Rise of the Uber-Wikipedians

I don’t know the ins and outs of Wikipedian politics, but according to The Register, trouble is brewing at Jimmy Wales’s social knowledge project. The controversy surrounds the recently exposed mailing list of high-level wikipedians–the uber-editors of the encyclopedia–who have supposedly exercised their powers for the dark side.

To quell the outcry of any critics, I want to specify that I’m not one of the many wikipedia skeptics out there, but that may only be because I use Wikipedia in a very limited way. Typically, I use the wiki as a resource to refresh my knowledge of esoteric scientific terms when I run across them in articles. Just recently I looked up Apsis and Sidereal time when reading something about the recent downgrade of Pluto. But these entries are precisely the kind of thing that Wikipedia is best at. Most folks realize this and understand that the the more controversial the topic, the less reliable the Wikipedia entry.

But should we be concerned about the over-lords of wikipedia? In the short-term maybe, but in the long-term the mercurial market for web readership will render the ultimate verdict. Larry Sanger, a co-founder turned critic of wikipedia has founded Citizendium, a site that openly admits to expert editing of entries, in hopes to compete with the Wiki-wonder. Other wiki-challengers have cropped up including Helium, which also uses editors and uses an un-anonymous author model. Of course there’s the obviously conservative Conservapedia, for those who like their knowledge pre-biased. And we can’t forget about the old main-stays of the knowledge market like Britannica.com and Encarta.com, which serve up expert-written entries for free.

Competition will keep Wales’s Wiki honest, or it will fail to attract traffic and donations–left to slowly fade away in prominence and PageRank. But, since Wikipedia has only gained popularity in recent years, it’s safe to say that the public still finds wiki-wonderland useful, even if it’s not the democratic knowledge-workers paradise it was once made out to be.