Tuesday, March 6, 2007


  • The internet came into commercial use around 1991 and became self-supporting in 1995. Lots of stuff happened and the attention of the computer savvy public began to focus on this new, technological tool. Then, in January 2001, the guys from Nupedia.com started a project we now know as Wikipedia.com. Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger were the founders of both. 6 months later there were 6,000 articles. Today, as in March 6th at 11:32 AM (EST), there are 1,672,841 just in English. Clearly something pretty big is going on in the internet community. But, Wikipedia is often seen as unreliable, though admirably democratic. It is anti-elitist, though discouraged in its use by academia. It is, basically, "live updating" and self-regulating, though the process involved with editing can be quite cumbersome and filled with flame wars and battles with "trolls" (as well as odd terminology).
  • Arguments for and against Wikipedia can be found and we should all make an informed decision about it. My reasons for this are as follows: 1) Wikipedia is truly one of the best things on the internet. It has the capacity to fulfill the prophecy of the internet as ushering in the age of free information. This could have dramatic, positive effects on the populace and help move humanity towards idealistic goals. and 2) By being so democratic in nature, how the problems inherent in Wikipedia right now get resolved will resound into the current state of democracy itself.
  • Larry Sanger, in his 2004 article "Why Wikipedia Must Jettison Its Anti-Elitism," puts many of the problems out on the table and more than a few of the numerous comments on it are worth a read. Basically, Wikipedia's problems stem from its current, anti-elitist stance, which is also one of its biggest assets. Wikipedia was started because Nupedia followed the traditional path to publishing material which took too long and was too costly, even online. What this stance contains, however, is the right of every nonspecialist to edit the article of a possible specialist and set back the march towards truth and reliability. Conflicts are then taken to the discussion forums and people fight... and fight... and fight and mediation attempts to reconcile the two by coming to a consensus. Just think though, how are the people editing the Intelligent Design article going to come to a consensus (pseudoscience or science)? Also, people really think the things they know are correct. Ask any ten year old, for example, who John Smith was and you will hear a nice story about a good looking man who saved Native Americans by falling in love and will accept nothing else as truth. Of course, others will tell you that he was rather gruff, stepped onto America in chains, and was, most likely, "saved" by Pocahontas merely because Powhatan had other things in mind (I mean seriously... is an 11 year old girl really going to stop a chief from bashing an intruder in their land in the skull?).
  • Wikipedia is currently web based, free and collaborative, but it is hardly the "encyclopedia" academia wants it to be. Factual information is often pretty good but if any undergrad with an intro class to physics can edit the page on string theory one must always be wary of the information on it. Yet, Wikipedia is so quick, easy to use, and seemingly so correct. However, consider your average encyclopedia, pick your favorite, it is basically the same in those respects, though it costs a lot more to own and when someone realizes a mistake a whole new edition must be purchased. Furthermore, everyone knows encyclopedias are filled with mistakes. Wrong dates, cultural biases, and a lack of feasible contrary arguments can be found but it is the mentality of the encyclopedia that gives it the real edge over Wikipedia. More simply put, it is what we are used to using. Wikipedia is still scary to many people, as is the internet in general.
  • I admit, I sometimes feel a tiered system of editing should be implemented, deferring, ultimately, to specialists, but then I realize that that would move Wikipedia away from a large part of what makes it so great, as well as usher in the whole "who guards the guardians?" question where somebody gets to specify who the specialists are. Of course, real knowledge of true things is really not up to the decision of the majority. Regardless of what some person thinks, they could be incontrovertibly wrong. In this light, the problem of Wikipedia is really a struggle of democracy over meritocracy. Who should get to contribute and edit entries in Wikipedia, given that we desire the most truth and reliability? Clearly, the answer here is those people who have studied that/those thing/s sufficiently. But what becomes of everyone else? Would not our actions state, not only that elitism, in the realm of knowledge, is key, but that the average person does not figure into the situation until she can prove herself. What would then happen to democracy as a government? If the populace gets booted from collaborating on what is correct and true why should they have any bearing on elected officials and, subsequently (or what we try to believe) public policy?
  • These are just some things to think about and there should definitely be more research done on Wikipedia as it continues to update its mediation, councils, and key policies and in regard to its asymptotic attempt to reach the truth.
go here to see Jimmy Wales talk. I took some info used in this from here. Go read "The Faith Based Encyclopedia," then "Why The Media Can't Get Wikipedia Right," and then go edit some Wikipedia pages.

No comments: