POC Blog

The random technotheolosophical blogging of Reid S. Monaghan

The Utopian Vision of Wikipedia Interrupted by Sin

Wikipedia is a wonderful online repository of information.  For the most part, on subjects which are without much controversy, Wikipedia provides timely and helpful information on a plethora of subjects.  The idea behind the site was to create a user editable resource which could offer a vast array of knowledge that is updated regularly.  Over time the information would be refined by those who were passionate about a certain subject and areas of their expertise.

It places a strong emphasis that the crowd will eventually get it right and a vast resources is made available on the world wide web.  I love the idea and it is a work of idealism which I really respect.  The thought of a group of kind human beings working together for the common good and offering their knowledge to the world gives one warm fuzzies for sure.  Wikipedia has often found its critics.  Some say that only experts in a field should weigh in on such fields.  Others have had concern that such a vast resource would sphaghetti out of control when very little control is exercised.  Yet the effort seems worth the time to correct the mistakes and work towards refining the information. 

There is one problem that I believe the Wiki Foundation has underestimated.  Human Sin.  It is no surprise there is terminology in wiki-world which reflects that we are not all prone to good natured editing of information for edifying our fellow human beings. The most common problem on wiki's is Vandalism.  This sort of thing is a problem where pages can be filled with slander, lies, false information and propaganda.  How deep the problem affects wikipedia is subject to debate, but sometimes the misinformation can be quite harmful or disturbing.

The New York Times bits blog is reporting the following this week:

Stung by criticism after vandals changed Wikipedia entries to erroneously report that Senators Edward Kennedy and Robert Byrd had died, Wikipedia appears ready to introduce a system that prevents new and anonymous users from instantly publishing changes to the online encyclopedia.

The new system, called Flagged Revisions, would mark a significant change in the anything-goes, anyone-can-edit-at-any-time ethos of Wikipedia, which in eight years of existence has become one of the top 10 sites on the Web and the de facto information source for the Internet-using public.

The idea in a nutshell is that only registered, reliable users would have the right to have their material immediately appear to the general public visiting Wikipedia. Other contributors would be able to edit articles, but their changes will be held back until one of these reliable users has signed off, or “flagged” the revisions. (Registered, reliable users would see the latest edit to an article, whether flagged or not.)

So the original vision of Wikipedia is slowly being modified and eroded over time.  By what you may ask?  Human nature. People are sinners who are prone to do jacked up stuff to people's visions of Utopia.  I would be nice if everyone was courteous online, if everyone wanted to the common good, if everyone saw humanity as joint progress narrative where we all buy the world a coke and teach it to sing in perfect harmony. This is not our world, this is not what human beings are. A segment of Steve Turner's poem Creed comes to mind:

We believe that man is essentially good.
It's only his behaviour that lets him down.
This is the fault of society.
Society is the fault of conditions.
Conditions are the fault of society.

Wikipedia only works as a completely free site if people were not sinners.  So because of sin we need editors, we need flagging and we need God's grace.  For wiki vandalism is but a small problem in our chaotic world.  Wikipedia needs saviors now, it needs some responsible editors to rescue it. All things involving humans are in need of such redemption - for we ourselves are our problem.  Some admit it (repentance) some do not (pride).  Scripture comes to mind:

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus...Romans 3:21-24.

Here is the link to the piece on the Bits Blog - interesting to see how this is all playing out. It seems a small group of idealists is holding on while the realists are calling for more control. Go weigh in and influence the decision in either direction you please - hey, it is wikipedia after all.