Good heavens, it’s a year or more since I had an argument with Nick Carr about Wikipedia. His Potemkinpedia starts out as a reaction to Noam Cohen’s Wikipedia: Exploring Fact City, which, I agree with Carr, mostly fails to transcend the lightweight in diligently pursuing the metaphor of Wikipedia-as-city.
But Carr goes on to argue, as he has before, that the essential culture of Wikipedia is changing, as illustrated by the imposition of editing controls on popular articles like those for Dubya and Barack. I think the evidence is against him, and I’m taking the time to say so because I don’t want the notion that Wikipedia is becoming a locked-down place to enter the conventional wisdom.
The Facts · Wikipedia is admirably self-documenting on this whole issue of “protected” articles [thanks to Prof. Carr for these pointers]: See Wikipedia:Lists of protected pages, Wikipedia:Protection policy (especially Semi-protection), and finally Autoconfirmed users.
What’s Protected? · Not very much. In particular, I couldn’t find anything “Fully protected”, i.e. only editable by an administrator, except for templates and user pages. As for Barack and Dubya and all those other allegedly too-hot-to-touch articles, I can edit them just fine, if I log in. I’m a very occasional and irregular Wikipedia contributor, which is plenty enough to make me “auto-confirmed”.
So, I would argue that:
The huge, overwhelming majority of users will rarely if ever see an article without “edit this page” at the top.
If they do, but they really want to edit the article, the threshold for becoming able to do so is very low indeed.
Prof. Carr pointed out in private conversation “the fact that semi-protected pages are watched very, very closely by Wikipedia administrators and the vast majority of edits are reverted immediately” and “the fact that the German Wikipedia now requires all edits to controversial pages to be reviewed before posting (and that Jimmy Wales has urged that a similar system be adopted for the English version).” These things granted, the fact remains that the vast majority of articles can be (and are) edited by anybody anytime, no permission required.
Prof. Carr has repeatedly argued that Wikipedia is heading in the direction of more top-down controls and thus a more conventional reference-publishing future. It wouldn’t be terribly surprising if he were right, but at the moment I just don’t see the evidence pointing that way.
What I Believe · Wikipedia is a new thing in the world. It resists metaphor: There isn’t anything else like it and there’s never been anything like it. It’s something that couldn’t have been predicted and can’t be explained by the conventional body of knowledge: in the common parlance, a miracle.