2 years ago 6 notes
Yesterday, in the height of excitement preparing for the Wikipedia Blackout, I had the opportunity to simply be proud about being a part of something bigger. But today, now that the Blackout has (of course) attracted attention, it has turned into a defense of Wikipedia’s principles.
I’m going to specifically address the points brought up by Nick Poole, CEO of the UK-based Collections Trust, this morning on Twitter. Here is our exchange thus far:
@NickPoole1: #Wikipedia on blackout - ‘Our articles are neutral, our existence is not’ - undermines entire principle of neutrality. bit.ly/wGwHe3
@HstryQT: Not true, Nick. Wikipedia is built on the principles of the open web & that must be protected. No openness = no wiki neutrality
@NickPoole1: If u act like a body corporate, then u are de facto not neutral. Who is the ‘we’ in the #Wikipedia article? U can’t close a commons
@HstryQT: Yet, we did. The community closed the commons in order to save the commons. Guess we’re redefining things. @mpedson take note.
The quote he is referring to is from Kat Walsh, a Wikimedia Foundation board member who I personally know to be brilliant and whose voice of reason I’ve come to highly appreciate.
"Why is the Wikipedia Blackout a good thing?" Quite simply, it’s good because it clearly and pragmatically illustrates the impact that this legislation would have, not only in the US but on a global scale. It is using a worldwide platform to advocate for the open web and the associated culture that made Wikipedia possible. As the quintessential collaborative community that came out of the open source movement, it only makes sense for Wikipedia to make this stand. Wikipedia’s volunteers continue to maintain the principles of freely and openly sharing knowledge. Usually we are doing this in little ways. But today we have the chance to show just why the open web is so, so very important.
"The Blackout undermines Wikipedia’s principles of neutrality." There are many others who agree with this statement, in fact the Wikipedia community itself debated it heavily. (The very fact that Wikipedians debated this actually illustrates my point further; see below.) It is shortsighted to say that Wikipedia’s advocacy undermines its principles of neutrality. Kat’s quote in fact is the most concise and clear statement revoking this argument: “Our articles are neutral, our existence is not.” But I’ll tease this out for the sake of dissenters.
The community never claims to be neutral. Those who understand the history of Wikipedia and the open source movement will understand that the community itself is in no way neutral in regards to our views on the importance of the open web. The very act of being a “movement” (which is how Wikipedia proudly defines itself) implies that we feel strongly about our views on freely and openly sharing knowledge. We make no claims to be neutral on the subject. So why then should it mean that our advocacy is undermining our principles? This is absolutely not so. We are in fact defending our principles and doing our best to ensure that the open web thrives. As one of the largest and oldest communities devoted to this cause, it would be odd for us to not make a stand.
The articles aim to be neutral. The principles of neutrality within Wikipedia can easily be misunderstood by those outside of the community. Once again, as Kat explained, “Our articles are neutral, our existence is not.” Neutrality is indeed a pillar within Wikipedia and describes a standard that we strive to achieve for the encyclopedia. Neutrality is a goal for the product, not the community. And can I also note - the Wikipedia community itself will always have argued whatever point you’re trying to make over and over (and over and over). You can find these discussions which we transparently have out in the open for all to see. We aim for our articles to be neutral, that doesn’t mean the community is.
"Who is the ‘we’ in the Wikipedia article?": “We” is whoever wants to contribute to the conversation. One becomes a part of the community simply by taking part in the discussion on the talk page. When consensus is reached about how to best illustrate a topic in a neutral manner and with the best sources, it is presented in that article. If you do not feel that something is neutral in an article, join in and say as much! Help us make it better.
"You can’t close a commons." And that’s what makes the Wikipedia Blackout so unprecedented. The commons chose to shut down the commons to save the commons. Has this ever happened before? Likely not. But in this case, we actually did close a commons because the community chose to do so. This may mark a redefinition of what a commons is, or more specifically what a commons is capable of. While it might err from the usual definitions, I think it’s worth looking to Wikipedia, the original commons, in setting this new precedent.
Just to be clear, the Wikimedia Foundation did not make this decision, the community did. The Wikimedia Foundation assisted in the technical aspects of implementing the Blackout, but only after thorough, heated, and ongoing debate among the Wikipedia community itself. In the end, the Wikimedia board could not make the call, the founder Jimmy Wales could not make the call, nor could the Executive Director Sue Gardner make the call - three respected administrators moderated the discussion and declared when consensus was reached. This was a huge decision for the Wikipedia community, and one which I’m very proud to have been a part.