April 18, 2008

When I hear the word "Wikipedia", I reach for my flame-thrower

I frequently get negative reactions for writing critically about Wikipedia. I'm not even talking about the Kool-Aid poisoned True Believers, who can't grasp how someone could not love the wonderful wiki-world which has provided them purpose in life. Rather, net-activist friends have suggested my efforts are misdirected. And there's others who argue I'm simply too harsh.

Today I received a promotional postcard for Jonathan Zittrain's new book The Future of the Internet - And How to Stop It. This was obviously a targeted marketing mailing from the publisher (from the format of my address). I've in fact been thinking about the ideas for a while.

The postcard has three people blurbing the book. The first is a very high status law professor. The third is the "Executive Chairman and Founder of the World Economic Forum". And the second is ... "Jimbo Wales, Founder, Wikipedia" (not CO-founder, Wikipedia), who says:

Jonathan Zittrain does what no one has before -- he eloquently and subtly pinpoints the magic that makes Wikipedia, and the Internet as a whole, work. The best way to save the Internet is to turn off your laptop until you've read this book.

This sort of hype is why I think the cult of Wikipedia needs some deprogrammers. The "magic that makes Wikipedia" strikes me as more like a sweatshop than Santa's workshop. To me, it represents much that's wrong with the future of the Internet, in terms of the promotion of a model of masses of powerless people working for free while a tiny, tiny, elite makes out like bandits.

This puts me at odds with certain groups, where cheerleading Wikipedia is part of the game. But much of my writing is against lottery-like systems anyway, and I often argue against playing a game where almost everyone loses.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikipedia | on April 18, 2008 08:46 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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Another name for a game in which everybody loses is a Greek Tragedy.

What we learn from Drama Theory is that an enemy is someone whose backstory we have not yet learned.

It's something of a challenge to transform a Greek Tragedy into a Romantic Comic Opera.

There is a notion (from the Peacemaking Literature) to this effect: If you want Peace, work for Justice.

To which I say: If you want Justice, work for Mirth.

Posted by: Moulton at April 19, 2008 08:50 AM

"masses of powerless people working for free while a tiny, tiny, elite..." as if any industry that came before was any better?

Posted by: Peter Davis at April 19, 2008 08:50 AM

Seth, when you write "while a tiny, tiny, elite makes out like bandits", in what way, specifically, is this elite group making out? Are they somehow making money from their elite status?

My understanding is that Wikipedia is a non-profit, and it doesn't have a revenue model (at least as of yet). So in what way are this small group of people reaping rewards from the effort of thousands of others?

Posted by: Danny Howard at April 20, 2008 03:44 AM

Moulton: "Hubris" is definitely a factor.

Peter Davis: This is why there are things like "unions" and "labor protection laws". The intense practical hostility to such ideas, among A-listers, tells us something very important about which interests they serve.

Danny Howard: Jimmy Wales's affinity for the high life is not in dispute. He hasn't been very successful in personally monetizing Wikipedia, but e.g. see articles like
With Wikia, a Wikipedia founder looks to strike it rich

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at April 20, 2008 10:30 AM