Read & Respond – Week 7

February 18, 2011

Welcome to Wiki Week! This week we’ll be applying the collaborative skills we’ve learned in the past few classes and apply them to a different kind of crowdsourced project. There’s a bit of reading here, so make sure your post addresses the complicated nature of this discussion.

First, we’re going to deviate from the syllabus and hold off on Briggs’ chapter 9 until next week (but feel free to read it now). Instead, we’ll check out some words on wikis. We’ve talked a lot about “The Wisdom of Crowds,” but sometimes those crowds can seem kind of, well, dumb. In his essay “Digital Maoism,” Lanier, writes about how the Wikipedia crowd has (inaccurately) represented him. He provides a useful skeptic’s perspective on the “hive mind,” as he calls it (he also calls it “The Wikipedia,” but we’ll permit him this eccentricity). How do Lanier’s ideas compare to the other ideas we’ve discussed.

After all that heavy thinking, have a look at this article on wikigroaning from venerable humor site Something Awful (there are later installments here and here) – if you like your information more traditional, there’s also a story on the phenomenon in the Wall Street Journal). The argument is that collaborative works like Wikipedia tend to emphasize trivia and pop culture over substantive information. Consider, for example, that the entry for television program Grey’s Anatomy is almost seven times the length of the entry for seminal health handbook Gray’s Anatomy. (If you’re not easily offended, you can also have a look at this informative but characteristically profane entry from Encyclopedia Dramatica).

As a follow-up to the chaos of Internet humor, Philosopher Martin Cohen writes about who edits Wikipedia, what they edit, and why. With the above perspectives in mind, let’s consider the concepts of “wikiality” and “wikilobbying” (below; the last 30 seconds are an ignorable user-added rant on Fox News):

Finally, have a look at the Wikipedia page for our own P.I. Reed School of Journalism. Pay particular attention to those three little windows at the top of the page. These are Wikipedia standards alerts that indicate our entry isn’t up to snuff. How can we improve it?

What is your take on the function of wikis and wiki-like processes in communication and journalism today? Just how wise are those crowds we keep talking about? How do concepts like wikiality and wikigroaning impact on the positive qualities made available by this new way of communicating? If you see it as a problem, how could the process be improved? And just what can we do about that J-school page? (hint hint …)

Respond by commenting on this post noon Tuesday, Feb. 22 (I’m giving you an extra day since I’m a day late posting this).