Research Reading: Stacy Schiff

16 Feb


Because there are no physical limits on its size, Wikipedia can aspire to be all-inclusive.

It is also perfectly configured to be current: there are detailed entries for each of the twelve finalists on this season’s “American Idol,” and the article on the “2006 Israel-Lebanon Conflict” has been edited more than four thousand times since it was created

Wikipedia, which was launched in 2001, is now the seventeenth-most-popular site on the Internet, generating more traffic daily than and the online versions of the Times and the Wall Street Journal combined.

Wikipedia became a nonprofit organization; it meets most of its budget, of seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars, with donations, the bulk of them contributions of twenty dollars or less. Wales says that he is on a mission to “distribute a free encyclopedia to every single person on the planet in their own language,” and to an astonishing degree he is succeeding.

Creator of wikipedia is Jimmy Wales.

Nothing about high-minded collaboration guarantees accuracy, and open editing invites abuse.

The encyclopedic impulse dates back more than two thousand years and has rarely balked at national borders

Among the first general reference works was Emperor’s Mirror, commissioned in 220 A.D. by a Chinese emperor, for use by civil servants. The quest to catalogue all human knowledge accelerated in the eighteenth century.

As an undergraduate, he had read Friedrich Hayek’s 1945 free-market manifesto, “The Use of Knowledge in Society,” which argues that a person’s knowledge is by definition partial, and that truth is established only when people pool their wisdom. Wales thought of the essay again in the nineteen-nineties, when he began reading about the open-source movement, a group of programmers who believed that software should be free and distributed in such a way that anyone could modify the code. He was particularly impressed by “The Cathedral and the Bazaar,” an essay, later expanded into a book, by Eric Raymond, one of the movement’s founders. “It opened my eyes to the possibility of mass collaboration,” Wales said.

In January, 2001, Sanger had dinner with a friend, who told him about the wiki, a simple software tool that allows for collaborative writing and editing. Sanger thought that a wiki might attract new contributors to Nupedia. (Wales says that using a wiki was his idea.) Wales agreed to try it, more or less as a lark. Under the wiki model that Sanger and Wales adopted, each entry included a history page, which preserves a record of all editing changes. They added a talk page, to allow for discussion of the editorial process—an idea Bayle would have appreciated. Sanger coined the term Wikipedia, and the site went live on January 15, 2001. Two days later, he sent an e-mail to the Nupedia mailing list—about two thousand people. “Wikipedia is up!” he wrote. “Humor me. Go there and add a little article. It will take all of five or ten minutes.”

Wales braced himself for “complete rubbish.” He figured that if he and Sanger were lucky the wiki would generate a few rough drafts for Nupedia. Within a month, Wikipedia had six hundred articles. After a year, there were twenty thousand.
At the beginning, there were no formal rules, though Sanger eventually posted a set of guidelines on the site. The first was “Ignore all the rules.” Two of the others have become central tenets: articles must reflect a neutral point of view (N.P.O.V., in Wikipedia lingo), and their content must be both verifiable and previously published.

Perhaps Wikipedia’s greatest achievement—one that Wales did not fully anticipate—was the creation of a community. Wikipedians are officially anonymous, contributing to unsigned entries under screen names. They are also predominantly male—about eighty per cent, Wales says—and compulsively social, conversing with each other not only on the talk pages attached to each entry but on Wikipedia-dedicated I.R.C. channels and on user pages, which regular contributors often create and which serve as a sort of personalized office cooler.

This article talks about the subculture of wikipedia, the different types of users, different terms/vocabulary like wikipediholism also, and talks about regular users (majority are male), some stats, what wikipedia is and is becoming, its success.

There are edit wars waging over entries on armenian genocide, henry ford. There are ethnic feuds like was Copernicus polish, german or prussian? As number of users increased, so did the editing wars and incidence of vandalism.

In 2004, Wales formalized the 3R rule—initially it had been merely a guideline—according to which any user who reverts the same text more than three times in a twenty-four-hour period is blocked from editing for a day. The policy grew out of a series of particularly vitriolic battles, including one over the U.S. economy—it was experiencing either high growth and low unemployment or low growth and high unemployment.

Wikipedia has become a regulatory thicket, complete with an elaborate hierarchy of users and policies about policies.
“People are talking about governance, not working on content.” Wales is ambivalent about the rules and procedures but believes that they are necessary. “Things work well when a group of people know each other, and things break down when it’s a bunch of random people interacting,” he told me.

Larry Sanger proposes a fine distinction between knowledge that is useful and knowledge that is reliable, and there is no question that Wikipedia beats every other source when it comes to breadth, efficiency, and accessibility. Yet the site’s virtues are also liabilities.

As was the Encyclopédie, Wikipedia is a combination of manifesto and reference work. Peer review, the mainstream media, and government agencies have landed us in a ditch. Not only are we impatient with the authorities but we are in a mood to talk back. Wikipedia offers endless opportunities for self-expression.
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