Wiki Wiki Wiki

Yesterday, I made a brief and rather positive reference to the communally written Internet encyclopedia Wikipedia. Today, my good friend David Pauley has sent me a link to an essay, posted at Edge.org by computer scientist Jaron Lanier, that makes some very pertinent criticisms of the increasing fashionability of such examples of Internet “collectivism”. Lanier’s argument is that “hive minds” like Wikipedia are good at some things, but very bad at others, and that the current trend seems to be toward an uncritical embrace of a kind of “digital Maoism” that he sees as potentially quite destructive. Lanier writes:

In the last year or two the trend has been to remove the scent of people, so as to come as close as possible to simulating the appearance of content emerging out of the Web as if it were speaking to us as a supernatural oracle. This is where the use of the Internet crosses the line into delusion.

This is a fascinating and important discussion. Read Lanier’s essay here, and an assortment of responses here.

[P.S. As noted in my post of April 2, 2009, I’ve been puzzled lately by the steady traffic this post has been getting since November 2008. If you have come here specifically for this (now years-old) post, I’d be very interested to know what brought you here, and would be grateful for a comment or an email.]

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