Where I find Wikipedia useful — and huge areas can be discarded as heresay, tedious arguments between pedants — is when some monomanic fan has lovingly assembled a list derived from his (or her, but it's usually a him) area of expertise — and then fiercely defended that turf.
That's sort of what we had with the Usenet FAQs, round about 1995 or 1996, if you want to look at the glass half full. They were often better written, better organized, and free of the banalities of prose that only committee-editing can generate: a kind of pseudo-authoritative waffle that is Wikipedia's hallmark.
In other words, we're just about back to where we started — and that's the really scary thought.
So we can chuck away all the nonsense about "democratization of knowledge", and "new forms of production", and similar such drivel offered by the eggheads of Web 2.0 — and conclude that after millions of man hours effort, human volunteers can't do a much better job than the algorithms, either.
History has its precedents, where human sacrifice prevailed: Stalin may have defeated Hitler by throwing 20 million bodies at the oncoming armies of the Reich, but no amount of volunteer Wikipedians will make the web "better", by any measure, than it was a decade ago when no one used it.
We're really back to square one.
Maybe this time, we can forget about such utopian dreams as an "information revolution", and get some real information professionals involved, such as librarians and editors, to earn their keep. Maybe we can rid ourselves of the illusion that "everyone talking at once" will generate some kind of wisdom, when all Google and Wikipedia have demonstrated is that it's a giant Tower of Babel. Everyone's talking alright, but there's nothing worth listening to.
One character who's laughing all the way to the bank, though, is Wales himself. Having exhausted the expendable (and unpaid) human labour creating Wikipedia, his stealth project Wikia is set to cream the profits. Wikia already boasts three times the referrals Wikipedia ever had, and finally Jimbo has a success story to take back to his old bond trader pals.
More on this — which is the real deception behind the great Wikipedia adventure — in our next bulletin. ®