In response to my claim that it is reasonable to think that within a few years Wikipedia will surpass Britannica in breadth and depth, crank42 writes:
It does not seem reasonable at all, let alone "very reasonable", to understand a trend report this way. Only a fool would suppose that the growth rate of 100% in Linux use which was instantiated the second time someone installed the kernel means that Linux use will grow 100% per day forever. If this is the sort of slack-minded thought behind Wikipedia, I have my doubts that there is anything of value there.
It seems to me that you have misunderstood the thinking behind the claim. You seem to think that my argument is as follows: "The number of Wikipedia articles has been growing at rate R for the past nine months; therefore, it will continue to grow at the rate of R for the indefinite future." If that's all there were to it, that indeed would be foolish to say; but that's not all there is to it.
The claim, first of all, is that it is reasonable to believe this--not that it is certainly true and that you all ought to believe it. Please bear that in mind.
Now, what makes it reasonable to think that Wikipedia will continue growing at a rapid clip is not simple extrapolation, but observation of the factors that have made it grow at the rapid clip so far. Google has been sending us lots of traffic (thousands of visitors a day from Google alone; it used to be just in the hundreds). The more traffic Google sends us, the more people get on board and create content; and then Google sends us even more traffic. Moreover, more and more people are linking to Wikipedia. This raises Wikipedia's Google rankings. (Thus more traffic, thus more content.) Already, plenty of Wikipedia pages are listed on the first few pages of Google results.
Now, that's only part of the argument. The other part is that, while there is attrition (some old contributors don't write so much anymore), there's an overall increase in active population. There's a lot more active Wikipedians now that there was, say, three months ago.
Another part of the argument is that the overall quality of Wikipedia has been increasing, and our experience so far indicates that it will, probably, continue to increase. This makes it more likely that people will take notice of the project, link to it, use its contents (properly sourcing Wikipedia), etc.
In short, "the rich get richer." Please note, this is reportage, not speculation: it's an explanation of how Wikipedia's growth has occurred in the last nine months.
You're right about one thing. Of course, we'll run out of topics sooner or later--the number of encyclopedia topics is not infinite. But it is really huge. A lot bigger than 100,000, and a heck of a lot bigger than the number of topics contained in Britannica.
Brittanica is not only good because it is big. If that were the case, there's be no reason not to be satisfied with World Book or something of that sort. When it is good, Brittanica is so partly because it is authoritative; and, it got that way by being selective.
Correct, it's good not only because it's big; the high quality of its articles is very important. It got that way by having high standards. What reason have you to believe that only "by being selective" (i.e., presumably, choosing who is going to write about what) is the only way to support and achieve high standards? Maybe there's another, more open way. Wikipedia is so far an excellent test of that proposition.
It is true that one can, perhaps, get good, useful and complete encyclopedia-type entries from a fairly small but interested population:
I suspect the number of Wikipedia's writers isn't going to be "fairly small" forever. If we stuck with the present group and found no new contributors, we could still make a very interesting, useful reference, a lot better than the present one; but it's very unlikely that we will not find any new contributors, as I've explained.
But many Usenet groups are all but unreadable now, because every thread is crowded with a bunch of half-knowledgeable posts which are as frustrating as they are misleading. (I'll not discuss the flame-wars, which are just a special case of the described phenomenon anyway.)
This is a weak analogy. Usenet lacks at least two features that are absolutely essential to Wikipedia's success: (1) on Usenet, you can't edit other people's work, thereby encouraging creative and collegial collaboration (sorry for the alliteration :-) ); (2) Usenet does not have the possibility of peer pressure and community-agreed and -enforced standards, which Wikipedia does have. Moreover, Usenet is a debate forum. Wikipedia is, very self-consciously, an encyclopedia project!
There is simply no reason to suppose that more is automatically better.
Actually, there is! :-) At least three reasons. First, the more people are participating, the sooner we fill up all the easy topics, thereby making the project of more interest to specialists who are turned off by the obvious omission of basic information on easy topics. Second, the more eyes, the more transparent the errors (over the long haul).
Third, statistically, the more people are participating, the greater the sheer numbers of experts. Now, as a matter of fact, people usually tend not to touch articles they know nothing about, particularly when the article is well-developed or when they know that some resident expert will pounce on their mistakes. (There are exceptions, of course.) So, the greater the number of participating experts, the higher the overall quality of the content produced under their general guidance. It is not mere hype to say that Wikipedia caters to the highest common denominator--it's actually an observation we've made!
With enough participants, it is at least plausible that the Wikipedia contributors will end up spending all their time in editing one another, and none in learning anything that they'll be able to contribute. (That is to say, Wikipedia will, with enough participants, face the problems that Usenet and, later, forums like Slashdot faced.)
This seems pretty obviously implausible to anyone with experience on Wikipedia. It's evident that you are speaking from a position of ignorance, frankly. We could be all just editing each other's work, and there is a lot of that going on (which is a good thing!). Most of this tends to be done in a collegial, as opposed to acrimonious, fashion. (Not always, yes--but usually.) But very often people are starting new topics; we're teaching each other stuff all the time. In short, it's not like Usenet, or Slashdot, or a typical wiki for that matter. It's new.
It's too bad; but, that's why peer review was invented. I think Wikipedia might provide a good first airing for draft copies of Nupedia articles. For much else, I can't see that it will be useful.
Interesting that you should say so. As Nupedia's editor-in-chief, I have encouraged just that. But I have found Wikipedia's "review" process in many ways just as robust, and in some ways superior to, Nupedia's. What makes Nupedia articles so great are two things: they start with well-qualified authors, and they are thoroughly vetted by experts. Now, Wikipedia has been steadily gaining more and more experts--and there will be, therefore, well-qualified authors writing articles that are thoroughly vetted by experts.
In addition to all this, if and when we set up an independent review process for Wikipedia, as I and others have mentioned, I expect the project will become more attractive to experts who can see more easily that their expertise is valued. In the meantime, I'm very grateful to the many highly-qualified people who have joined us.
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