Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Wiki Storm Reveals Cluelessness

Recent media headlines have been screaming, again, about the sky falling at Wikipedia. This time the storm is centered around an outed Ph.D. wannabe who was editing stuff that was clearly way over his head then staking his fictional credentials on strongly-stated opinions of worth. Like he knew. Turns out he didn't, but that's not the point. One editor among millions and the whole process is somehow called into doubt. Not buying it.

So why the negative attention? Does it seem to you, as it does to me sometimes, like the traditional 20th Century world is waiting with bated breath for Wikipedia to fail? What's up with that? Here's one possible explanation. 20th Century thinkers just don't get the whole, "bottom-up" thing. Not only does it not make sense in their traditional models, but they also seem to find the prospect to be threatening. So they subconsciously or consciously want all things Wiki to fail. It's that simple. What we're seeing here is push-back. Fact is, the problem cited is already solved. Wikipedia today announced that they would require verification of credentials. End of story. The problem, after all, was a mechanical one - not a fundamental flaw in philosophy, mission or method. So why the fuss?

Just like traditional broadcast networks are panicked at the thought of consumer generated content, traditional information aggregators and brokers are threatened by what is essentially "open source information." Somebody has to say it: bottom-up is the democratic way. The way of the future, if consensus and collaboration are important. After all, it's not like traditional sources of information can be trusted any longer. Not with Japan conveniently re-writing the history of World War II, the American right wing re-writing the history of Vietnam; and now, George Bush feverishly attempting to re-write the basis of 9/11 and the Iraq war. What is clear is the fact that grass-roots observers are a valuable balance. Especially when the effort is worldwide, overseen by an army of volunteers, and transparent in its presentation of information and the controversy surrounding the data served-up. I recently posted about the late activist, Saul Alinsky. The Wikipedia page I referenced clearly noted right at the top that the article was the subject of some dispute regarding its neutrality. I can work with that. It leaves the "weighting" process up to me and my research methods. A good thing. That's the thing about open source, it is always being improved, enhanced and expanded. Very organic.

Wikipedia and other popular Wiki sites to my knowledge do not claim the mantle of "be all, end all." Rather they provide an online hub for information seekers. Wiki sites are aggregators that refresh regularly, add background and links; and finally, use the basic tenants of Web 2.0 to provide a useful archive of information which already boasts over ten times the content of the print giants of the information industry. As such, these sites are nothing short of a raison d'etre for the Internet. Cluelessness is no longer an excuse for destructive criticism. Get over it.

1 comment:

roberto said...

Thank goodness for Wikipedia! It has saved my researching bacon more than once and continues to do so on a regular basis. Next to Google, it is my first source of reference, particularly since the information I seek is often either obscure or very contemporary or pop-oriented and is less likely to be compiled elsewhere, especially in the well-established, but ponderously slow-to-update encyclopedias.

I don't take their articles as the final, official word on any particular subject. Given the nature of the beast, that would be foolish. But the sourcing and cross-linking is usually very good, so even if the initial article doesn't satisfy - although for informal purposes it usually does - then it is at the very least a good place to start any inquiry with the assurance that you are likely to get results of some kind, and quite often satisfactory ones at that.