March 29, 2009
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Metaphors, particularly of the “A is B” variety, are best when they can teach you something you didn’t know or fully recognize before — about either A or B. I think Noam Cohen’s “Wikipedia is a City” conceit does the job.
For instance, he tackles the anti-Wikipedia movement:
People donít treat ineffectual inventions as taboo ó that is reserved for things like evolution, alcohol or, yes, cities. And just as the world has had plenty of creationists, temperance societies and ruralists, there is a professional class of Wikipedia skeptics. They, too, have some seriously depraved behavior to expose: Wikipedia represents a world without experts! A world without commercial news outlets! A world lacking in distinction between the trivial and the profound! A world overrun with facts but lacking in wisdom!
Itís all reminiscent of the longstanding accusations made against cities: They donít produce anything! All they do is gossip! They think they are so superior! They wouldnít last a week if we farmers stopped shipping our food! They donít know the meaning of real work!
My favorite, though, is his analysis of one of the Wikipedia core principles, “Assume good faith”:
Wikipedia encourages contributors to mimic the basic civility, trust, cultural acceptance and self-organizing qualities familiar to any city dweller. Why donít people attack each other on the way home? Why do they stay in line at the bank? Why donít people guffaw at the person with blue hair?
The police may be an obvious answer. But this misses the compact among city dwellers. Since their creation, cities have had to be accepting of strangers ó no judgments ó and residents learn to be subtly accommodating, outward looking.
Why isn’t “assume good faith” a working assumption for the entire internet? Because, you know, people in cities are actually pretty nice. And people on the internet, especially in forums and discussion groups outside of Wikipedia, are often not as nice as they ought to be. The relative civility of Wikipedia should be touted more often as one of its primary virtues.
H/t to Rex at Fimoculous.