More Wikipedia Stuff

Given the number of comments on my previous post about Wikipedia, I thought I'd write another post clarifying my point a bit and summing up the discussion in the comments, since many people don't seem to bother reading the existing comments before posting their own.

One of the commenters posted that it was strange that a Catallarchy author should have a problem with the "anarchy" of Wikipedia. As far as I know, Catallarchy authors have never advocated plain vanilla "anarchy" as a decent arrangement for a society. To my knowledge we've always advocated strong (non-governmental) institutions and individual responsibility and accountability. Decentralization and individual control is great, but not when people cannot or will not exert control over their own chunk of ground or the fruits of their own labor (i.e. their own articles, paragraphs, etc.). That's Marxism, and you can find plenty of articles on Catallarchy about why that simply doesn't work.

People talk a lot about the necessity and usefulness of references on Wikipedia. Because Wikipedia doesn't "own" the facts, everything is supposedly all right. But there is plenty of room for bias even when one includes references; all one has to do is cherry-pick their sources and/or cherry-pick the information they choose to include from their sources. Editors introduce bias simply by being editors. We still have the problem that the editors are essentially anonymous and even if they weren't anonymous they really have no reputation to lose. Even as a bibliography Wikipedia is only marginally useful because of the ability for its editors to cherry-pick references. It would be like giving random people the ability to delete results out of Google.

Wikipedia really is a magical thing. It's magical that an anarchic collection of information with no accountability at all can even be remotely useful. Yet it *is* useful. However, the magic comes entirely from the fact that most people don't yet take it seriously. Because few take it seriously, there is little benefit to intentionally introducing incorrect information or bias (other than for self-gratification of course). Barring major changes in structure, if the time should ever come that Wikipedia is taken seriously, it will collapse. Politicial spin doctors and con artists have far more incentive to edit a resource like that than just about anyone else, and the people with the knowledge to fix it will simply give up.

There is a solution, but Wikipedia fanatics probably won't like it. The solution is far more decentralized and anarchic than Wikipedia, because even the database itself is decentralized. It includes competition in every aspect of information presentation, format, standards, etc. It has private property, reputation, and personal accountability. It's called the Internet. If I search for something on Google and pick one of the first hits that's not Wikipedia, or even better a hit that goes to a site that's run by someone I know to be an expert on the topic or an article posted by same, I will in all probability get more accurate and informative information than if I picked the Wikipedia article.

Obviously there are huge swaths of wasteland out there (gee, I could wander into Wikipedia by accident if I didn't already know what it was), but I know when I've walked into a wasteland, even when that wasteland claims not to be a wasteland. Not everyone is yet capable of making that determination because the Internet still seems so magical, but that wasteland-detecting sense is rapidly becoming a survival trait and the generation we're raising right now will be experts at it.

Of course Wikipedia doesn't claim to be a replacement for the Internet or search engines (Wikiasari notwithstanding). All I'm saying is that its magic comes from its novelty and that anyone who thinks it's more than that will end up wasting their effort on something that in the very near future either won't look anything like what it looks like now or will fade into insignificance. A centralized collection of information that can be edited by anyone anonymously is just plain not world-dominating. A decentralized collection of information each bit of which is obviously owned by someone who has a reputation, on the other hand, is not only world-dominating but has already taken over the world.

Wikipedia isn't Web 2.0. It's Bathroom Wall 0.5. It just happens to be the bathroom wall for the chess club right now.

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