The Idea Incubator/An Encyclopedia of Ought

Wikipedia is rapidly becoming the foremost repository for organizing, summarizing, referencing, and accessing the world’s knowledge. We can think of it as the world’s Knowledge Wiki, the place to go to find out what is.

Our world is beginning the transition from a knowledge basis to a wisdom basis. Examples include the call to transform academic institutions from knowledge-based to wisdom based and a 2105 essay on the rise of the wisdom worker[1]. What aids can help us make wise decisions? Where can we go to obtain sound advice?

If the question motivating knowledge acquisition is “what is?” then the question motivating wisdom acquisition is “what ought to be,” or “what should I do?” How can we create an encyclopedia of ought?

Several options seem attractive. One option is to extend the family of Wikimedia Foundation projects to include a wiki-based encyclopedia of ought, using platforms like their existing projects. Perhaps it could be named Wikiwisdom.

Another option is to extend and refine the existing Quora platform.[2]

Quora is a popular question-and-answer website where questions are created, answered, edited, and organized by its community of users. Today users can ask questions, including “what should I do?” and users post answers. Can this become the world’s Wisdom Wiki—an encyclopedia of ought? It will need some changes to become effective. What can Quora learn from Wikipedia?

To excel as the world’s wisdom wiki, Quora will have to improve by: refining the questions asked, structuring the questions and answers to improve searching, browsing, and retrieval; refining searching, generalizing, and structuring linking, refining the answers, encouraging collaboration, adding references, and building upon existing information to become an enduring and reliable repository.

Today many Quora questions are poorly phrased, near duplicates of previous questions, or apply only to very narrow circumstances. If users could collaborate to refine the question statement, merge near-duplicates, and redirect the narrowest questions, the results could become more valuable.

Today questions arrive as they are asked and are crudely placed into high-level categories. Existing questions can be searched. If questions could be more carefully placed into some evolving structure, then searching, retrieval, and browsing could be improved. The structure might be organic, collaborative, and interactive.

Links are seldom used effectively in Quora. Better linking could unleash the potential to build upon existing information in the database.

Many answers are not carefully thought through, well-expressed, and verifiable. Encouraging user collaboration in refining answers, providing multiple points of view, improving the exposition, and ensuring the veracity of the information would make the system more valuable.

Answers would support more in-depth study if they relied on and linked to existing knowledge bases. For example, formalizing links to existing Wikipedia articles or recommended books for further study would improve the value of the answers.

The transition from a casual single-use Q&A advice system, to one where collaboration, organization, and references can leverage the users’ efforts to create an enduring and growing repository of sound advice that will evolve into a valuable aid for people making wise decisions.

To supplement our rapidly growing knowledge base, we need an encyclopedia of ought to help us develop and evolve a wisdom base.

It would be wise to transition Quora from its present single-use orientation into an enduring and evolving repository of excellent advice, or to create a Wikimedia Foundation project to include a Wiki-based encyclopedia of ought.

Notes edit

  1. The Rise of the Wisdom Worker, Mark HT Ridinger, Huffington Post, April 20, 2015. See:
  2. This content is adapted from a Quora answer I originally wrote in 2015. See: It is being adapted here to make the idea directly available to Wikiversity users.