Felix Stalder on Sat, 9 May 2009 17:02:54 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> what makes a notable life? [wikipedia]

Let's not get hung up on the wrong issues here. There are many good   
reasons, as Keith Hart and Alex Havalais have pointed out, why        
people should not write their own entry on Wikipedia. There might     
be exceptions, but as a general rule, it's sensible. Also, the        
question whether neutrality in social relations can exist is a straw  
man. Of course it cannot. But this is not what Wikipedia's policy     
claims. Rather, it says that controversies should not be resolved     
in the article, but the various arguments should be presented side    
by side as accurately as possible. Conceptually not particularly      
sophisticated, but as a rough guideline, it seems to work.            

The more interesting question, in my view, is that Wikipedia
represents a new model how knowledge claims about the world are
validated. Before, we had credentialed experts who used only those
methods that were deemed appropriate in their field, to make claims
that other such experts, at least ideally, could retrace. If you
weren't trained in these methods or commanding the means of applying
them, you were out of luck. If there were no credentialed experts in
a field, it meant the field did not exist and whatever it represented
was taken to be not important.

I think by now we have become all too aware of the shortcomings of
this approach to establishing knowledge claims.

Anyway, Wikipedia works differently. Here, community consensus
is king. In many cases, this is actually not that different from
the version above, since, particularly in the natural sciences,
conventional forms of expertise are still regarded as authoritative.
Hence, there are many areas where Wikipedia is as good as traditional
reference works, since the process behind it (peer review by experts
in the field) is not much different. It's just more transparent and

Yet, there are many areas where expertise is not taken seriously.
Basically, these are areas where everyone feels entitled to regard
their own opinion as relevant. Art and culture are such fields. Yet,
in terms of community consensus, it means that biases run amok. That's
great for fandom articles, but horrible for minority cultures, because
they are regarded as irrelevant by people how have no idea about the
issues, but feel completely secure to flaunt their ignorance because
they know their peers are just as ignorant.

In many ways, this is not a problem restricted to Wikipedia, but
might be inherent to open (source) community processes. They need
a certain internal coherence and the exclusionary mechanisms which
produce it are rarely problematized. There are, for example, very few
FOSS communities that see it as a problem that most women experience
them as hostile. A few years ago, Jamie King described such community
dynamics as "gang-like".[1]

Usually, the answer to that problem is to create another community    
that runs differently. Set up your own gang, so to speak. But, this   
is not possible with Wikipedia since -- in terms of it's self image   
('the sum of all human knowledge') and due to its popular appeal --   
it's comprehensive and all inclusive. Thus, the issues need to be     
resolved within Wikipedia.                                            

How? I'm really not sure, since it's not a simple question of         
accuracy (there have been procedural changes in that regard), but     
of counteracting the biases (i.e. the common sense and the good       
intentions) of the most valuable members of the community. Perhaps,   
similarly to the problems of the old expert model, these issues       
cannot be resolved, because they are constitutive of the model itself 
and all its strengths (and there are many in Wikipedia). But we need  
to be aware of them and counterbalance them with other modes of       
validating knowledge claims that have different blind spots.          

[1] http://www.metamute.org/en/The-Packet-Gang

--- http://felix.openflows.com ----------------------------- out now:
*|Mediale Kunst/Media Arts Zurich.13 Positions.Scheidegger&Spiess2008
*|Manuel Castells and the Theory of the Network Society. Polity, 2006 
*|Open Cultures and the Nature of Networks. Ed. Futura/Revolver, 2005 

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