Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Wikipedia is the Internet Take 2

Lately I've come to a realization. Wikipedia is what the Internet originally was back in 1994 when I got onto it. Lots of nerds with too much time writing about things they care about. I've had that same feeling I had back then when I "surf" Wikipedia. I find all sorts of useful information, and follow link after link (despite not always having the best way to search the information) going down all sorts of trails of interesting information.

Google is absolutely useless for finding useful information these days. There is no way to search on a product or brand name without getting a million results trying to sell or review something. You have to be a real Google kung fu wizard to find out non-biased research information.

Wikipedia is the exact opposite. You search for something, ANYTHING, and there is more content then you could ever imagine about the subject. And despite all the bad publicity and criticism (I used to be it's biggest critic) the data is almost always accurate and not defaced! A coworker has a plugin for Firefox that split screen's Wikipedia with Google whenever you search, because let's face it, lately the most relevant link on a subject is almost always it's Wikipedia article.

More then research though, Wikipedia has gone on to become a tome of information about anything trivial, my favorite being sports. During the recent CONCACAF Gold Cup Soccer (Football) competition, due to the complete lack of interest of soccer in America, it was impossible to find good English language results. Even the Gold Cup's "Web Site" had "Coming Soon" type stuff instead of results and brackets. But not Wikipedia. Wikipedia had every score of every match, updated instantly after the game ended (who are these people editing this stuff??). It also link to the controversy, and every team name linked to it's own Wikipedia article where you can find out when the Canadian national team got to the World Cup (Round 1 in '86), and all sorts of other sports trivia that's literally impossible to dig up on the Internet. I even recently found a schedule of pick-up soccer games in the DC area on Wikipedia!

From Wikipedia, all sorts of other Wiki's have popped up...my second favorite being Wikitravel. Again, I find the data I'm looking for a lot more handy then Foder's or Travel Advisor or any other commercial site. What does this mean for the future of the Internet? Well, just as Google's plain, effective search engine stole the thunder from the big ad-covered boys, I think Wikipedia and other non-advertising Wiki type data could easily replace Google. Although this is probably a long way from happening.

The reason I say this is that just the other day I was having a conversation with some coworkers (non-programmers, but people in IT who should know better) about Wikipedia, and they said "Oh i saw something on dateline about that, isn't that the site where people make stuff up?". Which I guess is better then their complete lack of awareness of Flickr.... It's unfortunate there has been such a disinformation campaign against Wikipedia.

Try making it your primary source of information for anything over the next week (Medical symptoms? Forget WebMD, try Wikipedia. Breaking news? Screw CNN, try Wikipedia). It's amazing how it can basically replace any other informational site.


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