Photo: Flickr user lifeontheedge

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Responses to Lanier's "Digital Maoism" critique.

Neither proponents nor detractors of hive mind rhetoric have much interesting to say about Wikipedia itself, because both groups ignore the details. As Fernanda Viegas's work shows, Wikipedia isn't an experiment in anonymous collectivist creation; it is a specific form of production, with its own bureaucratic logic and processes for maintaining editorial control.
--Clay Shirky

There's no doubt that online aggregators such as Digg, Reddit, and popurls can seem faceless to the point of being soulless. However, the irony of his critique is that Wikipedia is very much the opposite of these aggregator sites. Instead of algorithmically aggregating content, Wikipedia depends on writers settling their differences on an individual level. Nothing is created or posted automatically — and it shows...Take the talk page for "denotational semantics". In a textbook this recondite computer science concept may sound set in stone, but it comes to life when you read a sharp argument between an MIT professor and other experts over exactly what should be in the article.
--Fernanda Viegas & Martin Wattenberg

Making a million-entry encyclopedia out of photons, philosophy and peer-pressure would be impossible before the Internet's "collectivism." Wikipedia is a noble experiment in defining a protocol for organizing the individual efforts of disparate authors with conflicting agendas. Even better, it has a meta-framework — its GNU copyright license — that allows anyone else to take all that stuff and use part or all of Wikipedia to seed different approaches to the problem.

Wikipedia's voice is by no means bland, either. If you suffice yourself with the actual Wikipedia entries, they can be a little papery, sure. But that's like reading a mailing-list by examining nothing but the headers. Wikipedia entries are nothing but the emergent effect of all the angry thrashing going on below the surface.

No, if you want to really navigate the truth via Wikipedia, you have to dig into those "history" and "discuss" pages hanging off of every entry.


True, reading Wikipedia is a media literacy exercise. You need to acquire new skill-sets to parse out the palimpsest. That's what makes is genuinely novel.
-- Cory Doctorow

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