You know, I never thought I’d find myself in the position of defending Wikipedia – I’m a pretty light contributor there, and not what might be called a Wikipedian, but here’s Dave with more in his rant against Wikipedia:
“Now of course I want to know who said that. See the problem? Same set of facts, two different views. In the case of Dowbrigade, I know who’s speaking.”
Do you really, know who’s speaking at Dowbrigade, Dave? Because I don’t. Even if I knew Michael Feldman of the Dowbrigade personally, I wouldn’t think that I knew what events, experiences, and biases were coloring his writing unless I knew him particularly well. Seems to me that knowing who wrote a piece might give someone a false sense of understanding. Sure, I know his name, but know him? Nope.
More to the point, how much does it matter? Say I saw something in Salon, and The Atlantic, or the New Yorker (or, gasp, the Encyclopedia Britannica)? How much would I know about what was coloring that writing? There are certainly humans behind all of that writing, and something is coloring their editorial and factual views. Think about how much of the content in the Britannica tells the story of the victors, and not that of the subjagated people. “History is written by the victors.”
In a way this is surprising to me coming from Dave, who I had the impression thought that bias was inescapable and didn’t have much that was good to say about the mainstream media because it pretended not to have any bias (looked for a reference to this viewpoint on Scripting News to use in a comment on BL Ochman’s post but couldn’t find it, so perhaps I imagined it). I suppose this is pretty easy for me to say, since it’s not my contributions or name being slighted or slandered. But it seems to me that “the community-written free encyclopedia” which appears on the top of every Wikipedia page should be enough to warn anyone that the content there is likely to be somewhat subjective.
Not that I disagree with Dave’s (recollected) assertion – I believe there is bias in everything you read. As I wrote below, the only way to resolve this is to look at multiple sources. “Don’t believe everything you read” should really say “Don’t believe anything you read (or hear).” This may well require a complete cultural shift, but it’s absolutely critical as more and more information is published by greater and greater numbers of people with broader and more diverse biases. The trend of self-generated “content” is just beginning, and if we don’t teach the next generation to grok what they see around them with critical eyes and ears they’ll prove to be a culture of sheep, easily manipulated by whoever’s in control of the messages they receive. If the problem is truly not that Wikipedia exists but that it’s too often believed to be authoritative then change that belief. But just because it’s not always perfect doesn’t make it worthless any more than the fact that it’s community-written makes it perfect.
Wikipedia offers us another place to get involved in those messages, those conversations. A place where a community can come together and help to write a history. Dave proposes that instead of a vibrant and active community, Berkman forms a committee of sorts, with all the participants in the history of podcasting, and that a slow and deliberate process of discovery is used to glean the Truth of it and then to use that as a model for the future of Wikipedia. And you know what? I hope they do get together and that they bring their findings to Wikipedia and edit the entry there appropriately. I have no doubt it would make that article better, but gods help us, making Wikipedia itself work like that would kill the Wikipedia concept. And it’s exactly the opposite of the position I would have expected from Dave – the man who almost single-handedly managed the development of the 3rd most popular data format exactly because he didn’t want it to get bogged down in W3C committees. My only hope is that Dave isn’t able to use his very large megaphone and very tall soapbox to exact these kinds of change on Wikipedia, though I think there’s very little to worry about.
By the way, the phrase “however incorrectly” was added by Wikipedia user Tommys on 2005-11-28 to a previous version most recently edited by Antinoda on 2005-11-27. Using well-understood mechanisms for narrowing selections, I was able to establish this with about 8 clicks. I also happen to agree that this was an inaccurate statement, so I changed it. Total time consumed: < 3minutes.
<Cori steps down from very small soapbox>