a blog

by Josh Nicholas

Truth as a process

Wikipedia’s governance is a clever mix of technology, norms and processes. It started with the wiki technology invented by Ward Cunningham, which allowed anyone to write and publish (and edit) live web pages, together with an acceptance that while “truth” might be unattainable, nevertheless achieving what it called “a neutral point of view” was a worthwhile aspiration...

This from a great article about Wikipedia as the last bastion in an internet taken over by corporations.

What really strikes me, though, is the notion of Wikipedia not as a respository of information, but as a process for finding the truth.

Modern society is built around truth as revealed wisdom from on high. Now, Facebook and Google etc. suck up most of the attention and avertising dollars, putting many traditional sources of truth in jeopardy.

But the broadcast model of truth has always been flawed. Not least by how it is inherently captured by those who own and operate it. It is also predicated on passivity among those who consume it.

Wikipedia, on the other hand, offers a model of truth as something we can all be engaged in, as something ongoing. It is by no means perfect - as nothing really is - but its potentially much better than what we are used to. And this is largely achieved through design, the tenets of which can be copied or extrapolated.

...From a contemporary perspective, though, the most significant design decision was that every page would have a public discussion page attached to it, which meant that there would be a record of all the arguments that had led to particular changes... Controversial changes made without any corresponding explanation on the discussion page could be reverted by others without having to rely on a judgment on the merits – instead, the absence of explanation for something non-self-explanatory could be reason enough to be sceptical of it...

...Reading Wikipedia discussion pages provides a way of understanding how a particular proposition or assertion came to be made and how it evolved over time. It’s like reading the transcript of an argument that has gone on for a long time – an attempt to track rationality in action. Like every other human-made thing, it’s imperfect. But in a polarised political climate, it shows what can be done to preserve us from the madness of hysterical, uncivil, conspiracist discourse that now characterises social media...