Dan O’Sullivan (UK): Wikipedia is conservatively radical

Dan O’Sullivan (UK), author of Wikipedia: A New Community of Practice? gave a lecture on ‘An Encyclopedia for the Times: Thoughts on Wikipedia from a Historical Perspective’ at the Critical Point of View Wikipedia Conference in Amsterdam.

CPoV Wikipedia Conference
Dan O'Sullivan (UK)

Encyclopedias are conservative in nature because they only look back and conserve signifying moments in time. They digest what came of ancient learning: the Greek and Medieval time. The mirror is often used as a metaphor or trope to describe encyclopedias. However, the metaphor of the mirror implicates that the natural world (the human world) is static and that you can take a picture of it and put it in a book.

Can we have a radical encyclopedia? Yes, we can, when the times are right. Francis Bacon produced a trope of knowledge as a tree which was more radical than a mirror. A tree can grow and offspring can be produced. The encyclopedia is often seen as a standalone learning unit that serves as a personal university

Is Wikipedia a radical encyclopedia?
Of course it is:

  • Digital in nature with 60 million hyperlinks. O’Sullivan introduces classic hypertext theory: The end of the author, Landow and the rhizome metaphor for hyperlinks. Landow called hyperlinks a cultural revolution
  • Wikipedia/Wikimedia community
  • It produces a new view of knowledge that is never changing, pluralistic, interlinked and certainly not static and fixed for all time.

In spite of all that Wikipedia is also conservative. Not in it’s talk pages (a radical feature) but how many people actually read those pages? The public face of Wikipedia is taken from 19th century multivolume encyclopedia. It is trying to be an encyclopedia in the traditional sense: universal, impartial account of the world. But just one single account of the world is rather conservative. It’s going back even before the Enlightenment.

What is wrong with Wikipedia?
The NPoV leads to a consensus that is very limiting because it doesn’t allow you to read different voices. Modern knowledge is diverse and changes all the time. Producing static articles is conservative. Proposal: no blend compromises by putting all the different voices in the same article,

Everything is radical about Wikipedia except for the actual articles.

CPoV Wikipedia Conference

More CPoV Wikipedia Conference reports at the CPoV blog.

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