A bright spot in a dark day

In keeping up with the coverage of the London bombings today, I have to admit that my feelings have alternated between intense sorrow for the victims and slack-jawed awe at the speed and breadth of coverage at Wikipedia.

Wikis are incredibly good tools for capturing and organizing information online, and they work especially well when there’s a dedicated community involved. If you’re reading this, please remember that we need your help to grow The Louverture Project’s wiki. Take a look at the page above and think about how powerful the collective actions of like-minded individuals can be.

Wiki Wiki Everywhere

Wiki news and developments have been popping up everywhere. For example, the good folks at Gadgetopia noticed a couple of interesting things taking shape at Wikipedia. First are WikiReaders, collections of articles from Wikipedia in PDF form. At some point, I’ll see about adapting this script that does PDF conversions. Currently, it only manages Wikipedia articles, but it’d sure be nice to be able to offer the same service for readers of The Louverture Project.

Next up are WikiProjects, meant to organize articles within certain families of information.

Next, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, whose blog is available here, notes that Wikipedia has been cited as a reference in a legal opinion.

Also from the good folks at Wikipedia, visit Wikicities, a collection of informal, community-based websites on diverse topics from technology to language to sport.

More from Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger

Larry Sanger was originally hired to develop Nupedia, the precursor to Wikipedia. These two articles on Slashdot make up a brief history of the development of the open-source encyclopedia project. Though hardly a partial observer (Sanger left Wikipedia over, it seems, “creative differences”), I find the author’s pieces useful to read for their history and perspective.

* The Early History of Nupedia and Wikipedia: A Memoir
* The Early History of Nupedia and Wikipedia, Part II

Wikis in the news

Once we’re really rolling, a major focus of The Louverture Project will be to educate users about blogs and wikis: what they are, how to use them, and why they’re important. That’s why I like to post news about wikis alongside items of interest to the Haitian community. Following are links I’ve been collecting over the past couple of months that I just haven’t had time to post. This is an attempt to catch up. Most of these I came across in my normal newsreading, but if I’ve forgotten the original source of the link, I do apologize…

* Gadgetopia pointed us to this wonderful screencast (big Flash file) by Jon Udell which traces the life of a wiki article over a two-year period. It’s fascinating to watch the article’s evolution, especially the unsuccessful attempt to vandalize the page.

* Thomas at Smart Mobs links to a Washington Post article which notes the increasing use of emerging technologies — especially wikis — on college campuses. Seems that wikis can be a good way to collect and organize knowledge. As if we at TLP didn’t know that. 😉

* Slashdot reported that Google had offered to donate bandwidth and servers to Wikipedia. According to the Wikimedia Project page on the subject, this is not a done deal, and there are several other offers on the table as well. More at Dirson’s Blog.

* Wikipedia is not, apparently, invulnerable. According to Netcraft, the site was knocked off line for a short time last month due to a power outage.

* One thing that many agree Wikipedia does very well is documenting current events and breaking news. That strength led to the development of Wikinews, a free-content news source. The announcement spawned controversy, as critics questioned the site’s ability to present accurate, factual, and unbiased information as a matter of course. It’s a bit hard to read, but a log of an IRC chat about the site can be found here. Joi Ito noted the chat on his blog, and has a few notes as well.

* Dan Gillmor has some notes on Wikipedia, Wikinews, Google, etc.

* Boing Boing links us to an excellent refutation of Robert McHenry, a former Editor-In-Chief of Encyclopaedia Britannica who attacked Wikipedia in an online opinion piece. Author Aaron Krowne, in fact, does more than just demolish McHenry’s arguments; he does a good job of explaining to the beginner just what Wikipedia is and why it works as well as it does.

The Observer likes what it sees in Wikipedia

Via “Slashdot”:slashdot.org, we find the following piece about Wikipedia:

The Observer | Business | Why encyclopaedic row speaks volumes about the old guard

bq. By all laws of reference-work publishing, Wikipedia ought to be a disaster. Yet it is exactly the opposite – an exceedingly useful online reference work often consulted by this columnist and countless others.

BoingBoing note on what wiki is good at

The following is reposted from BoingBoing…

Shirky: Wikipedia is better than Brittanica on net-centric axes:

Cory Doctorow:
Clay Shirky’s posted more about Wikipedia on Many2Many, responding to danah boyd’s post about how Wikipedia won’t be an encylopedia. The thing Clay really nails this time in the idea that “new media don’t succeed because they’re like the old media, only better: they succeed because they’re worse than the old media at the stuff the old media is good at, and better at the stuff the old media are bad at.”

And of course, sometimes Wikipedia is better, since, as with the Indian Ocean tsunami example, Britannica simply has no offering. So, at the margin, a casual user who wants free access to a Web site that offers a communally-compiled and non-authoritative overview of a recent event will prefer the Wikipedia to nothing, which is what Britannica offers. In this case, Wikipedia comes out on top, and walking along several of those axes like cost, availability, topicality, and breadth of coverage, Wikipedia has the advantage, and in many cases, that advantage is increasing with time

Now Britannica doesn’t want this to be true (god, do they not want this to be true) and so they try to create litmus tests around authoritativeness — “WARNING: Do not read anything that does not come from an institutional source!” But this is as silly as audiophiles dismissing the MP3 format because it wasn’t an improvement in audio quality, missing entirely that the package of “moderate quality+improved cost and distribution” was what made the format great. Considering MP3 as nothing more than a lossy compression scheme missed the bundle of services that it enabled.


Should open source encyclopedias defer to expert opinions?

Here’s an interesting op-ed on Kuro5hin.org. The author, one of the founders of Wikipedia, makes a few good points about the perceived weaknesses of the open source encyclopedia. However, he relies too much on the Expert Fallacy in arguing for a change in the project. The article is worth reading in order to understand some of the most pointed objections about wiki projects, but the commenters, especially Kasreyn are just as worthy of attention.

Why Wikipedia Must Jettison Its Anti-Elitism || kuro5hin.org:

By lsanger
Fri Dec 31st, 2004 at 12:42:24 AM EST
Wikipedia has started to hit the big time. Accordingly, several critical articles have come out, including “The Faith-Based Encyclopedia” by a former editor-in-chief of Britannica and a very widely-syndicated AP article that was given such titles as “When Information Access Is So Easy, Truth Can Be Elusive”.

These articles are written by people who appear not to appreciate the merits of Wikipedia fully. I do, however; I co-founded Wikipedia.