Think back a little more than a year ago, to the political campaigns of 2004. One of the hottest issues in presidential debates and congressional campaigns was the threat to traditional marriage posed by gay people seeking the right to wed. …
But a year later, it seems pertinent to ask: Have you heard or read a single word about a federal gay-marriage amendment since the election?
Only eight serious errors, such as misinterpretations of important concepts, were detected in the pairs of articles reviewed, four from each encyclopaedia. But reviewers also found many factual errors, omissions or misleading statements: 162 and 123 in Wikipedia and Britannica, respectively.
I’m pretty darn awed by that.
If you’ve been watching Romenesko’s letters this week, you might have caught Karen Heyman’s letter about Wikipedia’s problems. A snippet:
Unless you already know a field, you can have no idea that an apparently definitive entry presents only one side of an ongoing fight between specialists. That it may be changed, and changed back again, hardly helps matters. This, btw, is the best explanation as to why simply sitting back and saying, “It’s okay now, it’s changed,” ultimately would not have worked for Seigenthaler. Chances are high that later somebody would have come along to “fix” the correction.
Wikipedia is a fantastic idea, a wonderful service, with entries that often reflect great effort and care. Unfortunately, inevitably, as it’s grown, the flaws built into its original design have become more obvious. Egalitarian editing may be a noble goal, but the reality is that if Wikipedia is to truly fulfill its promise, it needs a way to vet contributors, to let users know whether an entry on neuroscience was written and edited by a senior professor, a student who just took Psych 101, or a layperson who’s paraphrasing an old issue of Scientific American. Certainly prankster Brian Chase’s initial belief that Wikipedia was a joke site says a great deal about how some of its entries appear to the general public. If Seigenthaler’s complaint actually leads to more accountability, far from hurting Wikipedia, he may ultimately have saved it.
I’ll cross-post my reply to Ms. Heyman below:
I’m keeping this Greasemonkey script installed for at least a day. I don’t know why I get such a kick out of seeing every site I go to labelled “A Yahoo! company!” but I’m milking it while the humor lasts.
Browse through a gallery of the ever-more-crowded world of Web applications released in beta. Good Lord, our Web design is becoming homogenized. Almost everything looks like the love child of a Google application and OS X. Predominant color scheme: secondary colors on a white background. Font of choice: almost invariably a rounded sans serif, usually in lowercase. Rounded edges and gradients are the new black. Talk balloons are everywhere (exhibits a, b, c, d, e, etc.).
Much of this stuff is Good Design, but it’s so ubiquitous that it’s become visual static. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a good gradient or a rounded sans serif font. But if those are the only hallmarks of the design, please try again. I say this not as any sort of a self-styled designer (I’m totally not a designer), but just as someone who sees a lot of websites. I’d guess that much of the Web 2.0 backlash is a reaction to the pre-fab*, lifeless aesthetic it’s spawned.
* Not that prefab is always bad. I’m definitely going to this exhibit this week.
A few years ago, Virgin Airlines held annual barf bag design contests, and posted the best entries on DesignForChunks.com. Some of them are pure genius. How much prettier a place would our world be if companies routinely held design contests for mundane things?