The Wonderful Wicked WikiPedia!

19 December, 2005

Dave Winer points to Michael Gartenberg who writes that what WikiPedia lacks, amongst other things, are ethos. He doesn’t mention the other things but that’s OK, I’ll settle for the lack of ethos. My immediate thoughts were, “Thank goodness for that!” The last thing I want are the ethos of one individual or one cabal. Don’t we have enough Rupert Murdochs, Conrad Blacks and other moguls who are quick to tell us what to think? And spare us the ethos of a Robert Woodward or a Judith Miller! The fact that we cannot consume their media output without drowning in their establishment ethos does not stop us from being lied to over and over again.

Was it WikiPedia who persuaded billions that Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction, ready to destroy the “free world” at a mere 45 minutes’ notice? Was it WikiPedia who told us that George Galloway took handouts from Saddam Hussein? Was it WikiPedia who has been telling us for years that Fidel Castro is about to die from one fatal disease or another? No Sir, it was the Miami Herald and the New York Times and the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal and the Christian Science Monitor and Time and Newsweek and the (British) Guardian and the (British) Daily Telegraph and CNN and the BBC who all happily lied to us. Lied to us with ethos, that is!

WikiPedia and the other hand, just like life itself, is a collection of everybody and therefore a distillation of the world’s ethos. And yes, there are people who are going to end up feeling slighted – and rightly so – but the amazing thing is, from that chaotic morass of everybody’s opinions emerges a shining jewel of incredibly handy and comprehensive if, at times, slightly flawed information.

Whenever I come across something new or am reminded that I don’t quite grasp the meaning of Web 2.0 or feel the need to see how others regard a concept I feel I know well, I dive into WikiPedia knowing that within seconds my itch will be pretty well scratched. But since I know WikiPedia is written by anyone who feels like it, I know that what I get is a starting point, a brief explanation, a collection of really useful links and probably, if they exist, references to an authoritative work or two on the subject in hand. The great thing is I know I’m not consistently being fed the official line!

Now, I’m not unsympathetic to victims of the WikiPedia – those who are maligned or even deliberately excluded from history. It is ironic though that, until these last few days, I have never heard of John Seigenthaler Sr or Kevin Marks but now that I do know about them it is that the former is a highly respected ageing but living writer who had nothing to do with any assassination plots and the latter is not only a Technorati guru but a seminal figure in the history of podcasting.

However I do think that, except in certain well justified cases such as when there is the possibility of being transported on a US ghost plane to Europe or Afghanistan for what horrors lay in wait at a dark and secret location, WikiPedia would be a better product (in the mathematical and not the commercial sense) if authors were expected to identify themselves. I haven’t read the FAQs so I don’t know the rationale behind allowing so much anonymity – the answer is probably what Donald Rumsfeld would call an unknown known.

While people should have the right to say whatever they want, they should also be prepared to be identified as the creators of their public utterances. Otherwise we get situations where a media celebrity like Adam Curry becomes publicity shy and we really cannot have that!

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4 Responses to “The Wonderful Wicked WikiPedia!”

  1. Lion Kimbro Says:

    I strongly disagree. You want to allow anonymous contribution, because you want people to be free to express a perspective that may not be particularly popular.

    Some people live in countries that are very repressive. They know a lot about their country, and could write about it, but can they afford to be identified? What if a relative of yours lives there- what if they take flack, because you’re in their family? Closer to home, there are many things that are socially unpopular, but that probably deserve an airing. Let’s say that only 10% of people were against the war in Iraq- should they be forced to self-identify, to work on pages in Wikipedia?


  2. Actually, I agree people should take precautions and act anonymously when they are in danger of being repressed. But, however valid and correct their utterances might be, they are not going to have the same credibility as those made by identifiable, accountable authors for the simple reason that it might not always be possible to distinguish an anonymous hero from an anonymous shyster.

  3. Anne Says:

    In practical terms, given the large numbers of people writing for Wikipedia, how useful would non-anonymity really be? I mean, the goal is for it to be easy for somebody to just get an account and write something; that’s how they got tens of thousands of editors. So how can you reconcile this with real non-anonymity? The most you could hope for would be an email address and an IP address, which really don’t prevent pop-up editors from writing nonsense.

    The non-anonymity you really want is there already – you judge someone’s contributions to Wikipedia by their reputation within Wikipedia. Some users have made thousands of valuable contributions; you trust them more than anonymous users or users who’ve done nothing but fight edit wars.

  4. Scott Cushman Says:

    People may not realize it, but WikiPedia has no true anonymity. Sure, you may not have to use your name, but your IP address is logged and associated with the update you made. Though your IP address may change the next time you unplug your cable modem, I’m willing to bet the data trail could lead a good lawyer or a government with a chip on its shoulder straight to your door.

    So, if you really want anonymity on WikiPedia, you’d better learn to use a good proxy and encryption. The rest of us might as well be using our real names.


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