Cory Doctorow explains Wikipedia by example

(via Boing Boing) There are lots of explanations for the way Wikipedia works, and because they're not sinking in for a lot of the population, there are a lot more coming.  This is a good thing.  Cory Doctorow wrote one for the Guardian that went up today, which explains why author Philip Roth had to publish a letter in the New Yorker before the Wiki editors would let him change a piece of information on his own page.

The whole article is awesome, and it provides great context for understanding the way Wikipedia functions.  Here's the link -- if you don't get it, and want to, I recommend reading the article.  Here, though, I just want to pull out and highlight a few fantastic, isolated points:

On Pseudonymity

(Which is not to say that Wikipedia doesn't care about identity. If you sign onto Wikipedia as HoneyBadger666 and spend 10 years making good edits to Wikipedia entries and generally being a conscientious user, this fact is significant in adjudicating the disputes you have with other users. But Wikipedia knows how to verify the HoneyBadger666 pseudonym: if you have the password for that account and if there aren't obvious signs that the account has been hacked, then the words posted from that account are taken to have originated with the account's owner. Knowing who the account's owner is isn't important – all that matters is what that account owner has done for Wikipedia.)

On Wikipedia's authority:

Wikipedia strives to confine its assertions to facts about facts, as in: "Fact X was reported by reputable source Y." This still leaves Wikipedians arguing at great length about which sources are reputable. But once consensus emerges that the Guardian is a reputable source of news, it's clear to everyone where the Guardian's website lives. No one has to argue about whether a website called is the Guardian's website.


Authority matters to Wikipedia, but it is outsourced. Reliable sources are Wikipedia's authorities, and it must be so, because the location of reliable sources and the utterances they make are things that people who don't know each other but work together on the Internet can point to and agree upon.

(Emphasis mine)

Because I will likely link back to this page this semester (I have a lot of arguments about Wikipedia in college) I want to add two more points, that aren't my own, but that I'm writing anew:

Anybody can edit Wikipedia, but anyone can reverse those edits, and

The original web was invented for academic citation of exactly this purpose.