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Good Faith Collaboration (Part One) December 29, 2011

I recently finished reading Good Faith Collaboration book by Joseph Reagle. I was very curious about this book as not only it describes Wikipedia’s culture but also talks about its historical roots and contemporary criticism. Wikipedia is around for almost 11 years. So what is it?

First, there are actual Wikipedia pages and edits to them, as well as the meta pages documenting the policies and norms of Wikipedia itself. Second there is the talk/discussion page associated with each article. Third, there are mailing lists on which most abstract and difficult issues are often discussed. There are Wikipedia Signpost and Wikizine newsletter, other community forums such as popular “Village Pump”, and various Wikipedia related blogs, aggregators and podcasts. Fifth and finally, there are physical spaces in which some community members interact.

But mainly, Wikipedia is a snapshot of the community’s continuing conversation. Wikipedia culture encourages contributors to treat and think of others well, hence the name of the book. There are awards for best contributors like a “barnstar” (image placed on another’s user page to recognize merit). These awards are part of the Kindness Campaign and are meant to promote civility and WikiLove. There are more than 200 laws/norms by which Wikipedia contributors abide, including the guidelines of “Assume Good Faith” (AGF), “Please Do Not Bite the Newcomers” and “Neutral Point of View”.

This idea could be traced back to the beginning of the twentieth century, in particular Paul Otlet’s Universal Repertory and H.G. Wells’s proposal for a World Brain. Wells proposed the reference work compilers would be joined by world scholars and international technocrats to produce a resource that every student might easily access, in a personal, inexpensive, and portable format. This collection of the world’s intellect was envisioned to yield a greater sense of unity: wells hoped that such an encyclopedia could solve the “jig-saw puzzle” of global problems by bringing all the “mental wealth of our world into something like a common understanding”; this would be more than an education al resource, it would be an institution of global mediation.

As Wells said, “Without a World Encyclopedia to hold men’s minds together in a common interpretation of reality, there is no hope whatever of anything but an accidental and transitory alleviation to any of our world troubles.” I completely agree with the way Wells stated the problem. Additionally I question the transitory life cycle of one person’s knowledge. That knowledge must be reused even if the person is gone, as he/she may have insight into some solutions that are not easily generated, but the mankind desperately needs them.

One of the topics discussed in the book is who can really contribute. In Wikipedia’s predecessor Nupedia only educated and reasonable people were able to make final edits. Unfortunately, in my opinion, we often confuse formal school education and life experience, as one can be a PhD but uneducated in the matters of humanity. I am also not fond of the neutral point of view, as to be politically correct is not the same as being sincere and true. I would personally be more interested in hearing polar opinions to understand other people’s perspective and how they come to their conclusion.  Only when people know of completely opposite opinions on the same topic then can they start a conversation to reconcile their differences.  Having several versions of the most arguable topics is better than one bland version. Maybe views from the haters, the lovers and the neutrals.  People need to learn Dalai Lama’s realistic approach, value every person’s input and become compassionate. Only then we will be able to understand our humanity.

It seems to me that the primary goal of Wikipedia is compiling knowledge, while finding compassion is somehow secondary.

I agree about verifiability policy that “the threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth”. If the material has already been published by a reliable source, not whether we think it is true. Even when it comes to voting, majority has more power over minority. Majority usually represents the most convenient opinion of the culture it represents. There should be international SMEs participating or at least rating the content in terms of trust ability. Otherwise there will always be an issue of quality due to the lack of expertise and diversity.

Here we come to another problem I see here – how globally disconnected are different language Wikipedia sites from each other. Language barrier is still present in the Wikipedia structure, which leads both to duplicated efforts (when the same articles are written separately in different languages) and the lack of content in one language when it truly exists in another language. It would add diversity if articles from different languages were swapped and became international. We would create a better version of reality if people of all nations worked on the content together, not separately. During search, there should be instant translation of all related content from other languages.

Finally, it feels that Wikipedia is not a hub of innovative views limited by its “no original content” norm, which means inclusion of referenced work only. Wikipedia is a repetition of what others said. Most importantly, it results in the loss of individuality and creativity both for their contributors and readers.

Today contributors appear to be simply compilers and hunters for good content. They are assemblers, not the creators. Everyone should be able to speak up and come up with new knowledge and solutions to the world problems. Only then will Wells’ statement become reality:  “Our world has complex and urgent problems that need to be addressed. We believe there are innovative ways for solving them together online.”

Re-posted from The Ultimate Answer


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