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Missed Katrina Until Wikipedia Told Me

2005-09-07 2 min read marco

I am astonished. Due to the trip to Hawai’i and to the lack of TV, I almost completely missed Katrina. I heard people say about the disaster, but I had no idea until I finally decided to check for myself on the web, and found just how horrible the situation is.

Partially it may be because I was in Hawai’i, an island chain so remote from the mainland, an event in Japan is more likely to cause a stir than a hurricane in Louisiana; partially I was completely cut off from news there, seeing how I had no access to news media at all; and finally, partially my utter lack of TV access removed me from the worst of the sights.

Then I checked out Wikipedia, which is becoming more and more my information medium of choice, and read the entry Hurricane Katrina. The text, the images, the whole setup had an urgency that somehow radio had failed to convey.

Wikipedia was trying to raise money for an upgrade to its servers, which is an increasingly important task. Already response times are marginal, thanks mainly to the underlying software used. MediaWiki, a PHP wiki variant, has all the usual problems associated with PHP – like incredibly slow response times and lack of caching.

Still, a collaborative encyclopedia is the best thing that happened to the Internet in a long time. You can find the most incredible information on Wikipedia, making it one of the most useful tools available. The proof came for me last December, when I wanted to buy my snowboard gear and turned to Wikipedia to find out more about Flow bindings.

I have heard a lot of complaints about Wikipedia. Indeed, a lot of entries are clearly written by rogue authors with a clearly extreme point of view (even has its own acronym in Wikipedia: POV). But at least the information is written in a way that tries to be informative.