Tech Tip: Wikipedia: Not an Encyclopedia, But a Community

sopa infographicWhen you think of Encyclopedia Britannica you probably think of high school research assignments and the voice of authority. I know I do. As a young child I had a Funk and Wagnalls set the folks dutifully purchased in installments from the grocery store. Britannica was the gold standard, a reason to go to the library, or a more affluent friend’s house. Britannica was where it was at, the undisputed leader in the encyclopedia space.

That was then. Now we have Wikipedia. Where Britannica’s claim was an optimax ratio of authoritative knowledge to shelf space, Wikipedia raises the stakes by letting us all participate. Just need a quick fact? You can use Wikipedia passively. See something that needs tweaking, a typo or misquote? Change it. Better still, read the discussion page and see what has already been said, then make your change in the context of that information. And where Britannica was deemed the final word, Wikipedia is just a jumping off point, with reference links galore for those who like to really dig deep on an issue.

As an example, Wikipedia founder/contributor “Jimbo Wales”, recently posted the following on wikipedia:

(Please help me publicize this widely.)

A few months ago, the Italian Wikipedia community made a decision to blank all of Italian Wikipedia for a short period in order to protest a law which would infringe on their editorial independence. The Italian Parliament backed down immediately. As Wikipedians may or may not be aware, a much worse law going under the misleading title of “Stop Online Piracy Act” is working its way through Congress on a bit of a fast track. I may be attending a meeting at the White House on Monday (pending confirmation on a couple of fronts) along with executives from many other top Internet firms, and I thought this would be a good time to take a quick reading of the community feeling on this issue. My own view is that a community strike was very powerful and successful in Italy and could be even more powerful in this case. There are obviously many questions about whether the strike should be geotargetted (US-only), etc. (One possible view is that because the law would seriously impact the functioning of Wikipedia for everyone, a global strike of at least the English Wikipedia would put the maximum pressure on the US government.) At the same time, it’s of course a very very big deal to do something like this, it is unprecedented for English Wikipedia.

SOPA is, as L.A. Progressive readers already know, a terrible bit of legislation, right up there with the Military Commissions Act of 2006 and the Orwellian H.R. 3162 of 2001, lovingly known as USAPATRIOT (and, yes Virginia, someone got paid to work up that false-flag acronym), and one can only hope readers of this site will flood all of their friends and family with Wales’ request for feedback, but the real point of this particular entry is this: Wikipedia is yours. It is a participatory effort to which you are cordially invited. It’s power to the people whether the government likes it or not…unless of course we let the various governments of the world break the interenet with officious nonsense in the name of “fighting piracy”, which brings us to the tech tip for the day:

robert linkPirates notoriously rape, pillage, murder. They are less known for making or sharing unauthorized copies of “Lawrence of Arabia” or “The Hurt Locker”. The use of the word “pirate”, with all it’s truly horrendous connotations, is a technological ploy, using the technology called language, designed to prevent serious, substantive conversation about the pros and cons of various methods of promoting science and the useful arts, much as the “War is Peace” connotations of H.R. 3162, the so-called “patriot” act uses the technology of language to paint anyone who opposes it as a traitor. Today’s tip, then: Be on the lookout for when language is being used against you, to bind you, to paint you into a corner, rather than to communicate, as with the so-called “Stop Online Piracy Act“.

Robert Link

 

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