Wikipedia and the social construction of knowledge

On Saturday, Dave Winer noticed that his name had been elided from the Wikipedia's page about podcasting. He wrote:

How is Wikipedia going to prevent from this from happening again? That's a serious issue. It's not the first time it's happened. This is why I've never been a strong advocate of Wikipedia. [Scripting News: People with erasers]
There is no way that Wikipedia can prevent such things from happening. But the mechanisms it has evolved to deal with them are fascinating and worthy of study.

The system is undergirded by a powerful revision history and revision comparator. So, for example, this URL documents the transition from this neutral statement:

Using RSS, [[Dave Winer|David Winer]] helped former [[NPR]] host [[Christopher Lydon]] attach audio files to his weblog.
to this pro-Winer statement:
Creator of RSS2, and true godfather of Podcasting, [[Dave Winer|David Winer]] helped former [[NPR]] host [[Christopher Lydon]] attach audio files to his weblog.
And this URL documents the retaliatory erasure:
Former [[NPR]] host [[Christopher Lydon]] attached interview audio files to his weblog.

Animation is the best way to visualize the flow of such changes, as I discovered when I made my Wikipedia screencast. For Wikipedia, and indeed for all kinds of living documents supported by revision history and diff tools, I can imagine being able to isolate a paragraph or section and autogenerate the screencast of its evolution. I can even imagine the content of such visualizations being considered not just cutting-room floor debris but, rather, part of the "real" document, like footnotes.

Radical transparency is how Wikipedia manages -- without being able to control -- the controversial nature of many topics. Another example of such transparency appears today at the top of the podcasting page:

The neutrality of this article is disputed.
Please see the relevant discussion on the talk page.

It was inevitable that the Wikipedia's podcasting page would find its way onto the list of disputed topics, and it's appropriate that it has done so. If things settle down, it may later migrate to the watch list of previously controversial issues -- "a location for articles that regularly become biased and need to be fixed, or articles that were once the subject of an NPOV [neutral point of view] dispute and are likely to suffer future disputes."

Some knowledge is purely factual, but much is socially constructed and therefore inevitably prone to bias and dispute. Wikipedia's greatest innovation is arguably the framework it provides to mediate the social construction of knowledge, advocate for neutrality, accommodate dispute, and offer a path to its negotiated resolution. For this Jimbo Wales deserves -- and I hope will one day receive -- a Nobel Prize.

Former URL: