Sunday, June 28, 2009

Wikipedia, Gartner, Snopes, and World Book - Who do you Trust?

Many of my friends and family have taken me off their email distribution lists. It's not that they don't like me (per se), it's that I have an annoying habit of pointing out that their latest chain letter is inaccurate. Some recent examples:

These things are just too easy to refute. We no longer live in a world where we can just parrot the works of others. Do you know that 43.7% of all statistics are just made up?

In 1897, Virginia O'Hanlon asked her father, Dr. Philip O'Hanlon if there was a Santa Claus. He suggested that she write to the Editor of the local newspaper, the New York Sun. According to Dr. O'Hanlon, "if you see it in the Sun, it's so." She did. Frank Church replied, and we are left with an enduring story enjoyed by many.

"If you see it in the Sun, it's so." What a wonderful construct. If only we could apply that same sentiment to our world today. If you see it on Wikipedia, it's so. If you read it from Gartner, it's so. If you see it on, it's so. Or my personal favorite, if you see it in the Encyclopedia Britannica, it's so.

Wouldn't it be great if we could just suspend our responsibilities and go to a trusted oracle for any and all answers and mindlessly repeat their words of wisdom. Gartner says we should set up a Center of Excellence - therefore (with thunder and angels), so it has been said, so it shall be done. So say we all.

I cite Gartner in almost every persuasive paper and presentation I prepare, not because Gartner is Gospel, but because I also cite Forrester, Time Magazine, IBM, Microsoft, Sun, and any number of other on-line information sources. It is the collection of sources that matter, rather than any one. If I cite W3C, it is likely because they have articulated a perspective shared by many in a particularly effective way.

Does IBM have a motivation to present a profit-driving perspective. Yes! Does that mean their perspectives are necessarily askew? No! Not if their analysis, recommendations, and thoughts can be validated against the population of like-minded and competitive interests. Citing Forrester is not wrong. Using only Forrester, or Wikipedia, or the Encyclopedia Britannica as a source is fundamentally flawed - even if their information is correct.

Wait, did I just dis the Encyclopedia Britannica? Well, no, not really, but since you asked:

I've had colleagues suggest that a Gartner recommendation is only worth the paper their invoice is written on. I would suggest that it is as valuable as the World Book Encyclopedia, Wikipedia, IBM, The New York Times, and Mom, combined. Sorry Mom. The recommendation of Gartner is as valuable as the due diligence one puts into validating it - comparing it with other aligned and contrasted recommendations.

Trust Gartner, Wikipedia, Encyclopedia Britannica, and the Wall Street Journal. Cite them, but cite them because you verified. (Actually, I always trust Mom.)

Now, if you send this on to seven people you trust before the Big Dipper tilts downward you'll get $50 from Bill Gates. Failing to to do so will infect your family gene pool with a government sponsored incurable virus originally developed by the ACLU! It's true, I saw it on Google.

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