Of course, any corpus compiled by many thousands of volunteer authors, mostly unknown to each other, is going to be flawed. But perhaps the most surprising thing isn’t the number of holes you might want to pick in it, but the fact that it exists at all and serves as one of the most useful resources to begin one’s research into an incredibly diverse range of topics. One of the most interesting descriptions of Wikipedia I’ve heard invoked on several occasions is this – it isn’t perfect but it is totally awesome.
So how did Wikipedia resist the polarization that ravages many a chat room and public forum rendering them of no value to anyone but the so-called ‘trolls’ who appear to relish the downward spiral?
Dom and I reckon it’s a combination of a number of qualities of the Wikipedian community and a set of founding principles they collectively hold dear.
Even I’ve edited a few entries on Wikipedia if only because I was intrigued by the fact that I could. For example, I found myself stumbling over some grammar and a typo on the entry for asparagus (yes, I went there to read more about what Gurdev had been saying at Vincenzo’s), and one minute later I’d corrected the typo and improved readability. Strangely satisfying.
It helps of course that the Wikipedians exercise that apparent human need to be critical of others, but do so constructively by weeding out bias and conflicts of interest and weak copy in their pursuit of a common purpose – namely, the creation, development and maintenance of the world’s best encyclopedia.
So Dom and I ended up concluding that the potential for the successful, the useful and valuable application of social media and related technologies is considerably enhanced when the associated community shares common purpose and values. We didn’t have any evidence, just our ad hoc observations of the world.