Big Media doesn’t understand Wikipedia

David Weinberger at JOHO has an interesting debunk of Big Media’s recent criticisms of Wikipedia. Here’s a snippet:

There were lots of little errors of tone. For example, Robert Lever, writing for the Agence France-Presse, said:

‘In an unusual bit of self-criticism, Wikipedia notes on its site that some complain about “a perceived lack of reliability, comprehensiveness, and authority” in the encyclopaedia.’

“Unusual”? Wikipedia has been a continuous state of self-criticism that newspapers would do well to emulate. It has discussion pages for every article. It has handled inaccuracies not defensively but with the humble understanding that of course Wikipedia articles will have mistakes, so let’s get on with the unending task of improving them. Wikipedia’s ambitions are immodest, but Wikipedia is not.

And Daniel Terdiman wrote for C-NET:

‘The article stayed on Wikipedia – the free, open-access encyclopedia – for four months before Seigenthaler finally got the service’s founder, Jimmy Wales, to agree to take it down.’

“Finally”? Sounds like Jimmy Wikipedia Wales was resistant? Nah. I asked Jimmy about this. He was contacted by Seigenthaler once. Jimmy immediately removed the previous versions of the article so people couldn’t come upon it by accident. Previous versions are not indexed by the search engines, but, Jimmy said, “We do that fairly often as a courtesy to people, if there’s something disparaging to people in the article.” Added Jimmy, Seigenthaler “didn’t request that it be deleted. He seemed to be surprised that we were willing to do that.”

No surprises, I guess. A lot of people who are making a living out of being arbiters of the truth are unsurprisingly quite resistant to concepts like Wikipedia and other ‘Web 2.0’ platforms (blogging, for example). It’s my hope, however, that these models of user-contribution resources continue to gather pace. An article on the BBC Online News site mentioned that Wikipedia held up pretty well against the Encyclopedia Britannica, in response to the same trigger story about a false libelous entry on Wikipedia. My guess is we’ll hear more about this in the next few months.

(This link found on BoingBoing.)

3 thoughts on “Big Media doesn’t understand Wikipedia”

  1. Selfcriticism actually is quite unusual on Wikipedia. It has internal critics, but the community as a whole is very smug. It doesn’t handle criticism with the approach that it knows it contains errors and must fix them, but with a rather more strident approach that says that yeah, we’ve got mistakes but our model will fix them in time.

    The “finally” thing was not off the mark, because it is clearly pointing to lack of oversight (no one knows what libels the site contains) rather than alacrity of response. Jimmy pisses his pants at any suggestion of a lawcase, so no surprise that he bottled it when challenged. And the stuff about courtesy is utter bullshit. Usually when people have shit written about them, the bullyboys treat them abominably. Courtesy is very much lacking on that wiki.

    As for the Britannica thing, ask what it compared before getting your panties all wet over Wikipedia’s good showing. Most of Wikipedia’s big-topic articles are cribbed from Britannica in the first place, so it’s a bit of a headscratcher that they have more mistakes. It rather implies they are what the wiki’s adding.

  2. Inevitable really. Tends to be the way that these things go. They start out well, but as soon as they become part of the status quo, they succumb to the same arrogance that all established forms of media exhibit. An equivalent to the Animal Farm effect in politics. Just human nature really.

    Wikipedia is still an excellent resource though, but it’s created by people and therefore as flawed as we ourselves are.

  3. It’s a good starting place if you know nothing about a thing but only because Google’s ranking algorithm doesn’t tend to list pages in anything like a sensible order.

    I’m not convinced that all media are doomed. That’s down to whoever’s creating the content, really, although it’s certainly true that once an exciting new form ossifies, innovators tend to steer clear.

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