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!