The Truth About Wikipedia

Has Wikipedia signed its own death sentence?

If you’ve always thought that Wikipedia was this great bastion of Web 2.0-edness, with ideas of the site being the encyclopedia that anyone can edit, you’ve probably thought wrong all this time. While I’ve always had an inkling that Wikipedia was probably not what it markets itself to be, I still tried to make myself believe that it’s still good in terms of being a contributor-driven site, in that more or less anyone can simply click on the edit button and post his or her contibutions to any entry.

That can’t be farther from the truth.

That’s marketing for us, I guess. All that buzz about how Wikipedia has radically changed how knowledge is built up, organized and archived–it’s mostly just hype. There have been a lot of theories and commentary trying to debunk the “Wikipedia myth,” and this one posted recently by Nicholas Carr on roughtype.com summarizes it all too well.

… Wikipedia is an amazing achievement, with considerable strengths and considerable weaknesses. But it has become wrapped in a cloak of myth that many people, for whatever reason, seem intent on perpetuating. Wikipedia is not an egalitarian collective. It is not an example of mob rule. It is not an expression of collective intelligence. It is not an emergent system. What might in fact be most interesting about Wikipedia as an organization is the way it has evolved, as it has pursued its goal of matching the quality of Encyclopedia Britannica, toward a more traditional editorial, and even corporate, structure. We need to bury the Wikipedia myth if we’re to see what Wikipedia is and what it isn’t – and what it portends for the organization and economics of content creation in the years ahead.

Wikipedia isn’t actually the free-for-all site it attempts to define itself to be, as on its about page.

This website is a wiki, which means that anyone with access to an Internet-connected computer can edit, correct, or improve information throughout the encyclopedia, simply by clicking the edit this page link (with a few minor exceptions, such as protected articles and the main page).

Not anyone can just edit stuff on Wikipedia, after all. There is a perfectly bureaucratic and hierarchical means by which articles and editions are managed. And Wikipedia’s owner, Jimmy Wales is on top of the “power pyramid!”

Nick earlier wrote that Wikipedia never claimed that anyone could just edit anything.

Jimmy Wales informs me that in fact there was never a time when “anyone could edit anything on Wikipedia,” as I originally wrote. “There have always been restrictions on editing,” he says. I guess I made the mistake, as others may have as well, of taking literally Wikipedia’s slogan that it is “the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.”

However, this point, IMHO, is much-downplayed on Wikipedia’s about page, or at least you aren’t likely to pick up this point at first glance/reading.

Wikipedia just recently went from being this site where the editors used to try to protect against vandalism to now trying not to be excessively protectionist (meaning henceforth many articles would start out semi-protected in the first place).

So much for being “written collaboratively by people from all around the world.”

[Thanks to Corsarius for the link]

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