Photo: Flickr user lifeontheedge

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Taipei Times is pumping out wiki coverage. Here's something interesting:

The sharp divide between producers and consumers of knowledge began only about 300 years ago, when book printers secured royal protection for their trade in the face of piracy in a rapidly expanding literary market. The legacy of their success, copyright law, continues to impede attempts to render cyberspace a free marketplace of ideas. Before, there were fewer readers and writers, but they were the same people, and had relatively direct access to each other's work.

Indeed, a much smaller, slower and more fragmented version of the Wikipedia community came into existence with the rise of universities in 12th and 13th century Europe.

The large ornamental codices of the early Middle Ages gave way to portable "handbooks" designed for the lighter touch of a quill pen. However, the pages of these books continued to be made of animal hide, which could easily be written over. This often made it difficult to attribute authorship, because a text might consist of a copied lecture in which the copyist's comments were inserted and then perhaps altered as the book passed to other hands.

Wikipedia has remedied many of those technical problems. Any change to an entry automatically generates a historical trace, so entries can be read as what medieval scholars call a "palimpsest," a text that has been successively overwritten. Moreover, "talk pages" provide ample opportunity to discuss actual and possible changes. While Wikipedians do not need to pass around copies of their text -- everyone owns a virtual copy -- Wikipedia 's content policy remains deeply medieval in spirit.

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