shirky does exaggerate the contrast a bit, in not mentioning that the Medpedia article has links to five specific types of biopsy. But those other articles are relatively short, and Shirky is right that the total amount of information in Wikipedia far exceeds Medpedia. So he’s certainly correct that Wikipedia has won the battle for the general medical online information market. Searching PubMed shows it: A search for wikipedia retrieves 83 articles; a search for medpedia retrieves 0 (zero!) articles. So, indeed, Medpedia has just never caught on.

Bertalan Meskó: “I believe elitism kills content”

Shirky said in his MLA talk that he had predicted when Medpedia launched that it would be a failure (confirmed here). He also mentioned that other commentators had similar questions about the purpose of Medpedia. One of those was the prominent Hungarian physician-blogger Bertalan Meskó (@berci). He’s a Wikipedia administrator, and echoes the sentiments of Shirky in questioning the need for Medpedia at the time of its launch in 2009 (boldface added):

When we have a Wikipedia, why do we need a Medpedia? … [do] we need Medpedia to provide reliable medical content? That’s what we are working on in Wikipedia. … I believe elitism kills content. Only the power of masses controlled by well-designed editing guidelines can lead to a comprehensive encyclopaedia.

Finally, a recently-published article gives more evidence for Wikipedia’s supremacy as the king of the medical information hill – Wikipedia: A Key Tool for Global Public Health Promotion, in Journal of Medical Internet Research (2011) is written by a group of Wikipedia medical administrators (including Meskó). The authors document the important place of Wikipedia in the online health information sphere, and make an appeal for more people with medical interests to participate as Wikipedia editors. Tellingly, the corresponding author, Michaël R Laurent, has an association with Medpedia — Apparently, from his leadership in Wikipedia, though, he’s decided it’s a better way to go than Medpedia.

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Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

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