ideology and community
This page considers the wiki community and ethos.
It covers -
Much of writing about wiki centres on values of 'community',
'free' and digital technology as a transcendent good.
It also features 'us and them' hyperbole and a vehemence
that has led observers such as Charles Arthur to compare
wiki zealots to a cult.
One Australian enthusiast - self-described as a "part
time cyborg" - thus dismissed criticism of Wikipedia
with the comment that
sort of comment only appears in the deranged hyperbole
of displaced anti-blog/anti-wikipedia/anti-new-media
journalists and ex-journalists. really, the ONLY people
who get so worked up about the unspeakable horror that
is wikipedia and blogging in general are encyclopedia
publishers (in the particular case of wikipedia) and
journalists (for blogs in general).
Wershler-Henry's Free as in Speech and Beer: open source,
peer-to-peer and the economics of online revolution
(Toronto: Financial Times/Prentice Hall Canada 2002) announces
are coming to the conclusion that the death of intellectual
property as we know it is a good and laudable turn of
events, that software and other types of intellectual
property should be free - free as in "speech," free
as in "beer," and sometimes free as in speech and beer.
is more detail about free at his "politics, poetics
and practice of digital potlatch" site.
A more nuanced analysis is provided in Lawrence Rosen's
Open Source Licensing: Software Freedom and Intellectual
Property Law (New York: Prentice Hall 2004), in Richard
Barbrook's influential 1998 paper
The High-Tech Gift Economy and Imaginary Futures:
From Thinking Machines to the Global Village (London:
Pluto Press 2007), Steven Weber's 2000 The Political
Economy of Open Source Software (PDF)
and Thomas Streeter's paper
That Deep Romantic Chasm: Libertarianism, Neoliberalism
& the Computer Culture.
McKenzie Wark's zany A Hacker Manifesto (Cambridge:
Harvard Uni Press 2004) equates 'hacker' with 'creative'
("researchers and authors, artists and biologists,
chemists and musicians, philosophers and programmers")
in opposition to the evil "vectoralist class").
Wark proclaimed that
artists, biotechnologists and software programmers belong
to the 'hacker class' and share a class interest in
openness and freedom
the 'vectoralist class' (presumably a cross between Scrooge
McDuck, Sauron and Michael Eisner) is driven to "contain,
control, dominate and own". Ooh, those awful vectoralists,
especially the ones who can't quote Habermas or Slavoj
Johan Soderberg's 2002 Copyright vs Copyleft: A Marxist
similarly announces that "to oppose copyright is
to oppose capitalism" and that
is a natural starting point when challenging copyright.
Marx's concept of a 'general intellect', suggesting
that at some point a collective learning process will
surpass physical labour as a productive force, offers
a promising backdrop to understand the accomplishments
of the free software community. Furthermore, the chief
concerns of hacker philosophy, creativity and technological
empowerment, closely correspond to key Marxist concepts
of alienation, the division of labour, deskilling, and
Pillai of APNIC commented in October 2005 that
find Wikipedia, and more precisely the open self-correcting
flowing foundation that Wikipedia sits upon so valuable,
that I am using its newest branch, Wikiversity
to create a new convergent meta-university in Asia.
...The university's aim is to recreate and reconnect
the mental soil for quantum inventiveness in Asia.
... The Wikipedia way is better. It is the ultra-adaptive
entrepreneurial and revolutionary edges of society where
sense-making is born and reinvented.
is arguably a manifestation of the concurrent infatuation
with digital technology (as a fashion statement and easy
fix for recalcitrant social problems), business start-ups
and libertarianism analysed in Barbrook's classic The
Andy Updegrove proclaimed that
is democratic at the user level. The Wikipedia is a
snapshot of the collective consciousness of a society
at any point in time. It's as if you could preserve
the brain of that society. It evolves as that reality
evolves. Not only that, but it maps the consciousness
in societies around the world, because they don't translate
- rather, they write new [entries].
is similar enthusiasm in Rullani's 2005 Free and Open
Source Software and reflexive identity (PDF)
and Lourenco's Wikis and political discourse formation
Jaron Lanier lamented
Wikipedia as an embodiment of "digital Maoisim and
as an "online fetish site for foolish collectivism".
He expressed concern about how
Wikipedia has come to be regarded and used; how it's
been elevated to such importance so quickly. And that
is part of the larger pattern of the appeal of a new
online collectivism that is nothing less than a resurgence
of the idea that the collective is all-wise, that it
is desirable to have influence concentrated in a bottleneck
that can channel the collective with the most verity
and force. This is different from representative democracy,
or meritocracy. This idea has had dreadful consequences
when thrust upon us from the extreme Right or the extreme
Left in various historical periods. The fact that it's
now being reintroduced today by prominent technologists
and futurists, people who in many cases I know and like,
doesn't make it any less dangerous.
mid 2008 Nicholas Carr naughtily commented that
has long promoted itself as "the free encyclopedia
that anyone can edit." But Jimmy Wales offers a
new, circumscribed slogan in a column in today's Observer.
Wikipedia is now, according to Wales, "the online
encyclopedia in which any reasonable person can join
us in writing and editing entries on any encyclopedic
topic." The old slogan was the language of the
bazaar. The new one is the language of the club.
Pekka Himanen's The Hacker Ethic & the Spirit of
the Information Age (New York: Random House 2001)
argued that the digital zeitgeist was cooperative and
positive. Observers of wiki project have questioned that
Andrew Orlowski commented in 2005 that
"cabal" has become notorious for deterring
knowledgable and literate contributors. One who became
weary of the in-fighting, Orthogonal, calls it Wikipedia's
HUAC - the House of Unamerican Activities prominent
in the McCarthy era for hunting down and imprisoning
... right now, the project appears ill-equipped to respond
to the new challenge. Its philosophical approach deters
subjective judgements about quality, and its political
mindset deters outside experts from helping.
co-founder Larry Sanger, who had earlier dismissed Orlowski
as a troll, complained
in 2004 that
might have continued to participate, were it not for
a certain poisonous social or political atmosphere in
There are many ways to explain this problem, and I will
start with just one. Far too much credence and respect
accorded to people who in other Internet contexts would
be labelled "trolls". There is a certain mindset
associated with unmoderated Usenet
groups and mailing lists that infects the collectively-managed
Wikipedia project: if you react strongly to trolling,
that reflects poorly on you, not (necessarily) on the
troll. If you attempt to take trolls to task or demand
that something be done about constant disruption by
trollish behavior, the other listmembers will cry "censorship",
attack you, and even come to the defense of the troll.
This drama has played out thousands of times over the
years on unmoderated Internet groups, and since about
the fall of 2001 on the unmoderated Wikipedia.
... nearly everyone with much expertise but little patience
will avoid editing Wikipedia, because they will - at
least if they are editing articles on articles that
are subject to any sort of controversy - be forced to
defend their edits on article discussion pages against
attacks by nonexperts. This is not perhaps so bad in
itself. But if the expert should have the gall to complain
to the community about the problem, he or she will be
shouted down (at worst) or politely asked to "work
with" persons who have proven themselves to be
unreasonable (at best).
This lack of respect for expertise explains the first
problem, because if the project participants had greater
respect for expertise, they would have long since invited
a board of academics and researchers to manage a culled
version of Wikipedia (one that, I think, would not directly
affect the way the main project is run). But because
project participants have such a horror of the traditional
deference to expertise, this sort of proposal has never
been taken very seriously by most Wikipedians leading
the project now. And so much the worse for Wikipedia
and its reputation.
are broader perspectives in Donald Rosenberg's Copyleft
& the Religious Wars of the 21st Century (here),
Denise Anthony, Sean Smith & Tim Williamson's 2007
The Quality of Open Source Production: Zealots and
Good Samaritans in the Case of Wikipedia and Margaret
Elliott's Computing in a Virtual Organisational Culture:
Open Software Communities as Occupational Subcultures
Wikipedia has also provided a fine sandpit for the expression
of egos, with observers - often somewhat gleefully - noting
that particular figures have recurrently buffed their
online profiles and airbrushed their peers. Two of the
more publicised incidents are Rogers Cadenhead's comments
on Jimbo Wales
and Adam Curry.
(with the aim of creating "minor public relations
disasters for companies and organizations I dislike")
highlights changes to Wikipedia by linking edits to the
corporate networks from which those changes were made.
That has drawn attention to edits from official networks
in Iran, offices of individual US politicians and UK political
parties, corporations (such as Wal-Mart, AstraZeneca,
Dow Chemical, ExxonMobil and Disney), the CIA, BBC. the
Vatican and the Scientologists.
Presumably if it is good enough for Wales to airbrush
his own profile it is ok for enthusiasts within organisations
to tweak entries that they do not like ... along with
people who are sufficiently savvy to edit from a non-corporate
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