Sunday, November 01, 2015

#Wikipedia versus the sum of all knowledge II

A question was raised again: "Whatever happened to Wikipedia, the encyclopedia anyone can edit"?"  It was meant to be a rhetorical question. It assumes that everyone can edit Wikipedia and do "all" things necessary. It is a funny because practically it has never been true. 

It never mattered. Wikipedia had people operating bots, add sources, add images, add templates and only because of this cooperation Wikipedia was functional. When an editor did not know how to do something, he had to learn new skills or had someone else do the job for him.

Wikipedia is a living project. Things change and consequently the skills needed evolve as well. Sometimes new technology is disruptive and old technology is grandfathered; no longer potent, no longer relevant. 

Three years ago Wikidata made its first appearance. From the start it was disruptive, It replaced the old interwiki links and we all benefited from a much more robust technology. This is however a niche area of Wikipedia so nobody complained.

Wikidata has ambitions; it has the potential to serve the sum of all available knowledge. To achieve this over the years data from many sources, often Wikipedias were harvested and found their place in one integrated environment. At this stage, selected areas of information may be served to Wikipedia from Wikidata. 

We are at a stage where Wikidata is increasingly the objective best place for particular fields of information and where a local Wikipedia becomes a backwater, becomes stagnant. People who care about external sources for instance moved a long time ago to Wikidata because it was much more inclusive. It allowed for easy cooperation and comparison with external sources. It had VIAF link to Wikidata in stead of Wikipedia. 

The issues we will face will be similar to the ones at Commons. Wikidata is  a project separate from Wikipedia. It has its own set of rules, its own set of priorities. Bluntly speaking, its user interface sucks bigtime for newbies and it is hard to grasp many concepts. Have a look at a page like this. It may prove disruptive to Wikipedians in a big way.

The problem we face is that for "grey beards" like me, them olden days are gone. New technology that is obviously superior will replace the current crop of tools. It must do so because expectations of service and quality change. Wikipedia is increasingly used from a mobile phone and we are stuck in so many ways with desktop (not even laptop) technology. 

The sum of all knowledge may be edited by anyone who cares to in the Wikisphere. It may become increasingly easy to do so when we care about the user experience for our editors and are willing to let go of all the cruft we accumulated over the years.

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