Monday, June 22, 2015

#Wikipedia - business as usual is not an option

The New York Times featured an article titled: "Can Wikipedia Survive?" by Andrew Lih. It is a good article in that it describes the current state of Wikipedia. It raises several important points and the main one is that because of smartphones and tablets many people do not contribute as much as they used to.

Articles like that describe the status quo. The issues that seem important based on the old understanding of what Wikipedia is about. The older understanding was: "To share the sum of all knowledge" the current situation is that there are 280+ Wikipedias and each is on its own to do its own thing using the MediaWiki software. There are other projects that contribute to the old motto but they were outside of the scope of the article.

When you reflect on the original objective, all Wikipedias fail. Every Wikipedia has its own content and is distinct in what it has to say. Consequently they do not share the sum of all knowledge; they are not even aware of the knowledge that is available elsewhere.

When you analyse Wikipedia, it has several components; there are accumulations of text and there are accumulations of data. There have been experiments that show clearly that it is not always necessary for a person to write the text. The experience from several Wikipedias is that bot generated content leads to more readers and more editors. This is quite counter intuitive but hey, why dispute the facts? If there is one draw back, it is with updating said texts when need be.

We know that once enough data is available for a subject information may be gleaned from raw data. Wikidata provides raw data and Reasonator among others transforms it into information. This may finally be accepted when the overly long awaited Wikidata Query engine will become available.

What this may do is several things.
  • people will want to add items and statements to Wikidata
  • results will pop up everywhere once the facts are in
  • more software will be written to produce texts based on Wikidata data
  • articles generated in this way may be cached without saving the text
  • generated articles will change once more facts are known
This is not rocket science. It has been done before. The only question is does sufficient motivation to accept changes to Wikipedia exist. As Andrew Lih so eloquently asks "Can Wikipedia Surive?" the answer seems obvious. Wikipedia has to change in order to survive. This approach will help us improve content in any language.
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