Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Wikipedia and Wikibooks

Wikipedia! Great idea and an experimentation on the theoretical limits of Open Source technology and collaboration.

Open source gives would be scam artist (including large corporations) some accountability in terms of the quality of their products by actually allowing their users to see the guts. Much security software has come under criticism for their design when "hackers" reverse engineer the products to discover the entire system is built on obscurity of obvious methods for network penetration, without really reducing threat.

Open source products such as OpenOffice have been the works of brilliant people working together for free to produce something the same smart people need that they are tired of paying for. If you are anti-Microsoft, or even a little computer savoy, grab some flexibility with OpenOffice, a full office package available for more OS environments than I even knew existed.

So anyway, that is one great example... so what happened to wikipedia?

I love wikipedia for... what it could be. It often has very obscure information, particularly cultural references... but what about wiki for reference. Too much what I hear from teachers is it just isn't reliable when the information needs to be reliable.

Wiki definitely has places where it is... lacking. But unfortunately there are many places where the information is absolutely wrong, even on very elaborate and beautiful pages with lots of reference. My first encounter with this was in looking up some info on astronomy. LOTS of information and all kinds of numbers describing planets, moons, and all kinds of technical specs on size, movement, rotation, and temperature or what not. But as I was looking thought the data, some of it seemed odd. I had some problems locating other data to support or deny what was being presented, so made some quick calculations and discovered that in many places numbers and units were horribly disarranged.

So now I stick for wikipedia for vocabulary, pop culture, and inspiration. If I want to look something up, I will often start with wiki, then follow some of the links to references, or find names and investigate them elsewhere.

So the problem today, wikibooks.org. The link above is to a textbook entitled "High School Physics". The first thing I noticed was that with a page introducing potential and kinetic energy that for every instance of there/their/they're, there was only "their", and never used appropriately. I started editing the article immediately after seeing the first mistake and continued to read the article from "edit this page". It went from bad examples that poorly demonstrated concepts to equations that were absolutely wrong "showing" how easy physics is. These weren't just "Ideal" "Newtonian" physics equations that don't account for high speed particular situations... the stuff was just wrong if not taken HORRIBLY out of context.

Anyway, my thought was that this page, if not this book, needs to be deleted. I would fear any student that reads it and goes "I get it now". Unlikely, but I wonder what compelled someone to write such an article in the first place. Oh well.

So... Is open source better it is automatically discrimination by limiting it to the complex language of geeks, as well as being so fragmented that Darwinism causes bad packages and updates and features to be lost over time, while a place like wiki is more susceptible to being messed with by anybody. Open Source projects are managed and seek a particular objective. Users have direct control over quality control by being the designers... but wiki has nothing of the sort. Bad articles happen when people start by posting a small amount of bad data. Are people discouraged from deleting or replacing pages that suck, or might it be encouraging to replace such pages with something better.

I would be curious what others think.


Anonymous said...

If some one decides that they want to write an "educational" piece, they had damned well make sure that thier infomation is credible an, more importantly, understandable and useful. Peolpe so often want to "help show others the `RIGHT way" to do something and think about something, that they don't stop long enough in thier overzealous "mission" to make simple corrections.

So, in the end, yes- delete the damn thing.

Anonymous said...

Weird. I'm glad you're a conscientious user, if I even spelled that right. I've used Wikki for informative searches before, and this info makes me ponder how credible my edification really was. Oh, well.