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.

Related articles:

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

After hearing Daniel Pink’s keynote at the recent Medical Library Association meeting, I watched his TED talk (The surprising science of motivation) and I found it at least as inspiring as his words at MLA. Pink’s ideas on intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation are well-known — People doing creative tasks, he says, are more highly motivated by inner drives than they are by external rewards — I won’t go into detail about his thesis here — I’ll just talk about a couple of stories — One that Pink tells and a little follow-up of my own.

Pink’s story that I found especially interesting is about Wikipedia and Encarta. I’m transcribing it since I don’t find that anyone else has done it. Here’s a link to the segment of the video with the story:

In the mid-1990′s Microsoft started an encyclopedia called Encarta. They employed all the right incentives. They paid professionals to write and edit thousands of articles. Well compensated managers oversaw the whole thing to make sure it came in on budget and on time. A few years later another encyclopedia started — A different model — Do it for fun. No one gets paid a cent or a euro or a yen. Do it because you like to do it. Now 10 years ago if you had talked to an economist … anywhere … and said “Hey, I’ve got these different models for creating an encyclopedia — If they went head to head who would win? 10 years ago you could not have found a single, sober economist anywhere on planet earth who would have predicted the Wikipedia model. This is the Titanic battle between these two approaches. This is the Ali-Frazier of motivation, right, this is the Thrilla in Manila, alright — Intrinsic motivators vs extrinsic motivators — Autonomy, Mastery & Purpose versus Carrots & sticks – And who wins — Intrinsic motivation, autonomy, mastery and purpose — in a Knockout.

Great story, well told! Indeed, who would have predicted Wikipedia? Or, in the same vein, who would have predicted blogs and Twitter threatening to replace paid journalists?

My own little story — After returning from a long week at MLA, I watched the Pink video on Friday night of Memorial Day weekend. Partly inspired by Pink’s words and partly by ideas from MLA, I decided I’d spend some holiday time on Monday Twittering about the BP Gulf oil disaster — A subject out of my usual more “serious” use of Twitter but — Intrinsic Motivation ;-) –  It’s an area of personal interest, and a chance to put my Twitter skills to work to do a tiny bit to help save the world, maybe?

Related articles:

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

National Library of Medicine staffer Loren Frant gave a good presentation at the NLM Online Users’ session at the recent MLA annual meeting, on the development of the mobile version of MedlinePlus that launched in January. I was especially interested in Loren’s talking about the decision to make this a mobile-optimized web site instead of an app. This goes along with the trend that I’ve noted — The great disadvantage of making apps for library resources is that separate apps have to be made for each of the many different mobile platforms in existence. Instead of making apps, then, it’s more efficient to make mobile-optimized web sites that will display well on any mobile platform.

When I wrote an article on the newly-launched MLP, I missed the fact that it was an optimized web site instead of an app (being a newbie iTouch user ;-) at the time). After hearing Loren’s talk, I discovered that she wrote a good article on the MLP Mobile launch (that I missed because it came out one day after mine!), in which she discusses its being a mobile web site instead of an app, as at her MLA talk.

With the booming popularity of the iPad that was launched two months ago, of course the same discussion of app vs optimized web site is being repeated, although with the larger screen size there’s much less that needs to be done to optimize web pages than on the iPhone. I’ll be watching to see whether NLM does anything to tweek MLP for the iPad.

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

When Google first came out its ability to find thousands of links and to put the best of them at the top of the list was considered downright spooky, in the words of one doctor. We’d never had anything like that — Before Google, the choice was a human-generated list — either a relatively short list of subjective “best links” or a long, boring alphabetical/classified list — or, even worse, a search-engine list, that often seemed to be totally random.

And then there were Tor Ahlenius’ elegant lists of Diseases and Disorders at the Karolinska Institute Library in Sweden. Tor had  the uncanny ability to make relatively lengthy lists with the best  links at the top. There  was never any indication about the criteria used to choose the “best,” but it was clear that the  top links  were, in some sense, “high quality.” Often, these were links that I had come across on other peoples’ link lists, but sometimes there would be gems that I had never seen linked anywhere else.

When Google revolutionized searching with its PageRank technology, I had the uncanny feeling that I had gotten a pre-taste of Google in Tor’s lists — His simple, understated lists were just like Google’s — “Give me all the sites on the subject, and put the best ones at the top.” And, of course, it was all out of his head. Tor’s pages resonated with Google not only in the quality of their links but also in their simple design — just the links on a spare white page.

Another part of the appeal of Tor’s link lists for me was that he tended to put sites with good pictures toward the top. Although I’ve never seen this written about, I think Google has a similar tendency. And, as I’ve learned from Hardin MD stats, pictures are indeed popular.

At the recent Medical Library Association annual meeting in Washington DC, I learned from Tor’s friend Arne Jakobsson, who was attending from Norway, the sad news that Tor died in early May, after having retired a few years ago.

Tor had the mind of a scientist – He had a PhD in Quantum Chemistry and had done computer programming earlier in his career. As someone has said, if there were enough really smart people, computers wouldn’t be necessary — People could do it all. Of course that’s not possible in the real world. But Tor was a shining example of how its not so unimaginable. In the height of his list-keeping, I’d take the lists generated by his brain over Google anytime.

Tor’s lists are still available — I suspect he continued to work on them until the end.

Thank you to Tor’s family and Ylva Gavel at the Karolinska library for the picture of Tor.

Tor was part of the inspiration for a series of articles I wrote soon after his passing, on the superior Web work of people around the world:

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

Google Health OneBox is a boost for NLM’s MedlinePlus — As discussed previously, though, a few tweaks could make it an even bigger boost. A problem not discussed in the previous article is the “MedlinePlus” name — It has little user recognition, and therefore gets considerably less traffic than it might with a better name. In the NLM Update at the recent Midwest Chapter/Medical Library Association meeting, NLM staffer Paula Kitendaugh said some people at NLM are aware of this, and that a different name would likely do better in Google OneBox, but that so far bureaucratic inertia has prevented a name-change.

Realizing how slowly the wheels turn in a large organization like NLM, then, a better name for MedlinPlus is probably unlikely to happen soon. But how about a quick fix for the name of the link in Google OneBox, to take advantage of the fire-hose of potential traffic from Google? My idea for a simple change, that I think would draw more traffic, as shown in the enhanced screen shot here, is to change the link name from “Medline Plus” to “Natl Lib Med.” I think this simple abbreviation would be recognized and respected by users, and boost clicks to NLM.

As far as a new name for MedlinePlus, I don’t have any ideas so far. If anyone else does, please make a comment, or send to me via email or Twitter.

Accompanying article: MedlinePlus & Google Health OneBox

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

In August, Google launched Google Health OneBox (left). This puts the National Library of Medicine’s Medline Plus right at the top of the search results, and is potentially a valuable new source of traffic for NLM.

There are factors, however, that work against MLP — The three prominent links on the left, which are likely to get the bulk of OneBox clicks (Asthma, Google Health, & thumbnail) go to the Google Health Topics page (below). This has the same text and pictures as the MLP Encyclopedia/ADAM page that’s linked from the OneBox Medline Plus link. But there’s an important difference — The Google Health version of ADAM has Symptoms as the first section after Overview. The MLP version of ADAM, on the other hand (see further down on this page) has Causes as the first section. …

This may seem to be a minor difference. But I’ve learned — through long experience with Hardin MD and brief experience with the short-lived Medical Library Association-Google Health Coop project — that symptoms are a very popular, heavily searched topic for users (which Google certainly knows!). So I suspect that users who try out the Google Health and Medline Plus OneBox links will quickly learn to prefer Google Health because it features the symptoms information they’re looking for. It IS a positive for NLM that the Google Health page has a prominent link to MLP. But it’s rather surprising that there’s no clear credit given to ADAM as the original provider of the information — ADAM is credited only at the bottom of the page, where few users will see it (and I suspect many will consider it copyright-free, since they’ll presume that it’s from a government site.)

MedlinePlus & Google Health OneBox — How NLM can boost traffic

Change the order of sections on ADAM Encyclopedia pages, to put Symptoms at the top, as Google does. This would make the pages more interesting to most users.

Surprisingly, MLP Encyclopedia pages, which is what Google OneBox links to, have no links to equivalent MLP Health Topic pages (Example: there is no link between the Asthma pages in the Encyclopedia and in Health Topics) — After all, it’s the MLP Health Topic pages that NLM staff creates and maintains, so how about making links to them from Encyclopedia pages, so the surging clickers from Google OneBox can find them!

See follow-up article: MedlinePlus Needs a New Name

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