Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Fall of Wikipedia

How Wikipedia has fallen. In response to growing instances of false information being deliberately inserted, particularly into entries connected to living people, the Wikimedia Foundation will soon create an editorial approval process that appears to fly in the face of its open-access policy.

It's been argued that prominent figures such as Ted Kennedy, Tony Blair, and David Beckham have over the years been targets for vandalism on Wikipedia, and the new rules reflect the fact that as Wikipedia grows in importance, so does the weight of the mistakes it carries.

In my opinion, this move is a shame. The very principles of Web 2.0 and social media are being shattered by this need for this editing process. The beauty and freshness of Wikipedia is the fact that content could be self-corrected over time and blips would be self-regulated by users, often specialists themselves. It's a strength that content is revised up-to-the-minute; and with errors will come revision. The equilibrium of correction will eventually override the temporary glitches that inevitably occurs with real-time mass-produced content. That's why Wikipedia has become the de-facto place for quick information fact-checking. Why do we need a board then? Wouldn't that defeat the original purpose of a "free encyclopedia that anyone can edit"? Is it merely a public relations farce? We'll see.


The Equine Accountant said...

Allen, this is an interesting story on a topic I was just thinking about recently. Wikipedia is such a great resource, and more comprehensive than I think any encyclopedia could or may ever want to be. The importance is that individuals know the pros and cons of wikipedia, and that they know other resources are often necessary for proper research to be conducted.

Rob said...

Sad news to me as well. I wonder if this move will lead readers to expect the powers-that-be to just fix Wikipedia, rather than feel like they can participate to fix the problems they see.

Dan was telling me that whenever he hears someone decry the authority of Wikipedia his answer is "well, fix it." Too few people forget that they can be a part of the positive side too!

Being optimistic I would hope that this review process evolves to become as open as the editing process was, and will allow people to make good decisions about which articles need to be protected and which should be left open. It seems similar to the debate in our society between freedom of speech and suppression of hate speech.

Speaking of Ted Kennedy, I remember reading his Wikipedia article after he had a seizure. People were updating the current event section as news came in. For a split second between refreshes I saw "he was taken to a hospital and died shortly after." Even though I knew that had to be vandalism I still got a chill down my spine for a moment!