Is Wikipedia Like a City?
In fact, with its millions of visitors and hundreds of thousands of volunteers, its ever-expanding total of articles and languages spoken, Wikipedia may be the closest thing to a metropolis yet seen online.
Wikipedia encourages contributors to mimic the basic civility, trust, cultural acceptance and self-organizing qualities familiar to any city dweller. Why don’t people attack each other on the way home? Why do they stay in line at the bank? Why don’t people guffaw at the person with blue hair?The police may be an obvious answer. But this misses the compact among city dwellers. Since their creation, cities have had to be accepting of strangers — no judgments — and residents learn to be subtly accommodating, outward looking.Mr. Lih at one point enlists the urban reformer Jane Jacobs to back up this point. For him, urban stability is replicated through the transparency of wikis — every change ever made at Wikipedia (every discussion as well) is recorded. Ms. Jacobs, he writes, “argued that sidewalks provided three important things: safety, contact and the assimilation of children.” She may as well have been talking about wikis, he says: “A wiki has all its activities happening in the open for inspection, as on Jacobs’s sidewalk. Trust is built by observing the actions of others in the community and discovering people with like or complementary interests.”
It is this sidewalk-like transparency and collective responsibility that makes Wikipedia as accurate as it is. The greater the foot traffic, the safer the neighborhood. It is the obscure articles — the dead-end streets and industrial districts, if you will — where more mayhem can be committed.
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