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

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