Wikipedia's Paradox

Rob Hof

Wikipedia, the darling of the new Web, has seen quite a backlash lately thanks to some high-profile mischief and shady editing of entries. Outsell's David Curle has an interesting analysis of why. He contends that Wikipedia's problem isn't that it's wrong in trying to leverage the Power of Us. Rather, it's "trying to stuff a new and valid idea into an old box":


"Better a thousand focused wikis than one big wiki with a thousand topics. The paradox is that as soon as the Wisdom of the Masses is put into the box and given a brand name, it becomes an old-fashioned authoritative source in the eyes of its users, subject to all the failures of the old authorities."

The conceptual box created by Wikipedia's very name certainly is part of the problem. If you think it's an encyclopedia, you expect something different than if it's a sort of free-market knowledge base. Fact is, it seems like neither the creators nor the users (who are also creators) of Wikipedia are yet sure what Wikipedia really is. Some folks think it needs a reputation system, and others think that would be the death of it.

Honestly, even after reading a lot of arguments back and forth, I'm not sure what the answer is--except that I sure hope there is one. It's hard to believe that Wikipedia can't somehow find its way to fulfilling what looks like a very promising start. Would love to hear your two cents....

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.