About Gen-P (or “Jimbo lays the smacks down on Dale Hoiberg”)

Very, very entertaining debate over at the WSJ between Jimbo (Jimmy Wales), the found of the wikipeida, and the editor of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

It’s clear to anyone reading the debate that Jimbo has the highground because the wikipedia process of creating entries is more transparent and open than the process of creating EB entries. Dale can argue all he wants that their “fact checking” first process is better than the RTFC (real-time fact checking) process of the Wikipedia, but the fact is that Wikipedia is *already* a better product on all levels than the EB–and the Wikipedia is a baby.

The big issue is that there is a generation growing up now who expect transparency and participation as the default. Let’s call them Gen-P (as in participation) for the purpose of these discussions.

Gen-p simply doesn’t buy into or trust any system they can’t see, understand, and participate in. For example:

  1. They understand the process of how Firefox is made, and even though they maybe never write a line of code they feel more comfortable with Firefox than Microsoft’s IE because they know they *can* look under the hood.
  2. They prefer to start their news collection process at social news sites like digg, Netscape, and reddit because even though they may never add a story or control the home page they know that if they really wanted to they could (or at least have an impact).
  3. They prefer open formats for their media because even if they never have to move them off of their DRM device they like to know they can.
  4. They prefer to blog about their feelings and thoughts rather than send them in letters to the editor for the slim chance of having their voice heard.

The fundamental shift is based on participation, transparency, and freedom.

Companies like Encyclopaedia Britanniaca, Microsoft, or the New York Times, that operate out of control, secrecy, and opaqueness are suffering–and will suffer more–because they are losing the trust of Gen-p.

Are these bad companies or products? No.

Will these product go away? No.

Will these products fall behind the open products in the marketplace if they don’t become transparent? Yes.

The NYT needs to open up their news gather process, Microsoft needs to open up their source code, and Britanniaca needs to open up their entry-building process. If they don’t they will fall behind–it’s that simple.

Dale Hoiberg comes across as a steward of truth to old people and as the last of dying breed/paradigm to young people. Old people die, young people get old and paradigm shifts. My guess is Dale will not be charge of Britanniaca for much longer and they will replace him with someone who understands the new paradigm. My guess is that in 10 years Wikipeda has a much higher Q rating than EB–it already gets more usage.

It like they say, paradigms don’t die–people do.

Note: JJ has some thoughts on the subject as well.

Update2: Dave says there is room for both. I agree, “real-time” and “store and publish” models can work side-by-side and provide value. Of course, a tipping point is coming where folks will use Wikipedia 99.999% of the time and EB .001% of the time–in fact for some folks that time is now (when was the last time you picked up EB Dave? When was the last time you used Wikipedia?).

Update3: Riffing off Dave’s thoughts, I couldn’t help but think that the EB team should use the wikipedia for thier articles and do fact-check for the wikipedia. Folks working on the EB must already being doing this right? If the EB was smart they would put at the very least expose their article creation process in real-time. That would be amazing… watching the “experts” at EB work in real time.

5 thoughts on “About Gen-P (or “Jimbo lays the smacks down on Dale Hoiberg”)

  1. Britannica is wrongly spelt as Britanniaca n the second and third instances.

    In any case, for us remaining votaries of the Bitannica school of knowledge dissemination, there is simply no comparison between Britannica and Wikipedia. They are two ompletely different practices, and not mutually excluive in the least. Britannica is academic and scholarly, and is, indeed, of superior standard in terms of both factual veracty and contributor base. Admittedly, Wikipedia is handy and more liberal in terms of the subjects it covers. But really, there’s no clash here. We cannot do without either of them!

  2. To date universities do not accept Wikipedia as a valid reference source, and at some point they too will have to grow with the times. I wish the Internet had been available when I was in school. I remember using a prototype computer that was designed to fit under an airline seat in ’81, it was so high tech then but for school I used a manual typewriter and carbons. Research was laborously done at the library and I was lucky to own The World Book. I’m looking forward to the next leap forward in technology and its impact on our morality and general behavour. Great blogs, thank you.

  3. I wondered if your father is John (Cally) and your mother is
    Kathy. If so I grew up with your father in Brooklyn. If it
    is Cally, he took me to my prom. The internet is really
    amazing. Lee Rodriguez

  4. It’s rather unlikely that a company like the New York Times would ever consider going open. Even though it’s so urgently needed, you know how inflexible well-established
    companies are in terms of branding (how confident would die-hard Microsoft users
    feel about the quality of Microsoft’s products if they were suddenly open-source?) At the same time, those companies can’t continue the way they’re going and still experience any real growth. It’s sad that the only way they seem to expand these days is by acquiring start-ups. Netscape is obviously a good example of a company trying to break through that frontier, though their efforts came slightly too late perhaps. Thanks for the interesting read.

  5. Wikipedia “vs” EB: I’m a “middle-aged” IT professional who uses Wikipedia frequently. However, I’m not convinced I would trust it over EB, for example, for in-depth medical info. I like the idea of EB staff checking Wikipedia; this strikes me as a “best of both worlds” idea. It comes down to how important is it the information is completely accurate? Personally I put 100% trust in almost 0% of what I read on the Internet *unless* I can verify thru multiple sources.

    Open Source: I’ve witnessed this debate for 25 years. Both development models have their pros and cons. Any code which is big and complex enough to do something major isn’t going to “reveal” many flaws to even an expert (code reviewer) without hundreds of hours of study. However, opening up the *testing* of code to a public forum might make sense, as many well-known software firms have repeatedly proven themselves incompetent at testing their own code prior to release.

    Transparency and Participation: please, pick your battles.
    As a *staunch* supporter of Free Speech (I am) – with the proliferation of outlets (for opinions) in recent years, we might wish to reconsider current conventions (for their use). The generation(s) who utilize these (most heavily) have important, valuable ideas – but they often get lost in the noise. Thus: “pick your battles” – pick *fewer* of them, which would allow more time to actually research your position, and in the end, enhance your reputation as someone worth listening to…

    I think a key reason we can’t read each other’s thoughts… no one’s life is interesting most of the time (mine definitely included)! Really. So why tweet about how today’s latte seems so much sweeter than Tuesday’s latte. Please. Tell the barista… or your dog. (You disagree? Fine. But first look up “narcissism”.)

    Lastly, there *is* still value in getting information from “traditional” media: take cases like Watergate, or the tobacco company coverups (nicotine). Situations will probably always arise (sadly) in which sources are unwilling to reveal their identity, to protect themselves from retribution. I doubt many of these sources would be comfortable posting their revelations – even “anonymously”. Whereas professional reporters do have immunity, in all but rare cases, from revealing their sources; their hard-earned reputations are what merit our trusting their judgment about those sources. (Can you imagine Carl Woodward or Walter Cronkite lying?) While this may be the exception, not the rule (one hopes!) IMHO it’s a very important one.

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