Yesterday's post on my adventures in Wikipedia editing sparked some interesting conversations on- and offline, and was even picked up by the Los Angeles Times literary blog Jacket Copy. Writer Carolyn Kellogg did a better job than I in explaining how the whole story was resolved. She even quotes Jaron Lanier, whom I had only just encountered for the first time hours earlier in this New York Times review by Michiko Kakutani. About You Are Not a Gadget, she writes:
Mr. Lanier sensibly notes that the "wisdom of crowds" is a tool that should be used selectively, not glorified for its own sake. Of Wikipedia he writes that "it's great that we now enjoy a cooperative pop culture concordance" but argues that the site's ethos ratifies the notion that the individual voice—even the voice of an expert—is eminently dispensable, and "the idea that the collective is closer to the truth." He complains that Wikipedia suppresses the sound of individual voices, and similarly contents that the rigid format of Facebook turns individuals into "multiple-choice identities."
I experienced the wisdom of the collective directly while working on my Bix Beiderbecke entry when an editor banished a photograph of a young Bix and a woman who was his neighbor because, the editor argued, "the identity of the woman concerned has been a subject of debate." Actually, yes, it has been. In the past! It is no longer, though, and citing sources is apparently not good enough. The crowd has raised a question and so the photograph must go. That strikes me as just silly. I don't mean any sour grapes, though. It's tough for a huge site like Wikipedia to institute policies that don't fail now and again.
Still, I found this to be particularly funny. The Wikipedia Signpost, the site's Wiki-in-the-news feature, linked to my blog and reported the following:
A professional newspaper editor writes a Wikipedia article
On his personal blog, Brendan Wolfe (English Wikipedia user Margo&Gladys),* a former newspaper writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, explains how he improved the article on Bix Beiderbecke to Good Article status. In the blog post, he explains that Wikipedia for editors is "... almost more like an online game, in that it's a community where you hang out for a bit, and do something that's a little bit of fun: you whack some trolls, you build some material, etcetera."
Here's the thing, though: READ THE POST! I'm not a professional newspaper editor. I'm a professional encyclopedia editor. Although I wrote two freelance book reviews for the Chronicle several years ago (you can Google them), that hardly justifies me or anyone else putting that paper up top my resume. Finally, the one quotation the Wiki editor picks out from my post and attributes to me, the bit about how Wiki can seem like an online game, actually comes from a Wikipedia employee, as quoted by Nicholson Baker.
* I admit it. I'm a crazy cat person.