Wiki’s waarheid

I’ve just finished watching the documentary, Wiki’s waarheid. This episode of Tegenlicht was devoted to Wikipedia (for a description of the program in Dutch please see the link in my previous post). The makers of the program showed us film of internet gurus talking about Web 2.0 and ‘Wikipedians’ including the founder, Jimmy Wales talking about how Wikipedia came about. Wiki’s waarheid presents Wikipedia as an example of a Web 2.0 application that is both enormously popular and heavily criticised. I need to elaborate on why I chose these last two describing phrases. ‘Enormously popular’ describes the huge number of readers and contributors from all walks of life around the world. ‘Heavily criticised’ describes the manner in which a few media experts including Andrew Keen, writer of the book: The cult of the amateur, and Robert McHenry, formally editor in chief of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, talk about the rule of the masses (Andrew keen) and lack of authority and publishers responsibility (Rober McHenry) in Wikipedia. Andrew Keen sees Wikipedia as a threat to established knowledge vetted by professional experts. His catchphrase was that Wikipedia was about ‘truthiness’ and not about truth. Personally I found the arguments used by Andrew Keen extremely muddy. He doesn’t like the personalization of the web brought about by ‘unqualified’ individuals expressing themselves, but if one isn’t ‘qualified’ to express one’s own self who is?. Andrew Keen seemed to have a very territorial attitude to knowledge, an ‘us and them’ thing. A ‘we, the experts have to protect the truth’, sort of thing. The worries that Robert McHenry had were those of an editor used to thoroughly researching and correcting information before publication. Ndesanjo Macha, an African digital activist sees Wikipedia as a tool for sharing knowledge and giving a voice to people who have traditional wisdom but no western style education.

And what do I think? Well, I have the advantage of a library school education, and one of the first things I learned about encyclopedias was that if you looked up 1 fact in three different encyclopedias you’d get 3 different answers. This is normal because knowledge isn’t static. If you want to try this for yourself, look up the length of the Amazon river. The lesson here is, you should never limit yourself to one source, however popular.

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