Nov 25, 2007

On Information Access and Wikipedia Addiction

I just spent 45 minutes creating a Wikipedia article on the Incan structures known as tambos to replace a poorly-written predecessor. While the topic is one in which I have developed a bit of expertise based upon my recent research, I have to confess that my interest in Wikipedia borders on the obsessive.

Now, I do not go out of my way to create Wikipedia pages, but when I come across what appears to me to be a glaring hole in the knowledge base of the site, I feel a compulsion to weigh in on the topic. Thus, instead of spending that time working on the 30-page essay that is only tangentially related to the topic of tambos, I felt the burning need to bring this obscure word to a global audience.

It would be simple to dismiss this as an exercise in vanity, and I admit that my ego sometimes causes me to broadcast my expertise in a few narrow subjects. Yet there is something disturbing to me when I come across a Wikipedia article rife with factual and grammatical errors, or which possesses biased viewpoints that harm the integrity of the information.

I see Wikipedia and similar sites as performing a function that borders on the sacred: to collect the accumulated knowledge of the billions of human beings who inhabit the planet, and to provide access of this vast store of knowledge to everyone with Internet access.

In short, Wikipedia represents the global democratization of information.

Thus, despite my seeming inability to visit a Wikipedia page without adding or improving page material, I think that this obsessiveness at least offers some redeeming virtues. The world's accumulation of knowledge increases by a tiny amount, I get the opportunity to unload some of the excess trivia in my head, and somewhere a few Wikipedia readers will find the answers to questions they have about tambos.


microdot said...

Very interesting, I am actually reading now an article on quipu, or khipus...the "talking knots" of the Incas and how they are only know beginning to understand the massive amounts of information stored in them.
The arrangement of the multicolored threads, the direction of the knotting, resembling a mop that has seen better days.
Now I know where the khipus were stored.

mud_rake said...

I understand, Mike, that there is a conservapedia now 'competing' with wikipedia. Have you any desire to correct any of their entries? Or is that a moot point [about the need for correction]?

historymike said...


The quipu-based information-storage system is a fascinating topic, and there is quite a debate over whether this represented "legitimate" writing.

historymike said...

Mud Rake:

I am unsure whether Conservapedia is a sincere effort by far-right types to push their views, or whether it is actually a loopy parody of conservatism.

Either way, Conservapedia should be avoided except by those looking for laughs. Much of the site is filled with poorly-written fundamentalist polemic that has little relation to "facts."

microdot said...

Mike regarding the khipus...
They seem to be beyond writing, as computer languages are beyond language.

They are a complex information storing technique requiring visual and tactile interpretation to read.

Too bad so much was destroyed by the cultural broom of conquest.
I get the impression that there is a lot of information still recorded by the Spanish observers that has lain ingnored in storage in the dusty vaults of libraries for centuries..

Hooda Thunkit said...


I just cast my conservative eye over to conservapedia for a look-see and,at first glance, it appeared more as a republican newspaper/blog than any form of encyclopedia.

Not sure where "they" are going with that...

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