Based on a Mar. 16th lecture by Gearóid Ó Súilleabháin
In reading a particularly scathing September 2008 article, Wikipedia isn’t about human potential, whatever Wales says, by Seth Finkelstein in the Guardian, I was struck by the invoking of Ayn Rand, and the line which concluded that the “hype may be about the fulfillment of human potential, but the reality is the exploitation of digital sharecropping.”
Finkelstein has written a number of articles mildly or sharply critical of Wales, Wikipedia and the for-profit Wikia venture, such as:
- How will Wikia cope when the workers all quit the plantation?
- Sting in the Scorpions tale is the exposure of Wiki’s weakness
- Shutdown of Wikia Search proves empty rhetoric of collaboration
- The moral quandary of involving Wikipedia in online ‘censorship’
The term “digital sharecropping” comes from Nicholas Carr who noted that “one of the fundamental economic characteristics of Web 2.0 is the distribution of production into the hands of the many and the concentration of the economic rewards into the hands of the few.”
In a 2005 blog post titled The amorality of Web 2.0 Carr pours cold water on Tim O’Reilly’s and Kevin Kelly’s enthusiasm for Wikipedia arguing that it is unreliable and poorly written with scant evidence of the heralded collective intelligence. His choice of paragraph title, “The Cult of the Amateur”, points to sympathies with Andrew Keen which is made clear by his statement that if forced to choose he would take the professional over the amateur. He says that Web 2.0 promoters “venerate the amateur and distrust the professional” and notes their “unalloyed praise of Wikipedia”. In discussing how the Internet is altering creative economics, Carr states that “Wikipedia might be a pale shadow of the Britannica, but because it’s created by amateurs rather than professionals, it’s free. And free trumps quality all the time.” In a May 2007 Guardian article, he sets forth the notion that the Internet “is being carved up into information plantations” with Wikipedia being returned at or near the top of every set of Google search results.
In an August blog post in the same year, Rise of the wikicrats, Carr, in discussing the difficulty encountered by a long-time Wikipedia contributor when adding a new entry, notes that the Wikipedia bureaucracy boasts a very intricate hierarchy and a significant level of complexity in its rules. He notes the ascendancy of the “deletionist” ethic over the “inclusionist”, philosophies he addressed in some detail in a prior post.
Criticisms of Wikipedia are multitudinous. Ironically a good jumping off point in reviewing the censure leveled is Wikipedia itself which has a well-referenced criticisms page, divided essentially between content and community. I hope to return to some of the contrarians – Jaron Lanier and the notion of the “hive mind” in particular – in a future post. Wikipedia also has a replies page devoted to answering the more common attacks.