<CPOV> The Wikipedia Cult

Jon Awbrey jawbrey at att.net
Thu Jun 3 17:05:10 CEST 2010

Ye Who Would Be C In Thy POV,

Wikipedia's cabalism, cultishness, groupthinkitude, whatever you want to call it,
is very real, and Vaknin's article describes it quite accurately.  I frankly wish
we could be discussing the future of knowledge work on the Web, relative to which
Wikipedia furnishes a wealth of data about how badly a naive idea can can wrong,
but other people keep bringing it up, so those who know are forced to say what
they know.

This is of course a hoary old topic at The Wikipedia Review.
I once began a "meta-thread" in the Meta-Discussion Forum to
collect various reflections on the subject.  It appears to be
something of a dead horse over there, but here it is, FWIW:


I am slightly incited to resuscitate the jockey if not the horse.

Jon Awbrey

NT = Nathaniel Tkacz
SF = Seth Finkelstein

NT: 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?
SF: 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.


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