In Roger MacBride Allen's short story “Phreak Encounter” aliens run a bulletin board system in order to figure out what humans think is important. Of course, in the mid-1980s, the people frequenting BBSs were not a representative sample of the world's population, so the question was what impression the aliens would get of humans.

Today, the people on web fora, blogs etc are still not a representative sample of the world's population, but perhaps a bit closer to it. We are also seeing the putting online of all human knowledge, something that has been foreseen since at least the 1950s. But, Wikipedia is not Multivac. The cold, objective truths, entered by serious men in white lab coats are not there, instead there are disputed statements, discussed, constantly edited and perhaps not always true.

There has been considerable debate and criticism of the Wikipedia project, primarily centred on the question of whether the information is trustworthy. There is of course much to be said on that, but the thing I think is interesting with Wikipedia is precisely its property of being an encyclopedia of the things the readers think are interesting. Thus we find lots of information that probably never would have found its way into any printed encyclopedia, such as entries on Yeovil Junction railway station, frameservers and Tetraiodothyronine 5'-deiodinase.

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