Saturday, April 08, 2006
Wikipedia: a convergent medium
Wikipedia.org is a marriage of convergence between the encyclopedia and the wiki.
How does this relationship work? Roger Fidler defines convergence as ‘the crossing of paths that results in the transformation of each entity as well as the creation of new ones’ (1997 p278). Wikipedia’s entities are a fertile blend of old and new technologies. On one hand is the encyclopedia, a venerable ‘circle of knowledge’ (Britannica Online: article 2027206) known in book form ever since Pliny compiled his Natural History in the first century AD. On the other hand a wiki, a simple, powerful web application that allows users to add content and also allows anyone to update that content.
The converged result is a multi-lingual, free and open knowledge database that has quickly established academic trust and a thriving user base. Its reputation for reliability depends on intolerance of vandalism and adherence to a netiquette of update rules. It is ‘a new kind of democratic communications environment’ (Dizard 1994 p4).
And the future? Does Wikipedia carry the seeds of its own subversion (Marvin 1988 p8)? The challenges may be its continued freedom and the uncertain legal status of digital copyright. As Barlow asks: ‘How does society pay for the distribution of ideas if not by charging for the ideas themselves?’ (1994 p3).
Time, money and law will tell.
Barlow, John Perry, 1994, The economy of ideas
Dizard, Jr. Wilson, 1994, Old media, new media, Longman, New York.
Encyclopaedia Britannica Online
Fidler, Roger, 1997, Mediamorphosis, Pine Forge Press, Thousand Oaks, CA.
Marvin, Carolyn, 1988, When old technologies were new, Oxford University Press, New York
Wikipedia Front Page (English)