Massive Organic Peer Review

Great evening event tonight with Amgine — one of a handful of volunteer administrators at WikiNews. Probably safe to say he blew the minds of a roomful of journalists, discussing grassroots journalism and the growth of open-source information repositories. The discussion, of course, centers around the credibility of the source when you replace the traditionally trained information gatekeeper with a collaborative, volunteer-driven process that can only be described as massive organic peer review. Lots of discussion throughout this conference about citizen journalism, but most of the attempts at enabling it pale, I think, in comparison to the success (both in numbers and in growing credibility) of WikiNews and WikiPedia.

At home, started browsing WikiPedia’s public stats pages. Freaky facts (synthesized from that page and tonight’s talk): WikiPedia currently contains more than half a million articles (6x larger than Encylopedia Brittanica), and is growing at a rate of around 1,000 articles per day — the largest single, unified body of information on the planet. The WikiPedia database now weighs around 67GB, most of it plain text (and only 20% of that text is in English). Dishing up around 1200 hits per second. The changelist, when viewed through the administrator’s IRC-like interface, sometimes scrolls by too quickly to read. Average time needed for the hive mind to correct a vandalized article: 4.5 minutes.

And it all runs as a non-profit entity, on top of donated servers and bandwidth. The only religion of the admins and hardcore participants is total, obsessive commitment to neutrality.

It’s difficult to gauge or imagine what the ultimate effect of open source knowledge bases will be on traditional journalism, but it’s clearly adapt-or-die time. It’s going to be fascinating to watch traditional media struggling to cope with this phenomenon over the next decade.

If you missed tonight’s live webcast, I’ll try and get the archives up by late next week.

Update 2012: Amazing infographic on Wikipedia and education:


Via OpenSite

4 Replies to “Massive Organic Peer Review”

  1. Oh, come, come! Quantity over quality? Wikipedia is full of simplistic summaries ripped from either traditional books, or in the case of technology-related stuff, articles on the web.It’s good for a very quick glance at a subject but there is absolutely no serious research or original information (except for self-referential information on the online world)

    And what original reporting do bloggers do? When was the last time a blogger actually travelled to a country to report on events? All they do is put links to articles on traditional newspapers’ web sites. It’s the op-ed page of a traditional newspaper exploded into a world of its own. Citizens media? Get real! For every Dahr Jamail citizen journalist there are 10,000 drooling Tom Friedmans.

    When was the last time you read an incisive, long, well-argued and researched article produced for the web (technology-related stuff doesn’t count)? Do you know how much work, say, Gladwell puts into an average article. Versus the oceans and oceans of dilettantes who like to dash off a quick, pointless, blog posting.

    Look at the balkanization of political debate on the web. People basically make up their minds before-hand, and then seek out information sources that support that view. Thus we have warbloggers studiously ignoring the fact that the president went to war with no justification, and left-wingers in their own little pet causes.

    Ironically, there is a small class of vocal advocates of citizens media, grassroots reports etc, but they seem to mostly be trying to hop onto a bandwagon before it gets away. Take a look at Jeff Jarvis, clueless pundit and warblogger, trying to make himself a point man on this “revolution” and maximize his TV exposures and consulting revenue.

    It’s a sham revolution, nothing more significant than the move from videotape to DVDs, simply the incremental march of online “progress”

  2. Alright, actually there is one way that grassroots web movements might affect the real world in a big way – fundraising. For the first time, it’s possible to bypass rich PACs and run one’s money off a large base of people each contributing a small amount rather than a small group contributing a large amount.

    Groups like the NRA or AIPAC should be quaking in their boots. All it takes is a candidate with nothing to lose who defies any lobby openly and then runs a successful online fundraising campaign. I think that was the significance of Dean, and it’s a pity he wasn’t that viable a candidate.

    Imagine if an already-popular senator like John McCain ran for election on a platform of sensible gun-control laws, and thumbed his nose at the NRA? “Guns do kill people, Charlton!”

    Or Hillary Clinton said, “Screw AIPAC, from now on US policy towards the Middle East will reflect America’s interests, not Israel’s!”

    Or John Warner decided that it was time to crack down on C02 emissions for real before drought wiped out the Midwest. “Yes, Mr. Coal Industry lobbyist, you are destroying our future!”

    Well, we can dream, can’t we?

  3. > It’s good for a very quick glance at a subject but there is absolutely no serious research or original information

    Do we look to the encyclopedia for original information? We look to the encylopedia for accurate information, for quality information. And there is no denying that vast majority of information on Wikipedia is of very high quality. Each individual contribution may not be of the highest quality, but the aggregate effect of allowing the entire world to evaluate, change, and modify that information results in a level of information that is undeniably, consistently high. As unintuitive as that may be.

    The rest of your comment veers off onto the blogosphere, which is not the topic here, though I agree with some (but not all) of your skepticism.

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