Simply stated: according to cyberlaw professor Eric Goldman, Wikipedia will fail.
According to Ars Technica, Goldman fancies Wikipedia, but thinks that the site contains the "seeds of its own destruction" -- and the online encyclopedia will need to choose between being "high quality" and "open" to survive.
Problem is, either choice is a risky one.
Goldman made his point at the Silicon Flatirons conference this weekend in Boulder, Colorado. There, he said that the site's popularity stands in opposition with its goal of openness. The freely-editable nature of Wikipedia "has made it a canvas upon which vandals, spammers, and pranksters can paint at will," Ars writes.
Case in point: the bizarre recent news about Germany's new economic affairs minister, whose full name is Karl Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jacob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg. As noted Wednesday on Slashdot, some Wikipedian inserted a "Wilhelm" somewhere in the dizzying list of names; the extra "Wilhelm" was picked up in reputable German publications (whose staffers are clearly not above using Wikipedia to check their facts); the Wikipedia page then linked to the articles in question as evidence that "Wilhelm" was an actual component of Freiherr zu Guttenberg's name.
There is a great deal of self-policing by dedicated volunteers on Wikipedia. That much is true. But as the site grows, Goldman says the balance between high-quality and freely editable becomes more apparent.
In other words, Wikipedia can't have both.
For example, to keep the site freely editable, Wikipedia will need to replace its dedicated editors as they turnover. But Goldman thinks this will be a problem, Ars writes, since many of these editors first started their work when Wikipedia was a quite different place. "Now, the editors themselves discourage the contributions of others through 'xenophobia' toward outsiders; Goldman believes that they see 'threats' everywhere and points out that the greater part of all edits made to the site are actually reverted by these editors."
So Wikipedia, behind-the-scenes, can be very much a political dance. Which means the editorial side will suffer, Goldman implies.
On the other hand, if Wikipedia makes it more difficult to edit articles on the site -- "protecting" or "flagging" them, for example -- it discourages new contributors to Wikipedia and encourages current editors to not bother. The message would be at odds with Wikipedia's original mission of being freely editable. (Prime example: the entry for "Israel-Gaza conflict", which is in lockdown every time headlines flare.)
What do you think? Will Wikipedia fail?
Related on ZDNet:
- Zack Whittaker: Can we rely entirely on Google and Wikipedia?
- Dana Blankenhorn: Forking Wikipedia
- Michael Krigsman: Wikipedia's Jimmy Wales on wiki success and failure [podcast]
- Mitch Ratcliffe: Right tool, wrong fight
- Dion Hinchcliffe: "Enterprise 2.0" as the example that proves the rule