Note: I started writing this an hour or so ago and quickly realized it will go far over the size I had intended, so I’m thinking of splitting it into three or four parts over the next few days–likely to follow up in comments to not monopolize the blog–to allow to amend and alter my thoughts as other people weigh in.
Also, please glaze past the rant like nature. i know of no other way to blog.
Several years ago, I had around four hours to learn every possible thing a mind could grok on phonetics before one of my earliest college-era finals. Google threw websites that wavered from the obvious knowledge of fourth graders to the expert dissertations of linguistic-lifers, and it was not until a publicly contributed super-site offered a heap of useful, not-over-my-head information.
That was (say it with me!) wikipedia–around 2003, right as its public curiosity (and academic criticism) began to ascend at remarkable speeds. The little conundrum of the site is now common place: With no true authoritative power, nothing on the site can be accepted or referred to as fact…but my God, how cool it is! And dispute its usefulness and a likely 98% (or even higher) or so accuracy rate, that muddled potential-two percent is enough to cast the vex of doubt and guilt on any fact gleaned from the site
In 2004, A Co-Founder of the wiki project, Larry Sanger, criticized his ex-project for its zealously democratic approach. Sanger defined the “root problem” as “anti-elitism, or lack of respect for expertise.” This notion has since been bantered about by numerous; papers detail the horrors it spews and projects attempt to correct its flaws. But the melodrama behind the site highlights a general problem that grows and grows the more people become “familiar” with the internet. With the internet no longer the secret haven of geeks and tech-savvy, a “wiki-fallacy” begins to present itself as a potentially serious problem
I’m not the first/only person to coin “wiki-fallacy,” but as far as I can tell its been used as a cute term to basically gloss over Sanger’s argument. Here, I think of Wiki only in a microcosmic sense. Earlier Tuesday, PJ briefly made a comment on the feelings of programmers in regards to the overly democratic nature of the internet. Any person armed with the first two chapters of “HTML For Dummies” could, in all technical aspects, type up a bit of code, ship it out to a server and there! There it is for eyes to see and Google to find: funny images, crazy fonts in all colors of the hex-coded-rainbow. A programmer may cringe at its lack of a established character encoding, doc-type, deprecated tags, but in the mighty Judgment of Internet Explorer, it renders exactly as intended. And here we have another case of the more broad Wiki-fallacy: just because you have the tools doesn’t mean you should be allowed to use them.