Wednesday, June 18, 2008

An essay of mine against wikipedia

Sometimes it can be frustrating, as one of the many people not in charge of the world, to see society straying down the path of disaster and no one doing anything about it. This is why the next best thing I can hope for is when someone who has more sway than me, in terms of the way the world works, is advocating on my behalf to prevent that chaos. Case in point: I have a weary feeling that the sudden advent of wikipedia could lead to some very negative consequences which is why I’ve been very relieved to have come across the work of Andrew Keen who has published the book “The Cult of the Amateur” in which he discusses the negative consequences of web 2.0.

Andrew Keen recently debated Jimmy Wales, the founder of wikipedia, at Oxford University. Keen said his primary concern was whether knowledge should be given away for free: “We’d all love knowledge to be given away for free just like food or drink or this building to be free, but the realities of this economic system is nothing is free.”

His biggest critique of the web 2.0 is, “It’s premised on the idea that there is some virtue of giving away one’s intellectual labor without monetary reward.” In the process, Wikipedia is disintermediating the creative class and forcing the intelligent minds of society to give away their knowledge for free.Wales responded to this by saying that this is untrue because the creative class is growing and that previous concerns with open source software haven’t held true. On the latter point, the dissemination of scientifically specific data that the average layman can’t understand is much different from giving away things in newspapers. In terms of whether the creative class growing or shrinking, the prevalent example cited by the moderator was how newspapers are cutting their staffs and Wales responds by saying that media is changing but he’s confident it’s just a matter of restructuring along new models. I personally don’t think his “confidence” is enough to put down the red flag just yet. In response to a question by an audience member, Keen said that he didn’t believe the creative industry is growing. Yes, Google is rapidly hiring people to counteract the balance of people being laid off of newspapers, but the new employees of Google are simply selling advertising so the intelligentsia is being cut off.

Despite the fact that a little of general public today have an insistence that the traditional media are inundated with biases, both parties agree that professional journalists do hold great value in our society. In fact, much of wikipedia’s source list is from newspapers such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Because it derives its credibility from these sources, wikipedia would be substantially weakened by the loss of these newspapers of which wikipedia is ironically playing a part in its demise. “The idea of a world with no professional journalists is a pretty alarming one,” naturally responded Wales, but he admitted he didn’t really have an answer for how to fix that. If the creator of a catalyst for destroying the jobs in a very crucial industry that contributes to the betterment of society (professional journalists) didn’t see the loss of those jobs coming and doesn’t have an answer for it, I would call him an irresponsible inventor.

Andrew notes that the most distressing thing about web 2.0 is that people who can promote the disintermediation of the work of society’s scholars are the ones who stand to profit the most. You tube has made a bundle of money by providing a vehicle for copyrighted material to be destroyed. The number of copyright violations that exist on you tube are rampant and you tube does not make much effort to eliminate them. There is no form of punishment for people who violate copyright laws on you tube nor is there an easy procedure for anyone to remove a copyright for anyone who doesn’t own it.

At the same time, for wikipedia to be a non-profit organization does far more harm than good. The word “non-profit” has come to denote a force of good in the world, and it is admirable that wikipedia does not wish to make excessive money, but by refusing to ignore the economic realities of the situation and people affected, he is actively keeping money from people who play the most vital roles in our economy. The biggest and most important industry today has switched from manufacturing and service industries to information industries and these are the people at stake. To have a healthy web 2.0 society in which our scholars, artists, and other creative minds are encouraged to continue producing their products, they have to be financially rewarded and compensated.When asked why he doesn’t reward his contributors, Wales said that it’s for the same reason doesn’t want to make or distribute money off his site: Because the users of his site don’t want him too. This is not an accurate representation of what all the stakeholders of his site want or of the people being affected. There surely are scholars and experts in fields who would want to be paid for their work but are unable to demand payment because people are willing to do it for free. As it exists in actual economic situations outside the internet, the market is disrupted in this case.

There are also sources who get cited in wikipedia who are stakeholders as well, and they deserve to have a say in among other things: Whether people get paid for their content, whether people remain anonymous, how actively and quickly copyright violations are removed. When the moderator asked whether Wales partner up with the New York Times or other media outlets, Wales responded that that would be like the Red Cross partnering up with a for-profit hospital. For that analogy to reflect wikipedia’s relation to the New York Times, The Red Cross would have to be taking supplies from a for-profit hospital, because wikipedia hinders the effectiveness of the New York Times and other print media and the benefits that wikipedia gets from the New York Times are a one-way street.

To fix this, Keen recommends we as the general public have to recognize the value of the media. Keen says, “The truth is that the internet is a mirror…The problem with the internet is that it reflects ourselves, it reflects our impatience, our narcissism, our laziness, and we have to be willing either to pay for the physical newspaper or we have to be willing to put up with going on web sites and putting up with advertising.” “If we think that newspapers have no right to make a profit,” than those are the consequences we face. The media does have public value, and whether we use the media in ways that do or don’t reward them, we are all increasingly dependent on a threatened institution.

I think the wikipedia community really needs to address some of these issues. It's important to not give out too much of their source material online.

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