Asking Questions of the Wiki-Culture

With the 2nd-annual Wiki-Conference happening in New York on August 28th and 29th, I’ve pondered a series of questions about the functions of this open-platform culture.

Primarily, I am wondering how roles are generated within wiki-culture, and more explicitly how authority is defined in an open-platform society. Does the 1:9:90 rule translate to Wikipedia? The BBH Labs-defined concept that 1% of a social media group is generating content, 9% is adding to or commenting on that content and 90% are pure consumers. Do groups of content generators divide further into those who contribute and those who validate? In an ideal world, 10% of the Wikipedia audience would be generating and validating content.

What is the role that traditional authorities could play within Wikipedia? For example, our global society has defined a museum as a place where knowledge is preserved. We have also established universities as places that create experts with validated degrees. But how does an expert become defined within an open-platform and do existing experts deserve greater status? (Is their content then the most valid?) Is Wikipedia a meritocracy of fact generators? Meritocracies can have a hard time self-actuating when facts are the singular means of defining status. A single fact can have multiple points of view but often a source can be wrong, creating confusion built upon confusion. 

When it comes to the diffusion of facts, Wikipedia exists as both the pinnacle of open-platform culture and a force for de-validation. The consumer audience cannot be certain that the information they are reading is accurate. Schools rarely permit students to cite Wikipedia as a source, with the aim of promoting better research and fact-based writing skills. However the chase for validation is oft-times faulty because it begins from Wikipedia. The source’s mere existence isn’t enough to validate the content. 

Yet I believe the debate about whether Wikipedia is or isn’t accurate is a bottomless pit. A better option would be to pursue greater levels of personal accountability for those who post on Wikipedia. The development of theWikipedia Ambassador program and Wikipedia student clubs are a step in the right direction. But I also think educators and experts should play a brighter role. They can be validated and given a tiered login level making them identifiable to users. This would allow an acclaimed historian to be identified when they edit an entry, ensuring a level of approval and validation for that edit, while providing a reliable source. 

(This is from a post I wrote on the Wolff Olins blog)