Librarians and “Wikipedia Angst”…12.15.08

15 12 2008

In the January “Cites and Insights: 9, Number 1 2009” [http://citesandinsights.info/v9i1b.htm], there are some interesting comments about Wikipedia and its growing acceptance by Walt Crawford as excerpted here: 

“It’s been a while since we discussed Wikipedia, its competitors and structure. I had four clusters of wiki-related items to discuss—items about Wikipedia itself, Wikia Search and other Wikia stuff, Knol and Citizendium. Now that I’ve gone through Wikipedia items, I see the rest will have to wait (and Knol might or might not be worth discussing in a few more months)…

His closing comments:

“…Once again, the felt need to elaborate overwhelms the source material—one good reason I shouldn’t be a Wikipedian. If some of you are saying “Why does Walt hate Wikipedia so much?” I’m not sure how to respond. I don’t hate Wikipedia. I use it. But it needs criticism, openly and often—the more so given the way it works internally.

When it comes to notability, I’d tend to be an inclusionist—for example, if 2.5 million articles are already acceptable in the English-language version, then wouldn’t (for example) inclusion in Who’s Who in America be enough to justify a biographical entry (unless the subject wants no part of it)? That is, after all, some level of prominence with verifiability from a trustworthy source.

Iris Jastram recently noted that ‘libloggers seem to have gotten bored with writing about Wikipedia some time ago.’ I think that’s true. I think it’s a little unfortunate. (Jastram nails it more broadly: ‘Libloggers are only a sliver of the profession, and it’s a sliver that gets bored with some topics very easily.’) She found that ‘Wikipedia Angst‘ was out in force at a conference she attended and wondered whether it’s glib to say ‘we should just get over it already?’ She hasn’t decided. Personally, I think ‘get over it’ is always an unfortunate response—and ‘getting over’ the manifest and possibly growing problems with Wikipedia would be as unfortunate as it would be to obsess over Wikipediaor demand people ignore it entirely.

Two websites attempt to deal with ‘authority’ in Wikipedia algorithmically. Wikiscanner (wikiscanner.virgil.gr) looks for self-interested edits; at this writing, it’s between versions. The other, WikiTrust (trust.cse.ucsc.edu/), shows the ‘computed trust’ of an article, coloring the background of articles depending on ‘trust.’ WikiTrust can also be added to other MediaWiki wikis to show ‘trust.’ The algorithm for trust is interesting:

First, we compute the reputation of each author by analyzing the author’s contributions. When an author makes a contribution that is preserved in subsequent edits, the author gains reputation. When an author makes a contribution that is undone or reverted quickly, the author loses reputation.

The trust value of a new word is proportional to the reputation of its author. When subsequent authors edit the page, words that are left unchanged gain trust: by leaving them there, the authors implicitly agree with them. Words closer to the edit gain more trust, as the author of the edit is likely to have paid more attention to them. In contrast, text that has been rearranged (new text, text at the border of cut-and-paste, etc) has again a reputation proportional to the author of the edit.

There’s a certain circularity to this, but it’s nonetheless intriguing. Not that either tool can or should settle the maze of issues surroundingWikipedia’s stature—not its usefulness but, in the end, its reliability.”

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