May 24, 2006

Wikipedia, De-skilling, and The Wisdom Of Darts

There's been some discussion about changes to policies regarding restrictions concerning who can edit some Wikipedia articles, and what this means for the ideals of (lack of) collective intelligence.

I think it's important to distinguish between the "silk purse out of sow's ear" argument, and "free labor" argument. The hype around Wikipedia is basically, bluntly, that it's magic. Throw together a bunch of sausage fragments, cover with a mystic curtain, incant the spell "Modsiw Fo Sdworc", and poof - out will come a silky article.

When it's found out there's really a man behind the curtain (any administrative actions to halt the editing process when it goes awry), some Wikipedia boosters seem resentful about ruining the trick.

Without the magic, if all that remains is an example of how a heavily hyped project with very elaborate ways of escaping accountability for errors, can produce material on the level of a term paper, without paying the writers - well, one has to wonder at exactly who finds that so exciting, and why.

It's not a revolution in knowledge, it's an innovation in deskilling. It's taking the graduate-student model - get devotees to work for no money, to enrich and aggrandize the project-head - and applying it to middlebrow work instead of academic work.

People are fascinated by ways in which data-mining seems to represent some sort of over-mind. But sometimes there's no deep meaning at all. There's a well-known experiment in picking stocks: dartboards are competitive with individual money managers - but nobody talks about the "wisdom of darts" (because there are no DartBoard 2.0 salesmen ...).

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on May 24, 2006 11:58 PM (Infothought permalink)
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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As yet there are no DartBoard 2.0 salespeople. If nothing else, you could put together a quick CafePress shop... (and I love the Google ads showing up here).

Posted by: walt at May 25, 2006 12:12 PM

you know, that de-skilling bit really cuts close to the bone with me. i've watched for years as the masters of this corporation i work for have tried the same trick on a phalanx of embedded systems developers. then the masters sit there clueless wondering why their brilliant bit of managerial wonderment produced such poor quality crap and had such a horrid record of on-time delivery. never did they realize that as they drove the skill out they didn't come up with ways to make things easier, more repeatable, more modular, etc.

frankly, the whole notion of deskilling gets used all over our economy and at some point you have to wonder if there will be anyone left who knows jack squat about anything...

maybe i should go manufacture a business ph.d. and make a living talking up the concept of "rightskilling" -- matching the job and the person with skills correctly!! wow!! visions of consulting fees dance through my head... sigh... but alas, the captains of industry have all been deskilled themselves...

Posted by: dennis parrott at May 25, 2006 08:15 PM