Much ink has been spilled of late by the digerati praising or declaiming Wikipedia. Arrayed on one side are the likes of Mitch Kapor who assert with revolutionary ardor that Wikipedia is not only the "next big thing" but will solve everything from world hunger to global warming. I am exaggerating, but you get the idea.
On the other side are the likes of Nicolas Carr (of IT is irrelevant fame) who assert that Wikipedia is shoddy, riddled with errors, and represents the victory of mob rule over "venerable" products such as the Encylopedia Britannica.
These debates have entirely lost sight entirely of the common sense middle ground.
Many of us use Wikipedia on a daily basis as a reference tool because overall it provides an excellent first approximation. It's also updated in real time, unlike sources such as the Encyclopedia Britannica. (By they way, how many of us, including Nicolas Carr, actually use the Britannica or can even afford it?)
Contra Mitch Kapor, Wikipedia doesn't eliminate the need for experts. Wikipedia should never be accepted as a citation in a scholarly work or for a student paper, even at the high school level. Here I agree with Nicolas Carr that claims such as "Wikipedia is just as accurate as the Encylopedia Britannica" are downright ridiculous.
Contra Nicolas Carr, Wikipedia doesn't mean the end of western civilization as we know it. More to the point, Wikipedia not only works but works very well. In some cases the entries are superior in quality and more insightful than Britannica. But this is not consistently so. Pointing out that there are inaccuracies in Wikipedia is beside the point, if it is understood that as a reference tool Wikipedia provides a first approximation and initial orientation to a knowledge topic and that's all it intends to do.
In short, we need both and there should be room for both.
Ross Mayfield has a nice summary of Mitch Kapor's keynote on Wikipedia at the Open Source Business Conference.
I did some checking and there appear to be some important differences. First, Microsoft's "Custom Domains" program caps the email accounts to 60 per domain and 250 MB storage per user. There is no information on Google's program but I will bet that they won't be as miserly. Second, Microsoft's Windows Live @ edu program for universities requires --it's buried in an obscure footnote at the bottom of the page---installing Microsoft's Identity infrastructure and hefty license fees I am sure! Unless the university is already a Microsoft shop, particularly at the infrastructure level, Microsoft's offering is not in the least bit attractive.
Here's the footnote:
e-mail is free for institutions willing to accept standard display
advertising within the Hotmail interface. For those institutions that
require MSN to remove the display advertising, MSN will charge a small
affordable fee. Display advertising in Hotmail is subject to strict
standards to help filter out potentially offensive materials. To
implement the Windows Live™ @ edu Program, institutions will need to
deploy Microsoft Identity Integration Server (MIIS), which needs to be
purchased separately along with its required components. For more
information on MIIS System Requirements, please click here."
"The graph shows how all markets have a sweet spot that is bounded by
low end demand and high end demand. Companies start out by barely
meeting the demand from the low end and then continue to innovate
themselves into the sweet spot. They then continue the innovation until
they innovate themselves out of the sweet spot."
I have used Writely now several times for document collaboration. And I like it. I like it a lot. Here is the basic scenario.
A virtual team, with members interspersed throughout the world and belonging to different organizations, needs to collaborate on a document. Until now we have passed around Microsoft Word documents as an attachment. Aargh!
With Writely I just begin a document and give other team members access. Here are some key features:
works as an AJAX browser application, allowing for a cool WYSIWG interface;
supports version control if you need to revert to an earlier version;
you can invite colleagues through email notification;
supports saving the document in .pdf, .rtf and .doc (MS Word) formats;
follows the "lightness of being" philosophy of application functionality by keeping things simple and lightweight;
Writely is in beta version and it's not clear what the fees will be. But I recommend checking it out.