Getting into the grime with Wikipedia

Johnnie Moore

Johnnie Moore

I’m Johnnie Moore, and I help people work better together

I’m a fan of Wikipedia but I’ve been listening to one or two friends lately who aren’t. They’ve encouraged me to look at what goes on in the discussion pages where editors discuss the changes they’re making. Then Dave Snowden posted something about his frustrations there, so I took a look at the discussion page for the entry on Knowledge Management. I must say I found it at times…

delightful: to see the effort and thought editors apply to their contributions. Well, sometimes.

fascinating: to see the controversy bubbling away below the apparent calm of the KM entry itself

funny: to witness the descent into prickliness among participants in the debate

frustrating: to find it almost impossible to understand what people are talking about half the time

I think Jimmy Wales said Wikipedia only works in practice, not in theory. Looking at this page, it amazes me that the whole project works as well as it does. And that’s one of the reasons I love Wikipedia – that it manages to produce worthwhile information by somehow-or-other holding the energies and frustrations of its participants. Although it looks like Dave and his fellow participants may be close to giving up at the moment.

I also love that I can follow the breadcrumb trail of the disputes, even where some participants have rather unhelpfully deleted their comments. I also love that I can quit that trail when it all becomes too crazy making.

My friends think some of the discourtesy and controversy in such discussions diminishes the value of Wikipedia. I disagree. For me, the discussions show me more about the multiple meanings and the politics behind the phrase “knowledge management”; and like anyone else, I can take in as much or as little of that as I choose.

Thus the entry and debate on KM gives some information I didn’t know. Sadly, it also reinforces my prejudice that KM has too many $10 words for 50¢ ideas.

It also provides the slim pretext I need for yet another link to a classic Python scene. This is what I think of when KM people debate what exactly a “school of thought” is. Actually, the best bit is just after this clip, when they start slagging off other revolutionaries, but I can only find that part in German!

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