Conflict Early Warning on Wikipedia (Updated)

I find it rather telling and disappointing that this blog is still the only one that exists on the topic of conflict early warning and early response. Equally telling is that of the 1.5 million English articles available on Wikipedia, there is not one single entry on conflict early warning!

As David Nyheim recently wrote in this report for the OECD, the field of conflict early warning has clearly not gone beyond the use of email and websites for dissemination, and communication technology. Web 2.0 applications are still a completely foreign concept to the field of conflict early warning.

Wikipedia is an excellent example of the Web 2.0 revolution. The wiki is ahead of all other references sites (1). In addition, Wikipedia is ahead of all English language news and media sites (2). Indeed, Wikipedia has now transcended the traditional functions of an encyclopedia.

Within minutes of the bombs going off in the London transit system, someone created a Wikipedia page called “7 July 2005 London bombings.” […] The Wikipedia page received more than a thousand edits in its first four hours of existence, as additional news came in; users added numerous pointers to traditional news sources (more symbiosis) and a list of contact numbers for people either trying to track loved ones or simply figuring out how to get home (Shirky 2008).

In fact, the current conflict between Georgia and Russia already has a 20-page entry on Wikipedia with detailed information on the events that have unfolded by day. Granted, not all the information will be verified in real time but that’s precisely why Wikipedia has made a note that the factual accuracy of the information may be disputed. Another point worth mentioning is the following tag that Wikipedia uses: “This article documents ongoing warfare: information might change rapidly and initially be unconfirmed as the conflict evolves.” The mainstream media is of course facing the same challenge. But at least the information on Wikipedia is updated (and corrected) more quickly.

This demonstrated potential of wikis prompted me to set up WikiWarning a few years ago. But Wikipedia makes far more sense since millions are already actively using the tool. I just wrote a brief entry on the topic of conflict early warning for Wikipedia. It’s far from complete and not particularly good. But the entire point, and brilliance, of Wikipedia is that it doesn’t have to be.

In a system where anyone is free to get something started, however badly, a short, uninformative article can be the anchor for the good article that will eventuall appear. Its very inadequacy motivates people to improve it; many more people are willing to make a bad article better than are will to start a good article from scratch (Shirky 2008).

The Wikipedia platform is an excellent aggregator of incremental, distributed contributions. In fact, each article on Wikipedia gets edited about 40 times on average. In other words, each entry  tends to get better over time. But I’m willing to bet that the new “conflict early warning” entry I just wrote on Wikipedia will not get edited at all.

Anyone care to prove me wrong? We need a newer generation of conflict early warning experts who are more savvy with technology and who are more tuned into the opportunities presented by the information revolution. But why wait? Creating and editing pages on Wikipedia is easy. Indeed close to 5 million people already have! So why not start now? See this user friendly page on “how to get started” and edit, correct and add to my entry!

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2 responses to “Conflict Early Warning on Wikipedia (Updated)

  1. Given the usual caveats around Wikipedia, I’ve heard intelligence folks in the U.S. call some of the coverage (in one case, the various Ethiopian-Eritrean back-and-forth) “robust”. Praise from Caesar, indeed…

  2. Pingback: Conflict Prevention: Theory, Policy and Practice « Conflict Early Warning and Early Response

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