Thursday, December 24, 2009

Why anyone can and can't edit Wikipedia

I'm going to take a wild guess here about the people that read this blog and further, any potential readers. In addition, I want to include a majority (more than 50%) of the people that use the web for the information available and believe what they read is truthful and unbiased. I believe that this slice of the pie chart doesn't know or care how the information on the web is gathered or governed. In particular I want to discuss the venerable Wikipedia, of which I've quoted and used and admired for years. Wikipedia, "the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit". I'm willing to bet that most people don't know or care that they or their neighbors can edit Wikipedia and furthermore, have never done it and don't know anybody who has. This has what you might think of as a "telescope effect". Facebook users understand both ends of the scope of what they're doing. Wikipedia users, on the other hand, don't. Facebook users know that as they edit their own slice of life, they are in control of what users see. Wikipedia, "the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit" may not be free because Jimmy Wales, its founder, is begging for cash and "anyone can edit" doesn't seem to ring true either. I may be the only person I know to have tried to edit a part of Wikipedia (I'm still asking people) and I have never been successful. Once (or more, never kept track) I found typos, like "th" instead of "the", and vainly went back the next day to check out my "contribution" to the internet community. HAH! Gone!  Rescinded! I also added a link to Cleveland Torso Murders (full disclosure: we own it.) to a page on Wikipedia with similiar content, Cleveland Torso Murderer, only to have it pulled the next. This would seem totally self serving and was but was done with some innocence, I assure you. Time to quote "Cage the Elephant": "there ain't no rest for the wicked, money don't grow on trees" (video below).

Anyway, I digress. The point here is there seems to be a shadowy army of "watchers" that keep an eye on articles and if someone has the audacity to change one they just change it back. Wow. That kinda throws mud in the eye of the whole "anyone can edit" thing, huh?
Now I'm not going to use words like "goose stepping fascists" because, first, I'd probably look fascist up on, you guessed it, Wikipedia to make sure I was using the right words for this assault, and I'm not sure anyone "goose steps" anymore either. One thing I didn't do was to register or login or whatever, because I'm a bit of a privacy junky, so I was anonymous, but so was the person who countered my edit, one "Horwendil". This secret society seems to make up a minority who edits for the majority. It sounds like censure to me, but, it is! A weird fact that a lot of people won't care about, is that librarians often are the very group that bans books.

Here, we have information for the people, by the people as long as some of the people approve, and we don't know who those people are. Otherwise nobody will ever know what Bob from Denver added to this article, or how Dorothy from Kansas could have enhanced that article. I understand how some control is needed, especially because of the ever present threat from hackers, but the phrase "anyone can edit" is hard to swallow. Maybe if Jimmy has his hand out the spotlight should swing that way and a little transparency is in order. How about a new catchphrase. I think "the free (that can't exist without putting you on a guilt trip for reading it) encyclopedia that the elitists have determined that only they can edit but you can read" sounds better.


  1. Jim, in the spirit of this post, I thought your readers would be well-served (especially if they're thinking of making the mistake of donating money to the Wikimedia Foundation) to read this documentation:

  2. Greg, thanks for the interest and link. I think Wikipedia has a place on the planet but still needs some work on the way it's run.