Thursday, July 30, 2020

Why Wikipedia Is Evil

Don't get me wrong. I'm a fan of many things about Wikipedia. I have a small number of edits on Wikipedia too. But, I think democratizing knowledge creation is more important than Wikipedia. And that's why the title.

I have written with examples about how Wikipedia's claims about it being "the sum of all human knowledge" is highly misplaced in my old article titled: "Don't put all your eggs in one Wikipedia". In that article I also talk about how Wikipedia could become the foundation for building a federated knowledge system. In this post I talk about why it is necessary to decentralize Wikipedia.

Monopolies are bad

It is not that there cannot be socially conscious and good natured monopolies. It is that the existence of monopolies in a society is bad. It stifles innovation by restricting it to only the monopoly. It gives great power to the people who control the monopoly. Arbitrary rules can be created by these people and everyone else is forced to follow suit.

Healthy competition is the cornerstone of capitalism. Monopolies make competition tough. Worse, monopolies make competitors look bad even when they're better. Monopolies make it look like the reason for the failure of competitors is incompetence whereas a large part of the reason could be the existence of a monopoly.

Amazon, Uber, China, there are many examples.

Monopolies don't announce themselves

That monopolies are bad is clear to many people. But recognizing monopolies is sometimes hard. A monopoly doesn't always start out as a monopoly. And there usually isn't an announcement when someone becomes a monopoly. In fact, monopolies always deny they have monopoly.

Here is where Wikipedia becomes interesting.

Wikipedia announces itself as wanting to compile the sum of all human knowledge (and sometimes even claims to be the sum of all human knowledge). I have ranted enough about this in the older post. But the fact that not enough people question this statement by Wikipedia founders and others should make us think: Have we accepted Wikipedia as the sum of all human knowledge?

If we have, then we have laid the foundation for Wikipedia to become a monopoly. A monopoly over knowledge.

We may be too late to act too.

Wikipedia has prominent ranking on search results for many many terms. Often, people read only the Wikipedia result. These people linking back to Wikipedia creates a reinforcing feedback loop. (Of course, the role of Google's monopoly over search and discovery of knowledge is also to be questioned).

Because there is so much of knowledge already present in Wikipedia, many people think that what is not present on Wikipedia is not notable enough or is not important enough to know. Paid editing has existed on Wikipedia from a long time and the reason is that it is becoming increasingly impossible to build a brand without building it through Wikipedia also. And why is that so? Because a large number of people use Wikipedia to measure the relative relevance of knowledge. Wikipedia is becoming the trusted bank of knowledge. Wikipedia is gaining monopoly over knowledge.

Not all of this is Wikipedia's fault. There are many projects which try to become collaborative editing spots for various niche topics. Radiopaedia, for example tries to become a reference website for radiology. Yet, for many projects Wikipedia is a large competitor because it is the so-called "sum of all human knowledge". Editors would rather write on Wikipedia than a smaller collaborative project.

Because we give Wikipedia too much credit. We consider it the reference. We adore it. We are too scared to fork off. We make it a monopoly. Stop doing that.

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Sunday, July 26, 2020

Liberty vs Morality

Liberty and morality can be seen as counter-balancing forces.

Liberty applies to individuals.
Morality is a social construct.

Liberty is about what one can do.
Morality is about what one cannot do.

Liberty assumes each human is a rational being and respects them for that.
Morality is enforced on humans by authority based on arbitrary consensus.

Liberty allows a human being to achieve their maximum human potential.
Morality can potentially prevent individuals from harming other individuals.

Liberty and morality are not equally acting on everyone, though.

Morality often sides with the more privileged. Because the authority to enforce morality rests with them too. In turn, liberty also accumulates with the privileged.

Privilege may never get equally distributed. We must therefore constantly renegotiate the arbitrary rules of morality for the benefit of the less privileged.

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Sunday, July 19, 2020

The Connection Between Curiosity and Knowledge

Last week, 7½ years after Aaron Swartz death, I was thinking about what made Aaron smart. There is this quote:

“Be curious. Read widely. Try new things. What people call intelligence just boils down to curiosity.”

Curiosity. It keeps popping up here and there.

I was read Anand Philip's blog today. The "about" page is just three lines:


Superpower: Curiosity.

Probably not a cat

Can curiosity be a superpower?

One of the answers was about The Oxford Electric Bell:

There wasn't much detail about the bell in the answer. Intuitively I was thinking it could be something like a clock that would require winding every now and then. But I wasn't sure. So I went to the wikipedia page on it.

That's where I learned that it is an actual bell that rings about twice a second and holds "the Guinness World Record as "the world's most durable battery [delivering] ceaseless tintinnabulation""

Now there are many things to learn on this page. We might want to see the bell ringing on Youtube. We might want to read about perpetual motion. We might even want to read about the word tintinnabulation.

Which reminded me of an old friend Akashnil Dutta who according to LinkedIn is now a Member of Technical Staff at OpenAI. It was about 9 years ago in a camp that I met Akashnil where he told me about magnetotactic bacteria. I asked him how he had come across this rather uncommon piece of information.

He said he would use the "Random Article" feature of wikipedia to find new stuff.

Curiosity is a super power.

Read. Notice. Be curious. Question. Read more. Repeat.

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