Thursday, April 27, 2006

Wikilove

I'll just say it: I LOVE WIKIPEDIA. I love it.

I love that it's about as accurate as Encyclopedia Britannica

I love that it's based around questioning authority.

I love that Jimmy Whales is so damned into questioning authority that he drove away his co-creator, Larry Sanger.

I love what it says about the power collective knowledge, and that it was saying it before web 2.0 was in alpha (that's taking a lame versioning analogy too far, but screw it).

I love that Whales got his start on the internet by combining sex and search (brilliant!) and I love that he's embarrased about it.

I love that people attack it all the time.

Most importantly, however, I love that it can show us how to make the world a better place - if we just apply the lessons of this organic technology to the problems we face.

Take this cnn article, for example:

A Georgia gubernatorial candidate accepted the resignation of her campaign manager Wednesday after he was accused of changing the online Wikipedia biography of an opponent in the upcoming Democratic primary.


This article implies that the dangerous wiki allowed this overanxious campaign manager to underimine the democratic process.

This is not the first time a Wikipedia entry has caused a flap. Because anyone may edit an entry, the site has become a popular tool among politicians wishing to slam a rival or laud themselves.

According to The Associated Press, the problem is so widespread that Wikipedia has tightened its submission guidelines and set up alerts so that its operators know when Capitol Hill staffers edit online profiles.


But that is complete monkey crap. Wiki IS the democratic process.

Let's start with the most important point... the information on wikipedia was accurate. This politician's son was involved in an alcohol related accident and the passenger was killed.

Now I've been involved in local political races in the past, and what usually happens here is that the campaign staffer will leak the information to a reporter, who will print it anonymously. And when the opponent's campaign accuses the campaign of dirty politics, they'll just deny they had anything to do with it.

Or the staffer will collude illegally with an indendent group set up to spend money that the campaign is barred by law from raising. The group will send out a mailer with a picture of the opponent's son in handcuffs to every voter in the state and, again, the campaign will deny any involvement.

In both of these scenarios, the staffer keeps working. Here, because of the transparency of wikipedia, the dirty politics resulted in the candidate taking responsibility for the dirty deed and firing the staffer.

Bottomline, the wikipedia entry was accurate. It was transparent. It was effective in making a very flawed political process a little bit better.

Time and again wikipedia has shown me that we don't get better as a society by keeping our mouths shut and letting the "experts" weigh in. We get better by putting our ideas out there and letting them get shot down by people who know better. Does that process need to be moderated? Yes, somewhat - in order for the tool to work.

But does the process need to be conducted in a star chamber, so we're prevented from seeing all the bad ideas that are shot down as the good ideas rise to the surface? I don't know about you, but I resent being underestimated like that.

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