Framing Wikipedia

Aaron Swartz, on Wikipedia:

When you put it all together, the story become clear: an outsider makes one edit to add a chunk of information, then insiders make several edits tweaking and reformatting it. In addition, insiders rack up thousands of edits doing things like changing the name of a category across the entire site -- the kind of thing only insiders deeply care about. As a result, insiders account for the vast majority of the edits. But it's the outsiders who provide nearly all of the content.

BoingBoing on Aaron Swartz:

Aaron Swartz, who is running for the WIkipedia executive, has done some data-crunching using a rented supercomputing cluster, against many Wikipedia entries to determine how Wikipedia entries get written.

Jaron Lanier on Wikipedia:

What makes a market work, for instance, is the marriage of collective and individual intelligence. A marketplace can't exist only on the basis of having prices determined by competition. It also needs entrepreneurs to come up with the products that are competing in the first place.

BoingBoing on Jaron Lanier:

It's an engaging essay to be sure, but much more thought-provoking to me are the responses … I have a hard time fearing that the participants of Wikipedia or even the call-in voters of American Idol will be in a position to remake the social order anytime, soon. … Claiming authorship is really just a matter of ego and royalties.

I find it interesting that two people saying pretty much the same thing met such drastically different reactions. I suspect the difference can be attributed primarily to framing. Jaron made the mistake of placing himself on the side of “experts,” in a culture that devalues expertise. Aaron was smart enough to place himself on the side of “the masses,” in a culture that values populism. But these are ultimately just different names for the same group of people.

In a follow-up after all the (deservedly) positive attention he’s received, Aaron writes:

Larry Sanger famously suggested that Wikipedia must jettison its anti-elitism so that experts could feel more comfortable contributing. I think the real solution is the opposite: Wikipedians must jettison their elitism and welcome the newbie masses as genuine contributors to the project, as people to respect, not filter out.

But Aaron’s opposite is just repeating the same argument with more appealing words. Replacing “experts” with “masses,” in the context of a project in which the masses are experts, is a meaningless distinction. But it’s very important nonetheless. Lesson: it matters how you frame an argument, and you can change framing without changing the argument. It would be nice if we could all recognize that Jaron and Larry and Aaron are all correct, but that’s just not how people work. We need our truth wrapped in a good story.

 
 
 
I agree with you about the importance of framing, but I think there's more than that going on here. For one thing, Jaron's essay seems to address a completely orthogonal (and frankly, fairly silly) question: is it safe to allow a "collective", as opposed to individual people, say things?

As for Sanger, I think his latest actions show that he doesn't agree with my core point. If Sanger believed the masses were the experts, then he wouldn't be banning anonymous editing in his new Citizendium. But while we agree on the goal -- making a high-quality, free encyclopedia -- Sanger's disagreement on the facts is leading him in the opposite direction.
 

Be number 2:

 
 
 
knows half of 8 is