Sunday, August 12, 2007

Web 2.0 Collaborative Knowledge Building

There are many ways to collaborate in building up a body of knowledge. In the Web 2.0 world, one of the popular methods is the wiki. For the uninitiated, a wiki is an on-line collaborative tool where anyone with access can add, edit, or delete content. In theory, over time the content improves because knowledge is added by each person who participates. And the group can self-manage so that inaccurate information is deleted by the majority. There are some management challenges, such as how to represent competing or multiple perspectives and how to ensure that false information is not perpetuated. But in the right contexts, wikis can be very valuable as long as their limitations are recognized.

But because of these limitations, there are contexts that perhaps should not consider wikis. There are high schools that prohibit students from using wikipedia as a source because the content is not reliable. On the other hand, there are high schools that encourage students to use wikipedia because the content is not reliable - and it is a critical aspect of information literacy to learn not to believe everything you read. Instead of protecting students from unreliable information, we need to teach them how to deal with it. In the real world, all information comes to us at varying levels of reliability and credibility.

If you think this is new, think again. Anyone who has had the pleasure of studying the Talmud has been doing this in a fantastically pre-web way. But rather than allowing participants to edit the content, each person gets to annotate it. This site has a great explanation of the method. What I like about this is that:

1. It adds reputation management. You can see what the most respected scholar said to make sure that you are getting the "best" information.

2. It does not delete the minority opinions. Instead of getting a single, aggregated page, you get to read what each person thought about it. If you are interested in absorbing the variety, you can do so.

The advantages of this over the typical wiki style are substantial. What amazes me is that we don't have wikis that use the Talmudic format. Maybe they exist and I just haven't seen them. But it would be so easy to create a meta-moderation system for a wiki that allows users to see what five star participants wrote - including minority five star opinions. And if interested, the user could check out some one- through four- star opinions. Maybe these are new participants and maybe they are participants who have been tagged as unreliable. But there are times when accessing these contributions can be useful. And high school students who don't feel comfortable making their own decisions can stick to the five-star content.