There is no such thing as too much information.
Question: How is the Web changing education?
Jimmy Wales: One of the impacts here is that we have a much higher degree of informal learning than we used to have. That’s not to say that formal learning is declining. It’s just to say that after people are finished their formal education, they have such a greater opportunity for informal education.
Thirty-five years ago, you might read a newspaper story about, I don’t know, Albania. And you might think, “Hmm. Albania. I barely know anything about it, and I don’t know the history. I should go to the library and look that up.” But frankly nobody ever much went to the library to look things up. It’s quite a journey. You have to put aside a lot of your energy to go and do something like that.
Whereas now, when somebody wonders about Albania, they just type “Albania” into a search engine and, typically with the Wikipedia article, they get a nice, basic history and background, and they can really dig very deep if they want to; follow the sources and you can really learn a lot. All that kind of learning really helps people to become better citizens, better decision makers in their own lives.
Sometimes it’s political, but sometimes it’s personal decisions that people might make that they can make with a lot more knowledge than they had in the past, simply because it’s so easy to informally get the basic information that you need.
Question: Is there a downside to having access to so much information?
Jimmy Wales: None whatsoever. Obviously that’s not to say that the state of the information on the Internet is perfect. It certainly isn’t. There’s a lot of problems. You know reliability, accuracy. I think people have a lot to learn in terms of figuring out what does make a good source, and how do you know when something is reliable or not.
But overall, this instant access to information is almost completely a good thing. I don’t think there’s ever any case – outside of science fiction examples – where you can say people are better off not knowing about the world.
Question: How do you ensure the information is accurate?
Jimmy Wales: I think there’s a lot of steps that we can take in the Internet community to try to help and ensure the accuracy of the information on the Internet. In community projects like at Wikipedia, or the various projects Wikia sites, the communities tend to have a very conservative and old-fashioned view of what information quality looks like, which sometimes surprises people. They sort of assume it’s going to be some crazy “MySpace” of information or something.
But realistically, a lot of the scholarly standards that you would hope for are exactly what the community settles on. So things like comparing what’s written in an article to what the sources say, and judging the sources by their quality. Is it a book published by Harvard University Press? Or is it a tabloid magazine? Or is it some random, crazy web page?
People really do have a pretty good idea of how to assess the quality of information. And communities are really coming together to think about these things and to start to build better and better quality information resources. So yeah, there’s a lot of work to do.
Recorded On: Aug 10, 2007