Cass Sunstein on Wikipedia and Collaborative Technologies

Wikipedia.jpgProfessor Cass Sunstein (U. Chicago Law School) has an op-ed in today’s Washington Post about Wikipedia and other collaborative technologies. I recently blogged about the extensive citation to Wikipedia in law review articles and judicial opinions, but I find this statistic that Sunstein provides to be quite amazing:

In the past year, Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that “anyone can edit,” has been cited four times as often as the Encyclopedia Britannica in judicial opinions, and the number is rapidly growing.

He goes on to write about prediction markets:

But wikis are merely one way to assemble dispersed knowledge. The number of prediction markets has also climbed over the past decade. These markets aggregate information by inviting people to “bet” on future events — the outcome of elections, changes in gross domestic product, the likelihood of a natural disaster or an outbreak of avian flu.

In general, the results have proved stunningly accurate. For elections, market forecasts have consistently outperformed experts and even public opinion polls. (If you want to learn who is likely to win the Oscars, check out the Hollywood Stock Exchange at http://www.hsx.com.) Many companies, such as Google, Eli Lilly and Microsoft, have created internal prediction markets for product launches, office openings, sales levels and more. At Google, which has disclosed some of its data, the aggregation of dispersed information has yielded remarkably reliable forecasts.

Although recognizing some of the shortcomings of Wikipedia and other collaborative technologies such as prediction markets, Sunstein is generally quite optimistic:

But the track record of the new collaborations suggests that they have immense potential. In just a few years, Wikipedia has become the most influential encyclopedia in the world, consulted by judges as well as those who cannot afford to buy books. If the past is prologue, we’re seeing the tip of a very large iceberg.

While I agree that collaborative technologies are a very exciting and useful development, I wonder whether Sunstein is a bit too optimistic. Is Wikipedia really “the most influential encyclopedia in the world”? Are prediction markets “stunningly accurate”?

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2 Responses

  1. John says:

    People like Wikipedia because it’s free and because of its scope. It is also significantly better-looking and easier to use than other online encyclopedias. (For most topics, its articles are better too, but that’s a different issue.) Have you ever been to the disgrace that is britannica.com? I will use reference works that I either own or which are available for free online. I’m not going to go out of my way for an encyclopedia.

  2. Miriam Cherry says:

    Maybe it’s (a bit) of hyperbole, but I think Sunstein is right to be excited about these technologies. Of course, I say that, and it comes from the perspective of someone who is writing about prediction markets and their application to the legal system….