The Failure of Collective Intelligence

Wikipedia Logo Full SizeI was talking to an associate tonight and we had cause to have a look at the entry for “Podcast” in Wikipedia. My discovery was the bastardized remnants of what was once a very good article.

Not only does the entry now have a warning plastered at the top as to the fact that there may be spam associated with outgoing links. The information in the entry is now totally inaccurate and boarders on heresy. Take this example:

The term “podcast” is derived from Apple’s portable music player, the iPod.

This is total rubbish. In fact this is the exact assumption made by the community at large that we as podcasters are constantly trying to change. More often than not once someone has an idea as to what podcasts are their next question is “Do I need an iPod?”.

The term “Podcast” or “Podcasting” was in fact first coined on the 12th of Feburary 2004 by Ben Hammersley in an article for “The Gardian Newspaper”:

“…all the ingredients are there for a new boom in amateur radio. But what to call it? Audioblogging? Podcasting? GuerillaMedia?”

- Guardian Unlimited [Emphasis added to quote]

This is but one example of numerous inaccuracies that have occurred over a very short period of time to this entry. Right now someone could include that a podcast is a nocturnal rabbit and it would not damage the article. So corrupted is the information that it is good for nothing. Not only that but a cursory look at associated pages and entries reveal further inaccurate and spam laden dross.

Just when I thought that Wikipedia was starting to gain some respect. This is a demonstration of why it is possible that it will never be fully trusted or respected at any level. I am certainly going to use a lot more caution when using Wikipedia as a source of information or reference, on any subject. Until this article and associated items are cleaned up I would discount the whole article as crap.

This brings into question the whole Wikipedia model in that there is wisdom in crowds. However, this proves that there are indeed flaws to making the assumption that collective intelligence is superior. Clearly people other than experts in this field or at least those that have made some sort of research attempt have edited these entries. This has been done more than once compounding the already inaccurate data. This has occurred much quicker than those qualified to do so. The result is an article that is hobbled by rubbish and dosed with spam for good measure.

At this present time on face value the whole article needs to be rewritten and reviewed and then locked down. I have witnessed the failure of collective intelligence.

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5 Responses to “The Failure of Collective Intelligence”

  1. engtech Says:

    Wikipedia is a huge source of information devolution. More editing makes articles worse, most of the time.

    It works better when articles have owners who accept/reject changes versus “collective wisdom”.

  2. James Says:

    The statement that the term “podcast” is derived from Apple’s iPod could indeed be exactly where Ben Hammersley derived it from. Nothing in the citation from Guradian Unlimited states where, how or why the term “podcast” was derived. If Mr Hammersley has clarified the inspiration for the term he coined in 2004 elsewhere then that should have been included. As it stands, the statements you’ve quoted confirm nothing. Secondly, if you follow the link from the “Podcast” page to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_podcasting – it correctly attributes the source of the term “podcast” to Mr Hammersly.

    Given that the first criticism of Wikipedia can’t really be a classified as a “inaccurate” or “heresy” (as stated above – who knows, from your quotes, where Mr Hammersley found his inspiration?), and secondly Wikipedia does attribute the genesis of the term Podcast accurately on a different (linked) page, it begs the question, is Wikipedia really at fault here, or is a failure in research?

    As you have stated this is indicative of the failure of the collective intelligence, but in fact, your comments have contributed to that same failure by being selective in where and how you cite information :( I’m not defending Wikipedia, I agree some articles have significant errors (try researching anything specialised like fluid dynamics or medicine), but by and large Wikipedia is as accurate, if not more so, than any other single source of information on the Internet.

  3. The Rooster Says:

    I both agree and disagree with you. I agree that there is no mention of where Ben Hammersley derives the term from. Indeed it may well have been inspired by the iPod. However, the fact that he is not sure what to call the new medium implies that there is no name for it. The other thing is that the “history” in regards to origin are very grey in regards to the word “podcast”. I did some research and there has been and there is no application for the trademark. One might also be able to conclude therefore that Apple had not thought of it. If they had then you can bet they would have made some claim to the term. Sure the quote itself doesn’t confirm anything conclusively, BUT you can draw some fairly rationally based summations from it. In my research there is no previous mention in literature of the term.

    I would also point out that you seem to agree that Hammersley coined the term:

    “…if you follow the link from the “Podcast” page to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_podcasting – it correctly attributes the source of the term “podcast” to Mr Hammersly.”

    But I am sure that you are but questioning my sources and the way in which I have quoted them.

    In actual fact I got the link to the original article in the “Guardian” from the History of Podcasting entry. But the topic in question was and is the “podcast” page. Since I have have had cause to use this page in Wikipedia on numerous occasions I have seen the changes and the degradation of the information there. It changes too frequently to be considered with any real authority. The spam warning at the top of the page is yet another development in regards to this process.

    On the original podcast wiki page, the statement is written as if it is fact (in regards to the association with the iPod). The truth is that it can not be confirmed, nor has it been referenced making it speculative at best. That there is reference to another source on “History of Podcasting” page brings into doubt the name’s association with the iPod and therefore should be included in the “Podcast” page. The article by Hammersley is a primary source in so much as it is fact, he said it and it is down on “paper”. The iPod statement, while plausible yet only through similarity of name is not reason enough to presume fact. This is the way it was written in the entry and therefore inaccurate.

    I would also add that the accuracy of an associated Wiki page doesn’t substantiate another. Each page has to be addressed for merit. Otherwise it would be comparable to writing a scientific paper that was not quite accurate and saying that it is because another paper on the same topic IS and has been confirmed as accurate.

    So no, I do not believe that my statements were inaccurate or contributing to the problem of inaccuracies. I sourced the only *known* source of when the term was first used, one that has been omitted from the “Podcast” page. So as far as where I have sourced information – this is the only place. As far as how I have used it; I used a direct quote with a link so as to place the article in context (short of quoting the whole article). In addition to this the “podcast” entry used to make reference to Hammersley and now does not. In fact the reference to the iPod is a fairly new addition.

    To further substantiate my claims, in my research I followed numerous links in other associated pages and I ended up on totally unrelated sites, such as Adam Curry (the page had nothing to do with the information provided in the Wiki). This is spam and seem to be abundant. I would also question the fact that some links on the podcast page seem to remain and yet others quickly disappear, despite being relevant and not spam. Interestingly ones that stay are either A-list podcasters or bloggers. So are regarded as such for their contributions such as Dave Winer – heck even he is gone! Published the first “Podcast”!! It reminds me of the front page on Digg for podcasts – don’t expect that will ever change. However, I notice that all links bar a few at the bottom have now been removed.

    No I am not criticising Wikipedia either, rather the process. Which in my opinion has failed in this instance. Not citing or making mention of accepted primary sources alone calls the whole article into question.

    Collective intelligence has failed in my opinion, lets hope that it can be amended to reflect a more accurate article. I am not convinced that will happen given all the “stakeholders” in this instance.

  4. wikihezbollah2007 Says:

    Wikipedia is complete BS!

    Jason Scott: The Great Failure of Wikipedia. 08.04.2006. Audio: 64Kbps MP3 (20,5 MB), Text: Transcript
    Lir: A Criticism of the Wikipedia. Kapitalism.net
    Jaron Lanier: On Digital Maoism: The Hazards of the New Online Collectivism. The Edge. 30.05.2006
    Nicholas Carr: The amorality of Web 2.0. 03.10.200

  5. Jeff Says:

    Delightful rant.

    The strength of collaboration is not in preventing errors ever existing, but in ensuring that errors are corrected over time.

    It’s been about a year since you wrote this, for example… and… uhm… well that article still says that.

    However, now it attributes Oxford University Press, so it has at least changed from being Wikipedia’s mistake to being theirs.

    Notice, OUP doesn’t attribute their source, nor offer an obvious means of posting a correction…

    It would be stunning if their source (or source’s source’s source) was, ultimately, Wikipedia-supported beliefs in the terms origin of the very sort that made Wikipedia say what it did.

    But probably, it’s just bleeding obvious.

    There was a question:
    “…all the ingredients are there for a new boom in amateur radio. But what to call it? Audioblogging? Podcasting? GuerillaMedia?”

    I think it a bit naive to suppose that the answer to the above being ‘podcasting’ had nothing whatever to do with the iPod…


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