Good-bye Wikipedia, hello something else

Wikipedia was the first great, high profile success story of Internet mass collaboration and produced a well-loved reference used with obsessive frequency by an entire generation. But it is past time for us to build new forms of knowledge commons.

Wikipedia is a website, controlled by a foundation. It is the work of, theoretically, the entire Internet but it is not a global commons. One tiny group can, and did, blackout the entire site for a period specified by them. Wikipedia has survived so long by being hyper aware of and sensitive to their user community, it is highly doubtful they would ever become evil, but it is nevertheless centralized control of what ought to be a global commons. And centralized power always ends up doing things like this.

As an old node in the idea of free information, Wikipedia has a rigid hierarchy of tradition and established editors. Contributors with different ideas cannot just create what they wish and allow people to use it or not, as they can with blogs, tweets, pearltrees or other tools. Wikipedia does not play nicely with a decentralized Internet of information.

When Wikipedia was created, in 2001, it was a fascinating and liberating tool to work with. Now it is as archaic as a box of punched cards. We have made incredible progress in data mapping and modeling tools and we have software which makes graphically linking relationships intuitive and obvious. We also have tools that are designed for use on mobile phones and tablets, where most of the world is. We need to build to our new capabilities.

We also need new information in the repository. Wikipedia has been criticized often for their over representation of one tiny demographic of the world’s population. They have attempted to address their bias but it is very apparent that this is not working, neither women nor non-western men are very interested in editing Wikipedia.

The reason why is obvious, even if it escapes the Wikimedia Foundation board. The Wikipedia game is rigged against everyone but western men because it is a glorification and amplification of mainstream media. You cannot write a Wikipedia article unless you have mainstream media sources; news from mainstream media is considered the official verified version. Anyone who is not a western man must prove to many western men that they are newsworthy before they are included in Wikipedia. The entire Wikipedia repository is contaminated as a result.

A knowledge repository should rely on primary source material, interviews endorsed by all participants or affidavits. All of these types of material can be linked with no reliance on third party media. If citizen journalism is to replace corporate media it must not rely on corporate media to interpret data.

To be a stigmergic project instead of a cooperative one, each contributor must be free to work according to their own ideas and the power of the user group must be limited to acceptance or rejection of the final project for their own use only. This is simple in a structure like pearltrees where everyone creates their own pearls or pearltrees and others link to them or not as they see fit. It is simple in an RSS or Twitter feed where anyone can create their own list of voices to follow. It is impossible in Wikipedia.

21 thoughts on “Good-bye Wikipedia, hello something else

  1. news.google.com, compilation of the useless msm … anything in or around the status quo will be tainted .. knowing that, we adjust, route around

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  2. It is trivial to do a decentralized Wikipedia. A slightly more difficult feat is to have a gateway of the same quality as the “web browser” that can access it. A decentralized Wikipedia can be done as an one-off “app,” like all “P2P apps” that exist today, and it would suck it the exact same fashion that “P2P apps” today suck.

    It took me a while to realize that the difficult part is not building a decentralized Wikipedia. And it took me a bit longer to get rid of, respectively, the notion that a decentralized/networked operating system of some sort would solve it, or even a decentralized Internet physical structure. These are all needed, but the basis of this is a society that thinks differently and would use these things, people who would understand that that’s the right way to go and why.

    Wikipedia works because it is a business, and even “business” as it is is non-fixable. We really have to start with a new mental stack from scratch, a new public story, a new way to converse, to discuss things, to be “socially.” The solution is dual-stacking; using the old stack, which is complete but obsolete, and slowly, collectively, carefully crafting the new story. We need a new network of people (a.k.a. a “society”), a “new toolkit” as someone somewhere put it. On top of that we will have everything built and shaped in a whole new way: the notion of “business,” the so-called “Internet,” the so-called “operating systems,” the so-called “browsers” and the so-called “Wikipedia.”

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    • @fcecin

      You’re right in that a new resilient type of wikipedia-like application on top of the internet needs to be built and shaped in a whole new way. The internet is sufficiently decentralised, but the WWW isn’t. There are no public spaces on the web, websites are contained within the realm of somebody else’s servers (private property). A second feature (or design flaw, in my view) is that the web is read-only by default, it introduces some friction if you desire to make it read-write.
      Wikipedia, because it’s made of web pages inherits these design flaws of the WWW.

      It’s not that Wikipedia is evil, it’s that the architecture of the web just lends itself for emergent greedy behaviour of this sort.

      The good news is that in the first decade of this century we saw primitive attempts at solving the greedy nature of the web. Initially disrupting the music industry with various p2p sharing projects, then progressing in other directions with Bittorrent. However, centralised or not, file sharing is also a limitng concept in itself, because it basically mirrors the structure of files. It doesn’t mirror the structure of data in our applications, it’s just agnostic strings of bytes, with no concept of semantics built in. No concept of data hierarchy (other than possibly ‘folders’ or directories).

      A system that serves the aims and needs of the new crop of web citizens needs to think beyond the traditional unix-like filesystem, providing a globally distributed data store system that can be used for any sort of application that needs to read, write and search any type of data structure on the internet. Any application on the internet will be able to read any other application’s data structures.
      Since the “web 2.0” moniker is already taken, we won’t be using that name to describe it.

      It won’t be “the web”, it will be non-web, the first attempt at a post-web future.
      We’re on it.

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      • Yes, but realistically p2p editable data repositories are still a long slog away unless some solitary genius is making progress I don’t know about. And frustrating it is because exactly. As far as a decentralized Wikipedia goes, idk that we want that … more like many different Wikipedias and you link to the ones you like best. A quite different use case.

        Socially, I think the vanguard is there already. Early Twitter was addictive exactly because of the lack of official authority, enough so that the new celebrity aggrandizing features are resented far more there than they are in a place like Wikipedia which takes them as a matter of course. In that way I do think the idea of Wikipedia is archaic and unsalvageable as a global commons.

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      • It is frustrating indeed. I reckon my confidence is not easily transferrable, but I’ve seen the quality of that work before, and FWIW I’m confident it’s going to be worth the wait. In the meantime we have to work with what we have.

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      • I believe git should work over p2p? Also, there’s a network-distributable full-featured file system created for i2p, called LAFS. Naturally there still is a pretty high bandwidth requirement. For more on LAFS, see i2p.de. The site is German, but in English.

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  5. None of these posts address the critical issue of quality control. Wikipedia developed a secondary source philosophy, scientific consensus approach, and editorial bureaucracy so that you can have reasonable knowledge of what you are getting when you go there–much like subscribing to an edited journal. As far as I can see, this article is merely calling for an enhanced network of blogs, much like what we already have. The problem with blogs is that there are too many of them and too little quality control.

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    • “The problem with blogs is that there are too many of them and too little quality control.”

      It’s not a problem for me. I just choose and amplify the ones I like and people can do the same for any knowledge repo.

      And no, not a network of blogs, more data mapping/modelling tools. Pearltrees was one example of so many.

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  6. This is posted in two parts: an idea developed from frustration with biased and incomplete information.

    A Matrix of our own. Do people want the truth?

    What is Truth?
    It seems that Truth is a linguistic device variously theorized to mean anything from scientifically proven fact to socially acceptable construct. Truth is a framework upon which society as a whole can pin certain events in a fixed multi dimensional matrix. For a subject to conform to the definition of Truth, the logical position or location of a truth must always remain fixed so that different people may find it in the same place, though they may use alternate paths to reach a conclusion. Truth does not appear to require unanimous agreement, simply logically reasonable underpinnings and a majority acceptance. Flat Earth societies are evidence of dissent, which does not sway the public perception. However, there are arguments to reality and existence, which suggest that Cognitive Truth may not be the final answer to anything.
    Perhaps Truth can best be defined by it’s absence. Deliberate distortion and dissemination of information, which the reporter of events knows to be nonfactual is the most obvious example of untruth, usually called lies.

    The greatest danger of the deliberate introduction of large numbers of untruths is that the framework of information becomes corrupted so that an investigating person cannot find the expected result at the expected location within the matrix of reality. Much like your computer, these corrupted areas become a weakness and a liability. Any information drawn from these zones is immediately suspect because the underpinning data does not exist.

    For a social item to conform to the requirements of truth, it must be a mutually supporting fiber in the fabric of our society. Those facts which do not perform in this manner are obvious anomalies, much like bad weaving or pattern flaws. Logic and intellect do not allow the same freedom as is afforded to impressionist art. Events which do not conform to logical progression or established fact, are immediately upsetting to our equilibrium. Events which do not conform, lead us to the conclusion that either our perception is flawed or we are being mislead. When there are too many instances where we cannot trust our perceptions, then people become very frightened. The senses are useless and even dangerous if the information they deliver cannot be trusted.

    For several thousands of years, since the dawn of organized civilization, humans have lived with a society constructed upon ritual and hierarchy. As civilization progressed this structure became increasingly complex, till we reached the point where very few were allowed access to the inner sanctums of power and knowledge. While this may sound like a description of the ancient Egyptian or Inca kingdoms, it applies equally to the present. The real power of any mature culture resides in the hands of a very small fixed group. The implied strength of this group is that with their knowledge and control of the structure, they are in a position to distort, or even, to collapse the structure at their whim. Not that such an action would be in the interests of the Elite. But, the threat is sufficient because the cumulative fear of the ignorant masses is greater than their discontent. This mutual dependency continues until some disruptive and yet persuasive force arises, which can convince the people that they would be happier under different masters. Very seldom, have humans tried to achieve independence from authority. Perhaps, our genes still contain too much simian DNA.

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  7. The core concept of the Truth Matrix Project is very simple. It is based on crowd sourcing credibility for any published item. Much like the “Rule of Error” theory which states that the larger the sample base of measurement, the greater the degree of accuracy. The “Rule of error” however, presupposes a standardized measurement tool. In measuring social truths, we are not afforded this luxury. Every person has a unique and different set of tools in their mental toolbox. Every person also has been subjected to an unique set of biases and has lived in an uniquely different environment.
    Therefore, if we attempt to rank published “Truths” purely on the basis of social media “Likes”, the results might be meaningless as they will be hopelessly skewed by social popularity and by the biases of mainstream media publications.
    What I propose instead is the creation of a peer-ranked system for the verification of any social item. In democratic fashion, each registered user of the system has only one vote/thumb. However, over time, both contributors and judges accumulate a weighting which contributes to, or detracts from, the value of that judgment.
    Because of social media and very large computational capacity, such a calculation is now possible on a Global scale. We have arrived at a point where it is possible to present all people with a comparative view of the two faces of Truth. On one hand we have the external, or imposed Truth of authoritative entities, disseminated by the media. On the other hand, we have the internal or personal Truth of what individuals perceive.
    No person can claim competence to know the Truth of every instance. But, I believe that all people have an inherent right to make a personal choice with the best information possible.

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  8. The above offering is open source, attribution is always polite but not required. What I propose is by no means complete or definitive. It is not even well written. What I attempt is to offer a direction whereby humanity would be better positioned to make informed decision.

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