Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Web 2.0 for Dummies – Part 7: Wikipedia

This post is another post in the "Web 2.0 for dummies" posts, based on my Web 2.0 presentation in a conference and my experience. After tasting Web 2.0 (part 2) and understanding what it is (part 4) and understanding Mashups and Virtual Realities, I will look at the case of Wikipedia.

What is Wikipedia?
Wikipedia is an Open Source (mainly an Open Content) community based encyclopedia. Its model is different from the traditional encyclopedia model based on books and from the Web 1.0 model based on loading a traditional encyclopedia to a Web site.
The difference between previous encyclopedia generations and Wikipedia could be summarized by the following bullets:

· Participation and Collaboration - Written by community members instead of experts. Writing is not the only pattern of participation: voting, editing, discussing are examples of other activities for expanding and improving the content.

· Multilingual – the community is composed of many sub-communities each of them working on different language. However, the common technological base enables cross participation between sub-communities by enabling
· Dynamic - participants may add, change, correct or delete content improving and adjusting the encyclopedic content. A similar change process in a traditional encyclopedia may take years instead of days.

· Hyperlinks – Encyclopedia Entries are related to each other by hyperlinks. Hyperlinks also serve as an easy way to access other related Web content sources.
Wiki is quick in Hawaiian language. This term describes the Agility of Wikipedia's content.

Economical and Technological model
The economical model is based upon donation and not on Advertising.
Technology is based on Open Source projects: Linux, PHP, MYSQL etc.
Major Wikipedia technology components include:
  • Wiki – a technology for enabling collaboration of multiple users to a Web page.
Version Management including restore to previous entry version is a crucial mechanism.
  • Web User Interface
  • Search Engines
  • Templates
  • Database Management and backups
Advantages
· Dynamic and improving
Collaborators enhance and correct articles via a process similar to Open Source software code creation. An article is checked by many people so uncorrected errors rate can be low.
· Easy access to other related articles or data by hyperlinks
The hyperlinks hierarchy is composed of internal links, inter Wikipedia (cross languages), external (Web).

  • Multi-languages and Multi-Cultural

A local community can cover more deeply local topics (culture, people etc.) in comparison to to a globalized encyclopedia.
· Multi-media support

Challenges

· Copyrights protection
Community members may copy protected text or pictures intentionally or unintentionally violating owners' rights to that content. As mentioned in previous post this challenge is common to many Web 2.0 projects.
Audits followed by deletion of that content written guidelines and disclaimer are the mechanisms for coping with this challenge

· Copyleft protection
Content usage is based on free content GFDL. Identifying and eliminating violations of it is a challenge.A commercial encyclopedia employee copying articles from Wikipedia is an example of violation of the GFDL.

· Systematic topics coverage
Experts creating a traditional encyclopedia will make sure that all significant items will be defined. In contradiction, in Wikipedia community members choose whatever articles to cover. The result could be missing important items as well as articles on negligible subjects. Communities try to address this issue by initiatives for mapping relevant subjects and terms in a specific topic and writing articles on them. Another issue relating to non-systematic coverage is related to the evolutionary nature of Wikipedia. Even if a topic is covered systematically in a specific time only subset of articles will be available.

· Content quality
Content quality is nonuniform: Some articles are excellent while other articles level is not good enough. The reasons for not good enough articles vary: intentional distortion, lack of expertise by the authors, lack of time for article evolution etc. Auditing, Deleting and restoration of previous version are mechanisms for addressing this challenge

Summary
Wikipedia is a successful and valuable Web 2.0 initiative. However, one should be careful because some of the content will not be adequate. The real problem in using Wikipedia content, as well as other Web content is to distinguish between excellent content and inappropriate content.

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