Thursday, January 17, 2008

Risks in using Wikipedia?

In our research on Wikipedia, we have been using a broad framework published as an one-page article in CACM (Communication of the ACM) in 2005 by Denning et al. on the perceived risks in using Wikipedia contents. The question before researchers is how to mitigate these risks while enabling a vibrant social community who wants to get together to build a encyclopedia and help each other obtain knowledge. As Denning's article mentions: "But will this process actually yield a reliable, authoritative reference encompassing the entire range of human knowledge?"

In the framework in thinking about answers to this question, Denning's article suggests that numerous risks that we should consider:

  • Accuracy: how can you be sure that the information in the article was actually accurate and not some misrepresentation of the fact?

  • Motives: how can you be sure of the motive of the editors were to present the facts and only the facts, and not opinions? For example, as we have discussed before, how can we be sure that editors to political candidate pages are not there to simply push their political agenda? For example, what does User:Jasper23's editing history tell you about his potential political positions?

  • Uncertain Expertise: How do we determine the expertise levels of the people who are editing in Wikipedia? Some appears to really know what they're talking--for example, User:BillCl was the top editor of the NASA page, and appears to have done a bunch of edits around aviation related topics. On the other hand, the top editor (Wasted Time R) of the Hillary Clinton page appears to be also to be big fans of Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Dixie Chicks, Tony_Bennett, and other musicians. So it is less clear this user is an expert on political positions of Hillary Clinton as compared to other candidates.

  • Volatility: If the topic was just in the middle of a huge debate, then the content of the article could be really unsettled.

  • Coverage: Coverage of certain topics appears to be better in Wikipedia than others. What are the inclusion and exclusion standards is less than clear.

  • Sources: Many articles do not cite authoritative sources, so it is hard to trace and find out if the information is actually accurate.

The article then goes on to say that "[WP] cannot attain the status of a true encyclopedia without more formal content-inclusion and expert review procedures." Our WikiDashboard tool is precisely designed to help with collaborative review of Wikipedia editing history and patterns.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Guy Kawasaki speaks about the ease in experimenting with new social websites

One of the amazing thing about the new web platform that is being formed by the Web2.0 and open-source movement is the ease in which someone in a garage (in his spare time) could build and maintain a website. founder, Joshua Schachter, started the project on his spare time, and eventually sold it to Yahoo! The (in)famous website,, started by James Hong, was also started on a whim, and grew to 40K visitors in its first weekend. These stories and other interest facts about starting a Web2.0 website was recently discussed here in a talk in the special speaker series of the PARC Forum.

Guy Kawasaki (of Garage Venture and Truemors) recently came to PARC (where we gave him a tour of PARC) and gave a talk entitled "How I built a Web 2.0, User-Generated Content, Citizen Journalism, Long-Tail, Social Media Site for $12,107.09". Well, let's just say he packed the auditorium of nearly 350 people with laughter and inspiration.

Indeed, there are so much amazing software out there now, that someone with the right idea, at the right place, and knows how to market it to the right people, can get started with amazing little amount of resources. The democratization of software isn't in just making it free, but also is in having the right conditions so that Average Joe can reach hundreds and thousands of users easily.

Check out the video of this great talk.