Wiki’s — Failure or Boon of Online Collectivism?

I’ve been suspicious of the wiki bandwagon for quite some time. An earlier piece I wrote summed up my concerns. Fortunately, someone else has come along and written more deeply and elegantly on the topic. Check out Jaron Lanier’s piece, DIGITAL MAOISM: The Hazards of the New Online Collectivism, published 5-30-2006 in The Edge an online publication.

Jaron Lanier’s piece points out several things:

  1. Sometimes the collective is wise. Sometimes it is stupid. Sometimes it is very stupid.
  2. We, as individuals, have difficulty knowing what’s good and what’s not good.
  3. There is very often a need for wise and knowledgable editors to filter messages.
  4. Google search results have a similar problem.
  5. Websites and blogs that aggregate info have a similar problem.
  6. Our democracies may be threatened by this collective stupification.

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Relating This to the Learning-and-Performance Field

My main concern with wiki’s is that information from real experts can be stupified to the mediocre averaging of above-average minds. I have a wiki design that overcomes this problem, but I need a generous funder to make it a reality. BIG HINT to you rich philanthropic types. SMILE.

Wiki’s aren’t the only newtech fetish that exhibits the filtering problem. Blogs that simply compile messages from other blogs and web pages offer a prime exhibit. Jay Cross recently noted how the blogosphere was like an echo chamber, where the most prolific bloggers cite the most prolific bloggers into recursion ad absurdium. I see this echoing effect as a potential problem, dulling and twisting the voices of truly brilliant people and fully-vetted ideas.

I don’t want these compilers to stop. I like the material to sift through. But I do hope most people realize that there is very little nutrition left in sifted poop.

And we definitely need others to vet our work. For example, many great books that I read have acknowledgements aplenty for people who have provided feedback to the author(s).

My simple little point is that we need expertise too. We need filtering. We need wisdom. Some of that wisdom can come from the collective, but some must also come from people who have done the hard work of learning a knowledge discipline.


Go read Jaron Lanier’s piece, and the vetting it receives from the collective spectrum of people in The Edge’s readership.