I hope to write a few short things, mainly pretty practical, about the Internet, the Web and the blogosphere in the next week. I do this mainly to think about and address a new "digital divide" I sense arising. (The first and still pre-eminent one, of course, is economic--the haves online, the have-nots cut out). The one I will be commenting on is more along generational and net-savviness lines, with many folks I know shying away, for a variety of reasons, from a lot of the interactive developments collectively called "Web 2.0".
One such development that has seen massive use, even among the Web-shy, is Wikipedia. This collectively produced and edited, free, open source, online encyclopedia has been termed "Digital Maoism"--with some using the term in condemnation (a "hive mind") and some in praise (a vivid example of Mao Zedong's Mass Line as a method for arriving at truth). It has, in any event, become the most used reference work in the world, with over 680,000,000 visitors in the last year.
For all the people who use Wikipedia, the new digital divide I mentioned becomes clearer when one realizes that only about 75,000 people actively produce and refine the content. That's one in 10,000! (With fewer than 10 paid employees, the Wikimedia Foundation has a one to 70 million staff to annual user ratio.)
I want to cite, in praise and as an example of how the thing works, one recent editing job. It is described, in the excerpt below, taken from the blog Liberation Frequency, which I found because they reprinted the nifty article, "The Young & The Leftless" which was also featured at FotM recently.
The whole piece by Brian Van Slyke, "Wikipedia History Wars", talks about Wikipedia's proclaimed underlying principle of "neutrality" and calls it idealist: "Science is not neutral. History is not neutral." I quote below a section of the article relating to revolutionary fighter John Brown, a choice which will not surprise regular readers of Fire on the Mountain.
For instance, I once searched the topic of “slave revolts.” I made my way through the article, and finally came to its discussion on North America. Here’s what it had to say about the abolitionist John Brown:
John Brown had already conducted several massacres of pro-slavery settlers in Kansas, when he decided to lead a raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia (West Virginia was not yet a state). This raid was an attempt by a handful of white men to cause a slave revolt in the South. It failed in this attempt; in fact, the first man they killed was a local freed black man.
Obviously, I couldn’t let this stand. Here is what I changed it to:
John Brown had already fought against pro-slavery forces in Kansas for several years when he decided to lead a raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia (West Virginia was not yet a state). This raid was a joint attack by former slaves, freed blacks, and white men who had corresponded with slaves on plantations in order to form a general uprising amongst slaves. It almost succeeded, had it not been for Brown’s delay, and hundreds of slaves left their plantations to join Brown’s force - and others left their plantations to join Brown in an escape to the mountains. Eventually, due to a tactical error by Brown, their force was quelled. But directly following this, slave disobedience and runaways sky-rocketed in Virginia.
My change was reverted back to the original, until some re-reverted it to [the] account I had written, and that’s what it has stayed as to this day. Now, it may have helped that my paragraph had a citation and the other did not--even though in many places the first account is often the historical portrait that John Brown is painted in by our textbooks and our national myths.