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“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

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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.”

–Wales


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