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In a world of text, is the author King? The revolutionary potential of wiki (open content) technologies Macfadyen, Leah P. 2006

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IN A WORLD OF TEXT, IS THE AUTHOR KING? The Revolutionary Potential of Wiki (Open Content) Technologies  Abstract. Internet enthusiasts have predicted that Internet technologies would facilitate global and multi-directional information sharing, promote political participation, increase global awareness of injustice, and allow the construction of an ‘electronic global village’. In this paper, I argue that in spite of early revolutionary claims, simple Internet connectivity has not brought about any radical break with the values and power structures of modernity. I suggest, however, that recently emerging Internet-dependent open content and open source technologies (such as wikis), promise to fulfill some of these earlier revolutionary claims by decentralizing production of online information, and challenging current definitions of “authoritative” knowledge.  authority 1. [mass noun] the power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience: he had absolute authority over his subordinates | a rebellion against those in authority. 2. (often authorities) a person or organization having political or administrative power and control: health authorities issued a worldwide alert. 3. [mass noun] the power to influence others, especially because of one's commanding manner or one's recognized knowledge about something: he has the natural authority of one who is used to being obeyed. ORIGIN Middle English: from Old French autorité, from Latin auctoritas, from auctor ‘originator, promoter’ (see author).  author A writer of a book, article, or document: he is the author of several books on the subject. ORIGIN Middle English (in the sense ‘a person who invents or causes something’): from Old French autor, from Latin auctor, from augere ‘increase, originate, promote’. The spelling with th arose in the 15th cent., and perhaps became established under the influence of authentic.  (Oxford Dictionary of English, 2003)  2  Dreams of an Internet Revolution The emergence of the (TCP/IP-based) Internet in 1983, and the subsequent development of the WorldWide Web in the early 1990s (Wikipedia, 2006) has been accompanied by an avalanche of hyperbole hailing these technological developments as nothing less than revolutionary: in communications, in ‘information’, in ‘knowledge management’, in social politics, in education. Moreover, although these communication tools were originally developed as a US ‘national’ (and military) information infrastructure – "a tool of engineers and scientists seeking quick and open access to others like themselves" (Anderson, 1995, p. 14) – politicians and commentators rapidly and apparently unproblematically re-visioned them as a global network. Subsequently, enthusiasts predicted that Internet technologies would facilitate global and multi-directional information sharing, promote political participation, increase global awareness of injustice, and allow the construction of an idealized ‘electronic global village’ that would “enjoy seamless and transparent communication…[bringing] greater freedom of expression, greater democratic governance and affiliated rights, and…greater economic prosperity" (Ess, 2000). I argue that in spite of early revolutionary claims, simple Internet connectivity has not brought about any radical break with the values and power structures of modernity, but that to date, the Internet represents, “a technical materialization of modern ideals” (Lévy, 2001a, p. 98). I suggest, however, that recently emerging Internet-dependent open content and open source technologies promise to fulfill some of these earlier revolutionary claims by decentralizing production of online information, and challenging current definitions of “authoritative” knowledge.  Information Control in Cyberspace Whether or not established Internet technologies are revolutionary, there is no doubt that information technologies now play a central role in our so-called “information society” – sometimes referred to as the ‘post-industrial’ or ‘knowledge’ society. In the information society, wealth and power reside in control of knowledge and information resources, rather than in the control of more traditional physical goods. So tightly connected are information technologies, modes of production and globalization, that commentators now identify the “digital divide” – “the socio-economic gap between communities that have access to computers and the Internet and those who do not” (Reference.com, 2006) – as a critical factor in community socioeconomic development. But while concern has focussed on the question of access to Internet-based information, relatively little attention has been paid to the nature and source of the knowledge that is disseminated by the supposedly ‘WorldWide’ Web of hyperlinked pages of text. Who are the authors of this sea of textual knowledge, and by what authority? What are the implications of Internet authorship for knowledge diversity in the electronic global village? Convincing arguments can be made that US American interests control production and dissemination of Internet-based information (largely accessed via the WorldWide Web) in the same way that US corporate interests control world commodity markets.  WIKI REVOLUTION?  3  Wilson et al. (1998) point out, for example, that in the world of the Internet, authoritative knowledge almost unfailingly links users “back to the American metropole” (p. 117) in a way that “renders ‘America’ as the norm, and the rest of the world as periphery” (p. 119). As they suggest, Herman & Chomsky’s (1988) and Chomsky’s (1989) framework for analysis of the mass media also illuminates contemporary mechanisms of control of production of online information. Like the mass media, digital media are not neutral; ownership and control of media influences its content. In particular, structural factors act as ‘filters’, shaping the ways in which information is ignored or reported, authorized or dismissed. Herman & Chomsky (1988) identified three significant filters of mass media: Size, ownership and profit orientation of the mass media, that is, the very limited ownership of media with any substantial outreach; The advertising license to do business, that is, a license to focus attention on attracting audiences with buying power, not audiences per se; and Sourcing of massmedia news, that is to say, the authorizing of “reliable” information sources. Analogous structures similarly filter information made available to a global audience via the WorldWide Web. First, and equivalent to mass media ownership, ownership of the medium of the WorldWide Web, the way content is delivered, is via the Web browser. Predictably, US Web browsers dominate the international market: as of January 2006, one sources estimates that Microsoft Internet Explorer has a world market share of about 63%, and Netscape Communicator holds much of the remainder (Morley, 2006). (“Nobody should be surprised”, add Wilson et al., “that US browsers highlight American Web sites” (p115)). These authors go on to identify design and ownership of search engines (programs designed to help find files stored on a computer, for example a public server on the World Wide Web) as a crucial second filter in controlling access to ‘authorized’ online information. Search engines are often closely linked to Web browsers (Microsoft’s MSN Search is popular, for example) and these tools are also predominantly US American owned; they generate revenues through advertizing (usually for American companies) and through public offers in the US Stock Exchange. Typically, US search engines will seek out and report on US American Web sites in response to user searches, even when users employ what these authors call ‘branch plant’ versions: the ‘Canadian’ version of Google, for example. Perhaps most critically for production of authorized online information in the information society is ownership of the process of information digitization, a critical third filter that structures Internet information (Wilson et al., 1998). Until very recently, readers of Web-based content have had almost no opportunity to create or modify content, and only a limited number of authors or ‘producers’ have controlled all content selection and presentation. Producers are, overwhelmingly, individuals and organizations with technology, computer skills and money – resources that continue to be dominated by US institutions and corporations. In addition to control over production and dissemination of Internet-based information, I argue that US/Western domination of Internet authorship imbues online content with notions of authority that are particular to the modern era.  4  The Emergence of Author(ity) Modernist (and contemporary) conceptions of textual authority are tied to both philosophical notions of ‘private property’ and to the importance of establishing author identity, as Poster (2001) outlines in his charting of the evolution of the ‘author’. Before the modern era, trust in the written word was based on personal relations of allegiance and command. With the development of print and literacy, the relationship of author to reader changed, and authors necessarily developed new practices of writing that “implanted in the text…a controlling voice”, embedding the authority of the author in the content and structure of the text. In parallel, legal systems of copyright were perfected to assure authentic reproduction of the author’s voice – the source of his authority – and to assure him revenues for his work in the expanding market of ‘books as commodities’. In our contemporary information society, and on the WorldWide Web, such modern criteria for informational authority (and intellectual property) are rigorously applied. Informational authority is asserted based on author identity and affiliation with organizations of authority. Lawyers and governments continue to scramble to control access to online information that is designated as ‘intellectual property’. While one might argue that such criteria are vital in allowing readers to assess the credibility of information in a sea of text, it is also evident that these criteria are routinely applied to dismiss and deny authority to information or ‘knowledge’ that is not produced by identifiable authoritative (Western) individuals and constructed as private intellectual property. I suggest, then, that regardless of early rhetoric, and until very recently, Internet technologies have failed to meet even minimal definitions that would constitute them as revolutionary. While Internet technologies may offer a radically new (Schouls, 1998) medium for communications, they challenge neither the legitimacy of the socioeconomic status quo (that is, the domination of the information society, like the international marketplace, by US American and other Western information and interests), nor contemporary Western standards for construction and dissemination of authoritative knowledge. As Wilson et al. (1998) have argued, simple access to (‘read only’) Internet-based information offers global populations few new informational or socioeconomic freedoms, but rather positions non-Westerners as mere consumers in a marketplace now expanded to include ‘information’. In the absence of any means to shape or participate in the construction of authorized knowledge, the vision of a diverse and empowering electronic global village is little more than a pipe dream.  Open Source, Open Content: Challenging the Status Quo In recent years, however, a number of new Internet technology initiatives have emerged that may destabilize the structures that filter information flow and knowledge construction on the Internet, and may also assail the unquestioned construction of information as an economic good best supported by the structures of market economy. In addition, these technologies may reconfigure the positions of authors and readers, blurring formerly clear distinctions between producer and consumer of online text (Graddol, 2004).  WIKI REVOLUTION?  5  One early project, the Free Software movement, was established primarily in response to fears that the Internet would simply become a “locus of corporate control” (Lévy, 2001a). The project was established in 1985, with a commitment to the “moral or ethical aspects of software” (Wikipedia, 2006), and is supported by the non-profit Free Software Foundation. Free software is software that, once a user has acquired it, can be used, copied, studied, modified and redistributed. It is often made available online without charge, or offline for the cost of distribution (Wikipedia, 2006) (the movement frequently notes that ‘free’ relates to ‘freedom’ rather than ‘price’). Software is conceived by this movement as a pure public good, rather than a private good; distribution of free and customizable software, especially software that facilitates Internet access, subverts market control of software ownership, and erodes software control as a filter of Internet information. More recently, The Open Source movement was established with the slightly different philosophical intention of promoting the sharing of software source code (Wikipedia, 2006). This project challenges modern economic orthodoxies, for example, the assumption that excludable goods (essentially, goods produced for profit) are more efficiently produced in small associations with limited membership, and that the ‘public sector’ should have no role in this production. The open source movement does not challenge market capitalism per se. It sees technical excellence as the primary goal, and “hopes to interest major software houses and other high-tech industry companies in the concept of collective production of goods” (Wikipedia, 2006) as a approach that is much more efficient than traditional solutions – solutions which have highlighted property rights enforcement and secrecy (Ciffolilli, 2003). (Wikipedia (2006) notes, for example, that Netscape released an open source version of its browser in the late 1990s, and that by 2005 this browser and derivatives now account for 10% of web traffic.) Perhaps of greatest importance for the modes of production (authorship) of online information is the very recent emergence of Web-based open content technologies (Aigrain, 2003). A range of already active open content projects allow publication and copying of creative products such as articles, pictures, audio, and video: they include free online books, repositories and databases of course materials and textbooks, and libraries of clip art, photography, and music files (Wikipedia, 2006). The moniker is now most commonly used, however, to describe sites of online content that can be directly (and simply) modified by anyone, as they browse it – a previously unimagined form of access to Internet information finally made possible by wiki technologies. What is a wiki? The name for these novel and potentially revolutionary technologies is (reportedly) derived from the Hawaiian word for “quick”, wikiwiki. Wikis are what are known as ‘server-side Web software’ (Aigrain, 2003). That is to say, they run on the computers that host Web pages; individual users need not buy, locate, install or learn to use any kind of ‘special’ software in order to contribute to wiki-based Web pages. Most wikis are, moreover, available as free software and bear General Public Licenses (GPL) – a ‘free software’ license created by the Free Software Foundation that gives any user the right to copy, modify, and redistribute programs and source code (Wikipedia, 2006). On a wiki-based Website, each and every article or page has an ‘Edit This Page’ option, allowing passersby to add, delete or edit content, without the need to submit content to any ‘authority’ for approval or negotiation. Some  6 wikis (for example, wikis based on the MediaWiki1 architecture) also offer a ‘Discuss This Page’ option, allowing users to carry on sidebar discussions about the content of articles. Wikis have been described as “social software” (Lih, 2004, p.4), and can be used as co-operative work tools for a relatively restricted user group. Most famously to date, wikis have offered an underlying structure for what Lih (2004) characterizes as “participatory journalism”: many-to-many communications among users (even anonymous users) editing articles. The largest and most surprisingly successful of these is Wikipedia, an Internet-based user contributed encyclopedia that is collaboratively edited. Wikipedia was established in 2001 as an adjunct project to Nupedia.com – a previous attempt to establish a free online encyclopedia that was based on a more traditional peer-review process. Volunteer contributors to Nupedia faced a lengthy process of “submission, review and, if necessary, negotiation” regarding the content of their articles. Nupedia employed a complex hierarchy of writers, editors, peerreviewers, and translators; it aimed to recruit editors who were “true experts in their fields…with PhDs” (Lih, 2004, p.3). This mission statement is a startlingly overt manifestation of what Feenberg (1999) argues is the dominant (and essentialist) model of technology, one that “imprisons us in a world made by experts” (Doppelt, 2000, p1). In this model, technology and the environments they support are regarded as dictated by “necessary imperatives of efficiency and special bodies of expert professionals” (Feenberg, 1999, p.16). While such a model has arguably been effective in the construction and honing of academic literature in the modern era, it has proved non-transferable to the context of the Internet. Nupedia ran out of money and resources and the project folded, having only ever published a few hundred articles. Almost as an afterthought, the original creators of Nupedia moved existing content to a wiki site in early 2001, and launched Wikipedia by inviting visitors to edit the collection.  Wiki Revolution? because ideas want to be free (Banner of MediaWiki, an open source wiki software foundation) Against a backdrop of ‘Internet revolution’ hyperbole, it might seem foolhardy (or trivial) to claim that wiki technologies represent (yet another) revolution in global communications. I argue, however, that in contrast to the tightly controlled mechanisms of Web-based information dissemination that have existed to date, (mechanisms that have contributed to US domination of the Internet and the (continuing) marginalization of the diverse voices even of the technoliterate world minority), wiki technologies, in concert with other free and open access technologies, may finally liberate the revolutionary potential of Internet communications. Wikis promise to facilitate the evolution of new forms of life that have long been promised by Internet enthusiasts: 1  http://wikipedia.sourceforge.net/  WIKI REVOLUTION?  7  easy dissemination of alternative “information artefacts” (in multiple languages), new forms of assessing author credibility, a forced reworking of the Lockian-inspired conception of information as private property, and democratization of technologymediated virtual environments. Revolution theorists such as Schouls (1998) offers a useful framework by which to assess the revolutionary nature of wiki technologies. Revolutions, it is argued, show three defining characteristics. First, revolutionary change is general viewed as “radically novel”, involving changes in fundamental laws and logic and a revaluation of old values. Second, revolutionary change can be characterized as “illegal” or “illegitimate” because of this assault on the fundamentals that constitute social order. Third, revolutionary change can be characterized as occurring to promote a conception of human freedom.  RADICAL NOVELTY Wiki-based Web resources are radically new because they permit multi-directional information dissemination (rather than core-periphery dissemination) via the Web, because they permit rapid and multilingual growth of Web-based information resources, and because their integrity is maintained not by policing of borders but by participant cooperation. While email and person-to-person chat technologies have for some time permitted interpersonal and intergroup distribution of alternate perspectives, news and information, it is the WorldWide Web which has become the platform for semi-stable online information. Web pages are not addressed to individuals, but can persist for a long time as loci of information dissemination. The Web can in some sense, then, be considered to be a massive ‘library’ (though admittedly of variable quality and accuracy), accessed by many around the globe. The very simple wiki technologies have begun to radically alter the information landscape by permitting massive and global coproduction of this library, beyond the constraints of corporate interests or government control. Wikipedia, as an exemplar of wiki technology, may also be characterized as radical because it is a wildly successful project that was never expected to work. One frequently quoted Internet author wrote “It sure is weird that Wikipedia works”2, articulating the common assumption that in an unregulated system where users are not tracked, and where no proof of identity, reputation or qualifications is required, projects will quickly be destroyed by ‘vandals’ or simply hijacked by ideological extremists pushing particular sociopolitical agendas. As Aigrain (2003) notes, “we have all witnessed email lists or discussion being overwhelmed by flames and noise”. And yet, Wikipedia continues to grow apace. Lih (2004) notes that over 20,000 English language articles were generated in Wikipedia’s first year. By February 2004, at its three-year anniversary, Wikipedia comprised 200,000 English-language articles and 500,000 articles in fifty languages, with articles being added at the rate of 2,000/day. As of February 2006, the English language area of Wikipedia features 956,513 articles 2  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Our_Replies_to_Our_Critics  8  (Wikipedia, 2006). Aigrain (2003) attributes Wikipedia’s surprising success and survival to the reality that although ‘open’, Wikipedia (and, indeed, all wikis) are not anarchic systems. The Wikipedia milieu is evolving as an example of a constitutionallyorganized community (with an explicit code of conduct and mission/vision statement3) that is policed not by “law enforcers” but by participants. Rather than attempting to employ what would necessarily need to be constantly updated security systems to gatekeep wiki access (witness the inefficiencies of anti-spam software), wikis track and store every version of an article that is edited, so no ‘act of vandalism’ is permanently destructive. Any user can, with a few clicks, revert an article to an earlier version to undo malicious damage. And the simple logic of numbers mean that a mass of users operating in this way can quickly and easily neutralize damage caused by a malicious minority, tipping the balance in favour of productive and cooperative members of the wiki community (Lih, 2004, p. 4). (Others have suggested that the ease of access to Wikipedia itself has reduced much of the motivation for negative contributions). As Ciffolilli writes (2003), wiki structure promotes “creative construction” rather than “creative destruction”.  ILLEGALITY Wiki-based Web resources challenge fundamental values and sources of ‘order’ on two fronts: they challenge the common assumption that market-driven, corporate, hierarchical models of production are the most efficient modes for production of information and cultural production, and they challenge contemporary conceptions of authority and authorship. Aigrain (2003) characterizes Web-based resources as “information goods”. Ciffolilli (2003) goes as far as to call Web-based resources “public goods” (“[goods] that cannot or will not be produced for individual profit” (Wikipedia, 2006)). Both authors suggest that the nature of information goods means that they are not amenable to traditional economic models of production. Unlike traditional ‘physical goods’ (land, water, air) information goods, are “non-rival” (they are not exhausted or depleted by multiple use) and can be produced at very low marginal cost. This formulation has made information goods appear to be attractive and easy sources of profit for businesses, and it continues to be a source of frustration for many that enterprises trading in digital information goods have continued to fail (one well-known example has been the dramatically unsuccessful effort to transform Napster, a previously open access digital music sharing platform, into a revenue-generating enterprise (Wikipedia, 2006)). Some analysts have suggested that the Internet is a “culturally biased world” that has developed a childish “free of charge” mentality that should be “redressed to make successful business models possible” (Aigran, 2003). On the contrary, says Aigrain (2003), supporters of open source and open content technologies have a “deep understanding” of the transaction costs inherent in different models of creation and exchange of information. While any transaction involves costs, these are not necessarily ‘monetary’. In the case of information resources, transaction costs can include the costs 3  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia#Site_policies  WIKI REVOLUTION?  9  of writing a contract, systemic costs of hierarchy maintenance, ‘cognitive costs’ (Aigrain, 2003), time costs, privacy costs, and so on. Teece (1988) suggests that high transaction costs are one of the main limitations to the division of labour in the production and use of knowledge – literally, the costs of managing and collating diverse knowledge production and controlling access to it overwhelm any potential profit. Nupedia’s failure, detailed above, perhaps exemplifies this struggle with transactional costs. It appears, then, that business models that import the high transaction costs of the physical world into production of Internet information resources are destined to fail (Aigrain, 2003). Wiki technologies, by contrast, cancel transaction costs for monitoring, editing and changing information, catalyze the development of wiki communities (Ciffolilli, 2003) and allow the development of massive and relatively ‘flat’/horizontal “collaboration economies”. In addition, the ‘copyleft’ licensing of wiki technologies (that is, the adoption by developers of licenses that use copyright law in order to ensure that every person who receives a copy or derived version of a work, can use, modify, and also redistribute both the work, and derived versions of the work) permits the free and unregulated establishment of new wiki collaborations. Referring to the extremely successful open source development of the Linux operating system, Benkler (2002, p. 112) writes: “removing property and contract as the organizing principles of collaboration substantially reduces transaction costs involved in allowing these large clusters of potential contributors to review and select which resources to work on, for which projects, and with which collaborators” Wiki technologies are proving successful for the same reasons: they disconnect the production of information goods from hierarchical corporate models of production. Wiki projects such as Wikipedia demonstrate that, in the context of production of information goods, flat open structures are a superior production model to models founded on what Doppelt (2002) calls the “powerful moral code of Lockian (private property) ownership and the rationality of capitalist market relations”. It can also be argued that Locke’s influential philosophical perspectives concerning personal property – that “every man has a property in his own person”, and therefore in “the labour of his body” (2003 edition, Sec. 27) – also has bearing on the modern conception of authorship (and the related notion of authority) that is challenged by wiki-based collaborative information projects. Lockian-inspired notions of knowledge/information as private property rather than community or public property are reflected in national laws and, more recently, in the World Trade Organization’s international agreement on intellectual property 4. ‘Knowledge’ creation is understood, in this framework, as the product of a linear premeditative process by names individuals, whereas knowledge produced by a community goes unrecognized and is granted no authority. Participation in collaborative writing within wiki projects, on the other hand, is driven by self-selection rather than by invitation, reputation or selection; anyone can participate if he or she wishes, even without registering. Where writers are registered, it  4  See http://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/trips_e/trips_e.htm  10  is possible to trace authorship of articles back to them, but names or nicknames do not appear with articles themselves, and most articles are multi-authored. Ciffolilli (2003) suggests that the current ‘anonymity’ paradigm may ultimately be a threat to contributor retention, although this author also suggests that the Wikipedia “seems to be free of some of the problems of scholarly publication”. More interesting is the reality that the wiki paradigm is disconnecting authorship from ‘author’ (and, therefore, from traditional sources of authority). This is certainly a feature that modern scholars find worrying, and which contemporary commentators see as a source of great concern when attempting to assess credibility of content. Indeed, authorial anonymity and credibility seems to have been key to a recent furore surrounding Wikipedia. As reported by the UK Guardian (Johnson, 2005), journalist, John Siegenthaler, a former assistant to the former US attorney general Robert Kennedy, complained in an article in USA Today that "for four months Wikipedia depicted me as a suspected assassin." In response, Wikipedia now requires that contributors register (a fast and painless process) before submitting new pages (but not editing pages). The irony, of course, is that this complainant, trapped in his conception of Web-based content as privately controlled, failed to understand that he could have corrected the error himself in an instant. Moreover, and in spite of such occasional incidents, Lih (2004) reports from his extensive survey of Wikipedia content acceptance in the wider world of information, that Wikipedia articles were cited as sources by 72 English language news outlets between January 2003 and March 2004, including such reputable publications as the UK’s Daily Telegraph online (41 references to Wikipedia) and The Sydney Morning Herald (five references), suggesting that Wikipedia is gaining ground as a credible source of information. While Lih (2004) acknowledges that Wikipedia articles are of mixed quality, he points out that this is a necessary correlate of Wikipedia articles always being in flux – Wikipedia presents, after all, what he calls “a working draft of history”. Moreover, this author’s extensive comparative study of Wikipedia content quality found that it compared favourably with the online edition of a reputable ‘traditionally produced’ encyclopedia”. Similarly, a recent peer-review-based comparison of scientific articles in Wikipedia and the online Encyclopedia Britannica undertaken by the science journal Nature found comparable levels of accuracy (Giles, 2005). Interestingly, Lih (2004) has developed two new metrics for assessment of wikibased article credibility: rigour (total number of edits for an article) and diversity (total number of unique editors). (He found that the median (i.e. middle of range) articles in the sample of articles tested had 61 edits and 36.5 unique editors). In other words, wiki projects may be driving the evolution of new modes of assessment of Web-based information credibility that utilize criteria that reflect and value collaboration and diversity rather than reputation/authority and ownership. Feenberg (1999) has suggested that technocratic domination of technology and technology-based environments, and exclusion of “the voices and vital human interests of those lay groups” (p. vii) can and should be challenged by radical and agentic democratic participation by interested groups in technology design. Doppelt (2000) has countered that Lockian notions of private property, and the protection of these powerful property rights by law, must necessarily limit the extent to which even well-motivated participant groups can challenge the exclusive control of technology developers. The  WIKI REVOLUTION?  11  ‘private property problem’ requires a reorientation of Feenberg’s project, argues Doppelt (2000), and the development of an “account of the logic through which some participant interests but not others have been or can be reasonably represented as legitimate claims of right, counterbalancing rights of private property”. I suggest that in the arena of Web-based information goods, the emergence of wiki-based technologies circumvents the need for such a rationalist search for ‘balance’ precisely because wikis undermine the property rights that Doppelt views as a barrier to democratization. Digital authors, and, in particular, anonymous collaborating authors, are not simply separated from their words, as they are in print media (Poster, 2001). The very stability of their words is lost, “severing the link between author and text that was established with so much difficulty during the first centuries of print” (p. 97). The emergence of cooperatively authored digital texts may well be what Poster has in mind when he writes about a “rupture in existing practices” of authorship for the Internet. He calls for a new invention of authorship that moves us away from the cultural practice of taking authors of books as trustworthy authorities, even though, he notes, experiments in new forms of authorship will be “resisted by the gatekeepers of authorship – the watchdogs of copyright, printing establishments, tenure committees…” (p. 98).  FREEDOM Various theorists suggest that wikis and related technologies are transforming global pathways of information flow, and freeing previously excluded populations to participate in the construction of information goods – an activity that restores political agency. According to Feenberg’s (1999) analysis, existing technologies are developed and maintained by a science-based technical elite according to modern rationalist values of efficiency and necessity. He argues (as do Wilson et al., 1998) that all technologies in fact embody a complex mix of values including power, “interests, values, costs, functions and voices...[to be] included…[or]...excluded]”. Through an almost breathtaking sleight of hand, however, the technocratic elite nevertheless portrays technology design as obeying only ‘value-neutral’ logic – an approach that “repels the very possibility of authentic ethical choice and political debate” (Doppelt, 2000). Feenberg argues, however that whenever lay actors or users of technology are motivated to raise questions about the relations of power that dominate technology, or the institutional and social processes that shape its use, “the paralyzing experience of an implacable technology or environment is dissolved and human agency is restored” (Doppelt, 2000). Wiki technologies are a tool that specifically facilitates the participatory “deep democracy” of local collective action, direct citizen intervention and bold social movements that Feenberg urges, with the additional advantage that ‘collectivity’ is no longer limited by geographic or political boundaries. Technical networks actually create new political subjects, he argues. Wiki technologies – hosting fluctuating “working drafts of history” (Lih, 2004) – at last permit the dialectical engagement of marginalized “others” with the technocrats who created them, allowing participatory contestation of existing relations of power. Van der Velden (2004), whose focus is on knowledge diversity and ‘cognitive justice’, makes a similar argument, arguing that “control over what is knowledge and  12  whose knowledge counts is…key”. This author cites Johnson (1999) whose research has demonstrated how the Internet can facilitate ‘self organization’ of actors and of knowledge, and more successful problem-solving than competitive ‘survival of the fittest’ systems. This self-organization is a manifestation of a distributed system, Johnson contends, and is seen as the unpredictable arising of nodes of global order out of local interactions. Van der Velden (2004) reiterates, however, that while processes of “creative appropriation” have, for example, transformed the Internet from a military information network to a human communication network, such transformations do not automatically or necessarily lead to sociopolitical self-organization or deep democratization. Making a parallel argument to Aigrain’s (2003) presentation of horizontal collaboration economies for more effective production of information goods, this author argues that true social transformation and self organization that protects and promotes knowledge diversity can only be cultivated in systems based on collaboration and decentralized control. Wikis and related decentralized communication technologies promise to facilitate construction of diverse and self-organizing meshworks (De Landa, 1997) that permit the free dissemination of knowledge that may be collectively constructed, and that may rely for its credibility on the number and diversity of creators rather than on authoritative power. (Van der Velden cites, by way of example of the latter, the 2000 World Bank effort to establish a Web-based ‘Knowledge for Development’ information-sharing portal that nonetheless relies on a centrally controlled database that restricts authorship of and access to ‘authorized’ information.) Lévy (2001, 2001a, 2001b) offers perhaps the most utopian vision for the impact of wiki and open content technologies on human cultures. The most significant feature of cyberspace, says Lévy (2001a) is that it presents "the universal without totality" – a universality "without any centralized meaning, this system of disorder and labyrinthine transparency" (pp. 91-2). A participatory and co-constructed Internet (“cyberspace”) is, says Lévy, the principal condition for the evolution of what he calls collective intelligence – the "synergy of skills, resources and projects, the constitution and dynamic maintenance of shared memories, the activation of flexible and nonhierarchical modes of cooperation, the coordinated distribution of decision centres" (p. 10). In this form, the Internet becomes a mode of communication from which nothing is excluded, neither good nor evil. It will increasingly “represent the unmediated presence of humanity to itself, since every possible culture, discipline and passion is therein woven together”, and “no reference, authority, dogma or certitude will remain unchallenged” (2001). Moreover, Lévy argues (in McLuhanesque fashion) that while the original development of writing “wrenched messages out of context, separated them from the point of origin” (p. 98), the Internet reattaches the meaning of text messages to context, but resists any semantic closure of interpretation, any universal fixity of meaning, because texts are no longer ‘fixed’. This plasticity of text – indeed, the degree to which text is become ‘speech’ in the online world – is, Lévy suggests, reviving “ancient and folkloric traditions of games and rituals – it organizes our participation in events rather than spectacles” (2001) – writing/creating rather than reading/receiving. Although Lévy considers ‘the Internet’ as a whole, I suggest that it is in fact wiki (and related) technologies that are fulfilling his prophecies of co-construction of the Internet and synergies of collective intelligence, permitting the filling of cyberspace with whatever humans choose to put there. “The fact that everything is possible on the  WIKI REVOLUTION?  13  Internet reveals man’s true essence”, argues Lévy, “the aspiration towards freedom” (2001).  Catching up with the revolutionary narrative? Is the reality of the Internet as a site of open and global information exchange finally catching up with the hyperbolic revolutionary narrative that accompanied its emergence two decades ago? Open content technologies, as exemplified by wiki-based websites for collaborative production of information, may offer us a first glimpse at Internet technologies that have truly revolutionary potential for human societies. They offer radically new possibilities for knowledge construction and dissemination to previously excluded potential authors, and challenge the legitimacy of contemporary assessments of authority and credibility. They promise to remove control of production and dissemination of ‘authorized’ knowledge and information from the hands of a (predominantly US American) minority, and disconnect knowledge production from relations of the liberal free market economy. While technologies that permit the development of collective intelligence will not instantly overcome the so-called “digital divide”, Lévy argues that the political, economic, and technological constraints to the global expression of cultural diversity are being progressively weakened (2001a) in cyberspace. As agentic participation rises, not only will complaints about the lack of online knowledge diversity fail to correspond with reality, but there will no longer be Internet information ‘owners’ to complain to or rail against. Commentators also predict that wikis and open content technologies promise new political and socioeconomic freedoms to human societies, and permit the evolution of what Feenberg (1999) calls an “alternative modernity”. Perhaps it is here, however, where we must acknowledge these predictions as revolutionary narrative in the sense that Parker (1999) employs the term – that is, as a narrative that operates in parallel to, and assists in the ‘sense-making’ of, historical events, but that may not be strictly descriptive or causally predictive. As in Parker’s framework of revolutionary narrative, the evolving narratives of open content technologies identify the potential for irreversible change to a different end state, and identify agents with power who can effect this change. It is less clear, however, whether current Internet and open content revolutionary narratives identify a historical time frame for change (as Parker describes) that is continuous with present and that also allows prediction of the future. Ironically, it may be the very fluidity of collaboratively developed Internet text and technologies, the feature in which their revolutionary potential resides, that will constantly confound attempts at prediction. Poster (2001) chooses his words carefully when writing about the impact of digital technologies on knowledge construction, speaking of “elicitation” rather than “causation” of change. If there is one rule that may obtain to the introduction of new technologies”, he argues, it is not determinism but unpredictability” (p. 91).  14  Acknowledgments For inspiration and valuable feedback, I thank Dr Peter Schouls and the Graduate Liberal Studies program at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada.  References Aigrain, P.: 2003, The individual and the collective in open information communities. http://www.debatpublic.net/Members/paigrain/texts/icoic.html Anderson, B.:1991, Imagined Communities (revised edition), Verso, London, UK. Anderson, J.: 1995, 'Cybarites', Knowledge Workers and New Creoles on the Superhighway, Anthropology Today, 11(4), 13-15. Benkler, Y.: 2002, Coase's Penguin, or Linux and the Nature of the Firm, Yale Law Journal, Winter 2002-03, 112, http://www.benkler.org/CoasesPenguin.html Chomsky, N.: 1989, Necessary illusions, Anansi Press, Toronto. Ciffolilli, A.: 2003, Phantom authority, self–selective recruitment and retention of members in virtual communities: The case of Wikipedia, First Monday, 8(12), http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue8_12/ciffolilli/index.html De Landa, M.: 1997, A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History, Zone Books, New York. Doppelt, G.: 2000, What sort of ethics does technology require? in Proceedings, Pacific Division, American Philosophical Association Meetings (April 3-5, Albuquerque, New Mexico), http://www-rohan.sdsu.edu/faculty/feenberg/symp5.HTM Ess, C.: 2000, We are the Borg: The Web as Agent of Assimilation or Cultural Renaissance? ePhilosopher, http://www.ephilosopher.org/modules.php?op=modload&name=Sections&file=index&req= viewarticle&artid=31 Feenberg, A.:1999, Questioning Technology, Routledge, London. Giles, J.: 2005, Internet encyclopaedias go head to head, Nature, 438, 900-901. Graddol, D.:2004, The Future of Language, Science, 303, 1329-1331. Herman, E. S. & Chomsky, N.: 1988, Manufacturing consent: The political economy of the mass media, Pantheon Books, New York. Johnson, B.: 2005, Wikipedia bans anonymous contributors to prevent libel, The Guardian, December 8, 2005. Johnson, N. L.: 1999, Diversity in Decentralized Systems: Enabling Self-organizing Solutions, Los Alamos National Laboratories 6281 LA-UR. Lévy, P.: 2001, Collective Intelligence: A Civilisation, (Trans: Colin Bell), Crossings: eJournal of Art and Technology, 1.1. http://crossings.tcd.ie/issues/1.1/Levy/ Lévy, P.: 2001a, Cyberculture, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis. Lévy, P.: 2001b, The Impact of Technology on Cyberculture, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis. Lih, A.: 2004, Wikipedia as participatory journalism: Reliable sources? Metrics for evaluating collaborative media as a news resource, in Proceedings, 5th International Symposium on Online Journalism (April 16-17, Austin, Texas). http://journalism.utexas.edu/onlinejournalism/wikipedia.pdf Locke, J.: 2003, Second Treatise of Government (1689). Yale University Press, New Haven, Connecticut.  WIKI REVOLUTION?  15  Morley, S.: 2006, Web Browser Market Share, http://www.safalra.com/website/browsermarket/index.html, accessed February 2006. Oxford Dictionary of English: 2003, "author noun", in C. Soanes and A. Stevenson (eds.), Oxford Reference Online, Oxford University Press. Oxford Dictionary of English: 2003, "authority noun", in C. Soanes and A. Stevenson (eds.). Oxford Reference Online, Oxford University Press. Parker, N.: 1999, Revolutions and History, Polity Press, Cambridge. Poster, M.: 2001, What's the Matter with the Internet? University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis. Reference.com: 2006, Digital divide, http://www.reference.com/browse/wiki/Digital_divide, accessed February 2006. Schouls, P. A.: 1998, Revolution, in E. Craig (ed.), Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Routledge, London. Teece, D.: 1988, Technological change and economic theory, Pinter, London. Van der Velden, M.: 2004, Cultivating Knowledge Diversity, in F. Sudweeks and C. Ess (eds.), Proceedings, Cultural Attitudes Towards Technology and Communication (Karlstad, Sweden, June 27 – July 1), Murdoch University Press, Murdoch, Australia. Wikipedia: 2006, http://www.wikipedia.org, accessed February 2006. Wilson, M., Qayyum, A. & Boshier, R.: 1998, WorldWide America? Think Globally, Click Locally, Distance Education, 19(1), 109-123.  


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