I’ve been meaning to post on this subject for quite a while now, and it turns out someone has gone and said it more succinctly than I ever could have: The Problem With Wikipedia.
Stop! Don’t read the rest until you’ve looked at the link!
Seen it? Good.
Now, where were we?
When I first discovered what we called the World Wide Web back in 1994 (upon arriving at college), the web was really a web: lots of pages that linked to each other. I could spend hours clicking links from page to page finding all kinds of stuff (including the IMDB before it was bought by Amazon).
These days, the web (note it’s down to one word, and has lost the capitals) is more or less a multi-layer star topology. Start with a search engine or bookmark, take it to a site. Navigate around inside that site, usually through an index page. Maybe follow a link to another site. Go back to the search engine, take it to another site. Repeat. As a result, I rarely spend much time jumping between topics.
I’ve found that I surf Wikipedia today much like I surfed those interlinked pages back in 1994. I jump from article to article to article, and end up miles from where I started at the end of a long train of connections. It’s fascinating.
So what makes Wikipedia different? It uses actual hyperlinks, not just navigation structures and search. The whole idea behind hypertext is that it would more closely model the way the human mind makes connections between ideas, instead of forcing it through an abstraction like an index. While HTML was built with that use in mind, it’s mostly been ignored in favor of a separation of content and navigation.
(Initial link via ***Dave)