The wiki train timetable

I wrote the following article back in 2005. I’m sorry, but I still hold the same views.

Questions for students: What are the checks and balances available to ensure that crowd-sourced information is reliable? It can’t be the wisdom of the crowd, because it’s likely that the “crowd” is the in-crowd, resulting in a groupthink situation. So what’s the answer?

"Wikipedia contains so much information that I'm prepared to use it despite its occasional mistakes."
(Part of a posting in an internet forum)

Imagine a train timetable catalogue created along the same lines as Wikipedia. This is how it might work.

Crowd-sourced timetable anyone?

1. Anyone who thinks they know when and where the train stops on a particular line could create a page containing its timetable.

2. Anyone who fancies creating a fictitious timetable could do so -- as long as they were a registered user.

3. Anyone who wasn't a registered user could ask a registered user to create the page, and then edit it...

4.... or make up a name and register and then create it.

5. True timetable pages might be amended because people think they are false or contain errors.

6. False timetable pages might not be amended because people think they are true, or simply do not notice the errors.

7. There is no way of knowing which are the true pages and which are the false ones.

8. Consequently, sometimes people miss their connection or end up in a completely different place to where they wanted to go.

9. But they continue to use the WikiTimetable despite its errors because it contains the timetables for so many journeys.

10. People who use the WikiTimetable are told that they need to check the information they find in it with another source of information (such as the official printed national rail timetable perhaps?)

Would anybody seriously consider for a moment using such a timetable to plan their journeys?

And what of the wiki textbook? If British Airways announced that it was discarding its pilot training manual and replacing it by a wiki textbook that anyone could edit, what would be likely to happen to sales of tickets on British Airways flights?

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