Fading Hope for Wikis - InformationWeek

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Software // Information Management
Commentary
2/26/2008
09:43 AM
Neil Raden
Neil Raden
Commentary
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Fading Hope for Wikis

If you ever spend time as an administrator or even an editor on Wikipedia, you find that your initial enthusiasm for the concept wanes pretty quickly. I thought Wikipedia was a forum for interested people to present their knowledge in an open and influence-free environment, to be vetted by like-minded, optimistic people. As it turns out, it became a dumping ground for every crackpot, agenda, vendetta and misinformation-broker on the planet...

If you ever spend time as an administrator or even an editor on Wikipedia, you find that your initial enthusiasm for the concept wanes pretty quickly. I thought Wikipedia was a forum for interested people to present their knowledge in an open and influence-free environment, to be vetted by like-minded, optimistic people. As it turns out, it became a dumping ground for every crackpot, agenda, vendetta and misinformation-broker on the planet, which in turn, spurned a dizzying collection of Wikipedia policies and a subculture of enforcers of the policies. Obviously, there was a need to enforce these policies to eliminate all but the most carefully crafted articles, free of conflict-of-interest, lies, libel, etc., but the net result is that discussion of policy far exceeds discussion of substance today.It has gotten so bizarre that a discussion page I contribute to had this message from a senior editor today: "...only peer-reviewed journals are suitable for that page." Anyone familiar with peer-reviewed journals knows that the politics of getting published are Byzantine and, in fact, one of the most respected journals, The New England Journal of Medicine, has actually criticized itself for its selection of articles that tilt toward favorable outcomes, overlooking the others. Peer review is an essentially political process. In this case, a book about a particular disease, written by scientists who are, in fact, published researches in peer-reviewed journals, was rejected as a source because of this narrow interpretation. In another case, the Washington Post reported about a study published in a journal (not available online) and the article was rejected because it was considered "synthesis."

What does this have to do with BI? Nothing really, except that I looked to the idea of Wikis as a way to solve some problems of understanding, but like a virtual reality world, if Wikipedia is an example, it has the tendency to evolve quickly in distortion and dysfunction because, I guess, of human nature, which is to exploit any mechanism that gives you a leg up. In the case of Wikipedia, there are editors who contribute nothing at all; they only impose their view of policy on others who are contributing. Does this sound familiar? I bet it does.

There are underlying technologies to wikis, such as semantic Web technology, that vastly increase their usability and usefulness, but the human element can't be accounted for. I have a mental picture of policy enforcers as sad people with nothing to contribute and no influence elsewhere, acting anonymously to project their power over others. Unless wikis find a way to moderate their influence, they will eventually fall into the same trap as Wikipedia.

Despite all of this, Wikipedia is still a wonderful phenomenon for retrieving information. The problem that I see is the information that is not there.

By the way, there are a number of articles about BI and data warehousing on Wikipedia that are in desperate need of editing. This isn't a very contentious topic, though there is obviously difference of opinion. If you are so inclined... but please, no promotional material. I don't edit some of the articles directly because I am probably in conflict-of-interest on some things, but I do participate in the discussion pages.If you ever spend time as an administrator or even an editor on Wikipedia, you find that your initial enthusiasm for the concept wanes pretty quickly. I thought Wikipedia was a forum for interested people to present their knowledge in an open and influence-free environment, to be vetted by like-minded, optimistic people. As it turns out, it became a dumping ground for every crackpot, agenda, vendetta and misinformation-broker on the planet...

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