On Wikipedia – Updated

I hesitate to even link to articles like Errol Louis’ rant against Wikipedia because I hate to drive any more traffic to them – they’re already getting far more than they deserve.

You can almost hear the popular press breathing a collective sigh of relief. It’s as if they’ve been hoping and praying for something like this to happen for months. You can almost hear them saying “See! We told you so! Don’t listen to those ‘bloggers’! Stick with the establishment!” Talk about misdirecting blame. What do ‘bloggers’ have to do with wikipedia? Pot, I’d like to introduce you to the kettle. I believe you’ve met? I wonder how podcasters managed to get left out…

My friend Andy Bailey says that government seems to think its purpose for existing is “protecting stupid people from themselves.” Apparently the press has the same high regard for you and I. Let’s not turn this into an information literacy issue. Let’s not say that, in a world increasingly dominated by information-related jobs and pass-times, people should learn to read critically and validate or invalidate the facts as they find them. Let’s not mention little techniques like triangulation from multiple sources. Let’s just pat everyone on the head, call them good little boys and girls, and do our best to insure that they only ever get their facts from “experts who have mastered a field and earned a degree of authority in the process.” The big-named experts in the popular press never get it wrong.

Now someone will surely say, “Rather was the exception, not the rule. Using him as a counter-argument isn’t appropriate. Think of all the great reporting evening news had done before that!” To which I would respond, “Chase was the expception, not the rule. Look at how many great articles there are on wikipedia!”

Now, getting the facts wrong because you’re stupid is one thing, getting them wrong because you’re too lazy to fact-check is another, getting them wrong to be funny is yet another, and getting them wrong because you’re malicious is a fourth. The law has ways of dealing (or not dealing) with each, as appropriate. Let’s just apply them in this case and get on with our lives.

Louis’ piece is one of the more balanced ones, though he can’t seem to resist giving Wikipedia a little advice at the end of his column: “Wikipedia, if it wants to remain relevant and reliable, has to strike a balance between tapping into expert knowledge and blindly reproducing the wisdom of crowds.” I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the establishment is telling the new kid to ‘be more like us, or we’ll just call you irrelevant and ignore you.’ We need to remember our Gandhi here – “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

Fortunately for all of us, wikipedia has a higher “circulation” than any of the established outlets, and the odds of it being the one that becomes irrelevant are very low.

Wikipedia is only the beginning.

1 thought on “On Wikipedia – Updated”

  1. The question is not whether or not there are inaccuracies in Wikipedia, security flaws in Linux, or other issues in other community-developed projects. The question is how they compare to traditional, proprietary offerings.

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