“Information Wants to Be Free”: The Wiki Model

// Posted by on 01/26/2014 (10:41 PM)

Creator of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, Speaks at TED Conference in 2005

Jimmy Wales: How a Ragtag Band Created Wikipedia

“Wikipedia begins with a very radical idea, and that’s for all of us to imagine a world where every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge, and that’s what we’re doing.”

– Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia creator

It no surprise that the freely-licensed Encyclopedia, Wikipedia, has foundations that can be traced back to the cyberculture movement and specifically the development of The WELL, one of the first online communities. As we discussed in class, the Wiki model is somewhat controversial and interesting. Watching the 2005 TED talk by Wikipedia creator Jimmy Wales furthered the connections we had made in class about free information and self-governing systems. Jimmy Wales’s Wiki Model fosters a “community” much like the one created by The WELL. This community abides by a non-negotiable neutrality policy that upholds the social concept of cooperation, as Wikipedia does not take a stand on issues, but rather aims to give the public information they need to make good decisions. As explained by Wales, the governing of Wikipedia consists of a mix of consensus, some democracy (i.e. elected administrators have ability to delete pages but have to follow the rules), some aristocracy (votes by respected Wikipedians have more weight), and monarchy (the community entrusts in Wales for hard decisions). The Wikipedia community is “close-knit” and consists of ~600-1,000 people (in 2005) who are in constant communication within the community and outside of it. Interestingly, only about 18% (2005 estimate) of all the edits are done by anonymous users.

The Wiki Model, just like the countercultural to cyberculture movement, occurred organically: “The free-form nature of the Wiki software lets the community determine how it wants to interact.” For example, when someone in the community votes on a page’s deletion, it is more of a dialogue than a vote and members discuss the potential of the page and the progress that can be made on it, all while abiding by the neutrality policy.

Although the neutrality policy is strict, “anyone who wants to pitch in is in charge,” as said by Jimmy Wales, and further supports the self-governing ideals and breaks down hierarchy. I thought this structure was very directly related to the paragraph on p.224 (Chapter 7) about “nested hierarchies.” As discussed above, Wikipedia has some sort of nested hierarchies, but its existence does not necessarily prohibit equality: “…so hierarchies do indeed exist. But they are ubiquitously distributed, which renders them an egalitarian force.”

In general, I thought it was highly interesting that Wales had spoke about Wikipedia at this TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) Conference, as it is considered “one of the most important networking events in the computer industry,” (p.211) and has very close connections to the Wired network, the GBN, and Digital Visionaries as a whole.

“Wiki model is the way we work, but we are not fanatical web anarchists. We are very flexible about the social methodology because it is ultimately the passion of the community is for the quality of the work, not necessarily for the process that we use to generate it.”


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Kevin said...

I find Wikipedia to be a very interesting comparison to WELL because they both had/have the same overall goal: to spread information freely. In the case of WELL, it seemed originally intended that individuals could go to that web-forum if they wanted to discuss innovations in technology. However, what Brand and the rest of the creators of WELL did not realize is the wide spectrum of discussions individuals would want to have using the service. Individuals were talking about everything from computers to childcare, so basically WELL transformed into a forum supporting the free spreading of ALL information. As far as I can tell, that is exactly the function Wikipedia serves in modern day. Individuals can use wikipedia to get information on essentially any subject matter or concept. However, as Piper displayed above, every service must have some sort of chain of command.

I enjoyed your ability to link the command chain of WELL to that of Wikipedia. Although anyone can post to Wikipedia, it still serves as a aristocracy in some ways, as well as a monarchy in regards to Jimmy Wales. As a result, although the spread of information is free, some individuals undoubtedly have more power over that information than others. Similarly, obviously the creators of WELL would be have the capability to shut down a certain conversation if they wanted to do so. Their mission is to spread free information, yet they have the power to control how free that information really has to be.

We should be grateful by the precedence set by WELL in regards to free information. They paved the way for individuals like Jimmy Wales to continue their mission to spread free information years later, and who knows what the future has in store for the further development of free information.

// 01/27/2014 at 4:41 pm

Claire said...

When thinking about wikipedia and the concept of free information for everyone it always makes me reflect on what their is to lose if that was removed. So many of the mediums that have been part of our popular culture today grow out of this idea of free information flow and free access. So many companies have proved that they have been able to make a profit, and a good one at that, providing the public with free information. Places such as Facebook and Google let us connect with people and search for mass amounts of information all for free! Sounds amazing right? But in todays society nothing is really free it seems. While the internet may have started out as a a way to better society and share information all for free, the way our capitalist society functions has created a way for corporate america to take advantage, all while the information is “free.” These free mediums, who thrive on the digital communities they foster have taken advantage of data mining and targeting advertising. Facebook, Google and other similar companies take advantage of their users and sell their information to a companies that will spam and target unwilling recipients. These data mining programs will search into every aspect of a persons life and invade their personal privacy. While I do think the the founders with the concept of free information and wikipedia had the best intentions the internet has evolved past the point of free. Because in the end nothing in life is really free.

// 01/27/2014 at 9:51 pm