The Truth According to Wikipedia


Dutch filmmaker IJsbrand van Veelen stirred a lot of controversy last week at the Next Web conference when he premiered the documentary above, The Truth About Wikipedia. It has now been posted to YouTube and is worth watching when you have a spare 45 minutes. The film pits Andrew Keen, the disapproving author of The Culture of the Amateur, and Bob McHenry, former editor-in-chief of the Encyclopedia Britannica, against Wikipedia co-founders Larry Sanger, Jimmy Wales, and Web 2.0 guru Tim O’Reilly, among others. The film is masterfully made and shows many points of view, but it ends up being more than anything else a vehicle for Keen to put forth his diatribes against Wikipedia. You definitely get the sense that he wins the argument in the movie. And, in fact, when I asked van Veelen afterwards on stage who he personally agreed with the most (I was the conference MC), he admitted it was Keen. This siding with the enemy, as it were, actually makes the documentary more thought-provoking. People in the audience were seething, and one man came prepared with a speech denouncing the filmmaker.

In the film, Keen actually argues that we need gatekeepers for the truth, and those gatekeepers should be experts. Of course, he misses the point that the relatively small handful of people who do most of the writing and editing on Wikipedia may very well be experts in their topic areas, or become experts by writing and researching Wikipedia articles. That is not to say that controversies do not arise all the time about factual inaccuracies, edit wars, and companies trying to conduct PR campaigns by changing their Wikipedia entries. But the film also misses the point that Wikipedia is very much a market of ideas. Like any market, information at any given point in time can be wrong, but in the end it turns out to be right more often than not. Whether you agree with Keen or with the Wikipedians depends on your definition of truth. Keen is an absolutist. There is Truth, and everything else is fiction. Experts are the guardians of that truth. But the truth is that Truth itself is always evolving, even the experts’ notion of it.

(via The Next Web).

And for those of you with even more time on your hands, here is van Veelen’s 50-minute documentary from last year on Google: