Friday, September 11, 2009

Not the End of Wikipedia

networkhierarchy It's been a while ago I wrote about an interesting piece by Larry Sanger on the Edge blog. That article questioned "the "epistemic egalitarianism" adagium of Wikipedia." In my words: "everybody is equal, an expert is not more (knowledgeable) than a non-expert, together we define what it true."

This article by Sanger and my post about it, popped up in my mind when Wikipedia changed its policy so "the unwashed masses will no longer be able to directly edit the profiles of famous living people", as Chris Wilson phrases it on Slate. Of course this move was widely debated. The Slate article gives a nice summary, as does the NY Times.

My first thought about this move is nicely stated by Wilson:

No matter how you spin this new policy, there's no getting around that it gives more power and control to a small group of people. But if this were a big problem, Wikipedia would have flopped a long time ago. As I've argued before, the encyclopedia's success is largely due to the devoted efforts of a small number of obsessive editors, many of whom are quick to undo the work of trespassing newcomers. Rather than a signal Wikipedia's coming of age or a shift away from democracy, these new rules merely formalize, for certain pages, what's already happening on the site.

Secondly,this move just makes explicit what already was practice anyway. Have you ever tried to write a new entry or edit an existing one? Go ahead and try and you'll find there are people fiercely protecting 'their' lemma.

Thirdly, also relating to the previous point, absolute egalitarianism is an illusion. To say it in the words of Alex Wright: "Networks and hierarchies are not mutually exclusive; indeed, they usually coexist." (Glut, page 7, read all of ch. 1 for more context). There's always some form of hierarchy in a network. Wikipedia's move make that explicit.

I think this also relates well to the way wiki's are used in enterprises. Usually they start out by trying to copy what Wikipedia is doing. But in practice you see you always need some form of hierarchy (not too much!) to get things going. Just like with communities of practice.

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