Wikipedia and the RTCC

As noted in the “About” section, this blog was begun as a requirement for a class covering digital media and its social power. In order to ground us students in the topic, the professor has taken us on a head-spinning tour of the Internet itself, from its origins through its epochs and into the heart of the writhing beast it is now. We’ve touched on Coasean floors and long tails and Web 2.0. We’ve had to get Twitter accounts and accounts and start Google groups. And then, of course, there’s this blog.

This is the first blog assignment: an introduction to Wikipedia and instructions to make an account. Now, I love Wikipedia: its immediacy and depth. On night two of the Democratic National Convention, I went to Wikipedia to check on the phrase “There you go again” after Bill Clinton used it. As I clicked on the page about the phrase (it has its own page!), I saw that Clinton’s paraphrase was already there, not two minutes after he had spoken the words. The folks at Britannica could only dream… That currency is why Wikipedia is a go-to source when I need quick information and I’m not worried about scholarly standards. Boss says “I need background on American suicide stats, stat!” and I hit Wikipedia even before I go to Google. Even when I am trying to meet scholarly standards, a Wikipedia article is a terrific cheat-sheet for other, more acceptable (for now!) sources.

So I anticipated that today’s assignment—find an article about which you have expertise and evaluate the article—would end up reinforcing my affection. Well, it did—but only in the manner of finding a flaw in someone you love. (As Sean Maguire says in Good Will Hunting, “That’s the good stuff.”)

I chose to check the page for the NYPD’s Real Time Crime Center, something about which I have a certain amount of expertise. The RTCC is a database hub and search engine that can rapidly mine a myriad of databases for information from billions of law-enforcement records and public records. When a detective seeks information about an individual or location, or other data associated with an ongoing case, he or she can call the RTCC. Officers there initiate a search and can, within a few minutes, provide a wealth of intelligence that can be used for pattern identification or to develop further investigatory leads.

The article was relatively comprehensive, although it neglected to address the RTCC’s efficacy and failed to identify it as a fusion center. Those omissions were insignificant compared to the utter absence of sourcing, however. Strangely, the article’s first sentence conflated the NYPD’s RTCC with a similarly named program run by the Houston Police Department. Despite the fact that this sentence is the only one that mentions HPD, and then only via a shoe-horned conjunctival phrase, the only sources cited by the article are two articles about the HPD’s version of the center. Other than the aforementioned sentence, no other data in the Wikipedia article refers to the HPD. Instead, all the details—including historical information, technology vendors/developers, and statistics associated with the RTCC’s cost, size, and scope—refer to the NYPD’s center. But there is not a single source. (Strangely, there are several external links that are already listed that would provide verification of the article’s data; none is inserted as a citation, however.)

Now, it must be acknowledged that all the information in the article is accurate. Most of it, in fact, derives directly from published information from New York City Global Partners, an innovation exchange initiative for municipal governments. I can verify the article’s accuracy for the same reason that Philip Roth feels he can dispute interpretations of The Human Stain: because I am very close to the author of the Global Partners RTCC description, if you get my drift. Nevertheless, it’s not sourced.

Moving on to other categories of evaluation: the article is admirably neutral—in fact, the neutrality may account for the above-mentioned absence of any information about the RTCC’s efficacy. The formatting and readability are adequate, and the concinnity is good (after all, the article’s author(s) essentially paraphrased the incredibly—nay, awesomely—well-written Global Partners description). Lastly, there is only one illustration. Considering that there are plentiful photos online that were created by the NYPD, and are therefore public, it’s odd that no one has inserted pictures compatible with Wikipedia’s image-use policy.

[P.S. A wise and talented blogger friend informed me recently that citing Wikipedia in a blog “just isn’t done.” I hope he doesn’t read this.]

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