Critical Point of View: A Wikipedia Reader
In January 2011, while wrapping up this publication, Wikipedia turned ten. It was a moment to pause and take stock of the project, to reflect on the past, and to speculate as to what the future holds. The event was standard press for major news outlets and technology reviews, and there were celebrations in several cities across the globe. Well-worn factoids and forgotten events were dusted off and organized into timelines and top-ten lists. 1 Experts and historical figures rehashed the same sound bites that made them experts and historical figures. Number crunching of all sorts was also in full flight – now up to 17 million articles, with 3.5 million in the English version and 400 million unique visitors per month. But the numbers were seldom delivered with the same gusto or marvelled at as when Wikipedia first became public fodder. Today, the miracle of Wikipedia is part and parcel of the ordinary routines of our networked life.
From the critics lounge, we heard all the usual suspects. Co-founder Larry Sanger once again complained about the lack of experts and accused Wikipedia of poor governance. Former editor-in-chief of Britannica Robert McHenry reminded us that there are no guarantees that articles are accurate and therefore Wikipedia can’t be trusted. 2 And the ever-colourful Andrew Keen chimed in with remarks like, ‘Who gives their labor away for free, anonymously? Only schmucks would do that. Or losers’. 3 On the many reasons people might want to operate outside the modalities of wage labor and recognition-based work, it would appear that Keen is still an amateur.
In the English-speaking world at least, it seems that commentary about Wikipedia is a fairly settled matter. It has its spokespeople, its facts and figures and its critics, along with its mythologized history and steadfast vision to provide the world’s knowledge to everyone. Someone makes the obligatory comparison with Encyclopaedia Britannica; another remarks on the celebrity status of Jimmy Wales or fusses about anonymous edits versus expert knowledge. A handful might register global imbalances. Is there a really a secret ‘cabal’ that controls the editorial changes and resides over the hierarchy of decision makers? Whatever. There will always be grumpy critics – and trolls – to deal with. The caravan moves on, and Wikipedia is here stay.
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