<CPOV> What does Wikipedia want? By Perro de Jong

Geert Lovink geert at xs4all.nl
Sun Mar 28 21:41:10 CEST 2010


What does Wikipedia want? Published on : 27 March 2010 - 10:00am | By  
Perro de Jong
The days when you could set about livening up the information on  
Wikipedia without fear of reprisal are over. Yet we still need to take  
a long and critical look at the popular online encyclopaedia. That is  
the conclusion reached by delegates at an international conference in  

All of the Netherlands was in uproar three years ago when it emerged  
that Princess Mabel had censored her own Wikipedia page. The greatly  
exaggerated Wikipedia reports of Apple CEO Steve Jobs are also  
notorious. Yet gaffes like this are usually tracked down quickly.

The fact that everyone can contribute information is the key to the  
unprecedented success of the encyclopaedia, which boasts an astounding  
68 million visitors a month. But that’s not to say there’s no  
supervision. Wikipedia has a whole system of rules and correction  
mechanisms. The main aim is to arrive at a 'Neutral Point of View' or  
'NPoV’, based on verifiable information.

Sockpuppets and attack pages
This policy also takes dishonourable intentions into account. Users  
who write under an assumed name to boost their own profile are known  
in wiki-speak as “sockpuppets”. Ostensibly innocent articles which  
contain an attack on someone are known as “attack pages”.

"The battle goes on between Wikipedia and the vandals," says Erik  
Borra, one of the speakers at the Amsterdam conference. In some cases,  
people do succeed in voicing their opinion as fact. But more often  
than not, the host of 91,000 active users are on hand to ensure that  
they don’t get away with it. And where they fail, there's Wikipedia’s  
army of automatic programs known as “bots”.

Intelligent design
But this insistence on neutrality is becoming a problem, argues  
communications expert Florian Cramer from Rotterdam. He takes Taiwan  
as an example: an issue with two irreconcilable standpoints: either it  
belongs to China or it doesn’t. The typical Wikipedia approach is to  
state in the article that there are two standpoints.”

But that means that everyone who wants to talk about the theory of  
evolution also has to say that Creationists believe that God made the  
world in six days and that we are all descended from Adam and Eve.  
"And that is exactly what the Creationists want. To be treated at the  
same level as Darwin and therefore to be seen as equally relevant."

How neutral is neutral?
Florian Cramer believes that objectivity and universal consensus are a  
myth. What is more, belief in this – and by association in Wikipedia’s  
policy - is very much a Western notion based on the philosopher Ayn  
Rand. She was a passionate advocate of capitalism, and a pioneer of  
right-wing neoliberals such as George Bush. Not really very neutral  
at  all.

Cramer thinks it would be better if everyone were allowed to make  
their own Wikipedia, including clearly stated standpoints. Visitors  
whose primary aim is reliability can then opt for a version that  
contains the least disputed articles. "Similar to what people do when  
they select a radio station or a newspaper."

Conflict analysis
Erik Borra, university lecturer in New Media in Amsterdam thinks this  
is not necessary at all. As he sees it, one of the advantages of  
Wikipedia is that, in addition to the end result, the discussion  
surrounding it is also saved. A user is always able to see exactly how  
an article arrived at its present state.

"Our hypothesis is that part of that conflict over opinions can be  
found there" says Borra. "We go even further and argue that the  
conflicts on Wikipedia reflect what is going on in society at large."

A single truth
He also rejects the notion that the encyclopaedia is actually  
harbouring a Western agenda. After all, Wikipedia’s search for  
neutrality does not mean that there is room for only one viewpoint.  
"The concept of a single truth has long been superseded. And that  
applies to Wikipedia too."

(RNW translation: dd)

Towards a neutral point of view:

Each Wikipedia article has a discussion page on which people can  
debate the changes that have been made. If agreement is not reached  
then a copy can be made which cannot be accessed by users. This gives  
contributors the freedom to modify and thrash out their differences to  
their hearts’ content, until all agree that the rules have been fully  
complied with. Once this stage is reached, the temporary copy replaces  
the old article.

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