The State of Wikipedia – In Graphic Form

Cartoon By Martha Sperry

Studio reader Jen Rhee pointed me to this infographic after reading my article on my old blog site called the State of Wikipedia. It is quite timely, as it follows the recent news about Encyclopedia Britannica abandoning its print volumes. The infographic offers some sobering statistics on Wikipedia’s wild popularity as a research tool, still growing while interest in libraries and book research is on the decline. There is good and bad in that – perhaps the most troubling stat for me is that more than 50% of students will halt their research if there is little to be found on the subject in Wikipedia. And, as always, I am troubled by heavy and sole reliance on a resource that is edited by the masses, although Wikipedia has fought hard to keep their content on the up and up.


Check out the infographic below for some interesting data on the Great Wiki’s impact on traditional research modes.



Qwiki Now On iPad, Where It Should Be

I have written about Qwiki, the visual wiki, in the Studio before. Qwiki, the web tool, offers a multi-media search engine with Wiki-like editability. Results yield a montage of videos, photographs, maps, links to related topics and a narration and scrolling text of the “answer” to your query running throughout the video / slideshow.

Fast forward to today and Qwiki, the ultimate modern reference consumption tool, finds its way to the iPad, the ultimate modern reference consumption device. The iPad version looks much like the web version, but takes full advantage of the touch interface. There is a location element – Qwiki’s from nearby are highlighted on the homepage, along with the most popular Qwikis.

This is a truly winning combination of application and device – get an engaging visual information experience, on the go, tied to your location via a tactile interface. In other words, take your Qwiki with you to the coffee shop, the airport, the gym and the courtroom. The developers promise that iPhone and Android applications and an internet television version are in the works.

Quora Is Where It's At

Getting good information is the point, right? That is why we troll the Web, after all. When we are not connecting, of course. It helps if you can get a nice helping of intelligent conversation on the side. There is a lot of muck on the big sites, partially because they seem to be trying to be all things to all people or don’t offer effective enough filters. To me, the best filter is the human filter – find the smart people and read what they have to say and view what they have to share. And maybe even talk to them.

Quora has all the makings of a very smart social service. It has been around for a year or so, but seems to be picking up quite a bit of steam of late. At its core, it is a collection of questions and related answers. From their own description:

Quora is a continually improving collection of questions and answers created, edited, and organized by everyone who uses it. The most important thing is to have each question page become the best possible resource for someone who wants to know about the question.
One way you can think of it is as a cache for the research that people do looking things up on the web and asking other people. Eventually, when you see a link to a question page on Quora, your feeling should be: “Oh, great! That’s going to have all the information I want about that.” It’s also a place where new stuff–that no one has written about yet–can get pulled onto the web.

What it is functionally becoming is a high quality social network with a focus on value-laden information transfer. Community-edited and almost Wiki-like, but with much greater fluidity via a news stream of content of the most interest to you, Quora is very exciting indeed. People can vote up answers or hide answers they believe are not helpful, offering the person originally answering an opportunity to hone the answer to better fit. This community “policing”, if you will, encourages higher quality responses and, in turn, more effective information for all users. Quora has a sharper edge than a traditional wiki in that it focuses on questions rather than general research topics. And, so far, it appears to have a very dynamic community ready to rate up or down answers, which helps assure me, at least, that the answers might be more reliable. A far more dynamic community than, say, Wikipedia, for example.

It also helps that some very smart people are using the site. I frequently see answers by the usual suspects in tech journalism, which is not surprising for a cool new tool. What I am not so used to seeing is participation by founders, programmers, entrepreneurs and top business sorts. The kind of people you might want to interact with. I am also starting to see lawyers, which is very exciting to me. A site with such broad-appeal and the endorsement of the tech elite seems to have more than half a chance at survival.

For professionals, the opportunity to ask and answer  questions is a our bread and butter – look at the lawyers all over LinkedIn Groups and the  legal questions and answers there. Quora has some of that element to it, but you won’t be able to get away with a half-hearted answer – be prepared to come prepared. I have seen a few legally-minded discussions on the site and I imagine that it’s just the beginning.

For content consumers, the community does the work for you – the best answers are pushed to the top and the bad stuff is hidden from view. In theory, anyway, community wisdom should serve as a most effective filter.

How do I get started? you ask. Select some topics of interest on the site and follow them. Then browse questions in those topics and answer any you feel comfortable answering. Questions have pages, comprised of answers, which can be voted up or down by you, if warranted. And, of course, being that its social, find your peeps (via Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, etc.). And watch the good times roll.

Wikis. Revisited.

A while back in The Studio, we talked about a do-it-yourself wiki, called Zim Wiki (link here). Wikis have recently flown back across my radar, so I thought I would take a moment to share a few more thoughts.

If you read my article above or if you have a modicum of web-savvy-ness, you already know that a wiki is a user-generated repository of  information, a crowd-based encyclopedia of sorts, containing articles submitted by users. But then there is the why of it. Why would anyone in general, or professionals in particular, want to use a Wiki? You may already be using a wiki via applications that tap your company’s knowledge base within your own organization. Do you have access to a central source for enterprise intellectual capital created or edited by your co-workers and colleagues? Then you have been wiki-fied. Are you familiar with the inefficiencies of “recreating the wheel”? Then a wiki might be the answer to your prayers.

I can think of lots of uses for them. How about a group of attorneys and firms handling a mass of similar types of cases sharing general (not client-specific) information about strategies, new developments or experiences? How about a consortium of lawyers and clients with common interests, such as intellectual property preservation or insurance regulatory matters helping further the  group’s expertise and awareness? How about continuing legal education efforts? How about Bar Association resources? Seriously – we lawyers are definitely entrenched in the information business and any means for streamlining, organizing and making accessible the vast quantities of data out there is a GOOD thing.

So, how do you set one up? Besides using Zim Wiki, there are a few other options out there, whether you intend to host your own or utilize someone else’s server and platform. Remember that a wiki is essentially a massive database with broad read / write access. Different wiki tools offer different features which may or may not meet your end goals. Assess the different options with your desired feature set in mind – hopefully one of the available options comes close.

Another consideration is content licensing. Members are devoting their intellectual capital to populate your wiki, after all. Common licenses include the GNU Free Documentation License and Creative Commons license, but it helps to understand them before deciding how to protect your members’  information.

In a similar vein, you will need to spend some time considering guidelines. Seems that whenever a group of people (or worse, a group of lawyers) get together, there may be friction borne of differing interpretations of the rules and limitations governing interactions. There are community standards and individual article standards that need to be considered. If you are brave, and you already have a community in mind for your wiki, you might even want to get the members involved in this process. Some time spent at the beginning encouraging discourse might prevent later conflicts.

Looking for Wiki tools? Check out some of these links:

  • MediaWiki, a popular wiki engine that is used for Wikimedia and wikiHow. 
  • YourWiki, a wiki host for the non-do-it-your-selfer.
  • Wikia, a free Wiki-hosting project.
  • Intodit, another free hosted Wiki groups tool.
  • PBwiki, an easy to use wiki hosting service with free and premium levels.
  • Springnote, a free wiki-based online notebook. Use if for notes, organization, scheduling, group projects and anything else you can think of.
  • Wikispaces, a free and paid service with a decent WYSIWIG editor, 2GB of storage and features for a single wiki with unlimited users 
  • Wikidot , another free and paid service, this with up to five sites, with up to 300MG of storage on each.
  • Want to compare your options? Visit Wikimatrix, a site that compares wiki packages, with more information than you can shake a wiki-stick at. Sorry for that.

    Hopefully, my musings on wikis might help you think about them and facilitate your quest for creating the next e-powered think tank. I would love to see how people would use wikis in their own professional venues – definitely feel free to share in the comments!

    Wikipedia for Judges?

    You bet! And it’s called, oddly enough, Judgepedia. Looking very much like its relative, Wikipedia, Judgepedia is a people-powered wiki on American judges and courts. The wiki began in October, 2007 and today has 89,140 articles and 630 registered users. The home page breaks out information by federal courts, state courts, judicial selection, judicial philosphy, news and changes and Judgepedia community. There are links for recent news, Facebook, Twitter, Ballotpedia (an interactive almanac of state politics) and the Sunshine Review (a wiki on standards about government transparency).

    Obviously, the more interest in a particular court or judge, the more information. A lot of information is merely in the form of external links to the right source (mostly in state or federal government web sites). It still represents a fairly large collection of judically-related links and a decent source to hit if you are looking for particular information about judges and courts.

    It’s a wiki – anyone can participate, but to prevent excessive spamming, one must register an account before adding or editing entries. Judgepedia also strives to maintain a “neutral” point of view, which means that:

    • Views should be represented without bias.
    • “Assert facts, including facts about opinions, but do not assert the opinions themselves,” as it says on Wikipedia.
    • Do not give undue weight to one viewpoint.
    • Exercise fairness of tone.
    • Good research, verifiability and reliability of sources are core values

    It is currently sponsored and maintained by the Lucy Burns Institute, a non-profit organization based in Madison, Wisconsin, founded in December 2006.

    Hat tip to Robert Ambrogi over at LawSites (link here) for this great find!

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    Speak Like A Native With The Web As Your Guide

    Almost too beautiful to be true. Forvo (link here) is a web tool offering hundreds of thousands of words and their pronunciations from more than 200 languages. How cool is that? A word may have several different suggested recorded pronunciations and, in true wiki style, you can add your own suggested pronunciation. Community voting pushes the best options to the top. You also can ask for assistance from another Forvo member who natively speaks your desired language. There are almost 60,000 users and 200 editors. There are tabs for categories, pronunciations, languages and users, as well as a tag cloud to help you find what you are looking for. Social, (semi)scholarly and crowdsourced! Check out the languages included in the recent pronunciations box:

    You just never know what you’ll find. Hat tip to ResearchBuzz.

    Organizing Your On-Line, Real-Time Research

    Now that you have your RSS feeds organized, how do you collect and digest the great information you find there? Try Mashpedia (link here) – a real-time tool that searches and collects feed information and displays it in an easy-to-read format. Start off with a search-engine looking box and enter your topic of interest. You will then be directed to a page with results, including definitions, videos, Tweets, and other items. You can also view clickable semantic links between the search results.

    Show or hide individual streams or feeds. Customize individual articles.  Static content and real time flow sit side by side, greatly increasing the depth of informtion on your given topic.

    Mashpedia is another great application to aid the on-line researcher in staying up to date on a given subject.

    Hat tip to ResearchBuzz and MakeUseOf.

    Do-It-Yourself Wiki

    DISCLAIMER: this is NOT a Wikipedia-bashing post. There, now, having gotten the formalities out of the way, it is time in the Studio to examine the benefits of creating your own Wiki and one way to go about doing it. If you are on-line, reading this post, odds are you have visited Wikipedia once or twice. But do you really know what a Wiki is?

    I couldn’t help it – I pulled this definition of Wiki off Wikipedia:

    A wiki ( /ˈwɪki/ WIK-ee) is a website that allows the easy[1] creation and editing of any number of interlinked web pages via a web browser using a simplified markup language or a WYSIWYG text editor.[2][3] Wikis are typically powered by wiki software and are often used to create collaborative websites, to power community websites, for personal note taking, in corporate intranets, and in knowledge management systems.

    Did you know that the word “wiki” is the Hawaiian word for fast? I didn’t until this morning. The key points to a Wiki are that it is user created and that its pages are heavily interlinked, allowing for a “tree” like structure to the information layers.

    I am not going to plumb the benefits or drawbacks to contributing to a public Wiki, such as Wikipedia here. Instead, let’s consider the benefits of building your own personal Wiki. Do you use a “to do” list? Do you maintain a contacts list? Do you bookmark relevant Web information? Do you take notes or grap snips for later consumption? Do you have all of this data in one place, with links between the information?

    If not, consider using your own Wiki. One such tool to help you along the way is offered by Zim Wiki (link here), a free, open-source, desktop Wiki application that works in Linux and Windows. I discovered this tool on MakeUseOf (link here). According to MakeUseOf, there are means for getting the tool up and running in OSX, but they are a bit complicated and not for the faint of heart.

    What is Zim Wiki? Taken from their website:

    Zim aims to bring the concept of a wiki to your desktop. Every page is saved as a text file with wiki markup. Pages can contain links to other pages, and are saved automatically. Creating a new page is as easy as linking to a non-existing page. This tool is intended to keep track of TODO lists or to serve as a personal scratch book. But it will also serve you when writing longer and more complicated documents.

    A “desktop wiki” means that we try to capture the idea of a wiki, not as a webpage but as a collection of files on your local file system that can be edited with a GUI application. The main focus is a kind of personal wiki that serves for all kind of notes: todo-lists, addresses, brainstorm ideas etc.

    But we want to go further then just a wiki filled with random content. It should also be possible to use you random notes as the basis for more structured data: articles, presentations etc. Zim will not include tools to layout a presentation or something like that, you should use your office suite of choice for that, but it should be a tool that can deliver all the content for a presentation in a form that only needs a template and some layout before usage. Therefore certain features normally not found in wikis will be added.

    The first step after installation is setting up your information repository, stored locally. You create a home page and direct Zim where to store documents. Text editing tools are basic – just enough to get the data entry job done. Then, start entering.

    The strength in this tool is the layering that you can implement. For a given project, put the different major tasks on one layer, and then link off to subtasks residing on their own, separate pages. If you want access to your Zim Wiki on different computers, consider using Dropbox (MakeUseOf’s suggestion – link here) – you can access your Wiki on the go.

    As with any tool, the user will find their own unique uses. I see lots of potential in Zim Wiki, primarily due to its fairly stripped down simplicity. Tools like Microsoft’s OneNote and Evernote are similar in their organizational capabilities but can be confounding to a user looking for the simple answer. Zim seems to fit this latter need fairly nicely and, unlike OneNote, for free.

    Blogs and Wikis As Legal Authority

    Much has been said about the propriety of turning to the Web for authoritative information. As time passes, the idea that the Internet is a viable, legitimate resource is gaining ground.  There remains skepticism, to be true, as is evidenced by the negative comments to this article in the Wall Street Journal’s law blog condensing an interview with Drew Berry, chairman of McCarter & English, who had this to say about Google:

    Get Yourself Smart on a Subject, Fast: When they get assignments, he says, self starters “contextualize” the issue by “Googling stuff for fifteen minutes.” Lexis and Westlaw, he says, are fine for focusing on a point of law. But the peripheral vision provided by a Web search is also invaluable. It can yield relevant law journal articles, blog posts, plaintiffs’ lawyers sites, law-firm newsletters and the like.

    In a way, he says, see-what-I’ll-find Internet research is akin to the old hard-cover legal research methods which, he says, are more than powerful electronic search engines “give a feel for the evolution of the common law.”

    A sturdy measure of the growing acceptance of the Internet as reference source is the citation to blogs, wikis and websites by Judges in legal opinions. We, the audience, are fascinated by this trend and there is no dearth of commentary on the subject. There are at least two online studies about the use of blogs as legal citations:  Ian Best, Cases Citing Blogs-Updated List, (last visited August 6, 2008 and an update of Mr. Best’s list by Dave Hoffman, Court Citation of Blogs: Updated 2007 Study, (last visited August 6, 2008. See the dissent in United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220, 278 (2005 (Stevens, J., dissenting), for such a citation by the United States Supreme Court.

    As of today’s date, August 6, 2008, a Westlaw search of the term Wikipedia generated 214 hits across federal and state databases since first noted in 2004, with 62 of those cases dated on or after January 1, 2008. Wikipedia, the juggernaut of online, freely-editable-by-anyone, open source encyclopedias (I do shudder a bit when I use that word to describe it), has only been in existence since 2001.

    Wikipedia was started as the content source for Nupedia. Nupedia is an English-language Web-based encyclopedia that, unlike Wikipedia, is both expert-written and peer-reviewed. See Richards, R. Jason, Courting Wikipedia, 44-APR Trial 62 (2008).  Wikipedia and Nupedia apparently parted company in 2007. Wikipedia seems to be well aware of the flaws in its system – as noted by Mr. Richards in his article, Wikipedia is armored with a serious set of disclaimers.  My favorite: “please be advised that nothing found here has necessarily been reviewed by people with the expertise required to provide you with complete, accurate or reliable information.” The disclaimer language goes on to explain that the content of any article may recently have changed, vandalized or altered by someone without the proper expertise to provide you with complete, reliable or accurate information.

    How’s that for authoritative? What makes Wikipedia any more valuable as a source of information than the guy sitting next to you on the train reading the latest People Magazine? Check out Mr. Richards’ article for many instances of inaccuracy, including incorrect references involving notoriously notable Judge Richard Posner of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals (who also has cited to the Wikipedia in a judicial opinion). Is the rise of Wikipedia, purportedly among the top ten most frequented sites, evidence that we have acquiesced in eschewing reliability for convenience? Well, I certainly have acquiesced – if you have been reading any of my prior blog entries, you may well recall my own citations to Wikipedia for definition of a term.

    Ellie Margolis, in her article in the Yale Journal of Law and Technology entitled Surfin’ Safari – Why Competent Lawyers Should Research On The Web, 10 Yale J. L. & Tech. 82 (Fall, 2007), is concerned about the impermanence of the Internet and the information displayed:

    The citations to blogs, Wikipedia, and other non-legal (and legal) information on the internet have raised valid concerns. The impermanence of the internet, as content is modified and/or migrates to other locations, means that a citation to a URL today may not lead to the exact same information tomorrow. For example, if a judge cites a Wikipedia entry in an opinion by using the URL, and the entry is subsequently modified, the reader of the opinion who tries to access the entry will not get the same information the judge relied on. In addition, reliability, authoritativeness, and accuracy are all important concerns, since there is often no way to know anything about the author of internet content, or be assured that the information has not been tampered with.

    (Citations omitted). Mr. Richards also raises in his article a somewhat chilling concept: the idea of “opportunistic” editing of Wikipedia content by an attorney to favor a client’s case. Try that with the Encyclopedia Britannica! Mr. Richards also rightly challenges the use of Wikipedia as an evidentiary source based on the language of the Federal Rules of Evidence 201(b) regarding when a courts is permitted to take what is called “judicial notice” of a fact:

    [a] judicially noticed fact must be one not subject to reasonable dispute in that it is either (1) generally known within the territorial jurisdiction of the trial court or (2) capable of accurate and ready determination by resort to sources whose accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned.

    For those facts that are not generally known within the territorial jurisdiction of the trial court, use of Wikipedia by a judge as a source for supporting “judicial notice” of that fact is seriously questionable since Wikipedia, by its own admission, is not “a source whose accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned.” But even Mr. Richards has some love for the big Wiki: in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek manner, he cites Wikipedia for its own definition. Sally A. ‘Irvin and Jason R. Sowards, in their report entitled ALR 2.0: When Advanced Legal Research Met Wiki, p.8, in the June Issue on the Advanced Legal Research Wiki at Wake Forest University School of Law in North Carolina point out a similar love-hate relationship:

    Web 2.0 in legal scholarship is becoming almost commonplace, as if it had always been there. After all, even librarians who bemoan law students’ faithful citing to Wikipedia as the coup de grace of ‘good’ research must admit they’ve gone there once or twice themselves and recognize it for the amazing way it has organized massive amounts of information.

    Which brings me to the other side of the coin. Perhaps my reason for using Wikipedia, which may or may not be shared by judges and other legal professionals, is the Rousseauian belief that people in nature are inherently good. Stay with me on this. If the vast majority, if not all, people who would bother to take the time to write a “scholarly” entry in Wikipedia are inherently good, then they would fashion their work with honesty and integrity. Or so I and many others would like to believe. Maybe it is just our human tendency to want to buy what the person next to us is so fervently selling.

    Or, perhaps we should all engage in a measure of skepticism that is directly proportional to the degree of technical sophistication of the concept we employ Wikipedia, blog or other form of wiki to support. In other words, I should be far more comfortable relying on these “open source” sources for the definition of “net weight” than for the concept of “gravitational lensing.”

    Whatever our reasoning, there is no denying that we attorneys are embracing on-line resources both officially and unofficially. Why, were we not among the first to accept on-line research via our treasured Westlaw and Lexis databases? Who hasn’t found an error in transcription while reading a case or article pulled from Westlaw or Lexis? As long as there is communication, there is the potential for error in translation. For better or for worse. I see no troubles, provided that we all keep in mind the pitfalls along with the benefits and measure the worth of our resources accordingly.

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