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Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Oregon Connection

The Oregon news media are largely focused on local news. Oh, there's some coverage of regional and national issues, and some (not very good) international coverage, but local is more important. Every once in a while, they find some facet of a non-local story that involves a place or person in Oregon, and they go nuts over it. They call it the Oregon Connection. I swear, if the sun was about to go nova, and they found out that the robot telescope that was used to discover the fact was designed by an engineer from Portland, there'd be more column inches on the front page of the Oregonian newspaper under the headline, "End of the World - The Oregon Connection" than there would be under "Sun to Kill Us All".

Jimbo Wales gave a keynote address at the O'Reilly Open Source Convention in Portland Friday, and they wanted to do a story about it in the paper. As you know Bob, Jimbo is the daimyo of Wikipedia, and some bright geek at the paper remembered the Wiki technolgy was invented by Ward Cunningham, who has lived in Portland for several decades. So they got the two of them together for an interview with an Oregon Connection (follow the title link).

It's an interesting interview, but there's one response from Wales that got my attention, because it relates to the discussion in the "Gaming Wikipedia" thread on Making Light. The thread is about how much of what goes on in Wikipedia is in the control of admins who are more concerned about arbitrary rules (many of which they seem to be making up as they go along) than about the accuracy and scope of the articles. In the interview, Wales saye:

For me, it's kind of evolved into a general philosophy for social software. . . . After seeing things like Wikipedia emerge and be really big, people still tend to start out designing any sort of social software by thinking of all the bad things people might do rather than saying: Let anybody do anything, but make sure you can reverse it. Make sure it's visible what's going on. . .

And I think that kind of deliberate vulnerability kind of raises everybody's ethics a little bit, whereas locking it down then generates this kind of environment of, "Oooh, everything's locked down." So now the game is to try to figure out how to vandalize it, or how to misbehave. Defacing an article on Wikipedia is, like, fun for half a second. It's not that exciting.

But what's happened is that a class of bureaucrats has emerged to prevent exactly the openness that Wales is talking about, and it's not clear that he's aware of it. Which leaves Wikipedia in exactly the place you'd expect to find a naive Libertarian experiment: in the hands of those who can grab power and hold onto it the longest.

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