Schiff’s 2006 article in The New Yorker about Wikipedia quotes Larry Sanger, a former worker and contributor to the collaborative website. Sanger quit because, according to the article, ‘“Wikipedia has gone from a nearly perfect anarchy to an anarchy with gang rule”’ (Schiff 10). My response to that quote is simply “so what?” So what if the site abides by these “gang rules,” because in my opinion the tools used to maintain it are necessary in order to create the greatest functional and living document out there.
When the editing wars and vandalism grew (alongside the growth of the website’s scope), founder Jimmy Wales appointed “a small cadre of administrators, called admins, to police the site” and protect it from this sort of abuse in 2001 (8). Schiff writes that there were thousands of admins patrolling the site (8); I am sure that there are even more admins now who work to maintain Wikipedia’s integrity. To me, this is the best compromise between a working open collaboration site and a useless free-for-all.
In order to maintain Wikipedia’s original intent, some scaffolding needs to be put in place. The admins are different—and better—than editors of physical encyclopedias who can be influenced by their own bias; correcting vandalism and putting a stop to editing wars is more objective than saying from the outset what can be included on Wikipedia. Bias might still be a factor to consider when looking at how admins handle situations, but the masses still have power to go against an admin’s decision by continually updating an article or circumventing the admin and eliciting the help of a higher-ranked Wikipedia employee.
One way that admins are kept in check is via committees, such as the mediation and arbitration committees (8). These groups make rulings on disputes that come up during editing wars and acts of vandalism. Some committee members, like the one the article mentions named Essjay, can look at I.P. addresses of users. Additionally, Essjay (and presumably others) review “I.R.C chat channels, where users often trade gossip about abuses they have witnessed” (8). Groups that oversee the actions of users as well as admins sound more like civilized society and less like “gang rule.”
Of course, it can be difficult to be objective when dealing with people’s sharply different outlooks on God, climate change, and cheeses, but with oversight on the overseers, Wikipedia can keep evolving to become one of the greatest repositories of knowledge. People who believe the open collaboration is biased and unfair should consider the bias that went into Samuel Johnson’s dictionary or the bias between British and French scholars in regards to the “cross-channel rivalry” (4). Those works were made by a handful of white men, and who was overseeing them when they wrote things like “oats feed horses as well as the Scottish people”? In closing, open collaboration with some oversight allows for balance to something that is now even harder to pin down: the truth.
Schiff, Stacy. “Can Wikipedia Conquer Expertise?” The New Yorker. 31 July 2006. Web.