“You shouldn’t really use Wikipedia as the sole source for anything, ever. You shouldn’t use anything as the sole source for anything, in my view, ” [says Wales.] He is, in fact, generally dismissive of traditional modes of authority – peer-reviewed journals, the requirement for strings of letters after names. “I think people have to recognise that the traditional modes of authority weren’t that great.” It’s fighting talk, particularly when you know that lurking in the background is a dispute with the man who helped him set up Wikipedia, Larry Sanger, who eventually couldn’t bear the fact that the entries had no final, expert arbiter. Wales would rather, unsurprisingly, move things on. “To me, this question of ‘Is Wikipedia reliable or not?’ is sort of the five-year-ago version of the question. The contemporary version of the question is, ‘Gee, this is actually fairly amazing, it’s pretty good, how can we improve it? Where does it break down?'”
Authority, in his upbeat formulation, comes from something else entirely – from the sheer number of voices, the sheer variety of viewpoints, all hopefully deploying reasoned, well-buttressed argument (he is, above all, a believer in reason). At its most high-minded and impressive, this can take the form of a kind of hammering out, word by word, if necessary – even comma by comma, in cases such as Israel-Palestine or global warming – of a document that could be arrived at in no other way, apart, perhaps, from at the UN. And every single change is tracked in the edit pages that accompany each entry – what the change was, who made it, and at exactly what time.
At its least impressive, though, it simply results in “edit wars”, in which people increasingly ill-temperedly revert, rerevert, and rerererevert facts they disagree with.
The Guardian Publishes Interview With Wikipedia Co-Founder and CEO, Jimmy Wales
Gary Price (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.