It’s A Wiki, Wiki, Wiki World

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Cass Sunstein of the University of Chicago has an op-ed in the Washington Post describing the rise of Wikipedia and projects that use the same open collaboration. He argues that many problems in the future may stand a better chance of being solved by open, non-copyrighted collaborative projects resembling the Wiki approach.

The Central Intelligence Agency disclosed the existence of its top-secret Intellipedia project, based on Wikipedia software (and now containing more than 28,000 pages), in late October. The agency hopes to use dispersed information to reduce the risk of intelligence failures. NASA officials have adopted a wiki site to program NASA software, allowing many participants to make improvements.

In the private domain, businesses are adopting wikis to compile information about products, profits and new developments. The Autism Wiki, produced mostly by adults with autism and Asperger's syndrome, contains material on autism and related conditions. Wikileaks.org, founded by dissidents in China and other nations, plans to post secret government documents and to protect them from censorship with coded software.

But wikis are merely one way to assemble dispersed knowledge. The number of prediction markets has also climbed over the past decade. These markets aggregate information by inviting people to "bet" on future events — the outcome of elections, changes in gross domestic product, the likelihood of a natural disaster or an outbreak of avian flu.

In general, the results have proved stunningly accurate. For elections, market forecasts have consistently outperformed experts and even public opinion polls. (If you want to learn who is likely to win the Oscars, check out the Hollywood Stock Exchange at http://www.hsx.com.) Many companies, such as Google, Eli Lilly and Microsoft, have created internal prediction markets for product launches, office openings, sales levels and more. At Google, which has disclosed some of its data, the aggregation of dispersed information has yielded remarkably reliable forecasts.

Interest in open-source software — software whose "code" is available to users, so that they can improve it as they see fit — has also risen dramatically. But the idea of open source is not limited to software.

He also points out the obvious problem: open projects are easily vandalized or manipulated,as Wikipedia entries have been in the past. But there are many open source, collaborative projects going on already that have serious potential to do some real good in the world. Interesting times we live in.

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One Response to It’s A Wiki, Wiki, Wiki World

  1. Brett_McS says:

    Open source software has an obvious negative feedback loop (How well does it work? How popular is it with users) that counters the effect of malicious tampering.

    It’s not obvious if there is anything equivalent in a general wiki, which would seem to rely more on the weaker feedback of general persuasion. How to strengthen and facilitate that feedback is an interesting problem.

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