Wikipedia Tests Limits of User-Generated Content

Opinion: We need to build systems into user-supplied content sites that provide the necessary checks and balances to create quality.

Not surprisingly, I managed to kick up a bit of a tempest in the blogosphere last week when I wrote that Weblogs (and Podcasting and video and RSS and social networking apps) were "fads of the future." I wasnt going to (and am still not gonna) write to defend my position this week, but I was surprised by this little item in The Register reporting that Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales has "acknowledged that there were real quality problems with the online work."

Putting two and two together, I began to think about the limitations of user-supplied content and how they impact what we do in our Web development lives, especially as we careen wildly towards "Web 2.0."

I work at a college and know for a fact that many of my colleagues are constantly fighting an uphill battle to get students to use reliable sources for their research (much less cite those sources).

Barely a day goes by when some professor doesnt report that one student or another has turned in a paper citing some unverified Web source. When called out on it, the students usually look mystified: "But it was on the Internet" they moan.

One of the problems with the Web (and one of the benefits) is the "flattening" effect it has on content. For the most part, every site appears the same, glowing on our screens with perfectly displayed text, glossy pictures, and set in the context of all the other sites we see.

Unlike the analog world, where cues as to authenticity are usually pretty apparent in physical features such as craftsmanship, feel and smell, on the Web things tend to look the same, whether theyre from an authoritative source or some crackpot cooking up conspiracy theories in their basement.

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