Wikipedia and Credibility

Michael Kinsley will be in tomorrow so I’ve bee perusing some of the Wikipedia debates grew out of his wikitorial experiment with the LA Times. Dave Weinberger’s Joho newsletter addresses the Seigenthaler story. (His after-dinner talk at the Berkman Center last year– preceded by a conversation with Xiao Qiang— was my ah-ha moment for “folksonomy.”)

With Wikipedia, the balance of knowing shifts from the individual to the social process. The solution to a failure of knowledge (as the Seigenthaler entry clearly was) is to fix the social process, while acknowledging that it will never work perfectly. There are still individuals involved, of course, but Wikipedia reputations are made and advanced by being consistent and persistent contributors to the social process.

My Wikipedia relationship is pretty surface– I usually just glance at a biography or policy issue. Inspired by my reading of Michael Shaara’s Killer Angels, a novel about the Battle of Gettysburg, I pooked around Wikipedia’s Civil War offerings. The Robert E. Lee page was particularly interesting– I learned that the “white-haired gentleman” was not as sanguine about slavery as the novel, and some of my Virginia-bred family members, suggested. The Discussion page, a feature of every Wikipedia entry, maintained an enlightening back-and-forth over Lee’s attitudes on slavery.

As Weinberger suggests, there is a lot about Wikipedia that is lost in the headlines.


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