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August 06, 2006

"The New Yorker" Gets 2006ish

The staid pages of the House of Tilley were recently graced by two articles about the new Web. The July 31 issue had an article on Wikipedia, and the very next week Nicholas Lemann declaimed on "citizen journalism".

The Wikipedia article calls it a "lumpy work in progress" where "glaring errors jostle quiet omissions" [dagnabbit, I wish I could write that well. Note to self: use the word "jostle" more]. Still the article winds up being more amused than schocked by Wikipedia. It quotes from detractors, but there's not much of a counter-argument because Jimmy Wales doesn't bother denouncing them, secure in the knowledge that whatever Wikipedia is, it's much more than anyone ever thought it could be.

Writing about proponents of citizen journalism, Lemann comments, "many of the truest believers are very good at making life unpleasant for doubters, through relentless sneering", and follows up with "traditional journalists answering their challenges often sound either clueless or cowed and apologetic". He is careful not to fall into that trap. The result is also a wait-and-see kind of piece. Then again, writing for "The New Yorker" Lemann may also have a snide view of the common hoi polloi journalist, but from the opposite side. He points out parallels with pamphleteering in Britain around the turn of the 18th century (from the book "Representation and Misrepresentation in Later Stuart Britain: Partisanship and Political Culture" by Mark Knights). And he describes reporting as "the tradition by which a member of a distinct occupational category gets to cross the usual bounds of geography and class, to go where important things are happening, to ask powerful people blunt and impertinent questions, and to report back, reliably and in plain language, to a general audience" (this is what I've tried to say elsewhere, if not as nicely, about how there are always going to be a limited number of people who get access to report on specific events that the public is of necessity excluded from).

The existence of both articles shows the trend in the Web. It started out, for lack of anything else (such as home connectivity), as a business-to-business medium (or university-to-university). It then went through the business-to-consumer bubble in 2000. We are now in the consumer-to-consumer phase, although without businesses to jostle against [not bad, but could be better] they really aren't "consumers". Wikipedia and citizen journalism are both about users creating content for other users, the phenomenon that is generating so much excitement and venture capital check-writing today. Whether this is the ultimate direction of the Web, or just another bubble, remains to be seen.

Posted by AdamBa at August 6, 2006 05:07 PM

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On a whim I searched for "*-autonomous categories" on Wikipedia not expecting to find anything. Instead I found a short, somewhat informative piece that gives a couple useful (although not the most useful) references. The point is that you could search all the world's extant encyclopedias (including mathematical ones) and not find the subject even mentioned. That is what makes Wikipedia great. I don't suppose it will ever be reliable on controversial issues, though. Not while anyone can post of new version.

Posted by: marble chair at August 9, 2006 06:27 AM