Wagging wisdom’s long tail

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One of my favorite websites is Wikipedia.  I often turn to it when faced with an unfamiliar concept and I’m frequently astounded by the breadth and depth of topics that are covered there.  The other day the featured article – one of Wikipedia’s best, and thus deserving of being highlighted on the homepage – was about a series of pre-World War II battlecruisers the Dutch Navy planned, but never built.

A "plan and profile" of Nevesbu's Project 1047

This blows me away.  A great deal of work and rigorous review process is required before an article reaches featured status.  It must have “prose [that] is engaging, even brilliant, and of a professional standard,” be comprehensive, and thoroughly reference all the appropriate existing literature on the topic.  That’s a pretty tall order, and it makes it all the more impressive when you consider that 1) this was on the English language Wikipedia, not the Dutch language edition, and 2) that these ships were never actually built.

Volunteer editors from all around the globe, for whatever reason, gave their time, energy, and expertise to ensure that the world would forever have a point of reference for a set of partial blueprints residing somewhere in the archives of the Royal Netherlands Navy.  For some this might be the height of esotericism, but I look at it as a prime example of why Wikipedia is the largest and most popular general reference work on the internet.

Wikipedia may be the best known Web 2.0 platform, but it is far from the only.  This very blog, and all blogs, are an integral part of the communications landscape of the 21st century.  A few weeks ago Evan wrote an excellent post about how financial services companies should navigate this brave new world of social media, and later expanded upon it as an article in Financial Advisor magazine.

Across a continent, in Edmonton, Alberta, a social media consultant ran across the article and decided to write about it on his own blog.  Not only did he call a broader audience’s attention to the original work, he then built off of Evan’s framework to provide his own thoughts.  It’s not inconceivable that someone else in Guilder or Florin might pick it up from there, and the discussion will continue.

This, I believe, is one of the best aspects of the tremendous communications tools at our disposal today.  People have been commenting on others’ work since written communication was invented, but unless you had access to the library at Alexandria there was little chance you would ever encounter the written wisdom of someone in the village over, much less someone around the world.

Through tools like blogs and Wikipedia, the entire media world has been turned on its head.  Anyone with an internet connection can now be a publisher, and not just a consumer, of news and information.  Whether your specialty is social media, European navies in the interwar period, or some other arcane topic, there are myriad of platforms to share your knowledge and establish yourself as an expert, or at least a knowledgeable hobbyist.

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