Encyclopedias are touch stones, introductory references, telescopes peaking into much larger worlds. Sometimes the lenses of our printed guides are blurred. Ink alone does not endow words with factual authority. Printing and binding only guarantee a higher delivery cost. The entries may be factual, but good luck verifying the sources. If you have access to the sources you probably would not bother looking it up in an encyclopedia; unless that encyclopedia is Wikipedia.
If you know a subject well, the best place to begin is Wikipedia. If the First Barbary War is one of your specialties, go to Wikipedia and see if the article is accurate. If it’s not, make corrections (The current article does not meet Wikipedia standards). As a contributor you can clear the way for other observers.
Here is an example. I’m familiar with the events surrounding the murder of Joseph Standing in 1879 and Wikipedia had a stub (A short article marked for expansion) about his life. In July 2007 I made a major revision of the article. I adhered to Wikipedia’s three content policies; maintain a neutral point of view (NPOV), provide verifiable sources, and do not use original research. Since my revision there have been around 30 minor edits, made by other users, and with only two exceptions every edit has been an improvement.
This kind of real time editing can not be done in the world of paper. I recently found two errors in a history book that has been on the market for over a decade. I submitted corrections to the publisher earlier this week and while they were pleased to receive accurate information, it will probably take a year or more before the book is updated.
As Erin McKean says, sometimes paper is the enemy of words. The book is not the best shape for an encyclopedia. At the same time, I’m not yet converted to belief in a paperless world. I simply love books. Well referenced, indexed books. But from my non-neutral point of view Wikipedia and its volunteer army of Wikipedians, of which I am one, are headed in the right direction. Now let’s Wiki.
If you’ve typed the words “I feel” or “I am feeling” on a blog in the past three years, chances are your feelings have been tracked. Not by a government but by wefeelfine.org, the work of computer scientist Jonathan Harris and Google engineer Sep Kamvar. Their system captures sentences containing the words “I feel” or “I am feeling” and scans them to see if the sentences fit into one of 5,000 pre-identified categories. Where possible, the age, gender, and location of the blogger are also recorded. If a location is available, the local weather at the time of the post is recorded.
According to the We Feel Fine mission page, their database of several million feelings increases by 15,000 to 20,000 new feelings each day.
The data is displayed in six unique formats; madness, murmurs, montage, mobs, metrics, and mounds. Mounds reveal how many people are feeling good, bad, ugly, or any of over 3,400 common feelings. Did you post about feeling “comfortable” in the past few days? So did 16,552 other people. If you wrote that you felt “flaky” you’re one of only twenty. 70% of these flaky feelings were written in sunny weather and 20% under cloudy skies (A location was not available for the remaining 10%).
The thought of separate but collective feelings inspires me to say, wefeelfine.org is pretty cool.
However you choose to describe your feelings, you’re not alone.
- Ever wondered who categorizes the images on Google Images? Try Google Image Labeler and find out.
- Tired of sending documents back and forth through e-mail for editing and wondering who has the current version? Try Google Docs & Spreadsheets.
- Want to know who invented the first pocket protector, the electric tooth brush, or the hulla hoop? Try Google Patent Search.
- Want to know exactly what people are searching for on Google? Go to Google Trends.
These are just a few of over 50 services available from Google. As a co-worker of mine, Kurt Fanstill, said after attending an indexing conference, ‘this is not an information age; it is an information retrieval age’. Sorting through the data to quickly find what you need is the key and Google continues to unlock the doors.