Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Ecured is not open like Wikipedia

Ecured is a Cuban encyclopedia that is sometimes compared to Wikipedia. Ecured uses the same software as Wikipedia, so they look similar, but there are key differences.

Wikipedia has millions of articles in dozens of languages while the much newer Ecured has 78,438 articles. This is partially explained by the fact that Ecured is only one year old and partially due restrictions on accounts.

Anyone can read Ecured entries, but only those with accounts can create, discuss or edit entries. I tried to create accounts using two different domains, csudh.edu and gmail.com. Both were rejected. (Does anyone know whether accounts are limited to people in the .cu domain? More restricted than that?)

More striking differences emerge when one looks at articles. Wikipedia articles evolve through open collaboration, while Ecured articles appear to be written by single authors. What follows is my anecdotal experience.

I began with a topic I am interested in: "Submarine cable Cuba-Venezuela". The article summarizes the facts about the cable that we have read in the press and covered in this blog. It goes off on a political tangent that might have been questioned on Wikipedia, but it superficially resembles a Wikipedia article.

But, wikis have discussion and edit history pages associated with each article, and there we see differences.

The discussion page of the Ecured article is empty – there has been no discussion.

The edit history page is more surprising. The original article was entered in a little over an hour by Arian Perez on January 27, 2011. It was around 10,000 bytes long, so must have been composed before he entered it. On February 3, he added another 1,000 bytes.

The only changes since that time were a minor adjustment on February 5, 2011 and the addition of an image and four technical paragraphs on July 30. Perez made wording adjustments after each of these contributions.

The most recent edit was August 1, 2011 – there is no mention of the subsequent landing of the cable, its use, or reports of corruption surrounding it. The article began almost fully formed, and has been only marginally revised by two people over nearly a year.

This is not the sort of collaboration we see on Wikipedia. For example, this presentation on the evolution of a wiki shows a wiki being transformed from a single sentence to a 1,600 word article organized into six major and three minor sections. Over 1,000 authors made over 1,600 changes to the article.

Digging a bit deeper, I checked Perez's profile and learned that he has initiated 139 new pages and made improvements to 19 others. Since Ecured is only a year old, it seems he is writing full time for the site. (His profile lists his affiliation as the Youth Computer Clubs).

Mr. Perez has written on many political and technical topics, but the one that caught my eye was on Yoani Sánchez.

The article begins "Yoani Sánchez. Cybermercinary and Cuban blogger," and proceeds to discredit her as a counter revolutionary who has received support from dubious organizations.

Perez first post on Sánchez was 21,041 bytes long on April 5, 2011. Since then there have been 11 small changes by Perez and four other people bringing the article to 21,221 bytes.

Contrast that with the Wikipedia article on Sánchez. It began in May 6, 2008 with a 702 byte post of three sentences, one reference and a link to her blog. Since then, 117 people have made 304 marginal and 540 major edits and the article has grown to 44,475 bytes, organized into seven major and seven minor sections.

The bottom line – Ecured seems more like a closed, multi-author blog than an open wiki like Wikipedia.