Filed under: %a la mod
Wikipedia has matured into one of the most beautiful sites I know of, and the most elegant example of information-density. I remember when it was just one of a crowd of budding community-built information clearinghouses, along with an Encarta spinoff, Nupedia, h2g2, Everything^2 , … and was competing with other similarly-minded sites for volunteers — dmoz, the Gutenberg Project, and so on. Look how it has changed from its original design, running on a spartan UseMod wiki, to the current site, using highly customized wiki software.
The wikipedia idealists are also extending their efforts to non-encyclo’ collections of information, such as dictionaries… which, though it’s an English-definition-only dictionary, includes the most concisely complete radical-based dictionary I’ve seen (the best has to be Rick Harbaugh’s incomparable zhongwen.com)
I finally signed up for a wikipedia account, after being drawn in by their glorious main page and universal timeline schema — later I found out these were both the result of energetic work by a single maverick. As for its former competitors, few have yet outgrown the “look ma, I built this!” phase. Here’s a little review of some of them:
wikipedia, Bomis (transferring ownership to Wikimedia Foundation), 200k articles/”40k” users/170 admins/30+ langs:
Intent: world’s best encyclopaedia, free-use.
Pros: beautiful. focused. high-density information. extensive overviews; many good models for information delivery; high density, quality links between topics; good (sometimes expert) authors; no barriers to entry [any anonymous site visitor can update a page] and smooth process for handling unwanted input; friendly welcoming staff & many helpful fora for new users; transparent mediation/administrative process; clear and clearly expandable goals (cf. wiktionary, wikisource).
Cons: subjective editing policy; not recognized as universal ‘pedia [leading to unconnected niche 'pedias]; not enough bandwidth or software dev.
Overviews: stats, all-pages listing, main page directory [detail changes once you login], “recent changes“, many diverse FAQs and overviews.
Users: many for-profit sites wanting to enhance their content.
E^2, The Everything Development Co., “70k” users, 35 gods/30 editors, 400k entries [90/day], “like eavesdropping on the world… legally!”
Pros:Communal, funny, admin’ed by enthusiastic volunteers (only 2 of 30 active site-gods are owners of the EDC). layered permissions/xp scheme and editing scheme encouraging activity; mentors for helping others. Unusual classification scheme: “nodes”, unifying various entries under one title, and universal People/Places/Things/Ideas categories.
Cons:not beautiful (broadly lacking ice), chaotic(unfocused, often silly, loosely ordered), diffuse vision(‘pedia entries, ideas, personal journal entries, rants, “look this is cool” entries, book transcripts, quotes), low bandwidth, few content overviews. No secondary use possible/encouraged; English only.
Overs:”cooling” feature; recent “cool” lists; last 100 entries; many FAQ-style usage overs.
Users:Community members only.
h2g2, BBC, 40k users:
Intent: zany entertaining community, “an unconventional guide to life, the universe, and everything.”
Pro: elegant, if BBC-generic. Elaborate peer review & moderation scheme, lg community [40+k users, ??k arts, 5k reviewed-arts], extensive comm-pages [jour, conv's, pers'al-pg], high bw, decent budget [2 ft staff]; friendly volunteer welcome committees for new users.
Con: non-trivial login required for edits; ‘management’-driven; affected by changes in BBC oversight; fundamentals of hosting/mgmt/copyright are centralized and fragile. Intent is vague and w/o clear metric. English only.
Overviews: users-online, cat multi-heirarchy, a couple walk-through intros to the community from the clean main page, breadcrumbs, separate peer-reviewed sexn [5k arts].
Users: community members, largely in the UK. English only.
dmoz, Netscape, ??k editors [in hierarchy; ?? non-newbies]. ??langs:
Intent: cat all websites in ”largest, most comprehensive human-edited directory of the Web.” Compare Y! directory, at 50 new sites/day [2/1/04].
Pros: run mainly by eager volunteer ‘metas‘. has newsletter w/updates, meta-articles; volunteer editors have fairly social community.
Cons: not beautiful. fading community, lack of focus, internal feuds; poor statistics; secretive about organizational discussions [editor login req'd to even follow links in newsletter], hampered by barriers to entry into editor community [full disclosure: this has twice prevented me from becoming an editor, when noone ever got back to me about my editor applications, after mult emails]; newsletter last updated 18 months ago.
Overs: a meager FAQ, sporadic newsletter, var. editor-only fora & tools.
Users: Google’s Directory, many private sites that want to enhance their site with directory content.
Gutenberg Project, private founder, ??k eds. 11k texts + 10/day (80% from pgdp, via ~400 editors/day):
Intent: digitize all cr-free texts. The most famous effort of its kind. Compare Google’s plan to digitize old Stanford library content; magazines; Amazon’s digital book project.
Pros: org run by two idealistic founders; producing and feeder groups run by eager volunteers. Distributed-proofreading group grew up to provide e-texts Neut: PG is fundamentally a “roll your own; no centralized streamlining” org, strongly separating PR/501c status/admin’n/vision from implementation.
Cons: site(s) not beautiful; not deeply collaborative. people with infinite energy can funnel it all into a few books without furthering the project organizat’n (which is still lacking); better stats, better-coordinated collab tools needed; final version of digital copy needs more reliably-labelled quality control [after it's done, the final copy is never reviewed via normal processing steps by other editors]. only recently becoming int’l.
Overs: an extensive FAQ; a long “how to help” page; news and newsletter page; meager stats (pages/day, texts finished, pages/user) at subsid sites like pgdp.
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