Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Wikipolitics: Wikipedia's Near-Real-Time Updates Change the Face of Reference Content

Any number of extraordinary things have been happening in the wake of hotly contested U.S. elections over the past few days, fast-paced events that are hard to follow sometimes. It happens to have coincided with some research I've been doing on Wikipedia, in which I've been impressed by the degree to which its enthusiast editors keep key content fresh. So when news of Donald Rumsfeld's resignation from his position as Secretary of Defense came across the wires I was not necessarily surprised to see that a Google search for his nominated replacement Robert Gates returned Gates' Wikipedia page as the first search result. Wikipedia content places very high in many Google search results, not only its articles but its user profiles as well. But the key factor was that his bio had been updated to include dozens of useful new edits from several sources within hours of his announced nomination - including information and links about the nomination itself.

When I think of all of the sophisticated business intelligence tools that are being developed by publishers and content services providers to build briefing dossiers on companies and key contacts it's hard to imagine that many of them would be able to pull together a final product like this so quickly and effectively. Wikipedia was well-documented weaknesses and limitations, but recently the palaver floating about that focuses on these minuses tends to obscure the enormous pluses that this user-generated content source offers information seekers. Part reference tool, part real-time news source, part discussion tool, Wikipedia offers a wealth of content that is oftentimes fresh and difficult to top for Google-ish convenience and satisfaction. If you're wondering why Wikipedia's traffic has gone up more than 50 percent in the past six months look no further than incidents like this. It's like having a reference librarian writing you a custom book every time you get curious about something.
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