The Past and Future of Wikipedia

David Runciman’s London Review of Books review essay of Andrew Lih’s The Wikipedia Revolution is worth a read.

It turns out that the people who believe in truth and objectivity are at least as numerous as all the crazies, pranksters and time-wasters, and they are often considerably more tenacious, ruthless and monomaniacal. On Wikipedia, it’s the good guys who will hunt you down.

David Runciman

Like Boiling a Frog

London Review of Books, 28 May 2009, p. 14

Yet even a piece of writing that has been edited by so many people can’t resist the occasional cliche. The multiple authors of the afterword write: “The Wikipedia community might be like the frog slowly boiling to death — unaware of the building crisis, because it is not aware how much its environment has slowly changed.”  When I read this, I thought: is it really true that frogs can be slowly boiled to death without realising what’s happening to them? So I looked it up on Wikipedia, confident that there would be an entry. There is: type in “boiling frog” and you go straight to a page that tells you everything you need to know. It gives you examples of the use of the term, its history and a discussion of the veracity of the central idea, including a description of the late 19th-century experiment in which it was first demonstrated and the more recent experiments that have cast doubt on it. Links at the bottom of the page take you to accounts of these later experiments in scientific journals, which suggest that the whole thing is a myth. So there it is: you won’t find any of this in the Columbia, or Encyclopaedia Britannica, or anywhere else for that matter. There is no other way I could have found out about boiling frogs — truly, for all its flaws, Wikipedia is a wonderful thing

Wikipedia’s Old-Fashioned Revolution

As one who eagerly waited for each new year book for our World Book set, and then set about diligently pasting in all of the update stickers, while eveyone else I knew was raving about Encarta, I was a bit slow to the online encyclopedia.  But as today’s Information Age column in the Wall Street Journal makes clear, Wikipedia’s underpinnings are based on traditional concepts of authority:

As Andrew Lih points out in his new book, “The Wikipedia Revolution: How a Bunch of Nobodies Created the Greatest Encyclopedia,” Wikipedia’s research principles are as traditional as its operating model is revolutionary. Founder Jimmy Wales says the only nonnegotiable policy is a “neutral point of view,” with entries edited to eliminate ideological bias. The other key principles are verifiability by authoritative sources and a related prohibition on original content.

The guidelines for adding entries to this open-to-all encyclopedia reject open-to-all sources: “Gather references both to use as source(s) of your information and also to demonstrate notability of your article’s subject matter. References to blogs, personal websites and MySpace don’t count — we need reliable sources.”

The guide credits old media and old-fashioned definitions to establish legitimacy. “These sources should be reliable; that is, they should be sources that exercise some form of editorial control.” These include “books published by major publishing houses, newspapers, magazines, peer-reviewed scholarly journals . . .


The Wall Street Journal, Monday, April 6, 2009, p. A13

Information Age

By L. Gordon Crovitz

Wikipedia’s Old-Fashioned Revolution