Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Kevin's Flu Wiki interview

I'm listening to a podcast as I blog this, where Kevin interviews Dem ("call me Dem from Connecticut") about the origins and process of setting up of the Flu Wiki -- a wiki "to help local communities prepare for and perhaps cope with a possible influenza pandemic."

I decided to listen after reading Kevin's email:
Hello Ivan, I just wanted to alert you to a recent interview I did with DemfromCT, one of three Flu Wiki founders/editors. He mentioned how one of the three prominent groups of people who read the site are us people from the Library Sciences.

As you know Flu Wiki focuses on everything related to the Bird Flu pandemic. Besides the origins of Flu Wiki, we also talked about how wikis transfer power from authority to the masses, force us to reassess ideas of trust, as well as how Flu Wiki demonstrates the transfer of online reputation across spheres of interest (i.e. political to health).

Plenty of topics were covered in this extended podcast so do take a look at the transcript and related links by checking out the post at

I'm glad I did. It's was an insightful interview on how this wiki was created, what motivated it to be created, how Wikis might develop further, and a whole lot of thoughtful responses to general issues concerning Wikis.

Selected soundbites:
  • "Official sources don't deal real well with non-consensus items".
  • "The CDC take into account a lot of this [discussions]... and apply it to their focus groups..."
  • [Cites an example during the SARS epidemic, in Canada] "... WHO is not setup to talk to the provinces [in Canada, who had questions]. They're only set to talk to the federal government. I certainly don't expect them to respond to individuals. But they read us and if that influences what they say and how they interact with the public, that's a response."
  • "I think they [official sources] appreciate that we get to hash out the more contentious issues, and they get to get a chance to see how's that's happening before they make a call..."
  • "Official sources read us..."
  • "People drop porn links, links to commercial products... the usual stuff that you try to filter... we just remove it."
  • [Spamming and junk posting] "It's been an annoyance, it's not been a major issue"
  • ['Do you believe in the maxim that a wiki is a good place to start your research but not end it?"] "Yes."
  • "We try to provide links backing up what we say and why we say it. I don't think anybody should ever say it must be true 'cos I've read it in Flu Wiki."

According to the About Page, "Flu Wiki is not meant to be a substitute for planning, preparation and implementation by civil authorities, but instead is a parallel effort that complements, supports and extends those efforts."

The topic of Wikis is a contentious one among librarians, in varying degrees (to those who aren't familiar about the general problem with Wikis, here’s one discussion).

I'm aware that some librarians feel that Wikis should never be cited as part of the answer for Advisory/ Reference questions. I have a different take.

The issue isn't about Wikis per se, but about how well the end-users understand the nature of the information source they are using. If we find that a wiki page has accurate information and it's realy the violatility of that information we're worried about, then advise our customer accordingly. Let the customer use the information with their eyes open.

Anyway, go check out Kevin's post, where he lists the transcript of the interview. It's worth the time to listen if you're planning on implementing wikis (you can skip to sections in the interview).



  1. Thanks for the plug. I glad you you found it relevant and great idea writing out select soundbites for your readers. I'll be continuously investigating the slippery issue of trust/identity in future episodes.

  2. I appreciate the thoughtful post. I hope library science people dig into the complex issues and not just disnmiss wikis (or pseudonymous authors) out of hand.

    We, otoh, appreciate the dilemma in considering something like a wiki an authoritative source. Remember, though, that officla sources may be limited in what they can say whern there's no consensus.

    But with the appropriate caveats, it's a good place to start.


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