Dec 16, 2007

On Wikipedia and the Democratization of Information

While doing some research recently, I noticed an empty space at Wikipedia, so I created a article on the long-forgotten Russian revolutionary Petr Tkachev. The idea that there can be universal access to the world's information appeals to the pure democrat that lurks within me, and I spend a fair amount of time contributing to this information commons.

I briefly touched upon the concept of the democratization of information a few weeks ago in another post about Wikipedia. I continue to be fascinated by the idea that every citizen of the planet can have equal participation in the acquisition and supply of knowledge.

I think back to an era in the not-so-very-distant past in which access to knowledge was a function of wealth. While my blue-collar childhood in Detroit was not one of deprivation, I knew early on that I had an advantage over other kids in the neighborhood because my parents bought an expensive set of the Encyclopædia Britannica. I spent countless hours wandering through the dozens of volumes, and looked forward to the annual release of the Book of the Year that was mailed out each spring.

As we continue through the information revolution, access to the world's collective knowledge is becoming no longer the province of the wealthy. With an Internet connection and a computer, a person can interact with other users around the planet, and information can be obtained on any topic. I see Wikipedia - even with its flaws - as emblematic of the democratization of knowledge, and I believe that the information revolution will have ramifications far beyond our current abilities to visualize.


HumboldtsClio said...

I learned today that the organization that spends the most time editing Wikipedia is the CIA.

I found that interesting.

historymike said...

You raise the second half of the equation, Humboldt's Clio, and one I frankly ignored in my moment of information euphoria.

The information revolution also creates new opportunities for governments and social elites to dish out propaganda and disinformation.

In addition, there is always the lurking threat of government eforts to reign in the nearly unlimited freedom of expression on the WWW.