Wikis : For and Against (Wikipedia in particular)

Let’s begin with the FOR case, as presented by the ever engaging Mark Pesce :

the human network » Blog Archive » Why We Wiki

[…] creates a situation where the community is smarter as a whole (and as individuals) because of their interactions with the Wiki. In short, the community will be more effective in the pursuit of its obsession because of the Wiki, and this increase in effectiveness will make them more closely bound to the Wiki. This process feeds back on itself until the idea of the community without the Wiki becomes quite literally unthinkable. The Wiki is the “common mind” of the community; for this reason it will be contentious, but, more significantly, it will be vital, an electronic representation of the power of obsession, an embodied form of the community’s depth of expertise […]

Then we have the NAYs – leading off is Dave Winer :

What’s wrong with Wikipedia

[…] Wikipedia is therefore a puzzle to me. Because while it’s helpful, it also hurts me, because my biography there is more of a vendetta, by anonymous people, who seem self-centered and immature, but it’s impossible to tell what axes they have to grind, because they’re largely anonymous.

Same is true for various activities I’ve participated in. You may argue that I didn’t invent this or that, but surely I had something to do with RSS, blogging and podcasting? Yet depending on when you look, I’m often not mentioned on these pages. This makes it hard for me to claim my work in professional dealings because people consider Wikipedia authoritative. What it says is considered by many to be the truth […]

Followed up, briefly the next day in What’s wrong with Wikipedia, day 2

Anonymous people writing with supposed authority about living people. Too easily (and often) gamed

Finally a useful piece from ‘big media’ (The Guardian) highlighting some specific problems of late :

Wikipedia’s school for scandal has plenty more secrets to reveal

[…] To effectively understand Wikipedia, it’s important to keep in mind that while it’s hyped as a quasi-mystical collective endeavour which spins straw into gold, in reality it’s a poorly-run bureaucracy with the group dynamics of a cult […] ultimately, one lesson from all these scandals is yet more evidence that Wikipedia fits a familiar pattern of idealism being vulnerable to exploitation. I sometimes remind people that ideological communes tend to end badly, too often with a few manipulative leaders extensively profiting at the expense of a mass of followers who lose everything […]


8 Responses to Wikis : For and Against (Wikipedia in particular)

  1. Mark Pesce says:

    Using Dave Winer (so aptly named) as a reference point for _any_ discussion is a bit unfair. It’s like getting your cranky half-crazy uncle in the attic to mutter about “those crazy kids”. Sure, he’ll stir the kids up, but he remains – despite his continuing contribution to the field – almost entirely content-free.

  2. Delia says:


    Your comment is definitely interesting and entertaining (like pretty much everything I’ve seen of yours). But I also find that Dave Winer’s experience with Wikipedia (and I’m sure he is not the only one who’s had such a frustration experience with it — how *could* he be?) does shed some light on the sort of trade-offs an enterprise like Wikipedia entails.


    P.S. I liked your article but I didn’t find it particularly balanced. I got the feeling that you were subtly arguing *for* Wikipedia, not taking a detached look at it. Nothing wrong with that, of course… it’s just not the *whole* story, as far as I can tell… D.

  3. Matthew says:

    Mark, I have found Dave’s point of view consistently interesting over the last decade or so I’ve been reading him. In particular I find his suggestions on how to deal with contentious (often biographical) Wikipedia pages intriguing – “be limited to pages of pointers of attributed accounts. Editors work to validate that the people are who they say they are”

    His point is simply that this wiki in particular has credibility issues. Dave was indeed one of the first and influential bloggers. His tools bootstrapped many people into blogging. His work on RSS was influential – somehow none of this appears for long on Wikipedia.

    Delia, I concur – it is unthinkable that Dave is the only part of Wikipedia that is having issues with reality.

    Do remember that Mark was writing about the concept of Wikis in general, not Wikipedia in particular. It was I that made that connection. As such I agree with Mark that in an ideal world the Wiki is a powerful transformative tool as far as our knowledge goes. Pity we don’t live in that ideal world – but we should work hard to change that.

    In summary, we are certainly all coming to view Wikipedia as an authoritative information source. It is troubling, then, to see real evidence that shows how that information can be biased and reality mis-represented.

    I wonder how I should go about teaching my children to use Wikipedia? How can we really dig into the controversies if the system itself is open to abuse?

    Finally – thank you both for taking the time to comment!

  4. Delia says:

    Hi, Mattew!

    Yes, my comment doesn’t make it clear that Mark’s article was on wikis, in general. My bad. But he definitely talks about Wikipedia *in particular*:

    “Early in this process, Wikipedia launched and began its completely unexpected rise into utility. In some ways, Wikipedia has an easy job: as an encyclopedia it must provide a basic summary of facts, not a detailed exploration of a topic, and it is generally possible for someone with a basic background in a topic to provide this much information. Yet this critique overlooks the immense breadth of Wikipedia (as of this writing, nearly 2.3 million articles in its English-language version). By casting its net wide – inviting all experts, everywhere, to contribute their specific knowledge – not only has Wikipedia covered the basics, it’s also covering everything else. No other encyclopedia could hope to be as comprehensive as Wikipedia, because no group of individuals – short of the billion internet-connected individuals who have access to Wikipedia – could be so comprehensively knowledgeable on such a wide range of subjects.

    Wikipedia will ever remain a summary of human knowledge; that is its intent, and there are signs that the Wikipedians are becoming increasingly zealous in their enforcement of this goal. Summaries are significant and important (particularly for the mass of us who are casually interested in a particular topic), but summaries do not satisfy our obsessive natures. Although Wikipedia provides an outlet for expertise, it does not cross the salience gap. This left an opening for a new generation of Wikis designed to provide depth immersion in a particular obsession. (Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, realized this, and created as a resource where these individuals can create highly detailed Wikis.)”

    Since your post deals with Wikipedia *exclusively*, that was the part of Mark’s article I commented on. And you are both most welcomed!


    P.S. I don’t view Wikipedia as an authoritative source and I don’t think it’s intended to be used that way. I think it’s just a good starting point for learning about things with the understanding that it may not be correct… that it IS wrong and biased in places and will *always* be (these are the trade-offs, as far as I can see). D.

  5. Delia says:

    Matthew: oops! “since your post deals with Wikipedia *exclusively*” should read “since your post deals with Wikipedia *in particular* (sorry, sorry…) oh, and I got an extra “d” somewhere…there! “you are most welcomed!”–> should be “you are most welcome!” … oh, no… I also got your name wrong … Matthew… (with an “h”); hope the ideas very clear D.

  6. Delia says:

    sigh… hope the ideas were very clear D.

  7. Delia says:


    To leave here on a light note, here’s my favorite “quote” from Wikipedia: “Jimmy Wales was born to a Parisian whore named ‘Babette’ during the French Revolution”
    (this can be still found on Wikipedia — it’s part of the archived edits for the “Jimmy Wales” entry). Good reason not to take Wikipedia too seriously…:)


    P.S. take care! D.

  8. […] >> here’s my favorite “quote” from Wikipedia: “Jimmy Wales was born to a Parisian whore named ‘Babette’ during the French Revolution” (this can be still found on Wikipedia — it’s part of the archived edits for the “Jimmy Wales” entry). Good reason not to take Wikipedia too seriously…: […]

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