Wikipedia and Democracy

Wikipedia and Democracy

Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia that is free and immensely “searchable”. You can access this through any Internet browser. Whether you wish to know about Reiki or about Stem Cells, all you need to do is to search for “Reiki Wiki” or “Stem Cell Wiki” through Google.

In fact I just did this, and got to the sites 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reiki and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stem_cell

The most amazing fact about Wikipedia is that it is “open”. Anyone on the Internet can contribute articles to this on any subject. And any one can “edit” existing articles! What is more, the changes you make become immediately visible to the rest of the world!

When this concept was originally launched, there were some fears. Will the fact that this is “open” not swamp the system with information of doubtful validity? Will the noise not drown the signal?

The good news is that the project appears to be hugely successful! I have found the articles at Wikipedia to be informative and factually correct – to a great extent.

Of course, we will need to be cautious with topics that provoke political or religious passions. Usually such articles are “tagged” with editorial comments indicating that these do not meet quality standards. Some are even explicitly tagged with warnings such as “The neutrality of this article is disputed”. To further alert the readers, Wikipedia articles provide the history of past edits. Contents of articles that are seen to be very frequently edited ought to be taken with a pinch of salt. One may well say, Caveat Lector!

Wikipedia also offers guidelines for those wishing to contribute articles, or to edit existing articles. These clearly state the fact that Wikipedia is an encyclopedia. And that material that does not fit into an encyclopedia ought not to be posted here. Articles are to be written from a neutral point of view, and must represent differing views on a subject, factually and objectively. The guidelines acknowledge that Wikipedia contributors come from many different countries and cultures and have widely different views.

The participants who contribute articles are regarded as both writers and editors. Individual users are expected to enforce policies and guidelines by editing pages and by discussing matters with each other. Administrators and an Arbitration Committee do exist to deal with vandalism and disputes.

What are the reasons for the success of the Wikipedia experiment?

Perhaps there is an analogy in this – the rise of democracy in the past few centuries. What can be more counter-intuitive than a government that is elected based on universal adult franchise – rather than have an oligarchy consisting of experts in governance or economics? Yet we do know that experiments in democracy have been universally successful.

Indeed, it would appear that Wikipedia and democracy are both based upon the same first principles.

(In 2005, I had written a blog titled, Wikipedia and Democracy, when the “Wiki” was just 4 years old. I reproduce this below on the 15th birthday :- Anand Nair)

Courtesy: Anand Nair <asnair@gmail.com>

About പ്രശോഭ് ജി.ശ്രീധര്‍ -ചാത്തോത്ത്

സോഫ്റ്റ്‌വെയര്‍ എഞ്ചിനീയര്‍ എ.ടി.പി.എസ്സ്. കൊച്ചി www.atps.in
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