22 years of Wikipedia

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I was just reading a long discussion regarding the differences between Open Street Maps and Wikipedia / Wikidata, and one of the mappers complained "Wiki* cares less about accuracy than the fact that there is something that can be cited", and calling Wikipedia / Wikidata contributions "armchair work" because we don't go out into the world to check a fact, but rely on references.

I understand the expressed frustration, but at the same time I'm having a hard time letting go of "reliability not truth" being a pillar of Wikipedia.

But this makes Wikipedia an inherently conservative project, because we don't reflect a change in the world or in our perception directly, but have to wait for reliable sources to put it in the record. There's something I was deeply uncomfortable with: so much of my life is devoted to a conservative project?

Wikipedia is a conservative project, but at the same time it's a revolutionary project. Making knowledge free and making knowledge production participatory is politically and socially a revolutionary act. How can this seeming contradiction be brought to a higher level of synthesis?

In the last few years, my discomfort with the idea of Wikipedia being conservative has considerably dissipated. One might think, sure, that happened because I'm getting older, and as we get older, we get more conservative (there's, by the way, unfortunate data questioning this premise: maybe the conservative ones simply live longer because of inequalities). Maybe. But I like to think that the meaning of the word "conservative" has changed. When I was young, the word conservative referred to right wing politicians who aimed to preserve the values and institutions of their days. An increasingly influential part of todays right wing though has turned into a movement that does not conserve and preserve values such as democracy, the environment, equality, freedoms, the scientific method. This is why I'm more comfortable with Wikipedia's conservative aspects than I used to be.

But at the same time, that can lead to a problematic stasis. We need to acknowledge that the sources and references Wikipedia has been built on, are biased due to historic and ongoing inequalities in the world, due to different values regarding the importance of certain types of references in the world. If we truly believe that Wikipedia aims to provide everyone with access to the sum of all human knowledge, we have to continue the conversations that have started about oral histories, about traditional knowledges, beyond the confines of academic publications. We have to continue and put this conversation and evolution further into the center of the movement.

Happy Birthday, Wikipedia! 22 years, while I'm 44 - half of my life (although I haven't joined until two years later). For an entire generation the world has always been a world with free knowledge that everyone can contribute to. I hope there is no going back from that achievement. But just as democracy and freedom, this is not a value that is automatically part of our world. It is a vision that has to be lived, that has to be defended, that has to be rediscovered and regained again and again, refined and redefined. We (the collective we) must wrest it from the gatekeepers of the past (including me) to allow it to remain a living, breathing, evolving, ever changing project, in order to not see only another twenty two years, but for us to understand this project as merely a foundation that will accompany us for centuries.


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