Saturday, March 4, 2006

Wikipedia : the power of individualism

Before I continue on my series against statist concepts, I'd like to discuss something that's been brewing for a while about Wikipedia.

People who should know better argue against Wikipedia on the grounds that it is uncontrolled, that it allows any Joe Blow to edit falsities into entries, that it is unreliable. From personal experience as well as understanding the concept of Wikipedia, I find this to be total bullshit. Wikipedia is more controlled and checked than any encyclopedia in the world.

Wikipedia works on the basis of self-correcting progress brought about by the cooperation of individual agents. That is the basis all rational methods work, including capitalism and science. Of course there are errors in Wikipedia : there are errors in all encyclopedia. In fact, a recent study found that Wikipedia has an average of 4 errors per entry, against 3 in Brittanica. Of course, you can see this in a "glass half empty" perspective and say that Wikipedia has 33% more errors. But it's important to remember that Wikipedia is still in full growth, while the Brittanica, like all paperback encyclopedias, is supposed to be a finished product on each edition. It is therefore a stunning defeat of the idea of dictatorial editing that Wikipedia makes such a strong showing.

The whole point of Wikipedia is that it assembles more experts on more topics than any real-world enterprise ever could. It's simply the nature of the Internet. That's how it works. Every single issue, hobby, topic, has its experts on the Internet.

Wikipedia's detractors do not attack it because it is inherently unreliable. Otherwise they would be attacking unreliable paperback encyclopedias as well. Wikipedia's detractors attack it because it is individualistic, and has no central authority. It is this idea of emergent information, of natural law, of the absence of central design, that they cannot stand, that they cannot understand. The notion of order that exists without a transcendent designer is too complicated for their minds to understand. So they demand central editing, and stay agape at the success of Wikipedia. These are the same kinds of people who use Intelligent Design arguments and praise the power of government to solve "social problems".

The same thing applies to the Internet. People attack the Internet, not because of pop-up ads or spyware or idiotic personal pages, but because it gives the individual "too much" information, "too much" freedom of speech, "too much" possibilities to communicate with people without needing face-to-face interactions. They attack the Internet because it's individualistic. As usual, they hate the good for being the good.

Wikipedia's success is the success of individualism and individualistic cooperation. They can't stand that. Let those perpetual regressives simmer. Wikipedia is here to stay !


Aaron Kinney said...

This is a fucking great post.

I love this part especially:

Wikipedia's detractors attack it because it is individualistic, and has no central authority. It is this idea of emergent information, of natural law, of the absence of central design, that they cannot stand, that they cannot understand.

Franc this reminds me of something I was thinking about awhile back. The idea of emergent information in the absence of central design is what theists and statists cannot understand, or at least DO not understand. This is a very important principle of the reality that we exist in, and it is a MAJOR stumbling block for most people that prevents them from agreeing with, or even understanding, the atheist and anarchist (and scientific) arguments.

We need to use real world examples like Wikipedia and free economic markets and such to stress the power, superiority, and inherent self-correcting stability of unregulated, decentralized systems. There are numerous examples all throughout nature and the human world, and we need to make it a point to reference these examples and stress this principle more.

Good job with talking about Wikipedia!

Aaron Kinney said...

Another important point: The detractors of the internet can only attack it with one method: censorship and blocking. They try to censor and stop the information from being available. It is the digital equivalent of a book burning.

Gregory Kohs said...


While you may be too far gone to even consider it, have you spent any time looking at this study?

Or looking at this Dartmouth discussion?

I'm known fairly widely as a critic of Wikipedia. I am not a critic of individualism or of collaborative editing. I am a critic of the hopeless indifference of the Wikimedia Foundation to apply any standards and tools to embrace the STABILITY of the content on Wikipedia that happens to have somehow ended up in an accurate state.

The problem with Wikipedia is that the truth keeps getting manipulated back to garbage, over and over again. And that's Jimmy Wales' business model. He is not interested in truth or knowledge. He is interested in human participation and addiction.

metasonix said...

Mr. Tremblay, if you really believe that "Wikipedia is more controlled and checked than any encyclopedia in the world", then I am forced to conclude that you are completely delusional.

Wikipedia has so many problems, no one can even list (or find) them all. Some of them are systemic, and deeply structural, being based on this "no leadership" model.

There IS leadership--it's just a very, very corrupt and disbursed leadership. Said leaders (administrators and bureaucrats) tend to focus obsessively on articles they personally find interesting, and ignore all else. These articles tend to be "controversial", and end up being the center of editwars routinely.

So, as a result, we have an alleged "encyclopedia" which gives massive attention to things that young men with plenty of time on their hands care about--computer gaming, TV shows, cartoons and comic books, sports and the like--while giving short shrift to subjects that young men find tedious (geography, sciences, philosophy etc). The quality of those famous 3,000,000 articles is, according to my own research, rather poor. I would say that 60% or more of them are "stubs", having virtually no informational content. And even articles with information are sometimes utter unreferenced personal babblings, posted by some random person who might (and often provably does) have a personal interest in that article.

I can post my own references, if you wish.

Scryer's Eve said...

Five years later, and people have begun to wise up about ol' Wiki.

Change and realization of uncomfortable truths takes time.