March 08, 2007

Cites & Insights November, March 2007 - Wikipedia, Long Tail

Let me close out (I hope) "Wikipedia-fest" by pointing to Walt Crawford's issue 7:3 (March 2007) of Cites & Insights, for the long section on Wikipedia Revisited. The "revisit [of] past items regarding the project" covers 2002 to the present. Skimming over the material, this phrase was never more prescient:

I also discussed a lengthy New Yorker article on Wikipedia, a thoughtful piece that pointed out some of its strengths and weaknesses and included the pointed comment that "Wikipedia's bureaucracy doesn't necessarily favor truth."

Also note the Long Tail discussion:

Does the power-law curve function in most media? Sure it does. That's neither new nor particularly surprising. What's somewhat new is that the curve can keep trailing off to the right--the "long tail" -- in TV ... and, more effectively, in movies thanks to NetFlix. For magazines, there's nothing new here, although even smaller niches can be served entirely online. ... For books, it's not clear whether the internet makes the "long tail" more important. It is clear that most books have been niche books ever since thousands and tens of thousands of books came out each year. ... Meanwhile, to be sure, Chris Anderson has the kind of Bestseller that supposedly doesn't exist in a "long tail economy." I'm sure he's taking that irony to the bank.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikipedia | on March 08, 2007 11:56 PM (Infothought permalink)
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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Where's the irony? Asserting the importance of the "long tail" does not deny that there are benefits to people who wind up in the "short head".

Posted by: Seth Gordon at March 9, 2007 09:32 AM

The irony comes from Anderson's assertion that the long tail economy eliminates bestsellers. Or at least that's how I interpreted the article. Of course, since the article also included claims as to the cumulative size of the "long tail" that turned out to be false, maybe I shouldn't try to interpret anything.

Thanks for the note, Seth. I try not to run two Wiki-related articles in a row, so I'm wondering what to do with the fascinating morality play that's been unfolding.

Posted by: walt at March 9, 2007 11:05 AM

My understanding of the Long Tail thesis (not that I've read the book) is that the LT eliminates the sort of massive hits that existed in the pre-Internet era--where one movie or one book or one record album could make such a splash that everybody talked about it.

I remember that one night, when I was in seventh(?) grade, I asked my mother to watch Dallas and tell me the next morning "who shot J.R."--because even though I had never seen the show and didn't particularly want to, everybody in my class was talking about that particular upcoming episode, and I didn't want to embarrass myself by not knowing what happened.

There are TV shows that have that same gotta-talk-about-it salience within certain subcultures, but I don't think any have that same kind of general impact. Or so it seems to me. Maybe I'm just mature enough now to not be ashamed of my lack-of-TV habits.

Posted by: Seth Gordon at March 9, 2007 01:37 PM

One more comment, I guess, on Wikipedia. Yahoo has a editorial from the CS Monitor.

It highlights the "group consensus reveals truth" as the principle behind Wikipedi'a validty.

This raises the question, if "group consensus" is what makes Wikipedia valid -- by the same principle, does that also mean the loony Conservapedia, with its Creationism and so forth, is just as valid?

I honestly can't see any argument that makes Wikipedia's information more valid than Conservapedia. Unless it is the sheer number of editors, but then, sadly, it should be easy to organize 1 million Creationist editors to make Conservapedia the more authoritative. Also, there is a ton of "intelligent design" pseudo-science on the net to link to for citations.

Posted by: anon at March 9, 2007 03:56 PM

SethG: No, because that wouldn't be so hypeworthy. The key aspect of the idea is not that the BigHead is a little bit smaller, but that it's shrunk to being *less "important"* than the rest. And that seems to be false. That is, while there's some relatively minor shifting around between a few less superstars and a few more plain old stars, it's still basically a star system and everyone else.

anon: It's actually more complicated, because the group consensus is supposed to be based on the published material by the experts they don't respect (it's got a classic love-hate relationship with academic experts, of cargo-cult proportions).

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at March 9, 2007 07:02 PM

"the group consensus is supposed to be based on the published material by the experts they don't respect"

So credentials don't matter on the inside, but they matter on the outside.

Talk about dictatorship by the proletariat. (Though at least the Maoists were honest and liquidated the intellectuals).

And I suppose the ultimate win for Wikipedia would be to get the outside academic to do a Heidegger and put on a Nazi uniform. This is what Essjay's tentative outreach to a "fellow academic" was intended to do.

Posted by: anon at March 9, 2007 10:05 PM

The key aspect of the idea is not that the BigHead is a little bit smaller, but that it's shrunk to being *less "important"* than the rest.

Well, if that's the actual Long Tail thesis, then I certainly disagree with that, as well.

Posted by: Seth Gordon at March 11, 2007 07:00 PM