Thursday, August 16, 2007
A Defence of Wikipedia against Oliver Kamm
Critics of the web decry the medium as the cult of the amateur. Wikipedia is worse than that; it is the province of the covert lobby. The most constructive course is to stand on the sidelines and jeer at its pretensions.
'Jeering' seems to be something Mr Kamm does rather too well, in addition to writing his splenetic and pompous articles in The Times. I am a huge fan of the free online encyclopedia which I think one of the most amazing products of the internet. It has 7.5 million articles written in 253 leanguages. At peak times it is visited 15000 times a second and has 1700 new articles added each day.
It is written by the users, yes, but it is for the most part accurate as various respected authorities, writing in The Guardian a few months back could find little wrong with its entries in their areas of expertise. Wikipedia is web democracy astonishly at work.
In my own field I occasionally find something with which I disagree but never, to date, anything which is wrong. I explain to students the limitations of the service but am happy for them to use it when researching essays. Kamm's piece might have carried more weight if he had cited a few examples of how 'appalling' inaccurate this service can be, but he merely throws rotten eggs and displays spoilt petulance.
There is one final thing why I value wikipedia above most things on the web: unlike so many other online services, it is completely free. Its founder, Jimmy Wales, a bit like intrernet founder Tim Berners-Lee, seems to be that rare person, a genuine idealist who has spurned great riches in exchange for defending his principles. Oh, and I note that wiki even carries a (no doubt inaccurate and biased entry) on no less a subject than Mr Kamm himself.
The problem with Wiki, as I see it, is not that it has the capacity to be wrong, but that it has an aura of definitiveness which is just not merited when it comes to controversial subjects or figures who engender strong feelings.
It provides a reliable resource for us all. And those people who think that old-fashioned encyclopedias printed on dead trees were somehow completely impartial need to wake up to the real world.
Rockingham (and of course Oliver Kamm) are wrong. Wikipedia is self-correcting. If you think something you know about is incorrectly recorded on Wikipedia, you are at liberty to edit the entry.
But of course if you are wrong, your own edit will be edited - and quite right too!
I followed up all the links to Oliver Kamm. He sounds like a complete pillock - someone who is quite obviously NOT left-wing, but who having started out in his younger days as a bit of a radical, is now heading at vertiginous velocity towards the far-right.
Maybe class will out?
"Wikipedia combines the free-market dogmatism of the libertarian Right with the anti-intellectualism of the populist Left."
Or, to put it in slightly more amenable words,
"Wikipedia combines libertarianism's belief in the genius of individual spontaneity with the anti-establishmentarianism of the radical left."
Somebody ask your favorite Wikipedia supporter -- how many accounts have been indefinitely banned from editing? That's democracy?
See http://wikipediareview.com/index.php?showtopic=11810&st=0entry44077 for discussion of Kamm's post. You may also get a view of the darker side of Wikipedia.
Unfortunately, as with Rand, Wikipedia is something I generally like, but have a few problems with the people running it... my biggest beef lately is in how they try to suppress criticism by idiotic policies like the one against linking to so-called "attack sites".
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