<CPOV> The Wikipedia Cult

nathaniel tkacz nathanieltkacz at gmail.com
Thu Jun 3 16:19:03 CEST 2010


if the term "cult" is too attractive to be left aside, i think it would be
useful to pose the question: how does wikipedia transform the notion of
cult? one thing about cults historically, for example, is that almost
everyone who isn't in the cult thinks the cult is crazy. with wikipedia this
isn't that case. only a very small minority of people are critical of
wikipedia and most think it's great (regardless of what you or i think).
this kind of thought experiment seems more interesting for me.

regarding your description of wikipedia as exploitative and akin to
sweatshop labour, i have to strongly disagree. the realities of sweatshop
labour are a million miles from wikipedia. last time i checked people
weren't committing suicide on a weekly basis after contributing to
wikipedia, as is the case in the ifactories. people who contribute to
wikipedia aren't in free trade zones, or living in cramped dorms on company
grounds. even if these comments were merely stylistic, think these kinds of
claims are way over the top and disrespectful to actual factory workers.

it seems to me that thinking about the work/contribution/labour process of
wikipedia should begin with the debates around playbour. is anyone writing
about work in wikipedia on this list?

what is clear is that modern, industrial paradigms that clearly demarcate
between work and leisure no longer apply.


Nate Tkacz

Research Fellow,
RMIT University

Twitter: http://twitter.com/__nate__
Homepage: www.nathanieltkacz.net
Current project: http://networkcultures.org/wpmu/cpov/about-2/

On Thu, Jun 3, 2010 at 11:04 PM, Seth Finkelstein <sethf at sethf.com> wrote:

> > 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?
>         Demystification.
>        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"
> http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2007/dec/06/wikipedia
> "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
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