Open Collaboration Needs Scaffolding

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.

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2 Responses to Open Collaboration Needs Scaffolding

  1. intransitman says:

    Haha, I feel that Sanger had got a tad bit over-dramatic in the New Yorker article since Wikipedia doesn’t exactly qualify to be the keeper of all knowledge due to it’s open to all editing format.

    As we all know, Jimmy Wales wanted Wikipedia to educate the ignorance in people and I would say so far he has spread knowledge to people, but I guess he never anticipated people to vandalize and “troll” his bank of information. Having a few thousand admins would still not solve a website that has 4 million articles just in English and several million users. To keep tabs on those many users and articles would force Wikipedia to change their whole business plan to accommodate the new manpower which I assume would make Jimbo go corporate and profit will flow but the Prophet will bite the dust.

    Scaffolding for the above reason would be too expensive and extensive way to tackle it. Religion, belief, disputable borders and other controversial topics often are the target to vandalism and edits that may offend a certain group or person. For example, If you look at the geographical map of India, which has three disputed territories with Pakistan and China, you can see dotted lines along those areas. The map of China and Pakistan include the area but mentions it is a disputed territory unlike Google Maps. In this sense everybody wins! I’m not sure how this example may help in other articles to keep the integrity of Wikipedia articles.

    But then again putting all things aside, how much can you trust an anonymous man who writes articles online? I can’t and if I really need to know more about a certain thing, I head straight on over to the closest library.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Andrew Iliadis says:

    Excellently written post. really nice stuff here with relevant examples and it stakes a clear opinion. The comment is good as well. i agree that some scaffolding needs to be put in place”.


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