This morning I had a lengthy chat with Steve Watson from the Buffalo News while having coffee at the campus Starbucks. I don’t think it was for anything specific other than for him to get a pulse on the Tech or Web 2.0 world. He’s interesting in writing about politicians claiming their bios on Wikipedia, and while we chatted a bit about that, I moved on to looking at the big picture of Wikis. I brought him to Flu Wiki and in plain English (not geek), I shared some thoughts off the top of my head:
Quality issues (i.e. accuracy and reliability of information)
– Real-world conflicts on what or which version should get published
Speed: Live, real-time publishing
Relatively cheap to maintain
Relatively easy to use
Collaborative, democratic knowledge sharing
It’s really a chicken and egg situation between academics and wiki editors. Wikis need to build reputation as a reliable source, which relies on enough people citing it. However, quality is a major issue since it is reason enough not to cite wikis for major research work (though we can cite specific wiki page versions). Still, isn’t the general trends for most Web 2.0 services = the lack of quality?
Think of any open social bookmarking, tagging, recommendation system (e.g. Digg) and name one service that nails this problem in the head. Recognize that the problem may be an exceptional case for Wikipedia since it has to be specific and accurate. Flickr, for example, doesn’t have to be concerned with the problem since it is searched with a free vocabulary of tags and there is less criteria on what is worthy of publishing. In a way, Wikipedia and most other wikis, intrinsically needs to be strict.
Most Web 2.0 services share a common trait of getting spammed, vandalized, or googlebombed in various forms. How does Wikipedia deal with it? Right now I think it relies solely on the goodwill of it’s expert contributors to spot quality issues, discuss if necessary, then fix it.
As you can see, this post isn’t really complete. I’m still struggling to figure out more Pros and Cons for Wikis as I am likely to encounter similar queries in future. In the mean time, I believe that the rewards still outweigh the risks of using Wikis. Here’s the maxim you should follow if you want to be safe while working with Wikis: “It’s a great place to start, but not to end your research”