Unknown in '99, Indispensable Now

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Wikipedia

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Wikipedia

Wikipedia is an accomplishment of major proportions. It’s become the “first draft of history” and gone beyond, since it’s a vital, living repository of human knowledge, much in the manner of a traditional encyclopedia. More importantly, it’s an exemplar and test platform for large-scale, global collaboration. By that I mean large numbers of people working together for common goals. Wikipedia, in that sense, is a major advance for all humanity. It’s also dramatic proof of the supreme effectiveness of collaboration: people work together on Wikipedia to build articles, often in collaboration across the world, and often over long periods of time. The style of collaboration is novel in that it balances expert work with that of talented citizens. That’s the same balance we see emerging all over the Net. It’s also the same balance between representative democracy and grassroots democracy. In that sense, Wikipedia is a democratic system, reflecting the best of what we see in all human endeavors. People also get together to ensure the quality and trustworthiness of material. That’s a slow process, requiring collaborative fact-checking. And that’s because, lately, Wikipedia has become a battleground, where the Wikipedia community develops means to prevent disinformation attacks, often shilled by people in entrenched power. Wikipedians are learning to defuse such attacks, and the methods used to do so will prove applicable elsewhere. The trust issue illustrates a significant, but transient, challenge faced by the Wikipedia community. The work has only begun, however, and the problems will be addressed fairly quickly, on a historical scale.

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Newmark is the founder of Craigslist. Follow him on Twitter.

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