Leave Wikipedia alone!

Larry Sanders, one of the founders of Wikipedia, goes off on a rant against his former baby (context: he left amid differences of opinion about the whole project), and says some, well, remarkable things.

“…as a community, Wikipedia lacks the habit or tradition of respect for expertise. As a community, far from being elitist (which would, in this context, mean excluding the unwashed masses), it is anti-elitist (which, in this context, means that expertise is not accorded any special respect, and snubs and disrespect of expertise is tolerated). This is one of my failures: a policy that I attempted to institute in Wikipedia’s first year, but for which I did not muster adequate support, was the policy of respecting and deferring politely to experts.

Consequently, nearly everyone with much expertise but little patience will avoid editing Wikipedia, because they will–at least if they are editing articles on articles that are subject to any sort of controversy–be forced to defend their edits on article discussion pages against attacks by nonexperts.

I know, of course, that Wikipedia works because it is radically open. I recognized that as soon as anyone; indeed, it was part of the original plan. But I firmly disagree with the notion that that Wikipedia-fertilizing openness requires disrespect toward expertise. The project can both prize and praise its most knowledgeable contributors, and permit contribution by persons with no credentials whatsoever. That, in fact, was my original conception of the project. It is sad that the project did not go in that direction.

Wikipedia is an amazing Postmodern entity, and one that doesn’t need any of the fixing Sanders recommends. The authority of Wikipedia is with the people who write it, and it’s nice to have an alternative to academic expertise. Here’s the comment I posted in the discussion:
In the Postmodern world in which we now find ourselves, expertise without experience is always suspect, so Wikipedia is an ideal symbol of the new age. Postmoderns (Pomos) distrust institutions and their assumed authority in a top-down, Modernist world. This is a given. Asking, therefore, a Postmodern creation to surrender — in any way — to the authority of a Modernist institution is intellectual homicide.

Wikipedia is just fine, and the more the “experts” squawk and complain, the greater the evidence that it is so. This is the Age of Participation, and self-correction will ultimately win out, because experience, not expertise, is the new authority. Only Modernists fear being shouted down, because they fear power and try to control it through logic and reason (and laws and rules). Pomos have no such fear, for they see the artificiality of Modernist power structures and rightly say, “Bullshit.”

Long live Wikipedia!

This is the same way I feel about the blogosphere, especially when MSM observers (and certain members) go on a rant about authority and the lack of editors. As if the world can’t function without our nice, ordered, top-down systems. Not! The last thing we need is to have this wonderful demonstration of freedom swallowed up by the failed authorities of Modernism.

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