Browsing Wikipedia Akin To Browsing Print Stacks

A big criticism of getting rid of print-library collections is that digital collections don't allow for those happenstance finds that spur creativity like browsing print stacks. Now there's an argument being made that the new Wikipedia app might be the answer to our problems.

"For years, critics have feared that the Internet will kill interestingness, offering us only what we’re looking for with none of the happy accidents that can spur creative thought. Might a solution to this problem come from the kind of browsing we do on Wikipedia?"

Wikipedia allows for these happy accidents by "warp[ing] time and space to send you down a rabbit hole [that] has been a central part of its long-term success." The new Wikipedia app will make this even easier by adding "a new sidebar that allows users to jump easily to different sections of a single article. Vibha Bamba, an interaction designer at Wikipedia, says: 'We understand that readers love reading on Wikipedia, but they don’t often get past the first section. They read two sentences, and then they hit a link.' She adds: 'We want you to jump around the article to find different entry points. We wanted to support curiosity in a design sort of way.'"

The "emphasis on Wikipedia’s ability to promote lostness is interesting, since getting lost — and happening upon things we didn’t think we’d find — is an experience critics fear the Internet has stolen from us." The early argument was that “[e]verything we need to know comes filtered and vetted. We are discovering what everyone else is learning, and usually from people we have selected because they share our tastes. It won’t deliver that magic moment of discovery that we imagine occurred when Elvis Presley first heard the blues, or when Michael Jackson followed Fred Astaire’s white spats across the dance floor.”

This is an optimistic view of how users will interact with the new Wikipedia app and one that we should all consider and embrace. Librarians, in particular, should have the same active interest in user interaction with information as the app developers in this case.

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