Archive for wikipedia

What is an expert?

It’s a simple enough question.  “An expert is someone widely recognized as a reliable source of technique or skill whose faculty for judging or deciding rightly, justly, or wisely is accorded authority and status by their peers or the public in a specific well distinguished domain”.  Ironically, this definition comes from one of the largest institutions of amateur contributors – Wikipedia.  Keeping this in mind, it is somewhat amusing to consider whether it was an expert or a group of experts that contributed to this definition, or just someone who felt they had something to say on the topic.  

Dr Axel Bruns explains that the struggle between experts and amateurs is not a matter of hierarchy against anarchy but rather “a struggle between two different systems of representing knowledge.”  The expert paradigm aims to “develop well-behaved, universally accepted, and internally consistent understandings of the world.”  Alternatively, the amateur paradigm “allows for multiplicity, conflicts of interpretation, and the existence of a number of alternative representations of extant knowledge which are accepted only by subset of the entire community…but are based on an interpretation of available evidence.”

So which is correct?  Given that we are moving into an age where produsage is being established as a credible model for content creation, is it really that important that experts are clearly distinguished from amateurs?  Perhaps it is.  One could argue that we don’t want just anyone to be producing content and passing it off as professional opinion. 

Alternatively, Charles Leadbeater explains, “for Pro-Ams, leisure is not passive consumerism but active and participatory, it involves the deployment of publicly accredited knowledge and skills, often built up over a long career, which has involved sacrifices and frustrations.”   With this in mind, I think it is fair to say that there is a place in society for this Pro-Am culture – particularly online.  I believe the co-contributions of experts, Pro-Ams to content makes for a healthy online culture.  On that note, it is also worth remembering that through diversity of contributors comes diversity in perspective and points-of-view.  This is highly important for the development and evolution of any culture.

Often we talk about produsage as being the gateway for people to become involved in the collating and publishing of knowledge – a way for Joe Public to contribute to collective pools of intelligence.  Surely, the Pro-Am culture is simply a side effect of produsage? 

Of course there is always the question of the reliability of information.  This is an issue that often gets raised around Wikipedia.  How do we, as laypeople, know when we are looking at the work of an expert, a Pro-Am, an amateur or someone who has no idea what they are talking about?  It is not always easy ascertain the credibility of online contributors.  However, is it not commonsense to always double check information?  What’s to say that the information being published by an apparent expert is any more or less correct than that being written by a self-titled Pro-Am?

I guess at the end of the day, my point is that society and particularly online culture is more than big enough for the both of them.  There always has been and always will be a place for professionals and increasingly, Pro-Ams and amateurs are finding their place in online culture.  This change in dynamics can only serve to better the collective pool of intelligence for everyone. 


Wikipedia: Help or hindrance?

I remember even when I was in high school, my teachers used to say that Wikipedia was NOT a reliable source to reference in any academic work.  Universities won’t accept it either.  So what exactly is Wikipedia good for?  Personally, I find it to be an invaluable source for grasping a basic understanding of just about anything.  Want to know who Joseph Smith, Jr is?  Look it up on Wikipedia.  I bet you couldn’t find out that sort of information in a hard copy of the Encyclopaedia Britannica in less than 20 seconds?

What is Wikipedia? According to academic, Dr Axel Bruns in his book Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life and Beyond: From production to produsage, ‘Wikis enable their users to create a network of knowledge that is structured ad hoc through multiple interlinkages between individual pieces of information in the knowledge base’.  Bruns explains, that Wikipedia is an online encyclopaedia that endeavours not to ‘present representations of knowledge, but to encapsulate the current state of accepted knowledge itself.’ 

In layman’s terms Wikipedia is an editable space for the compilation and aggregation of knowledge and encourages online enthusiast communities to facilitate discussion around topics of interest. 

Wikipedia is not simply an archive of information.  It is a live application that is constantly updated and subject to gatewatching.  By nature it is effective in its coverage of unfolding events.  Bruns points out that that this coverage is not intended to highlight and analyse events, but rather to chronically document history as it is made.

As with many other new media applications, Wikipedia has had, is having, and will have an impact on public relations.

Wikipedia has the potential to be a hindrance to public relations practitioners.  In an ideal world, the fact that people are able to contribute to and edit content on Wikipedia, would mean that content would be monitored and information would therefore be accurate.  This is not always the case.  As my teachers said, information on Wikipedia cannot always be relied on.  So what’s to say that people wouldn’t use Wikipedia to air grievances about an organisation?  If this happens, it doesn’t matter how quickly the edit is rectified, chances are, someone else has already seen it. Having said that, it is also quite possible that public relations practitioners would use Wikipedia to generate their own spin.  In his blog Tricky Wiki, Peter Dizikes gives the example of ExxonMobile employees changing their Wikipedia entry to glamorise the organisation’s environmental record.  

On a slightly more ethical note, Wikipedia functions allow organisations to monitor their entry and ensure that inaccurate information is mediated.  It also allows them to promote their organisation and provide detailed information to the public that could not be easily distributed elsewhere.  Additionally, Wikipedia gives organisations the opportunity to report the truth.  For example, people know that ExxonMobile has not got a shiny environmental record, so it would be far more beneficial for them to own up to this and instead report on the changes they are making now to rectify the wrongs.

Having said all that, is it ethical for public relations to interfere with Wikipedia at all?  Does it go against the very concept of WikipediaPeter Dzikes believes this is the case.  Perhaps it is.  However, I am of the view that organisations should be able to defend themselves.  The gatewatchers aren’t always able to pick everything up and it is only fair that organisations should be able to right the wrong.