By H. Krustofsky
On March 14, Jimmy Wales took his travelling god-king act to the annual convention of the Independent Community Bankers of America at the palatial Wynn Las Vegas Resort. As the final performer on the bill, Jimmy played to a half-filled hall of die-hard community bankers who had managed to resist the siren song of the nearby casino. Many of them seemed impressed by what Jimmy had to say.
Jimmy was there to present Wikipedia as it wishes to be perceived, a magical place where NPOV (Neutral Point of View — a policy intended to prevent biased articles) is embraced by all, where there are no vendettas, malicious bannings, defamation, or plagiarism, where every policy means just what it says and no one is gaming the system.
Much of the presentation followed the format of “What Wikipedia Is Not” (WP:NOT, one of Wikipedia’s most widely ignored core policies.) Jimmy got ’em chuckling when he said that, for example, there are no “funny pet videos” on Wikipedia, because that wouldn’t be appropriate. The question of whether it is appropriate to have roughly 1,000 images of penises on Wikimedia (think twice before clicking this link) was not addressed in his presentation.
For a moment, it looked as if things might get interesting when Jimbo said,
…it is important to know who the Wikipedia editors are.
It stands to reason, for example, that if you were the target of a defamatory Wikipedia article, or you happened upon a propagandistic and misleading article on a controversial topic, you would want to know just who was responsible for putting this material at the top of every Google search. However, as it turns out, that is not the issue that Jimbo wished to address (the one policy that Wikipedia enforces with a vengeance is the one that ensures the absolute anonymity of its editors.) He meant that it is important to know the demographics of the Wikipedia editors.
First Jimmy gave the correct answer: that the demographic is heavily weighted toward male computer geeks, average age 26. He said that he was personally quite comfortable with that, although at Wikipedia they would like to see some more female editors. Having said that, he then showed this video, which presents an entirely different and highly unrealistic image of the typical Wikipedian:
Which version of “Who are the Wikipedians” do you think the audience will remember?
Jimmy went on to describe the structure of Wikipedia as a hybrid of different social models, one of them being “monarchy.” As it turns out, he used “monarchy” to describe his own personal role, necessary because sometimes the democratic process is not the appropriate means to resolve a problem or dispute. But not to worry — Jimmy is not an absolute monarch. In fact, he says, he is rather like the Queen of England, “smiling and waving at crowds.” The notion that the Queen is merely a quaint figurehead was recently dispelled when it was revealed that she had vetoed a bill that would have taken the authority to launch strikes against Iraq away from her, and given it to the parliament. The impact this will have on Jimbo’s analogy has yet to be determined.
In conclusion, Jimbo’s presentation was a bit of Madison Avenue razzmatazz couched in the language of the Digital Age. It played well to the sturdy representatives of Small Town America, but the picture he painted for them is false. It’s up to us to set the record straight.
Image credits: Jimbo — © Krustilu Productions / Wikipediocracy; Queen Elizabeth II — Flickr/Titanic Belfast, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.