24 July 2013

Wiki Wonder Child: Wikidoc.org

Back in my post-grad I was also a teaching assistant, running a few weekly seminars for first-years. It was a great experience, and I loved my students, but each new group got the same spiel for research: “Do not use Wikipedia”. Don't get me wrong I love Wikipedia, the idea of collaboration and open source knowledge are all things that I can stand behind but for reliable information? It has its obvious flaws.
Moving to the present, the other day I noticed a new follower on Twitter (as you might imagine I'm not wading through thousands of followers so a new addition is easily noted :)). I'm always suspicious when I see that a new follower is a CEO, COO or something with a Chief at the start because I have what I call 'transient gurus', the ones that are a startup health business of some sort or another who add you likely in hope that you will retweet or promote whatever it is they happen to be chief guru of. These people usually always 'unfollow' after about a week, when it's clear I don't really do that sort of promotion, especially when there is usually a cost to the consumer (recall my penchant for collaboration and open source everything). So when I noticed this new follower @CMichaelGibson with the tagline of 'Founder & Chairman' I immediately thought "another transient guru". Then the word wiki and 'copyleft' caught my eye: it turns out he's Founder & Chairman of something called wikidoc.org. My interest was officially peaked.

So off I travelled to his site where I was met with a project all about collaboration, open source information etc. More exciting, it included a robust 'About Us' section highlighting the site’s strengths and weaknesses! Maybe it's a Librarian thing, but this instantly plastered a smile on my face, first thing on a Monday morning. A free, open-source, collaborative resource, tailored to health information in the familiar format of Wikipedia AND it was upfront about its weaknesses? Someone get this girl a coffee and a chair: this is a gem of a find!

There is just so much information on this site, including for health professionals but also (importantly) for patients. You can do a search across the site, dive in via an individual 'Living textbook' or browse by disease, lab tests and more. There is also a rotating section at the bottom of the main page highlighting what section has been updated and by whom! As far as open source collaborative knowledge is concerned this sort of transparency throughout the site is key! Even down to each individual page you can click a 'View History' button on the top right to see exactly who and when that particular section was changed.

Really its only drawback (and I’m grasping here) is that it may not 'look pretty', its colour scheme is pretty monochromatic, it doesn't include a lot of fancy bells and whistles but that's not what you're there for really. Give me a plain-jane site with good content any day over some froufrou fluff site! What's that old adage again? Oh right: don't judge a book by its cover (said every Librarian, always). Check it out for yourselves at www.wikidoc.org and let's appreciate the work of C Michael Gibson (@CMichaelGibson). So to return full circle here I am, years after my "don't use Wikipedia" speech to my students, excited to tell all my trainees and patrons about using this wiki resource!