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.