<CPOV> The Wikipedia Cult

Seth Finkelstein sethf at sethf.com
Thu Jun 3 15:04:25 CEST 2010

> nathaniel tkacz
> i don' think the question of whether wikipedia is or is not a cult
> is a useful one. what is there to add by calling it a cult?


	I've been saying "Wikipedia is a cult" for years now, including
in some columns I wrote for the _Guardian_ newspaper, for example:

"Inside, Wikipedia is more like a sweatshop than Santa's workshop"

"One subtext of the Wikipedia hype is that businesses can harvest an
eager pool of free labour, disposable volunteers who will donate
effort for the sheer joy of it. The fantasy is somewhat akin to
Santa's workshop, where little elves work happily away for wages of a
glass of milk and a cookie. Whereas the reality is closer to an
exploitative cult running on sweatshop labour."

	The point is a very concise way (four words) of conveying an
alternate explanation for Wikipedia's functioning, against the immense
marketing of it as a mystery created by magical technology ("wikis"
and "The Internet").

	I get a lot of flack from describing Wikipedia as a cult. One
common response is a strawman argument, something like: Cults are by
definition extreme apocalyptic, murderous, or suicidal, organizations.
Wikipedia does not fit that definition. Therefore Wikipedia is not a cult.

	But I'd say such a definition would be drawn too narrowly.
Extreme cults tends to be self-limiting, precisely because they
are too dysfunctional to survive (mass suicide is not good for
organizational continuity).

	Then sometimes people want me to give an extensive theory,
which will handle all cases and examples they can imagine. That's
very tedious.

	The basic point is that "cult" is a extremely illuminating way
of analyzing how Wikipedia works (or doesn't), in terms of social dynamics.
Especially in the face of much pressure to view it as some sort of 
unique technological entity which should not be connected to many
well-known aspects of group psychology.

Seth Finkelstein  Consulting Programmer  sethf at sethf.com  http://sethf.com
See _Guardian_ columns at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/profile/sethfinkelstein

More information about the cpov mailing list