Saturday, February 24, 2007

Rumors of Wikipedia's Imminent Demise Are Greatly Exagerrated

Following up on some recent XODP Blog posts about Wikipedia, I noticed that it has become somewhat fashionable to predict Wikipedia's imminent demise, the most recent example of this that I found being Peter Da Vanzo's post at the v7n blog, Have DMOZ Taken Over Wikipedia?
"DMOZ and Wikipedia share much in common - other than Wikipedia isn't completely useless. Yet.

"[ . . . ]

. . . You build something that looks open, and appears to be open, but in reality, is locked up tight, and run by a small group of people making ever more insular decisions.

". . . [T]hey're under-resourced for the task, and as the task grows, the more under-resourced they become. In response, they compromise the very thing that made them valuable - accessibility."
I've had recurring issues with Wikipedia since I first started contributing to it back in August of 2002, and I think that some project forking is long overdue. However, I think that Da Vanzo's indictment of Wikipedia is gratuitiously harsh. Ditto for the indictment of Wikipedia proffered by Nicholas Carr back in May of 2006:
"Wikipedia, the encyclopedia that "anyone can edit," was a nice experiment in the "democratization" of publishing, but it didn't quite work out. Wikipedia is dead. It died the way the pure products of idealism always do, slowly and quietly and largely in secret, through the corrosive process of compromise.

". . . A few months ago, in the wake of controversies about the quality and reliability of the free encyclopedia's content, the Wikipedian powers-that-be - . . . tightened the restrictions on editing. In addition to banning some contributors from the site, the administrators adopted an "official policy" of what they called, in good Orwellian fashion, "semi-protection" to prevent "vandals" (also known as people) from messing with their open encyclopedia."
A much more muted prediction of Wikipedia's demise was offered by Eric Goldman on his Technology and Marketing Law Blog entitled Wikipedia Will Fail in Four Years:
". . . I'm . . . basing this prediction on the experiences of ODP. I think it's fair to say that (1) in its heyday, the ODP did an amazing job of aggregating free labor to produce a valuable database, and (2) the ODP is now effectively worthless."
While I agree that Wikipedia has all sorts of limitations and faces all sorts of challenges, I also think that predicting Wikipedia's demise based on comparisons to ODP/dMOZ is very simplistic thinking.

The single biggest problem with the purportedly Open Directory Project was that it was never, ever truly open. A close second was the fact that ODP never had a business plan. Neither of these things can be said about Wikipedia. Rather, the single biggest problem with Wikipedia is quality control, and a close second is the bizarre bureaucracy that has been slowy emerging in response to the problem of quality control. The fallback solution to both of these problems and most of the other problems that open projects encounter is project forking, something that could not happen with ODP because of its corporate ownership, its onerous licensing restrictions, and its failure and refusal to use an open source software platform.

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