Friday, June 13, 2008

The Wiki Paradox

Wiki is the new web. The "wiki," according to Wikipedia--Wiki Rex--is a "collection of web pages designed to enable anyone who accesses it to contribute or modify content..." This sounds rather boring, but in reality, it's nothing short of incredible. Consider that among the 2,411,306 English-language articles on Wikipedia with more being added as we speak, only five or ten are protected from edition by non-members. I, being a member, can edit any one of these articles. This is jaw-dropping, at least for me. Anyone with an email address can join, and if they wished it, could potentially destroy--if not the entire system, than various important articles--and it would be very hard, nay, impossible, to bring it back to it's former state.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, the greatest development in democracy since representative government: Wikipedia.

Why, you ask, does Wikipedia work? Why don't people use their power of edition to destroy it? The answer is at once simple and complicated: it works because democracy does. They don't destroy it because they believe in it, as we believe in democracy.

I have taken, I'm not exaggerating, a LOT of heat over the fact that I love Wikipedia and edit it. In fact, according to Weird Al Yankovic's song "White and Nerdy," editing Wikipedia is one of the chief hallmarks of a white nerd. I already knew I was a white nerd, so that doesn't worry me overmuch.

I can see why a certain person who will remain nameless can scoff at Wikipedia; in many instances it falls short of a good source of information, especially where schoolwork is concerned. As a reference source, it falls short of, say, the Encyclopedia Brittanica--but more about that later. So, if you want to learn much about one thing, especially where the accuracy of the information has a direct correlation with your GPA, Wikipedia is not the best source for you. If, however, you want to learn a little about many things, then nothing--I repeat, nothing--is better than Wikipedia.

John J. Miller had an interesting article about Wikipedia in the April 21 issue of National Review, entitled "Liberal Web." It was mainly concerned with the liberal bias of many Wikipedia editors, but some illuminating general facts about the website as a whole appear as well.

A couple of years ago, the journal Nature compared a sampling of scientific entries found on Wikipedia with those published in Encyclopedia Brittanica. It determined that the newcomer was almost as trustworthy as the old hand.
That's quite impressive; even more so when we consider that if this study was made in, say, 2004, a web lifetime has passed since then. Heck, in 2004, AOL was still a heavy-hitter and Netscape Navigator was still a respectable web-browser, and Mozilla Firefox and Facebook didn't exist. We can only assume that it's become far more accurate since then.

The article goes on to blame the defeat of Sen. George Allen (R-VA) in 2006 to the disparity between his Wikipedia article and that of his opponent, Jim Webb. That sounds like grasping at straws, but with more and more voters making their decision by what they see when they google a candidate--and Wikipedia is almost always near the top of these searches--it's all too possible.

In some aspects, this article is unsatisfying. It concentrates on the partisan elements of Wikipedia, ignoring to some extent its redeeming qualities. The article concludes by exhorting Conservatives to become Wikipedians, or else "the Wikipedia entry for 'United States general elections, 2008' may include results that no amount of clever editing will rub away." That may indeed be true, and in some aspects that is a scary thought. I am the only Conservative, nay the only person, I know who has a Wikipedia membership, so I gather that it's my responsibility to tackle liberal bias on Wikipedia. I will do my best.

Wikipedia is a true democracy, not a representative one like our own. Wikipedia has done to the encyclopedia what Athens did for government, and with the inestimable influence of the internet--and it can only grow more so--Wikipedia may even have the same far-reaching consequences that Athens, a petty city-state on a fragmented peninsula, had on the world. And that, for something completely intangible, is a paradox. Welcome to the digital age.

Update: For a shock at what Wikipedia can do, check this out.


madscientist said...

:D mos i think YOU are in for a shock if u go to said wikipedia link

Sola Gratia said...

Sometimes I wonder why I blog at all. I revamp the style, waste an hour and a half on a good, well-researched post, and then some joker comes along and decides, "Oh! I know what would be a funny joke! I'll go and edit Mos's Wikipedia article! Huh-huh-huh!"

Did you actually READ the post?


Your Conscience said...

you sure do put a lot of thought into these things...... i think youd make an excelent journalist.

Sola Gratia said...

Why thank you, Conscience. I intend to be one.


Appreciation is all the validation I need.

sweetggirl said...

Yeah, I appreciate your posts too! And I read the wiki thing. Did Andrew rly change anything?

Sola Gratia said...

Yeah, he did, but it wasn't that bad. I overreacted, rather.

Well, I'm glad you guys still appreciate me :).

Anonymous said...

i don't get it, what did Andrew do?

Your Conscience said...

yea seriously...i dont know what andrew did either

Sola Gratia said...

Well, he edited my own Wikipedia article. But none of the stuff he put on it was bad or anything, so I just overreacted.

Expect a new post soon!