There was something of a valedictory feeling around Wikimania yesterday, springing perhaps from Jimmy Wales’s plenary talk: the feeling that a magnificent edifice had been constructed, and all that remained was to convince people to actually use it. If we build it, they will come & figure it out. Wales declared that it was time to stop focusing on quantity in Wikipedia and to start focusing on quality: Wikipedia has pages for just about everything that needs a page, although many of the pages aren’t very good. I won’t disagree with that, but there’s something else that needs to happen: the negotiation involved as their new technology increasingly hits the rest of the world.
This was the narrative arc traced by Larry Lessig in his plenary: speaking about how he got more and more enthusiastic about the potential of freely shared media before running into the brick wall of the Supreme Court. At that point, he realized, it was time to regroup and assess what would be politically & socially necessary to bring free media to the masses. There’s something similar going on in the wiki community as a whole. It’s a tremendously fertile time technologically, but there are increasingly social issues that scream for engagement.
One of the most interesting presentations that I saw yesterday afternoon was Daniel Caeton’s presentation on negotiating truth. Caeton’s talk was based on his upcoming book entitled The Wild, Wild Wiki: Unsettling the Frontiers of Cyperspace. Caeton teaches writing at California State University in Fresno; he experimented in having students explore & contribute to the WIkipedia. The issues that arose surprised him. His talk focused on the experiences of Emina, a Bosnian Muslim student: she looked at how Bosnian Muslims were treated in the Wikipedia and found immensely diverging opinions. She found herself in conversation with other contributors about the meaning of the word “Bosniak”. In doing so she found herself grappling with the core philosophy of Wikipedia: that truth is never objective, always in negotiation. Introducing this sort of thinking is something that needs to be taught just as much as Wiki markup syntax, though it hasn’t had nearly as much attention.
Today there’s a whole track on using Wikis in education: I’ll be following & reporting back from that.