<CPOV> The Wikipedia Cult

Juliana Brunello juliana at networkcultures.org
Thu Jun 3 17:22:34 CEST 2010

I believe that the word 'cult' works more as a catchy title than a real
concept. What I find important in this discussion is that it all points
out to a disfunction in the WP community, and this, I believe, is worth


> 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:
> http://wikipediareview.com/index.php?s=&showtopic=17187&view=findpost&p=90830
> 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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