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What's wrong with Wikipedia

Thursday, March 20, 2008 by Dave Winer.

First, I point to Wikipedia pages often here on Scripting News and on Twitter. I also find it a useful personal resource. For example, I'm working my way through Battlestar Galactica and I find it helpful to read the summary of each episode after I've watched it. It's great that they have a common format. And they fill in blanks you might not have noticed but don't spoil the plot of upcoming episodes. I've been investing in ETFs lately, and Wikipedia has helped me learn how they work. So I don't question its value. It has value. Permalink to this paragraph

Wikipedia is therefore a puzzle to me. Because while it's helpful, it also hurts me, because my biography there is more of a vendetta, by anonymous people, who seem self-centered and immature, but it's impossible to tell what axes they have to grind, because they're largely anonymous.  Permalink to this paragraph

Same is true for various activities I've participated in. You may argue that I didn't invent this or that, but surely I had something to do with RSS, blogging and podcasting? Yet depending on when you look, I'm often not mentioned on these pages. This makes it hard for me to claim my work in professional dealings because people consider Wikipedia authoritative. What it says is considered by many to be the truth. So this has hurt my career, and my ability to do creative work that builds on past work. Permalink to this paragraph

This is where Andrew Keen could have and should have, imho, written his book. This is where the Cult of the Amateur really does do damage, by usurping authority, and replacing it with anonymity and giving power to those who who tear down creativity, to remove the incentive to share, unless you're completely selfless and don't mind if others take credit for your accomplishments. That's not the nature of creativity, btw, creative people fiercely insist on credit, fight for it, imho, rightly.  Permalink to this paragraph

Eventually, if it hasn't already happened, there will be consultants you can pay to make sure your point of view dominates a Wikipedia page. It has already come out that a gift to the Wikipedia Foundation will assure that your point of view dominates your profile page. How much of this can Wikipedia stand before it is reformed? It seems time to have this discussion, and not in the confines of Wikipedia where it can be controlled and gamed by insiders, but outside where everyone's opinion can be heard without being edited out and when it's clear who's saying what.  Permalink to this paragraph

That said, here's how I think Wikipedia should evolve to fix this problem. Permalink to this paragraph

Based on the principle that one has the right to confront his accusers, Wikipedia pages on living people, or covering active creative areas, should be limited to pages of pointers of attributed accounts. Editors work to validate that the people are who they say they are. If they can't be validated, they either don't get linked, or get linked to from an area specially marked as not being validated. (I prefer the former.) Permalink to this paragraph

Further, in areas important enough to be controversial, meaning that people disagree on what happened, we should try to get as many people who were involved in the event or activity to write first-person narratives. In areas where they all agree, that should eventually be considered fact and presented as such, but the first-person narratives must stay linked. This would prevent the kinds of disasters that happen when people (for example) edit their own profile pages, meanwhile giving people the formal right to tell their own story, which clearly, many people covered by Wikipedia want. Permalink to this paragraph

I hope an interesting discussion ensues. Of course I expect to hear from the people who edit my profile pages to keep my name in the dirt, and I don't expect them to use their actual names. Can't speak for everyone else, but I'm much more interested, always, in hearing opinions from people who have the conviction and courage to put their personal authority behind their words, as I do.  Permalink to this paragraph


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A picture named dave.jpgDave Winer, 53, pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software; former contributing editor at Wired Magazine, research fellow at Harvard Law School, entrepreneur, and investor in web media companies. A native New Yorker, he received a Master's in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, a Bachelor's in Mathematics from Tulane University and currently lives in Berkeley, California.

"The protoblogger." - NY Times.

"The father of modern-day content distribution." - PC World.

One of BusinessWeek's 25 Most Influential People on the Web.

"Helped popularize blogging, podcasting and RSS." - Time.

"The father of blogging and RSS." - BBC.

"RSS was born in 1997 out of the confluence of Dave Winer's 'Really Simple Syndication' technology, used to push out blog updates, and Netscape's 'Rich Site Summary', which allowed users to create custom Netscape home pages with regularly updated data flows." - Tim O'Reilly.

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