Having thought on this all evening, I now think that both the detractors and proponents of Wikipedia are correct. The deal is that the system works and is self-correcting, but only for the things for which are a set of people who have the facts, time and inclination to stay on top of entries they care about. For things like my poor bio, truths without a constituency of defenders are screwed.
I mostly stayed out of the Wikipedia froth of the last month. Although I met Jimbo Wales and his family at Converge South and thought they couldn’t have been nicer, I don’t actually think much of Wikipedia as a resource. At best, I treat it like a starting point to do web searches for primary sources. I never consider it a primary source. It’s better than a random web page of unknown provenance, but not by much.
There’s a little bit of personal sting in this, but I think my situation illustrates what I think about the project and why. Have a look at the page where a few Wikipedians debate about deleting the entry on me. Originally, the podcasting entry had a link to stub page for me. I put in a little shell of a bio just because I got sick of looking at that link to the empty page. No one ever added to it, I didn’t think it was seemly to do it myself, and it laid fallow for a while until it came up to a vote on whether to keep it. Now, it is definitely a bit of a pisser to realize a group of people got together and decided that you are “non-notable” and that my bio there was a “vanity page.”
If you look you’ll realize for a couple of people the question of deleting that article turned on whether or not Dave Slusher the podcaster is the same person as Dave Slusher, host of the radio show “Reality Break.” Hmmm, how could one find that out if one wanted to know? By looking in the sidebar of this very page – near the top even – where I link to the “Reality Break” page? By doing a search via the WordPress search box for “Reality Break” and realize that I do indeed talk about having done the show in the blog and podcast? Basically, the people making this decision on my page were completely uninformed and unwilling to do the very minor bit of research to turn up the correct answers. In fact, there is this cute quote from the discussion:
I don’t think there’s any way at all to tell if this is the same guy, so it isn’t verifiable.
Umm, right. I’m a little fish with a “vanity page” so I can’t expect people to spend 30 seconds on research, but how many of these pages have decisions made as flippantly as this? How many facts have been deemed unverifiable that are as easily verifiable as this one?
This is most emphatically not me fishing to have someone add me back in. I’d just as soon never be. Screw Wikipedia. Having once been deemed unworthy by the high school cafeteria politics that runs the place, I’m happy to stay out. In fact, if someone makes me a “Not Notable enough for Wikipedia” badge, I’ll proudly place it in the sidebar.
Wikipedia is an interesting experiment, but for first-hand reasons I trust no information I find there farther than I can bounce it. I’m all about citizen media and general access to the gears of information, but what I don’t like is the general aura of authority it gets. I think that is out of line with the actuality of the situation. A lot of focus is being put on partisanship and axe grinding in the editing. I’m more worried about general ignorance and people thinking they know more than they actually do, or not knowing and then not really caring but editing anyway. I often think I know more about a subject than I really do, but I’m not usually pretending to be a primary authoritative source either.