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This blog is where we announce new videos & talk about the power of explanation & the change it can create. 

Wikipedia and the Value of No Experts At All

My Dad has a saying about trying to get boys to do work.  "One boy is worth one boy, two boys is worth half-a-boy and three boys is worth no boys at all."

When I look at Wikipedia with my plain English glasses, I think the same is true about experts. Look at it this way...

Let's say you're trying to learn about digestion.  You can likely find an expert who can sit with you and make digestion very easy to understand. Now, lets say you're talking to two experts. Something changes - the experts are now double checking each other and looking for ways to relate their unique point of view. With each expert you add, the more accurate the information becomes and the harder it becomes for you to understand.

This is what happens on Wikipedia all the time.  Experts are looking over each others' shoulders to such a degree that the entries become very accurate, but very hard to understand for the general public.  Here are the first couple of sentences for the Digestion entry on Wikipedia:

Digestion is the process of metabolism whereby a biological entity processes a substance in order to chemically and mechanically convert the substance for the body to use.
And guess what?  A Google search for "digestion" reveals this wikipedia entry as the first result.

So what?

I'm not against Wikipedia or experts.  I just want to be sure that we're not assuming that:

  1. Wikipedia is the end-all be-all for understand something, even though it's so often the #1 result.
  2. Experts, especially as a group, will produce results that relate to everyday people.

Why is this the case?  I'd say it has a lot to do with what Chip and Dan Heath call The Curse of Knowledge in their book Made to Stick.  I'll cover that ground sometime soon.

Oh, one last note - I'm the third of three boys in my family, so my Dad knows what he's talking about.