First question: Why is this debate relevant to Personal Finance Bloggers?
Life's every day decisions (many of which are economic) are based on information. Decisions on what product to buy, what life strategies to take, where to live, etc.... Increasingly, many of us use the internet to Google a topic of interest and use on-line sources to research an appropriate decision.
I believe we all know that not all on-line sources are accurate and many are not reputable in the traditional sense. Nevertheless, we find ourselves using these sources frequently - often based on convenience or cost of access.
Here's an interesting question:
How many people pay to subscribe to the Britannica (for $70/yr.) vs. Use the free Wikipedia? I admit to preferring the latter. I have certainly used the Wikipedia to research different towns and communities my wife and I have considered visiting or even relocating to. Suprisingly, Wikipedia has many articles on more arcane subjects, such as comic books (did I just discredit myself there?). Imagine how helpful a quick summary of a collectible might be before buying or selling it.
I often wonder if starting at the Wikipedia would be a better starting point for factual searches rather than an initial google search.
My point above raises, perhaps, a much more important question, one that the debate (which I summarize below) addressed indirectly:
Does a freely accessible information source competing against a commercial, for-fee information source, have the ability to leverage it's great number of users to produce a comparable quality product? One might suppose that the public intellectual marketplace would provide so much greater exposure to various articles that errors would be addressed more quickly - what happens when the errors are not questions of fact, but opinion?
A few quick points about the interview:
- This was not a traditional interview - both participants addressed different topics - they also directly rebutted each other's statements.
- At times the rebuttals became fairly personal.
- There was a very interesting discrepancy between personality and style - especially when the Britannica editor attacked the founder of Wikipedia for incorporating links into their discussion - it seems that it was created on-line (real-time?).
The fundamental question of the debate is this:
Which is more effective in creating a comprehensive high-quality on-line encyclopaedia: an open community-based model or a private discretionary model?
- The open model accommodates near-real-time updates and a world-wide audience with few if any barriers to contribution (other than a four day membership requirement before being allowed to edit articles)
- The closed model involves established academic authorities, fact checkers and a vastly smaller number of contributors
Some interesting points:
- Wikipedia is already larger than the Britannica
- Britannica is not based out of Britain, but Chicago, IL, USA
- The University of Chicago is one of the largest contributors (their Phoenix logo can be seen as an imprint on some editions)
BTW, in order to write this post I had to learn how to spell encyclopaedia and Britannica