Crowd-sourcing: Wikipedia

On Tuesday, our guest lecturer, Adam Papaendieck, brought up the notion ‘micro-tasking’ as an example of crowd sourcing in ICT4D. His example was of the ‘mark spam’ feature on email providers. Each user is providing information so that they are able to collectively make a more efficient spam filter. It enables a collection of small, individual actions to make a better product. I would like to take this entry to remind everyone about the another micro-sourcing platform that I’m sure we all use quite frequently: wikipedia

At this point Wikipedia has been around for quite a few years and it’s safe to assume most people have read an entry or consulted wikipedia in some fashion. It’s a widely used portal for information based on the relatively simple notion that anyone and everyone can collectively contribute their knowledge or time to making a better online encyclopedia. Aside from authoring articles, users are able to edit pre-existing articles, flag articles or sections that are questionable (overly biased, no sources included or otherwise wrong) and contribute to the discussion on articles. Once you make an account, you are able to access the ‘edit’ and ‘view history’ tab of the article in order to see what sections of the article have changed and who made the edits. If there’s a bogus edit made, this allows users to flag the contributor who made the edit. Criticisms are often directed to the abuse of the system and the reliability of the articles. (Ironic wikipedia article: reliability of wikipedia) An open source encyclopedia is certainly susceptible to reliability and bias issues, but this is true of virtually any news source.
Although I share similar reservations, I still use wikipedia on a regular basis. It’s difficult to argue with a seemingly infinite amount of free and rapidly updated information. It’s just so easy to use it as your go-to source when you want what is more or less a comprehensive collection of information about countless topics. In fact, it’s so widely used that I’ve actually had professors recommend certain Wikipedia pages to our class. I’m interested in hearing what others think about the accuracy of projects that use ‘micro-tasking’ as its basis. Even if there are a lot of contributors to a project, it could still ultimately end up failing if their contributions are of so poor quality that the project has no value. Is crowd-sourcing tasks like this a good idea if the outcome could be of an unreliable quality?

2 responses to “Crowd-sourcing: Wikipedia

  • Miranda

    This is a great point. Wikipedia is an excellent example of micro-sourcing that I hadn’t thought about. While crowd-sourcing like this can be a great tool if done effectively, it will always be a mystery as to how much effort a person will put into an entry, where their research is coming from, etc. Personally, I love wikipedia and probably trust it too much.

  • Paige Boetefuer

    I think the great part about crowdsourcing is that it allows for collaboration between many people, which automatically sets up checks and balances within the system. Instead of getting one person’s (possibly biased) perspective, we end up with an end product that reflex the work of many people and a blending of various perspectives. Whether its wikipedia or a map, people go in and make changes to other peoples work, so that over time we move closer and closer to an accurate and widely accepted end result. Obviously these systems are not perfect, but as long as you recognize the source as being produced by many unknown authors/contributors (rather than thinking of it as an academic work) then it can be a very valuable tool.

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