Thursday, December 15, 2005

Shock - Wikipedia found to be accurate

Okay, not quite, but at least no less inaccurate than Britannica in a few places.

But how important is accuracy ? A while ago I considered a posting about the various Oracle forums around, and then got side-tracked into how responses can be measured. When a question is posted in a forum, what the questioner is looking for in an answer is USEFULNESS rather than ACCURACY. There are other factors, such as PROMPTNESS too, but lets not go there now.

There's a lot of overlap between 'usefulness' and 'accuracy'. You can be inaccurate by being incomplete (missing exceptions that may apply in different environments, Oracle versions and so forth) but if the answer applies to the questioners system, they will still find it useful. You can be inaccurate by being wrong about the 'why' but if the 'what' is right, you may still get away with it. It's only when the suggested action does not bring about the desired result that the response is bad.

And accurate answers aren't necessarily useful. "You'll need to upgrade to version ... to do that" isn't normally helpful and some questions simply don't have a useful answer. "I'm in noarchivelog mode, haven't backed up since the weekend, and just poured beer all over my disk drive at the Christmas party. What do I do now ?" Update the resume perhaps ?

Encyclopedias aren't forums of course. For the most part, the information in an Encyclopedia isn't at all useful. Are you likely to consult an Encylopedia before buying a car or camera, moving house, rewiring the electrics or trying a spot of open-heart surgery ? Generally, you'd look for a specialist resource before attempting any of those tasks, or just look for a specialist.
Encyclopedias are great for when you have a casual interest in a topic, such as working out where the country you team drew in the World Cup actually is. Curiosity satisfied, you can put the book back on the shelf (or close the browser), job done. You don't actually act on the information.

The other main use for Encyclopedias is the School Project, which just about says it all as far as usefulness is concerned. And there the advantage is with Wikipedia. If the teacher sees a word-for-word copy of the article, you can simply claim that you wrote both. That doesn't quite work for the Britannica.

So when you are thinking about a response, remember to aim for usefulness, and hopefully you'll be accurate too. And remember,
AskTom rankings are based on 'Not Useful' ... 'Most Useful' too.

1 comment:

Noons said...

Interesting concept: usefulness before accuracy.

I'd argue that if it's useful, then it must be accurate as well. Perhaps the target hadn't been clearly worded and hence why the usefulness looked easier to reach?

Coming back to the paper "pedias": I've found that they are a good start for the kids in their school projects and for me to narrow down an idea. Then both the kids and I jump on the net and go for the jugular on the detail. Either via the wiki version or a specialty site.

Accurate? Perhaps not. But darn useful!