Community of Good Faith


why has wikipedia not become a model of how to get along and get something done? true, there are elements tagging along who don’t seem to get along, instead running running counter to the consensus of good faith at wikipedia’s core, but they are back-eddies as the core force of wikipedia rushes forward in development of public knowledge. wikipedia is a collective knowledge generator

what are the lessons to be learned for other forms of knowledge generation, or is all knowledge to be included in wikipedia, leaving none beyond its purview

who takes over the functions performed by jimbo wales after jimbo wales is gone — may he never die

who will resist the temptation to fork the project to a new form driven by google ads run by a company that honors core writers and editors of wikipedia by offering them paying jobs

which fork will google rate higher

****

[1]: http://reagle.org/joseph/Talks/2010/1019-good-faith-collaboration
[2]: http://reagle.org/joseph/2010/gfc/

5 Responses to “Community of Good Faith”


  • Hello Charlie, thank you again for moderating the book talk. You ask some big and provocative questions here, but I will do my best!

    > why has wikipedia not become a model of how to get along and get something done?

    There are a number of reasons for this. First, when people initially look at Wikipedia I think the focus upon technology. Second, Wikipedia itself is rather novel as an encyclopedic undertaking. The whole idea of NPOV allows its contributors to do things that would not work as well when you’re trying to produce content other than reference work material. Third, while good faith collaboration visit necessarily brain science, I argue it’s not that far from the advocate you might learn in kindergarten, I think that part of the story hasn’t really been appreciated. Which I hope my book will be able to remedy!

    > who takes over the functions performed by jimbo wales after jimbo wales is gone — may he never die

    It is interesting to think, that it is possible Wikipedia could long outlive everyone who contributed to its start at the beginning of the millennium. When Wales is gone, I also expect his role as a sort of constitutional monarch will also go, and they will simply have more formal governance mechanisms.

    > who will resist the temptation to fork the project to a new form driven by google ads run by a company that honors core writers and editors of wikipedia by offering them paying jobs

    No we need resist the temptation, because it is not necessarily a bad thing. There are forks of Wikipedia now, people use Wikipedia content and run ads alongside of it and make money from it. As long as they respect the open licenses, Wikipedians don’t see this as a bad thing. Also, now that Knol, and Citizendium haven’t advanced as much as their creators had hoped, I think this has proven for the time being that Wikipedia has significant first mover advantage. I don’t anticipate a competitive fork anytime soon.

  • Your title ‘communities of good faith’ invites, probably intentionally, spiritual associations. The idea of a neutral point of view feels a little like a theocratic point of view in which the deity has slipped, unseen but not uninfluential, over the horizon. Does that make Wikipedia the sacred text of liberal secularists? Perhaps its process for the adjudication of truth is not fundamentally so different from that of the Tanakh or the courts, both relying on and giving rise to the coherence of the community.

    What does that make the Google algorithm? Imagine Wikipedia without Google. I suggest that the boundaries of its authority to assert, unchallenged, a neutral point of view would be limited, the way the authority of any brand is limited by what we expect it to be able to do competently. Think for example of the narrow scope of the CD-based encyclopedia Encarta.

    But with Google, Wikipedia’s authority is limited only by the limits of the interests and curiosities of its tribe, the people who share the tastes and self-interests that support its ability to adjudicate without irreconcilable conflict. Why? Because Google ranks Wikipedia’s entry on any conceivable topic on a single dimension, the likelihood that it will satisfy the query, and half of Wikipedia’s traffic comes from Google searches. As long as Wikipedia’s tribe is numerous enough to push the Wikipedia entry on any conceivable topic to within the top ten of the responses to that query, the Wikipedia tribe will see it and click on it. Less numerous tribes may create their own collections of “knowledge”, as Conservapedia does, but the breadth of their authority will not grow because they will not rank highly. Because of Google, Wikipedia’s dominion over truth has grown more broadly than any encyclopedia has ever had the temerity to assert.

    So the Google algorithm is the power behind Wikipedia’s throne, the guarantor of the scope of its empire, and the one force that can assure its end. Does that make it the ur model of how to get along and get things done?

  • WikiCulture is hardly a model of how to get along. The site lacks a functional social contract and is instead a battleground of competing editors and alliances (“cabals”) who cleverly employ Wikipedia’s hodgepodge of rules as weapons with which to kibosh their rivals. The (anti-)social dynamics of WikiCulture resembles Facebook’s Mafia Wars more than a utopian model of good faith collaboration.

    It occurs to me that the organizers of Google’s Knol project have learned the (negative) lessons of Wikipedia and crafted an alternative model that avoids the raucous drama that permeates the contentious and corruption-prone politics of WikiCulture.

    In academia, peer review processes have long been used to ensure that what we call “knowledge” has passed through the finest filters of epistemology to ensure that we are not deluding ourselves with politicized distortions of the ground truth.

  • Regarding “why has wikipedia not become a model of how to get along and get something done?”

    You may enjoy my old column:


    “Wikipedia isn’t about human potential, whatever Wales says”

    In particular, note the conclusion: “Beware corporate executives posing as social visionaries. The hype may be about the fulfillment of human potential, but the reality is the exploitation of digital sharecropping.”

Comments are currently closed.