Mankind’s knowledge isn’t in the network, it’s in our heads. Oh wait, no it isn’t.


In a fairly ridiculous comment on Handelsblatt.com, CDU (conservative) member of parliament Ansgar Heveling attacked not just the internet, but a whole system of thought. The networked society, if you will. The article is pure link bait, or a display of incredibly obvious lack of understanding, and a pretty cheap political stunt. It pretty much deserves to be ignored. I’m going to fall for it, if only for one reason: It directly contradicts a fantastic book I’m just reading, and so I can’t just let it hang there.

Here’s what Mr Heveling writes in his wisdom knowledge ignorant opinion piece:

Doch Googles und Wikimedias dieser Welt, lasst euch zurufen: Auch wenn Wikipedia für einen Tag ausgeschaltet ist und Google Zensurbalken trägt, ist das nicht das Ende des Wissens der Menschheit. Welche Hybris! Lasst euch gesagt sein: Das Wissen und vor allem die Weisheit der Welt liegen immer noch in den Köpfen der Menschen

Rough translation:

However, Googles and Wikimedias of the world, let me shout out to you: Even if Wikipedia is switched off for a day and Google shows a censorship bar, this isn’t The End of Mankind’s Knowledge. The hubris! Let me tell you: The knowledge and particularly the wisdom of the world is still inside the heads of humans.

Well, Mr Heveling, funny you’d say that. Allow me to just quote David Weinberger back at you, who understands more of this topic than you and I, and – very much unlike you – has facts to back this up:

We have a new form of knowing. This new knowledge requires not just giant computers but a network to connect them, to feed them, and to make their work accessible. It exists at the network level, not in the heads of individual human beings.

You can read up on how knowledge works now and in the future in Mr Weinberger’s new book. And you should. I’ll even include a link to the German Amazon store just for you.

Can you trust the information in Wikipedia? Wikitrust tells you.


A very interesting project going by the name Wikitrust (part of the Wikipedia Quality Initiative) analyzes if information on Wikipedia is trustworthy. In order to do this, Wikitrust computes both the authors’ and the individuals words’ trustworthiness. The more contributions an author made and the more edits they survive, the better; in case of words, the more edits they survive the higher they score:

  • First, we compute the reputation of each author by analyzing the author’s contributions. When an author makes a contribution that is preserved in subsequent edits, the author gains reputation. When an author makes a contribution that is undone or reverted quickly, the author loses reputation.
  • The trust value of a new word is proportional to the reputation of its author. When subsequent authors edit the page, words that are left unchanged gain trust: by leaving them there, the authors implicitly agree with them. Words closer to the edit gain more trust, as the author of the edit is likely to have paid more attention to them. In contrast, text that has been rearranged (new text, text at the border of cut-and-paste, etc) has again a reputation proportional to the author of the edit.

Information that seems questionable is marked in different shades of orange. The screenshot shows a strongly opinionated Wikipedia article about Italian cuisine (and how it allegedly compares to French cuisine). Note how the (insulting) opinionated parts are marked dark orange:

Screenshot: Wikitrust

More info on the WikiTrust Blog. This way of rating Wikipedia information based on the authors’ and the words’ credibility seems like it might work. What do you think?

(via Planblog / Tim Bonnemann)

[citation needed] Challenges Ads, Truthiness


On Michelle‘s new blog, I just stumbled over a very neat art (or rather: protest?) project, all sticker-based. [citation needed] questions the factoid and claims we encounter in everyday life – ads, for example, are full of them.

Wikipedia has a simple way of asking contributers to validate their statements: The ubiquitous [citation needed] tag that inspired this particular flavor of street art.

Notes the artist:

One of my favorite quirks about [Wikipedia] are the little [citation needed] tags that users can place in an article, indicating that a dubious claim needs a reference. One day an idea struck – what statements are more dubious or outright ridiculous than those in advertisements? Thus, an OM project was born. I had 250 8×2 inch stickers printed, which I handed out to friends, who circulated them further. In true wiki fashion, the final placement of the stickers is a collaborative effort, now distributed and anonymous.

[citation needed] photo by flickr user mmechtley, CC licensed (Photo by mmechtley)

So, as Michelle points out, we shouldn’t take this kind of statement for a fact. Instead, we need to double-check the sources to confirm truth, not just truthiness. [citation needed] can help remind us to do so.

Just sayin’.

[citation needed] stickers are up for sale.

Wikia Search: First Reviews Are Coming In


Today’s the day Jimmy Wales’ open search project Wikia Search goes alpha, bringing in a new flavor of a human-machine-hybrid. (Some thoughts on human vs machine based search.)

By now, the first reviews of the Wikia Search alpha are coming in, with so so results. Techcrunch‘s Michael Arrington rips it apart for not involving humans yet. Mashable could not find anything good to say. Others think it should be more “polished“. As for the human factor: Agreed. But a more polished alpha? Come on!

Even with those reviews in mind, Wikia Search has all the social networking features built in, or planned. Which in turn means that the search result are – at some stage – going to be social graph-powered, i.e. the search will be based on your social network. No matter what Wikia Search looks like today, there’s a massive potential here.