english and media centre | April 2009 |
The internet wasone of the mostimportant innovationsof the 20th century,and now in the 21stcentury it will takeinteractivity to newlevels. Forget aboutTV on-demand andMSN – it’s UGC, blogsand wikis that theinternet was madefor…
Just a glorified TVchannel?
In 1999, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of theWorld Wide Web
looked back on the previous decade andcomplained:
I wanted the Web to bewhat I call an interactivespace where everybodycan edit. And I startedsaying ‘interactive,’and then I read in themedia that the Web wasgreat because it was‘interactive,’ meaningyou could click. This wasnot what I meant byinteractivity.
Watching re-runs of TVprogrammes, downloadingfilms and music, reading newsand looking up informationon static websites is only thestart of e-media’s journey.What Berners-Lee reallywanted was the internetto be the place where
readers were also writers
and where the
consumersof information were alsothe producers of thatinformation
. On socialnetworking sites, on YouTubeand other sites which rely onUGC and on wikis this visionis finally coming true. Here,the divide between institutionand audience is slowly beingbroken down.
An encyclopaedia,not an experiment indemocracy
Of all the wikis,
is the best known, but theideas behind it are truefor all wikis. James Wales,the founder of Wikipedia,often emphasises that it is‘an encyclopaedia, not anexperiment in democracy’.Wikipedia may, however,represent
in theway culture is produced andaccessed.Wikipedia aims to:
create and distributea multilingual freeencyclopaedia of thehighest possible qualityto every single person onthe planet in their ownlanguage.
Its content is writtenand edited entirely byvolunteers, workingcollaboratively. Thereforethere are
no ‘experts’ andno centralised control
overwhat is published in theencyclopaedia. The role of the
,who can privilege someknowledge, and some pointsof view – the role that hastypically worked in favour of the wealthy and thus aidedhegemony – may finally beopen to challenge.Of course, this may justmean that another set of viewpoints is privilegedinstead – the institutionbecomes dominated byyoung techy types:
One of the running jokesis that there are betterarticles on Pokémonthan on certain kinds of science.
Alex Schenck, 19, volunteer site administrator, New York Times, 2006
Robbie Williams eatshamsters; Beckham is aChinese goalkeeper fromthe 18th century.
One of thedownsides of open editingis the regular
vandalism ordeliberate misinformation
that occurs. Above are justtwo recent instances of vandalism. In fact somepeople see it as the pleasureof the site regularly to amendentries. More amusingchanges can be found inChittenden’s article (
, 2006). Such ‘vandalism’is usually discovered andchanged within a few hours.As wikis retain a copy of allprevious versions, revertingor rolling back to a previous,un-‘vandalised’ entry isrelatively straightforward.
Is Wikipedia valid?
Does the institution lose itscredibility if it has amateursrather than experts producingit? In her article ‘The Neutralityof this Article is Disputed– Inside Wikimania 2006’(August 2006), KatherineMangu-Ward quotesWeinberger as saying:
If you open up a copyof Britannica youare right to believethat what you read iscredible. Somethinggets credibility simplyby being in Britannica,though it is notnecessarily true. If youopen up Wikipediarandomly, what you seeis not credible. Simplybeing there doesn’tgive you some sort of probabilistic credibility.
However, Weinbergercontinues by suggestingthat because
‘Wikipediais not shy about puttingup notices about its ownfallibility’
it paradoxicallybecomes more credible. Thecredibility of the institution
e-media comes of age