Category Archives: 100dollarlaptop

the trouble with wikis in china

I’ve just been reading about this Chinese online encyclopedia, modeled after Wikipedia, called “e-Wiki,” which last month was taken offline by its owner under pressure from the PRC government. Reporters Without Borders and The Sydney Morning Herald report that it was articles on Taiwan and the Falun Gong (more specifically, an article on an activist named James Lung with some connection to FG) that flagged e-Wiki for the censors.

baidu logo.gif

Baidu: the heavy paw of the state.

Meanwhile, “Baidupedia,” the user-written encyclopedia run by leading Chinese search engine Baidu is thriving, with well over 300,000 articles created since its launch in April. Of course, “Baidu Baike,” as the site is properly called, is heavily censored, with all edits reviewed by invisible behind-the-scenes administrators before being published.
Wikipedia’s article on Baidu Baike points out the following: “Although the earlier test version was named ‘Baidu WIKI’, the current version and official media releases say the system is not a wiki system.” Which all makes sense: to an authoritarian, wikis, or anything that puts that much control over information in the hands of the masses, is anathema. Indeed, though I can’t read Chinese, looking through it, pages on Baidu Baike do not appear to have the customary “edit” links alongside sections of text. Rather, there’s a text entry field at the bottom of the page with what seems to be a submit button. There’s a big difference between a system in which edits are submitted for moderation and a totally open system where changes have to be managed, in the open, by the users themselves.
All of which underscores how astonishingly functional Wikipedia is despite its seeming vulnerability to chaotic forces. Wikipedia truly is a collectively owned space. Seeing how China is dealing with wikis, or at least, with their most visible cultural deployment, the collective building of so-called “reliable knowledge,” or encyclopedias, underscores the political implications of this oddly named class of web pages.
Dan, still reeling from three days of Wikimania, as well as other meetings concerning MIT’s One Laptop Per Child initiative, relayed the fact that the word processing software being bundled into the 100-dollar laptops will all be wiki-based, putting the focus on student collaboration over mesh networks. This may not sound like such a big deal, but just take a moment to ponder the implications of having all class writing assignments being carried out wikis. The different sorts of skills and attitudes that collaborating on everything might nurture. There a million things that could go wrong with the One Laptop Per Child project, but you can’t accuse its developers of lacking bold ideas about education.
But back to the Chinese. An odd thing remarked on the talk page of the Wikipedia article is that Baidu Baike actually has an article about Wikipedia that includes more or less truthful information about Wikipedia’s blockage by the Great Firewall in October ’05, as well as other reasonably accurate, and even positive, descriptions of the site. Wikipedia contributor Miborovsky notes:

Interestingly enough, it does a decent explanation of WP:NPOV (Wikipedia’s Neutral Point of View policy) and paints Wikipedia in a positive light, saying “its activities precisely reflects the web-culture’s pluralism, openness, democractic values and anti-authoritarianism.”

But look for Wikipedia on Baidu’s search engine (or on Google, Yahoo and MSN’s Chinese sites for that matter) and you’ll get nothing. And there’s no e-Wiki to be found.