The Religion of Wikipedia

A few months back Robert McHenry, former editor-in-chief of the Encyclopedia Brittanica, published an article criticising Wikipedia, "The Free Encyclopedia."  That got the pro-Wikipedia forces hopping mad.  In January, Aaron Krowne published a long rebuttal, which is gaining attention right now due to a post on BoingBoing.  (Links to the articles are below.)

Krowne scores a few points, but for the most part I think McHenry’s arguments are stronger.  Maybe I’ll do a little point-by-point analysis later, but I’m not sure it’s worth the effort… Read the articles and decide for yourself.

A couple of quick observations:

By god Krowne is angry!  His first tack is to label McHenry — he’s one of them, a non-believer, a "FUD" as it’s called in the free software encyclopedia community.  From Krowne’s article:

For the uninitiated, FUD stands for “Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt.” It
is a term popular within the free software community, used to describe
the use of lies and deceptive rhetoric, aimed chiefly at free software
projects. It is an accurate term. In brief, the goal of FUD is to make
money when the free software competition cannot be defeated fairly in
the marketplace. This can be done by scaring consumers through wild
propaganda, or more recently, confusing courts through more subtle
arguments.

So from the start, Krowne makes it clear that this is more than a debate on substance; this is a religious fight. (And that is an accurate term, or at least I say so. 🙂 )

I personally think that Wiki the technology (not the encyclopedia) is excellent.  It has clearly worked for some things, but it won’t make a good encyclopedia.  It works for narrow, uncontroversial domains with expert users — e.g., for collaboratively writing user manuals for open-source software, or for sharing information on a particular interest, like Sensei’s Library on Go.

Links:

Robert McHenry: The Faith-Based Encyclopedia

Aaron Krowne: The FUD-based Encyclopedia: Dismantling fear, uncertainty, and doubt, aimed at Wikipedia and other free knowledge resources

(via Boing Boing: Why Wikipedia works, and how the Britannica bully got it wrong)

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