September 09, 2008

More on the upcoming "Ford Hall Forum" Jimmy Wales talk

I did a bit of journalism today, asking about details of the the "Jimmy Wales with Christopher Lydon" Ford Hall Forum Boston event (Thursday Sept 11, 6:30pm-8:00pm). The basics: Wales will speak in the first half for 45 minutes, and the second half will have an additional 45 minutes for comments and questions from the audience. I spoke to Alex Minier, the Executive Director, who was graciously helpful, and quite willing to discuss how the Forum tried to conduct matters. He stated "We don't filter questions", though "we ask for people to be respectful of both the speaker and the other audience members who may have questions." Christopher Lydon's role is facilitating the conversation between the audience members and Jimmy Wales.

The facts having been given, the rest of this post is my opinion and speaking only for myself. While Alex Minier impressed me with his sincerity in wanting to foster debate, I see the situation itself as inevitably yielding nothing but a snow-job sales-pitch from Wales, an infomercial using Wikipedia to hype his commercial start-up Wikia. In opposing such marketing, it's necessary to have both authority and time to dissect an argument, and a hurried questioner has neither. Sure, I could go to the event and try to hone a devastating razor-sharp 30-second sound-bite which would eviscerate the cultish pontifications. But using the minimal effect of several newspaper columns as a yardstick, it doesn't seem like that sound-bite would do any good.

For example, just conveying the concept that Wikipedia's prominence is very much a quirk of Google's algorithm (and not some mystical embodiment of the human spirit) is already quite complex. And debunking myths of "crowds", showing that Wikipedia is more like a set of little fiefdoms ruled by petty warlords, requires significant effort. Plus it's all far less appealing than the fairy tale of the little elves who work for free (and of course, for the right consulting fee, maybe he can get them to do unpaid labor for YOU ...).

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikipedia | on September 09, 2008 08:57 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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You'll never know unless you try, Seth.

Posted by: Gregory Kohs at September 10, 2008 09:55 PM

Same as for lottery tickets and slot machines. Some things are bad bets.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at September 10, 2008 10:53 PM