The democratic model on wikipedia

19Oct05

BusinessWeek’s Blogspotting asks Does Wikipedia need editors and points to a post on Nicholas Carr’s blog. The law of the wiki is an interesting dicsussion on the idea of ‘quality’ on wikipedia. Here he suggests that posts on arcane topics are better than those on general topics, since only people with some specialized knowledge and interest contribute to the former while any individual with a mouse in hand can add his ‘two cents’ worth to the latter.

While this sounds plausible, I find that I refer to wikipedia only for information on the general / broader topics – more as a quick reference source rather than a reliable one. Even in case of topics requiring specialized knowledge, I have no way of knowing who – and with what level of expertise – contributed to the article.

In other words, the example of Wikipedia actually undercuts, rather than supports, the Web 2.0 tenet of “collective intelligence.” It reveals that collectivism and intelligence are actually inversely correlated.

Leading to what he calls the “collective mediocrity trap”.

Apart from just mediocre or plain inferior information, wikipedia presents the opportunity for another quality issue – that of information / knowledge that is selective and manipulative in nature (even given that all knowledge is selective and can be used to manipulate!). Where does information stop and propaganda begin? There are all kinds of nuts out there brimming with their pet ideas on their preferred politics, religion, cause…

As information becomes more and more open and across the internet, the need for control mechanisms become sharper. Personally for me, the idea of such a huge information source created, totally depending on the responsible and mature behavior of millions of end users, is amazing. As a completely democratic source of information, is wikipedia a viable model in its present form?

Says Carr, If Wikipedia wants to achieve it’s goal of being “authoritative,” I think it will have to abandon its current structure, admit that “collective intelligence” makes a pretty buzzphrase but a poor organizational model, and define and impose some kind of hierarchical power structure. In which case, it does not remain a wiki… A rather dramatic dilemma – democracy without accountability or control with quality?

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