Wednesday, June 07, 2006

YAPOO (Yet Another Premature and Obnoxious Obituary)

Premature Obituaries are flying thick and fast

The human race appears to have a peculiar fixation with proclamations of death (including its own - I recall at least a dozen predictions of the end of the world from the 1970s thru the 1990s - complete with precise date and time!).

I wrote a couple of days ago about the premature reports of the death of serendipity. Well, the latest occupant of the deathbed appears to be the Wikipedia. Nicholas Carr writes,

Wikipedia, the encyclopedia that "anyone can edit," was a nice experiment in the "democratization" of publishing, but it didn't quite work out. Wikipedia is dead. There was a time when, indeed, pretty much anyone could edit pretty much anything on Wikipedia. A few months ago,... the Wikipedian powers-that-be abandoned the work's founding ideal of being the "ULTIMATE 'open' format" and tightened the restrictions on editing. The administrators adopted an "official policy" of what they called, in good Orwellian fashion, "semi-protection" to prevent "vandals" (also known as people) from messing with their open encyclopedia. The end came last Friday. That's when Wikipedia's founder, Jimmy Wales, proposed "that we eliminate the requirement that semi-protected articles have to announce themselves as such to the general public."

This suggestion has, predictably enough, been widely and vociferously pilloried. Let me share my view: As I wrote in the Wisdom of the Wiki, it appears easy to scoff at the notion of an encyclopedia - which by definition is supposed to be the epitome of accuracy, authority, and accountability - that was created in such an apparently loose, disorganized and open manner, allowing any unschooled person with an internet connection to update it. However, amazing as it may seem, we must accept that the Wikipedia has come to be a truly reliable and authoritative source of knowledge - anyone who goes thru it in any degree of detail will be able to attest to that.

Thus, proclamations of its death, if any, must be done based on establishing that it no longer serves the purpose of providing a reliable reference source, or at least that it has abandoned the spirit of what constitutes a 'wiki'. Proclaiming its death based on a change in the administrative procedure that makes it somewhat less 'open' is, apart from being unnecessarily alarmist, completely unjustified, given that it continues to be as reliable as ever, and continues to be a wiki in spirit.

In addition, the change in administrative procedure is not surprising or unfamiliar to anyone who has created such a repository that depends on submissions from a large number of contributors: in the initial stages, the focus is on getting a large volume of content, and so you allow a very high degree of openness. As the volume of content builds up, the focus steadily shifts toward quality, and so you tighten the contribution mechanism. And that is what seems to be happening at the greatest Wiki of 'em all.