Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Wikipedia Upgrade

Something I learnt in school was that what we were taught in primary school was merely an approximation of the “truth”.  What we were taught in secondary was a closer approximation and university was a closer approximation yet!I  And so I've had an idea for a updating of Wikipedia.  It would be fairly major thing to do, but I think it would be not only cool but useful too.  This isn't in the category of “fixing” Wikipedia, which seems to be a theme these days, but of improving it's capability.  This is of course assuming that someone hasn't already thought of it or is currently salivating of the prospect of getting venture capital for a rival startup.  I'd do it myself, but y'know, I'm too busy working out how to save the world and all that!

Anyway, I've noticed – it wasn't difficult – that the various entries for Wikipedia are pitched at vastly different degrees of understanding.  If you need convincing of this, just check out some of the finer details of statistics.  Some of those articles go into considerable depth about very technical concepts, others are stubs.  Even when an article is complete, it can contain nothing that would tax you.  On the other hand it can contain complex equations.

But this isn't to say that an outline or overview of a topic can't be written which combines those approaches.  A book might start with beginner's material and slowly build towards advanced learning.  In other words, the same topic can be written about for a different audience at different times and places.  It can be a definitive reference work, or a light sketch merely the gist of it.  So why not build this capability into Wikipedia in a Web 2.0 fashion?  OK, so I'm completely ignoring how it would be implemented in practice, but how might it look?

Each section of the page, in addition to the “edit” control has a “info depth” control, say 1 to 5 or some other scale such as “easy” to “hard”.  Clicking on the appropriate control changes the section, or the entire page, to the new informational depth.  So on depth 1 you might get an explanation of geopolitics or quantum chromodynamics in language suitable for the layman, whereas on depth 5 you might get the same but with equations and technicalities suitable for degree students studying the subject.

That's it.  That's all it would take.

It would even be possible to write Wikipedia pages to take this into account right now.  A page at the moment is titled Quantum (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum).  How much harder would it be to have a few extra pages titled Quantum_Easy and Quantum_Hard.  It could apply everywhere and doesn't even require any changes behind the scenes.

And that's my Big Wikipedia Thought!

3 comments:

Korvar The Fox said...

In a way, they've kind of done this: http://simple.wikipedia.org

Snap2Grid said...

Boo! I mean, oh really? :)

Anonymous said...

it's been played with through things like:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Introduction_to_quantum_mechanics

But writing for a given difficulty level is rather hard to do.