Comments: Wikipedia Biography Deletion Explodes In Internal Controversy

Wikipedia isn't perfect. In the absence of perfection, yup, a static, even arbitrary hierarchy is the typical solution.

But, absolute egalitarianism isn't a solution either.

You need a reputation system that enables a dynamic and continuously adapting hierarchical system. Individuals can build up reputation (power & responsibility) through the merit of their actions (as measured by peers), and can fall from grace on the same basis.

All knowledge is consensus, which is to say that there is always disagreement, but on some things more people are agreed, or more reputable people are agreed (depending upon your perspective). If you want to know whether the world is flat you also have to choose your reputation system, e.g. orthodox vs secular.

I think there is a better technical solution to remove the need for an arbitrary root power structure from WikiPedia. However, you'd still have an 800lb Gorilla (or a similarly weighty cabal) at the top. It's just that the system would distribute such powers automatically according to the reputation system.

And yup, there'd probably still be forked versions.

Anyway, the fact that Wikipedia's power structure isn't yet automatically self-organising does not expose a fundamental flaw in public, collaborative production.

From a distance the power hierarchy may look flat, but that's simply the exponential power curve hiding the spike at the centre.

The innovation in Wikipedia's social structure is not that it has no hierarchy (it does), but that it is a public organisation - in the truest sense of the word (well, it's pretty close - and can get closer).

Posted by Crosbie Fitch at February 25, 2007 07:12 AM

Crosbie Fitch is one of the most splendidly deluded characters I've ever regularly encountered on the intarwebs, but he is typical of the generic utopian mindset, which is very now. And he can be relied on to spring into action at a moment's notice.

"All knowledge is consensus"

No, Crosbie - you can't vote for the truth.

But if you believe you can, then you must be prepared to deal with the consequences.

Such consequences are amply illustrated by the history of the Wikipedia entry for pedophilia - which was written and maintained by members of the North American Boy Love Association.

That's great news for pedophiles - I'm not sure about the rest of us, however.

"The innovation in Wikipedia's social structure is ... that it is a public organisation - in the truest sense of the word "

A true public organisation finds a vote for every member of society, and ensures that each member votes just the once. It's on such principles that we emerged from a mobocracy into the modern world.

For all the grand talk of "continuously adapting systems" that we hear from the Crosbies of this world (such magnificent abstractions!), participation in Wikipedia is self-selecting, and domain expertise is not valued.

Which means "Knowledge" is ultimately defined by an arm-wrestling contest - an endurance competition that only the most fanatical can win.

Seth, I know we disagree on the damage a Wikpedia entry can cause.

But I've begun to use my own Wikipedia entry in the standard presentations I give about utopianism and "Web 2.0" , and the reaction is very positive.

I wish I'd done this before. I've found it helps gives people a far clearer insight into the cult than I could otherwise explain in a very short space of time. It's a beautiful illustration.

If they ever "repair" my entry, of course, I'll have to change my script. :)

Posted by Andrew Orlowski at February 25, 2007 08:04 PM

Thanks Andrew. :-)

I'm sure you will find no shortage of members to swell your audience.

Posted by Crosbie Fitch at February 26, 2007 05:26 AM

Has anyone coined a Godwin's Law for the introduction of child abusers to an argument?

Posted by anon at February 26, 2007 09:57 PM

No, no one has corollarized Godwin in that manner. However, we do have a name for people who cite Godwin inappropriately: loser.

Posted by taiwopanfob at February 27, 2007 09:37 AM

One of the ten million issues under discussion on that page is how to properly interpret an official policy with the title "Ignore all rules". Wow.

Posted by Seth Gordon at February 27, 2007 10:24 AM

"IAR". Don't you love it? Isn't it marvelously recursive? Straight out of a book of logic puzzles. Russell's Paradox as policy.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at February 27, 2007 10:33 AM