[Air-L] google and wikipedia

Barry Wellman wellman at chass.utoronto.ca
Fri Dec 21 07:34:40 PST 2007


By now, readers of this list have heard about Google's move to develop a
user-contributed encyclopedia. If not, here's an intro from the Official
Google Blog (via Complexity Digest):

"Encouraging People To Contribute Knowledge , The Official Google Blog

Excerpts: The web contains an enormous amount of information, and Google
has helped to make that information more easily accessible by providing
pretty good search facilities. But not everything is written nor is
everything well organized to make it easily discoverable. There are
millions of people who possess useful knowledge that they would love to
share, and there are billions of people who can benefit from it. We
believe that many do not share that knowledge today simply because it is
not easy enough to do that. The challenge posed to us by Larry, Sergey and
Eric was to find a way to help people share their knowledge. This is our
main goal."

Encouraging People To Contribute Knowledge, Udi Manber, 07/12/13,
The Official Google Blog
http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2007/12/encouraging-people-to-contribute.html

Barry again:

I've been pretty active on Wikipedia for a year+ as a hobby, altho having
to limit myself to 30 minutes a day for fear of addiction. I've come to
think of it as the un-Google. Where Google supplies an unorganized list,
Wikipedia tries to organize information chaos into comprehensible bytes.
Despite the problems that all experienced Wikipedia editors know, IMHO, it
does a pretty good job of synthesizing, presenting and self-correcting.

But here's the trap for Google. Google has gotten really far by ripping
off social network analysis with its algorithims, but ignoring the
sociology. By contrast, Wikipedia has evolved into a socially complex
system. Not only are misleading edits frequently (but not always)
corrected by others, but there are elaborate informal and formal
mechanisms for mediation, appeals, deletion of garbage, cross-referencing,
syntax correction, etc. I have seen edit wars break out over many
things, large and small, over the articles that I and my Wikibuddies
watch: Anna Nicole Smith, social networks, The Bronx, female cartoon
heroes, Iran, Jane Jacobs, etc.

Google will have to develop these, even if they go to a quasi-expert
model. Moreover, Google will have to develop the clientele of Wikipedia --
I note that Citizendum -- another expert model encyclopedia developed by
Larry Sanger -- the co-founder of Wikipedia -- hasn't really taken off. Of
course, Google will have vastly more resources to drive people to their
site, but will this be enough. And how will the search capacities of
Google be used by the new G-Encyclopedia, if the busy expert who wrote the
thing has moved on. Indeed, I cannot even keep up with the 10s of
thousands of Google entries about myself.

YMMV,

 Barry Wellman
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  S.D. Clark Professor of Sociology, FRSC              NetLab Director
  Centre for Urban & Community Studies           University of Toronto
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