Despite all of the talk of YouTube and MySpace and other social networking sites, I’d argue that the biggest phenomenon on the Web right now is Wikipedia. Here are some staggering numbers to back up my case:
- Wikipedia is the 12th most-trafficked website
in the world despite having spent no money on marketing and having an
annual operating budget of less than a million dollars.
- Pageviews to Wikipedia grew six-fold last year and and its content is growing by over 30 million words a month .
- According to this analysis , Wikipedia results now show up in the Top 10 Google search results for over 80% of all searches.
So what drives the phenomenon? I’ll argue that it’s lots of things but I think there is one that stands out from the rest. Simply put, for just about any person/place/thing Wikipedia offers the Best Available Version of Information BAVoI).
Case in point, we were stuck in the parking lot getting out of the Rolling Stones concert a few weeks back and passed the time by looking up some historical information on the band on a Blackberry. Where else would we go? Wikipedia. Why? Because they have the BAVoI on the Stones. I mean, c’mon, how would we even do this before Wikipedia existed?!!!
So is the whole world going to be Wikipedified? No, actually I don’t think that it can. Because while Wikipedia works really (really!) well for a lot of factual information there are other things that it can’t work so well for. For instance…
Since the Super Bowl just happened, hundreds of sportswriters wrote wrap-up articles about the game. Most of us will only want to read a couple of them. So ideally you’d love to find the best articles (or BAVoIs) for post-game analysis. Unfortunately an authoritative source for these doesn’t exist. Sure you could go to ESPN.com or CNNSI or Sportsline or any of a number of other sites. And you *might* find a great article but you really have no way of knowing whether it’s the BAVoI or not.
And the Wikipedia approach won’t work here because these types of articles typically suck if they are collaborative. Need an example of that?
Think back to those term papers you were allowed to write as a group back in college. Remember how disjointed they were and how painful they must have been for the professor to read. It’s unlikely that really good opinion-style writing will ever be done collaboratively in a Wikipedia-type fashion.
So that’s a somewhat trivial example…so let’s look at another more serious situation in which we need a better BAVoI.
Your best friend was just diagnosed with cancer. You really want to help him or her out. But where do you look? There is a ton of information on fighting cancer on the Web. Unfortunately there isn’t a site that gives you a BAVoI. And so what should /could be a relatively simple process of finding some extremely high-quality and vetted information instead is a frustrating and tedious exercise in sifting through mountains of data and potentially dubious advice.
Aggregating the best available information on how to battle cancer is certainly a much more complex than chronicalling the lives of the Rolling Stones. And because of this complexity, Wikipedia isn’t very well-suited to handle this either, primarily because of the binary nature of Wikipedia content (content with Wikipedia is typically either considered “good” and is left standing or “bad” and is removed). A subject like fighting cancer is one is which there is a lot of information of varying quality with some BAVoI-worthy and some not so much. And while it’s complex it’s also incredibly important considering that thousands (millions?) of lives could be saved each year if we had better access to medical information.
The bottom line is that when you’re able to easily find a BAVoI you become incredibly empowered. You save a ton of time and are able to have an incredible amount of confidence in the knowledge you’ve gained. This simple premise has caused Wikipedia to be on a growth curve that could make it the #1 site on the Internet within a couple of years. It’s caused a site like Digg to grow very rapidly (as the apparent BAVoI for tech news) and at the same time come under a lot of heat when it its perception as a BAVoI became
threatened (due to gaming of the system, paying off of Digg users , etc.).
It’s the secret behind Google’s astronomical success and yet at the same time it’s the biggest threat to Google’s future as anyone coming up with a better BAVoI for search phrases can quickly steal Google’s thunder (along with much of its market cap).
I’m incredibly confident that other companies will soon figure out ways to make BAVoIs possible in ways that we can’t even imagine through the use of things like collaborative filtering and collective intelligence. And I’m also confident that the result will be an incredible explosion in knowledge transfer and access to information. And as incredible as Wikipedia is I think it’s only the tip of the BAVoI iceberg.