Looks Alive to Me

by on May 30, 2006

Last week, I criticized Nick Carr’s silly claim that Wikipedia was dead. Or, at least, dead as “the poster child for the brave new world of democratic, citizen media, where quality naturally emerges from the myriad contributions of a crowd.”

So today President Bush nominated a new Treasury secretary, who happened to be Goldman Sach’s CEO. Intrigued by the seemingly endless stream of Goldman Sachs alums who go on to careers in the public sector, I thought I’d check out Wikipedia to learn more about the company.

It crossed my mind that maybe I should do my part to keep Wikipedia updated by adding a mention of his nomination. Then I noticed that someone beat me to it. Intrigued, I clicked on the version history for the article. It seems that between 10:07 and 10:14 Eastern, someone at IP address made seven changes to the article to incorporate news of the treasury nomination.

Now, the AP transcript of the event got posted at 9:55. I assume that means that Bush’s nomination speech probably started at 9 and concluded around 9:15. Which means that the article was out of date for less than an hour.

You can’t tell me there’s nothing new going on here.

If Wikipedia were a for-profit business, they would need an army of employees to update the articles that fast. And even then, the accuracy wouldn’t be as good. Today’s Goldman Sachs article gives us an example of that too. The changes originally said:

On Tuesday, May 30, 2006, President George W. Bush appointed Paulson as the United States Secretary of the Treasury. Lloyd C. Blankfein succeeds him as CEO of Goldman Sachs.

At 3:10 Eastern (just 5 hours later), another user modified this to read:

On Tuesday, May 30, 2006, President George W. Bush nominated Paulson for the position of United States Secretary of the Treasury. Lloyd C. Blankfein will succeeds him as CEO of Goldman Sachs should the appointment be a success.

How many proofreaders would have you have to hire to not only update articles within an hour, but have multiple people proofread each change within 5 hours?

Now, this isn’t the end of commercial content production. Clearly, not all content can be produced this way. But it’s short-sighted to sneer at Wikipedia’s accomplishments. The Wikipedia community does things that no traditionally-organized firm could hope to do, and we could all learn valuable lessons by understanding what makes the it work.

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