Tuesday, May 22, 2007

UKSG write-up: "The Wikipedia Problem"

It's been over a month since UKSG, so time to reflect on the presentations which took place there.

"The Wikipedia Problem" is a quote taken from Clifford Guren (Microsoft)'s opening of plenary one, where new Microsoft products which seemed in direct competition with established ones from Google were showcased and discussed within the framework of internet use statistics and comment.

Several statistics of interest emerged:

  • 25% of internet users contribute the largest share of internet search revenue. These were described as the 'internet optimisers'
  • 87% of internet users carry out research on scientific topics; and the internet is the most popular place for young adults to find information on science
  • 75% of internet users report they do not check the source or the date of health information on the internet. So there is no examination of the quality or accuracy
  • 21% of faculty professors feel that search engines understand their queries ... and 10% find what they want on a first search attempt
  • BUT ...
  • Only 5% of all the information available in the world is available online

If the above are accurate there is much food for thought for the information world. We need to ensure that our libraries are not populated by customers who think that knowledge begins and ends with what is on their computer screens.

This is where the "Wikipedia problem" may be a contributory factor. Open to any internet users to start a topic or amend an existing one, it has some 280,000 current volunteers contributors and is the 6th most popular site on the internet.

Guren argued that the needs of 'Generation Next' (the heavy users of technology, text and IMs rather than email, heavy users of social networks) will have a major impact on information delivery.

This would be a major theme running through many presentations at the 30th UKSG.

He finished by quoting the poem by Kay Ryan, "We're Building The Ship As We Sail It". The text of this poem can be found at http://journals.enotes.com/poetry-journals/146693070. (Incidentally, Microsoft's Live Search found the contents page this poem is in, but not the poem itself - Google found both).


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2:57 am  
Blogger peterblaise said...

There's no news here. "...only 5% of the world's info in on the web..." Huh? Even if true, that 5% could be 150% of what we need and find useful! Perhaps 300% of the information in the world is trash anyway even before the web! If there were no web, what would be the statistics - 0.5% of the world's daily information is received via broadcast media, and 0.1% is retrieved actively through libraries and book sales? Who knows or comes up with this stuff? These numbers could come flying outta anybody's a** and we'd be none the wiser! In other words, all the so-called statistics in this story are meaningless since they are not compared to a base line and are not normalized in any way. How about this: 100% of the information people find on the web is useful to them in some way, and 0% of the misinformation on the Internet is harmful to those who believe it ... versus 100% of Religious information and 150% of Political press releases and so on are BOGUS and always have been! C'mon, get real! There's no news here! There is no "Wikipedia Problem"; there is only fear of Wikipedia by people who once thought they were in exclusive control of information. That is all. Yet another "king" has been dethroned by the democracy of the Internet. Long live the non-king!

9:22 pm  
Anonymous John Partridge said...

Yet another aspect of The Wikipedia Problem is that plenty of people are willing to defend it against any and all criticism, blithely ignoring all sorts of basic realities (not to mention perfectly valid statistical studies) in the process. And you don't know if those people really believe positively in what Wikipedia is doing (which isn't necessarily good), or if they're simply protecting their ability to use Wikipedia as a weapon against others. There's nothing "democratic" or "anti-exclusivity" about Wikipedia; it's just trading one set of information controllers and gatekeepers for another. But at least the old controllers were, for the most part, qualified experts in their field of endeavor. I personally believe that people who defend Wikipedia in this fashion should be dismissed and ignored, along with much of Wikipedia itself. But the site's ubiquity, along with the irrational exhuberance of its followers, makes it a threat to the rest of the internet by almost any standard - for the same reason that Microsoft and Google are threats. The fact that the threat comes from a mob, instead of a corporation, doesn't make it any less threatening - and while all three entities do plenty of things that are useful, the risk of allowing them to maintain so much control over those things shouldn't be ignored just because of their usefulness.

8:51 am  
Blogger David Gerard said...

John Partridge is quite correct. Clearly, we need smarter people.

7:25 am  

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