Thursday, March 31, 2005

Trusting Commons

Can we trust Wikipedia? Does Wikipedia give us the truth? James Governor applies the Invisible Hand argument to this question. He points out that there are perhaps just as many errors in traditional encyclopaedias, and mentions both Grove and the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

In our writings, we identify four types of trust. The Encyclopaedia Britannica pretends to offer a form of trust based on authority, but it is in fact a commercial product and relies ultimately on commodity trust. In contrast, Wikipedia offers a form of trust based on the network. Is that good enough?

Instead of asking the binary question: can we trust, yes or no. The key is to ask the discriminating question: for what kinds of question does Wikipedia offer good/better/best answers? Clearly if you want uptodate information about an important but relatively nonpolitical event (such as the Tsunami). the Wikipedia is a pretty good resource. But if you want impartial information about a controversial topic, you may need to exercise caution.

The question of trust/truth in relation to Wikipedia is similar to the question of trust/truth in relation to Google. Can we trust Google? What I'm asking here is not a question about the commercial ethics of the company, but about the use of any Internet search engine as a method of obtaining a true and fair picture of a given topic.

A Google enquiry suffers from some of the same problems as a Wikipedia enquiry. If there is a consensus, you will get the majority view. If there is no consensus, you will get a confused view. You often find the same stupid ideas and ill-informed opinions replicating from one website to another. If there is a coherent minority view, you may never find it. And if you want an original view, you may need to disconnect from the Internet and do some real thinking or discussion instead.

More on Google