In praise of Wikipedia

Anarchism was one of the memes of my misspent youth, but like so many ideals it has generally failed to perform in practice. So it was with great delight that I discovered Wikipedia – a comprehensive and authoritative online encyclopedia that is both written and edited by anyone who wants to get involved, without preconditions.

Seriously; anyone at all. Test this for yourself. Go there now, find a page on something you know about, and improve it! It’s a good idea (but not compulsory) to visit the Sandbox first – an area specially set aside for playing with the editing tools until you have confidence in their use.

So how does this work? With no access controls, how come it’s not heavily vandalised by political extremists or bored teenagers? It is. But here’s the genius: the site has full reversion controls for every page, also open to all to use. In contrast to a toilet door, it’s much easier to remove digital graffiti than it was to put it there in the first place. If you change a page in a way that someone disagrees with strongly enough, they’ll just change it back. The community effectively polices the site without centralised control. Anarchism in action.

Which political point brings me to the timing of this post. The Wikipedia page entitled Jew has become a cause celebre. A while back, an unpleasant antisemitic site called ‘Jew watch’ (which I won’t link to) managed to get the first result for a Google search on the word ‘Jew’, due to an effective Googlebombing campaign by anti-semites. So the call went out to counter this by specifically linking to the Wikipedia page Jew wherever possible. Which I’ve now done.

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