Wikipedia Is More Charming Than Ever

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Mass collaboration will get your organization to think differently and help you create engaging Consumer experiences.

You’ve heard that before. It’s become one of those "good ole chestnuts" that us Social Media and Web 2.0 types love trotting out in presentations and board meetings. Marketers especially seem clever with it when describing the logic behind any new online initiative.

I’ve started to think differently about mass collaboration, and it is one hundred percent due to an article titled, The Charms of Wikipedia, that I read in the The New York Review of Books (Volume 55, Number 4 – March 20th, 2008 edition). Written by Nicholson Baker the article looks at the power of Wikipedia, and what makes individuals become Wikipedia Editors (like the author of the article). It also takes a glance at a new book called, Wikipedia – The Missing Manual, by John Broughton (published by Pogue Press – O’Reilly).

It’s easier to understand why everyone is all hopped up on the Wiki-thing when you can peel back and look at what makes someone (anyone) want to contribute. The Charms of Wikipedia article describes the beauty of it better than anything I’ve read elsewhere:

"They weren’t called, ‘Wikipedia’s little helpers,’ they were called ‘editors’. It was like a giant community leaf-raking project in which everyone was called a groundskeeper. Some brought very fancy professional metal rakes, or even back-mounted leaf-blowing systems, and some were just kids thrashing away with the sides of their feet or stuffing handfuls in the pockets of their sweatshirts, but all the leaves they  brought to the pile were appreciated. And the pile grew and everyone jumped up and down in it having a wonderful time. And it grew some more, and it became the biggest leaf-pile anyone had ever seen anywhere, a world wonder. And then self-promoted leaf-pile guards appeared, doubters and deprecators who would look askance at your proffered handful and shake their heads, saying that your leaves were too crumpled or too slimy or too common, throwing them to the side. And that too was bad. The people who guarded the leaf pile this way were called ‘deletionists… it worked and grew because it tapped into the heretofore unmarshaled energies of the uncredentialed."

Wikipedia empowered people to accomplish some major personal stuff:

1. They were able to share their knowledge.

2. They were able to contribute to something bigger than all of us.

3. They were able to immediately create a legacy for themselves (and others).

4. They were able to self-actualize and gain status (this is a big one if you’ve been following my links between Social Media and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs).

And then, there’s Baker’s perspective on the ugly side of Wikipedia as well:

"Without the kooks and insulters and the spray-can taggers, Wikipedia would just be the most useful encyclopedia ever made. Instead, it’s a fast-paced game of paintball."


It’s one of the best reads I’ve had in a long while, and I never would have caught it had Hugh McGuire (Librivox, DataLibre and earideas) not pointed it out to me (thanks Hugh).

Now, I just have to figure out how to get a Mitch Joel Wikipedia entry (and find the time to defend it 🙂

Do yourself a favour and read it here (then pass copies along to everyone you know): The New York Book Review of Books – The Charms of Wikipedia – Nicholson Barker.