FluWiki is brilliant, but be careful as always…

FluWiki is brilliant!

In our fearful times of global epidemic, the Flu Wiki comes just in time to save the day. The major proponent of fear is the lack of knowledge, and having a place where people can instantly contribute the latest news on flu developments give us an incredible chance of survival. The wiki’s been a popular hit with up to 5,000 hits per day, and to prevent future downtime, Flu Wiki has received sponsorship by their web host, TextDrive.

While I admire the brilliance of Flu Wiki’s creator, Melanie Mattson, also a 52-year-old writer who specializes in risk communication, I also realize that the battle isn’t just against Flu alone.

The issues of displacing trust and running against political agenda are matters they face everyday. Melanie and her anonymous Flu Wiki contributors sometimes make recommendations that run against those sanctioned by the Bush administration (See related Wired article). Now comes the question of who’s more right: Flu Wiki or the U.S. Govt?

Ultimately, Flu Wiki looks incredibly useful, but as always, take anyone’s advice with a grain of salt.

UPDATE: DemfromCT sent me some useful Fluwiki links which shows how experts collaborate on preparation recommendations for the possible pandemic. The consensus seems pretty worrying, so read on.

  • http://jennimi.blogspot.com/ jennimi

    Kevin as always you are reaching deep to bring us the current issues. Just looking for some clarification regarding this statements:

    While I admire the brilliance of Flu Wiki’s creator, Melanie Mattson, also a 52-year-old writer who specializes in risk communication, I also realize that the battle isn’t just against Flu alone. The issues of displacing trust and running against political agenda are matters they face everyday. Melanie and her anonymous Flu Wiki contributors sometimes make recommendations that run against those sanctioned by the Bush administration.

    Are you saying Ms. Mattson needs to be careful because she is contradicting the Bush Admin? Or that we as readers need to take caution BECAUSE her site contradicts BA?

    To me that implies that the Bush Admin is doing a good job of informing the public about the flu and that it’s bad to contradict it. I haven’t checked her site, and I am not all that interested in bird flu, but I am interested in the potential of the blogosphere and Internet to provide a venue for alternative views and discussion. Cautioning writers based solely on the fact that the government disagrees with them seems to fly in the face of this.

    But perhaps I am misreading your intent…. I recall what someone cool once wrote to me: “blogging = clarification”. :)

    jenn

  • http://diodati.omniscientx.com Elia Diodati

    The problem, as you have said, is not just the ‘flu. It is public ignorance and a near-complete lack of ideas in the general populace for how to get, analyze and evaluate information.

  • http://theory.isthereason.com Kevin

    I did end that article rather abruptly. My personal preference does lie with being open-minded enough to accomodate alternative ideas. As Elia Diodati mentioned, while I like the idea of the Flu Wiki, I’m more concerned whether the layman would know how to decern what’s true, whether it came from a wiki or the government.

  • http://jennimi.blogspot.com/ jennimi

    Ah yes. This is where information professionals such as ourselves come in, helping the users discern reputable from non, entertainment from informatve, and where they all intersect. All while advocating for intellectual freedom in all its forms – just my opinion. (And this is why the world will always need librarians, no matter how many cool sites and search engines there are!)

    Many thanks for the clarification.

    jenn

  • http://www.fluwikie.com DemFromCT

    Thanks for the post! The Flu Wiki actually agrees far more than disagress with such authoritative sites as pandemicflu.gov, CIDRAP, CDC, WHO etc.

    Where we part ways is in the interesting area of non-consensus information. Government and ‘official sites’ (which we heavily link to and respect) have difficulty in those areas where there is no consensus. This includes advice on masks for non-health care workers, whether tamifu individual stockpiling is recommended, how much foold to stockpile in case of a pandemic, what the odds are of H5N1 going human to human (no one really knows).

    We’ve been in touch with CDC and world experts on these and other issues and often can publish their responses, sometimes anonymously if they wish, not as ‘truth’ but as the range of opinion of experts.

    In addition, we’ve caught the attention of library science professionals because we are pseudonymous and because the idea of what’s an authoritative source is an important question.

    Polling from the harvard School of public health shows that 70% of people get their news from TV; of those that use the internet, twice as many go to non-governmantal sites as government sites.

    Because it’s a wiki, wrong information can be corrected by anyone (even you!). New links and info, generally to news sources with the ability to corroborate and cross-check, keeps us honest.

    Feedback is welcome. We don’t claim to be the sole or best site for information, but we feel we fill an important niche. More and more media and government sites agree, and link to us.

    Thanks again for the post!

  • http://theory.isthereason.com Kevin

    Thanks for sharing DemFromCT, it’s amazing how much work has been put into it. Can I ask an estimate of the number of registered contributors FluWiki has?

  • http://www.fluwikie.com DemFromCT

    You don’t have to register to use the wiki. There’s probably no more than 20-30 hard core regular posters to the wiki; there’s 5000 readers a day and (probably) less than 500 daily users of the Forum (the bulletin board part).

    But there are lots of occasional visitors who drop links (some of them librarians), clean up spelling, correct errors, etc. and it’s hard to put a number on that.

    I also post at political blogs, and one difference is that Flu Wiki users stay 4-5 minutes and read 4-5 pages per visit, far higher on both counts than most political blogs.

  • http://theory.isthereason.com Kevin

    Dem: That’s useful to know. Health information would naturally have higher usability than political information. Perhaps a study could be formulated to discover what makes one wiki more successful than others. In any case, great job with the Wiki… I’ll definitely recommend people check it out.

  • http://diodati.omniscientx.com Elia Diodati

    Don’t mind if I pimp my term paper here. [pdf] I did a quick survey of network theory and its application to the study of epidemics, and in particular with regard to SARS. (The theory is still valid for any disease, of course.)

  • http://theory.isthereason.com Kevin

    Nice one Elia. Social Networks, small world theory, that’s stuff my comm department is all about too. I’m printing this out.

  • Grace RN

    Contributing and learning from Fluwiki has been an incredible experience. As a health care worker, I’ve been following H5N1 since 2/98, and was dismayed with the little attention being paid to its’ spread; I found fluwiki the easiest and most informative site on the web. Using the information from fluwiki has helped me to get my NJ township’s board of health to get moving toward pandemic planning. The risk is real.

  • Pilgrim

    FluWiki is an interesting phenomenon and I enjoy it, and profit from reading it. Certainly the discussion forum is interesting and the links provided on main and related pages are excellent.