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Wikipedia Celebrates 10 Years

NPR’s weekly media program, On the Media, celebrated the 10th anniversary of Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that’s edited by anybody, sort of.

Brook Gladstone interviewed Sue Gardner, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation. Gardner said 410 million people use Wikipedia every month. She also said that now professors at universities are having their graduate students edit Wikipedia as part of their work. Hmm. I’m not sure what to make of that.

Supposedly editors are volunteers, what Gardner calls “core editors.” But if it is graduate students editing the Wikipedia, then that means they aren’t volunteers really, but rather people who are paid with the same dollars that are used to fund their studies.

A problem Gardner did acknowledge is that almost all of these core editors are 25 year old men who tend to be well educated. No problem with the well educated part, but a democratic encyclopedia is one that is representative of everybody to some sort of reasonable extent. If women aren’t into editing Wikipedia, then how is the end product going to be fair and balanced?

My own pretty limited experience with Wikipedia as an editor is that it doesn’t work, contrary to what Gardner said. I tried to edit one entry recently, thinking I’d inject a little balance into the discussion, but the edits didn’t go through. Maybe the core editors wouldn’t let it. If that’s the case, then what’s deomocratic about it?

Another time I edited something, quoting from someone about a particular subject. This time the change did go through, but not for long. So, what this means is that what ends up on Wikipedia is simply the end product of whoever is most diligent about editing the content.

How could it be otherwise I guess with this sort of system, but what does that have to do with accuracy or fairness? To me it seems like the content is dictated by whoever is the strongest.

“I’m wondering, can you still balance this sort of anarcho-democracy with order and accuracy?” Gladstone asked.

Here’s a link to the recording:

“See, I don’t see those two things as in conflict . . .”, Gardner said. “Like, it works.”

She went on:

“Yes, there are tiny errors . . .. It’s getting better all the time and the proof is people use it.”

Tiny errors? I remember only a few years ago there was a major problem with an entry that defamed John Siegenthaler, who was once an aide to President Kennedy. He wrote an opinion piece in USA Today discussing it:

“I am interested in letting many people know that Wikipedia is a flawed and irresponsible research tool,” Siegenthaler wrote.

Supposedly Wikipedia has fixed this “flaw” in their product; but if the fix is more monitoring from these crucial core editors, it’s only fair to scrutinize them: who are they, how much control do they have over Wikipedia’s content, and are they in fact volunteers? When we don’t know who they are, what their agenda is or how they might be getting paid, how doesthat lend itself to transparancy, democracy, objectivity, or accuracy, characteristics that most people believe are good whenit comes to an encyclopedia?

Also, if Gardner’s argument is right that they know Wikipedia is good because so many people use it, then it must also be the case that Fox News is fair and balanced because so many people watch it. That argument just doesn’t fly.

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