Monday, October 23, 2006

Wiki Chung Tonight

Man, oh, Man. You could teach a whole course of wikipedia. Maybe I will.

I'm struck in particular by the way the structure of Wikipedia and all the machinations are not apparent to the typical user. It's a cathedral looked-at on cornice at a time.

Unless it's a bazaar, not a cathedral.

Eric S. Raymond famously likened the traditional way of creating software and content- Microsoft Windows and the Encyclopedia Britannica, for instance- to building a cathedral. There's a top-down central planner, closely guarded blueprints and drafts, workers contracted to implement those blueprints, a laborious quality assurance process, and so forth. The Open Source and Wikipedia model, in contrast, is more analogous to a freewheeling bazaar in that, with no central authority, order sort of emerges bottom-up from the actions and desires of the participants. People see what needs to be done, and due to the project's open design and collective ownership, can do it themselves. This open approach can create wonderful things that the cathedral model can't- like Linux and Wikipedia.[7]

The biggest critique:
skewed toward being "a system committed to the maximum empowerment of amateurs," a place where enthusiasm and conviction count for more than actually being correct.

Jerry Holkins of Penny Arcade described Wikipedia as “a kind of quantum encyclopedia, where genuine data both exists and doesn’t exist depending on the precise moment I rely upon your discordant fucking mob for my information.”

Oooops. But read what this has to say about the nature of information.

One of Sanger's ideas:
Simplification:Sanger feels Wikipedia tends to accrue unneeded complexity in bureaucracy and organization. There will be a significant focus on simplifying and avoiding subject categories, portals, user boxes, and wikiprojects, and minimizing the number of official roles in the community. Presumably this will also involve less focus on current events and facts from pop culture and more on the areas of knowledge which encyclopedias have traditionally been concerned with.

The community as Aaron Swartz states,
Building a community is pretty tough; it requires just the right combination of technology and rules and people. And while it's been clear that [online] communities are at the core of many of the most interesting things on the Internet, we're still at the very early stages of understanding what it is that makes them work.
But Wikipedia isn't even a typical community. Usually Internet communities are groups of people who come together to discuss something, like cryptography or the writing of a technical specification. Perhaps they meet in an IRC channel, a web forum, a newsgroup, or on a mailing list, but the focus is always something "out there", something outside the discussion itself.
But with Wikipedia, the goal is building Wikipedia. It's not a community set up to make some other thing, it's a community set up to make itself. And since Wikipedia was one of the first sites to do it, we know hardly anything about building communities like that.

Actually, Aaron is pretty indispensable on who writes and who runs Wikipedia. On the latter:

But what's less well-known is that it's also the site that anyone can run. The vandals aren't stopped because someone is in charge of stopping them; it was simply something people started doing. And it's not just vandalism: a "welcoming committee" says hi to every new user, a "cleanup taskforce" goes around doing factchecking. The site's rules are made by rough consensus. Even the servers are largely run this way -- a group of volunteer sysadmins hang out on IRC, keeping an eye on things. Until quite recently, the Foundation that supposedly runs Wikipedia had no actual employees.

From The New Yorker Piece

Wikipedia is a combination of manifesto and reference work. Peer review, the mainstream media, and government agencies have landed us in a ditch. Not only are we impatient with the authorities but we are in a mood to talk back. Wikipedia offers endless opportunities for self-expression. It is the love child of reading groups and chat rooms, a second home for anyone who has written an Amazon review. This is not the first time that encyclopedia-makers have snatched control from an élite, or cast a harsh light on certitude

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