Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Derrida and Wikipedia

Someone has left on interesting note on Jimmy Wales Wikipedia talk page, about the article on the infamous French philosopher Jacques Derrida. I won’t copy the note as it is quite long and you can read it yourself if you follow the link. But I will summarise it here, as it captures well one of the fundamental problems of Wikipedia.

  1. This is a very important article about one of the most influential philosophers of the 20th century.
  2. It would be a great thing if Wikipedia had produced a good article on him.
  3. It hasn’t. The article is really really awful.
  4. Worse than that, if any competent person has actually improved it in the past, the article soon degrades (the commenter gives the current version and a the version from one year ago to prove this).
  5. Perhaps there is something fundamental in the very structure of Wikipedia itself that prevents it from reaching even basic levels of competence about topics such as this?
Having looked at both versions of the article, I tend to agree with him or her. I am not an expert on French philosophy. But the problem with the current article is not a matter of philosophical expertise, but of communicating some difficult ideas on a broad subject in a small amount of space, to a reader who has no expertise in or knowledge of the subject.

The current version shows all the typical weaknesses of crowdsourcing. First, crowdsourcers are typically shy of deleting material, so articles tend to grow to the point of being unreadable. Second, they have no sense of where material ought to go. So the article tends to lose any basic thread it once had. Third, they have no sense of which facts to include, and which to leave out. What facts about Aristotle would you include in a three page article? They don’t know this, so the article tends to move awkwardly from wide, sweeping, often 1066-ish statements about the world and the universe, to what football team the subject supported, or what he had for breakfast in March 1969.

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2 Comments:

Blogger metasonix said...

Plus, they shove in critiques that are often unrelated to surrounding material. The Derrida bio is a good example. Quite frankly, if someone had turned this in as an essay in an English writing class, the resulting grade would be a C, if they were lucky. More likely a D.

The articles that are degrading with time are everywhere on en-wiki. It's so commonplace that it might as well be an official, standard rule of wiki collaboration.....

12:45 am  
Blogger Edward Ockham said...

metasonix has left a new comment on your post "Derrida and Wikipedia":

Plus, they shove in critiques that are often unrelated to surrounding material. The Derrida bio is a good example. Quite frankly, if someone had turned this in as an essay in an English writing class, the resulting grade would be a C, if they were lucky. More likely a D.

The articles that are degrading with time are everywhere on en-wiki. It's so commonplace that it might as well be an official, standard rule of wiki collaboration.....

Posted by metasonix to Beyond Necessity at 12:45 AM

6:39 pm  

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