“Suis-je bovvered?”

Zapping the telly last Friday night, I caught a programme about Barack Obama and what a strong candidate he would make in the 2008 presidential election. I had heard of him for media spotlights on his ethnic background, but given my general ignorance of the US political climate, I simultaneously googled for more information about him. The screen capture (below) is a Wiki page about him I ran into, which was as usual at the top of the search results.

20070212_wiki_vandalism

Yes, it was the first time that I witnessed Wiki vandalism myself. I have just returned to the page while writing this post, and found it now changed back to his name.

According to its own entry, “[Wikipedia] has been criticised for its susceptibility to vandalism, uneven quality, systemic bias and inconsistencies, and for favouring consensus over credentials in its editorial process”. Indeed, I remember there was even an organisation (wikipediaclassaction.org) preparing a class action lawsuit against Wiki for providing misleading information a couple of years ago, which was soon after accused as a commercial scam and now seems to have vanished.

Despite online users’ ever-growing dependence on Wiki, encouraged by articles like one in Nature stating Wikipedia is almost as reliable and accurate as Britannica, a fundamental question still remains unanswered if something constantly modifiable and modified like Wiki can act as an information source. Online news providers are in question, too, for this matter. Throughout my studies including current research, I have interviewed a few professional online journalists, from whose answers I want to find out if there is any difference in their attitudinal take on editorial responsibility when they write via online media from offline ones. I will probably write a separate post about this.

In any case, I am becoming more and more convinced that in the digital era in which information is a product of collective definition, interpretation and construction, what matters most is activeness. In other words, the real digital divide will not lie along with age, gender or socioeconomic status, but will emerge between those who actually bother taking time out of their busy day to write/rewrite/overwrite on the Net and those who lurk.

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4 comments

  1. Here’s a (possibly?) interesting discussion of Barack’s website.

    http://www.techcrunch.com/2007/02/11/mybarackobama-who-built-this/

  2. WOW, this IS interesting. Thanks.

  3. Although I am a great fan of Wikipedia, I feel now that wikipedia is less and less the democratic and “open” encyclopedia it was supposed to be or claims to be. There is a virtual caste system of editors on wikipedia now which kicks in if you try editing some of the more contentious articles, many of these are more often than not locked, to prevent editing.

    Indeed right from the beginning, the founder of wikipedia was lampooned for preventing details relating to his earlier ventures on a porn ( he says male content) site from showing on his own wiki article. Of course he did nothing wrong then, in that he ( or his cronies) would simply remove content added by others, a right that everyone on wikipedia had.

    I am now quite confused by wikipedia ( like all things in life :) Although a believer in democratic media, wikipedia represents a system where large numbers ( of possibly wrong editors) can shout down smaller numbers ( of possibly right editors), This may in fact prevent minority opinion from ever emerging ( but has this ever been different? ) Considering how important and popular wikipedia is becoming as a first point of information, this can have deeper implications later. The number of wikipedia references in academic papers is also a cause for concern.

    On a separate note, can we call Barrack Obama, the first online “social network” candidate/president :)

  4. What a fine point. I share your concern about the power the employed editors of Wikipedia seem to enjoy. I remember we talked about this before – in Crosslands, to be precise – where I said I wouldn’t worry too much about the possible ‘tyranny of the majority’ in the Wikipedia system though. I still stay on that view. As I said in the post above, no matter how small the number you are in is, you could still win the voice over if you were willing to spare your precious time, dwell around and keep modifying the content as you and your people wish. (This is of course on the condition that the content is not locked.) It would be easier if you were supported by many, but even otherwise. I have no intention to judge whether such practice is good, but this is what I meant by the digital divide by the degree of activeness. Plus, I wouldn’t underestimate individual users, who become more aware of the editorial manipulation behind Wiki and too evolve in response to that.

    BTW, my timely discovery. Have you tried Debatepedia? :)

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