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The Internet

The Role of Experts In Wikipedia 266

Hugh Pickens writes "Episteme, a magazine about the social dimensions of knowledge, has a special issue on the epistemology of mass collaboration, with many of the articles focusing on Wikipedia. One of the most interesting articles is by Lawrence M. Sanger on the special role of experts in the age of Wikipedia. Sanger says the main reason that Wikipedia's articles are as good as they are is that they are edited by knowledgeable people to whom deference is paid, although voluntarily, but that some articles suffer precisely because there are so many aggressive people who 'guard' articles and drive off others (PDF), including people more expert than they are. 'Without granting experts any authority to overrule such people, there is no reason to think that Wikipedia'a articles are on a vector toward continual improvement,' writes Sanger. Wikipedia's success cannot be explained by its radical egalitarianism or its rejection of expert involvement, but instead by its freedom, openness, and bottom-up management and there is no doubt that many experts would, if left to their own devices, dismantle the openness that drives the success of Wikipedia. 'But the failure to take seriously the suggestion of any role of experts can only be considered a failure of imagination,' writes Sanger. 'One need only ask what an open, bottom-up system with a role for expert decision-making would be like.' The rest of the articles on the epistemology of mass collaboration are available online, free for now." Sanger was one of the founders of Wikipedia, and of its failed predecessor Nupedia, who left the fold because of differences over the question of the proper role of experts. Sanger forked Wikipedia to found Citizendium, which we have discussed on several occasions. After 2-1/2 years, Citizendium has a few tenths of a percent as many articles as Wikipedia.