Wither Wikipedia

Bill Thompson over at the BBC has a piece up over impending changes at Wikipedia. It seems the roll out of the German version will include a whole new level of admin. control. Gone, it appears are the days of "publish and edit." As Thompson asks

The large number of control features that are being added to Wikipedia, raise an interesting question for all who care about the site and its content: when does the Wikipedia stop being a wiki and just become another website?

Thompson is right to pose this question about what is it that makes a wiki a wiki? Does requiring new stories and edits to existing content make Wikipedia something less than a wiki? If every addition and edit needs to be vetted by an admin, then as Thompson says,

that's hardly the basis for a revolution in the way human knowledge is gathered and distributed, is it?

While I'm no wiki purist, it does seem that adding a layer of admin. control goes against the grain of what wikis are all about. Part of the coolness of a wiki is being able to see the edits one makes take effect as soon as they're made, whether that edit is as simple as fixing the tense of a verb, changing the syntax of a sentence, or correcting a factual error. Remove that instantaneous edit feature and you've taken some of the coolness away because you've taken away a bit of the agency that wiki users expecct. Agency is a heady thing; I think it's part of what attracts folks to wikis. The sense of agency that comes with being able to start an entry on cartoons, a bit of pop culture, or even just fix spelling errors in an entry you find interesting will be lost if Wikipedia forces every new entry and every edit to go through admin. review. The whole idea is that users, not admins., make the decisions about content and edits.


I agree, Scott. At some point, you definitely cross that threshold and it's no longer a wiki--at least, not a wiki in the sense of an online community sharing a text with all readers. Instead, you re-introduce the old hierarchy, and no matter how liberal-minded of a king and nobility you have in place, it ain't no democracy.

I just don't see why the Wikipedians can't just leave well enough alone. Sure, there are problems, but I'm convinced these will go away in time. If anything, I'd be worried more about keeping out spambots and the like rather than "vetting" edits from people I don't like.

Then again, maybe this is just the next logical step in the Wikipedia's development (i.e., moving from the "wild frontier" to a bunch of frontier towns with sheriffs and a mayor). It reminds me of those old John Wayne movies where the "territory" is working so hard to become a state.

Check out Barton's gaming blog at Armchair Arcade.

One thing I was going to add, but didn't as I wasn't sure if in my over caffeinated early morning state if it made sense or not is that the "errors" or "mistakes" that Wikipedia is trying to avoid might not be "errors" that really matter to the community. What I mean is that if an "error" persists it might mean that as a community Wikipedians aren't really that interested in the topic. Second, if you take the time to create entry, you should take the time to monitor it, keep an eye on it to make sure that it isn't "hacked." While this can quickly sprial into competing edits, it can also become something really cool where knowledge is created collectively.

In the end, I guess if a "mistake" lingers it might be a "mistake" that no one cares about. Of course, this leaves the casual reader in a bit of pickle, but it isn't the end of the world. I mean the print encylos. have "mistakes" and don't have anyway of correcting them until the next edition. We all know of "vetted" print sources that are chock full of mistakes and relying on a single source isn't good practice anyway. I think Wikipedia should stop chasing the will-o-wisp of "authoritative source" and realize that such a thing really doesn't and never did exist.

Then again, my over caffeinated early morning state could have just been exchanged for my over caffeinated early afternoon state.



Thinking back to the Britannica/Wikipedia showdown of last spring, most of the errors in both sources weren't of great concern, though I do recall the one about the politican (can't recall his name) who was wrongly accused of bieng somehow involved in the Kennedy assassination. That error was up for several weeks before being caught. Most of the errors found in both sources were/are of the sort that someone had X number of children when they really had Y number of children, not the sort of thing to be concerned about. While Matt's frontier analogy is a good one, since I've been reading Locke's Treatises on Government, it would seem that Wikipedia could remain in Locke's state of nature and pretty much take care of itself, no matter how benevolent the editorial oversight might be.

bradley || bleckblog.org