Is Wikipedia a Sucker’s Game?

January 20, 2006

Imagine that you are the world’s foremost expert on ant farms. You know everything there is to know about them.  You have studied them for years. So you write the article on Wikipedia about ant farms. At first you spend hours on it. Then you spend days. You are pleased with your result and indeed, it is good. A week goes by and you notice that your ant farm article has been edited! It’s not been defaced, it’s been made better. You are somewhat unsettled, but you tell yourself, that’s the point, right? Two weeks go by and your article is unrecognizable. It’s much more thorough, but it’s been rewritten so many times now that it’s hard to tell that its better, but it’s easy to tell that it’s no longer your work. You realize you have something in common with the ants that move their sand around in their little farm.People who use Wikipedia get a huge benefit. They get fairly accurate material on a huge variety of topics fast and for free. But the cost of the work is worse than the best sweatshop. Hundreds of people may put thousands of man-hours into an article only to see their work revised away from them. It is akin to shoveling snow and folding clothes and washing dishes. The work is never done and there is never a concrete result that lasts for any meaningful period of time.

This is not to say that Wikipedia is bad, far from it. I use it frequently. However, I wonder about the people who give their time to it. If you have Buddhist tendencies and you get satisfaction from the doing rather than ownership and tangible results, then contribute away, my friend, that site is for you! But if you want your work to remain your own; if you want to create something personal and enduring, stick to sculpture, blogging and copyrighting your work.

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