Wiki Wars

Recruiting sergeants down the ages have known that young men come genetically preprogrammed to pledge their loyalty to the first vaguely plausible cause they are presented with, then go out to kill and maim in the name of it. Football clubs know that a stripey scarf is enough to trigger the same behaviour.

Now we find even a website is enough. Yesterday, WikiTextbook was attacked and vandalised by by a WikiBooks zealot. He or she hacked the site so all homepage hits were redirected to wikibooks. The damage was reversed easily enough; wikis are famously robust when it comes to dealing with vandalism – there’s a brilliant screencast by Jon Udell if you’re interested.

What I find cheering is that this is the first instance I’ve ever come across of textbooks (which is what both sites offer) arousing the same passions as Everton, or Queen and Country. So what’s changed? These textbooks aren’t better written or better illustrated than their paper competitors, after all. What they are, for the first time in history, is democratically controlled by their readers.

That’s worth fighting for. Now all we have to do is persuade them not to attack members of their own side.

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