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Blogging knols and wikis

December 15th, 2007

After reading lots of discussion of Google’s knol initiative, I finally got around to actually looking at the example screenshot, which is about insomnia. Naturally, I was interested to look at the competition provided by the Wikipedia article on the same topic.

The Wikipedia article starts with a cleanup-needed tag (maybe Google’s choice of example topic wasn’t accidental in this respect), but doesn’t look all that bad. What’s startling is that wiki and knol disagree on some fairly basic points.

The knol, written by Rachel Manber states, without citation, that insomnia affects about one in ten US adults, which I would guess to be about 25 million people. Wikipedia says ’60 million Americans suffer from insomnia each year” and supports this with a link to the NIH which says “About 60 million Americans a year have insomnia frequently or for extended periods of time, which leads to even more serious sleep deficits.” . This WebMD article says “In a 1991 survey, 30-35% of adult Americans reported difficulty sleeping in the past year and 10% reported the insomnia to be chronic, severe, or both” again consistent with Wikipedia. It looks as if the knol introductory sentence should have stated “chronic or severe”.

There’s also disagreement over classifications of transient, acute and chronic insomnia. The knol classification is purely on duration, while the Wikipedia article offers a rather confusing mix of duration and causative indicators. A quick search of the web suggests that there’s lots of different definitions out there.

Since this is a blog, and not a wiki or knol, I can safely generalize from samples of one. As regards simple factual statements anyone is likely to care about, I’d rather go with Wikipedia than with an individually written article, even one by an expert. Wikipedia will usually have a citation, and, if there are conflicting claims, report them. With an individual author, it’s much harder to tell if a given statistic is generally agreed to be accurate and representative of the situation.

On the other hand, Wikipedia is still weak on presenting complex subjects in a coherent fashion. With no single author, articles tend to lack a clear central theme, and to put a lot of weight on marginal issues that people happen to feel strongly about. That’s improving at a higher level (the balance between pop culture trivia and serious articles) but not so rapidly within articles.

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  1. December 16th, 2007 at 10:20 | #1

    I thought both articles were very poor… both of them put me to sleep. :)

  2. Persse
    December 16th, 2007 at 14:18 | #2

    Wikipedia is an amazing resource – providing the subject isn’t ‘political’. For instance if the subject is religious, for example, you can be sure that it has been hijacked by the religious.
    I am currently rereading some of the books in my collection as I am putting them on LibraryThing , mainly historical books in some way – just finished Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary – the access to historical detail and arcana is excellent

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