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The Fate of Expertise after Wikipedia

  • Lawrence M. Sanger

Wikipedia has challenged traditional notions about the roles of experts in the Internet Age. Section 1 sets up a paradox. Wikipedia is a striking popular success, and yet its success can be attributed to the fact that it is wide open and bottom-up. How can such a successful knowledge project disdain expertise? Section 2 discusses the thesis that if Wikipedia could be shown by an excellent survey of experts to be fantastically reliable, then experts would not need to be granted positions of special authority. But, among other problems, this thesis is self-stultifying. Section 3 explores a couple ways in which egalitarian online communities might challenge the occupational roles or the epistemic leadership roles of experts. There is little support for the notion that the distinctive occupations that require expertise are being undermined. It is also implausible that Wikipedia and its like might take over the epistemic leadership roles of experts. Section 4 argues that a main reason that Wikipedia’s articles are as good as they are is that they are edited by knowledgeable people to whom deference is paid, although voluntarily. But some Wikipedia articles suffer because so many aggressive people drive off people more knowledgeable than they are; so there is no reason to think that Wikipedia’s articles will continually improve. Moreover, Wikipedia’s commitment to anonymity further drives off good contributors. Generally, some decisionmaking role for experts is not just consistent with online knowledge communities being open and bottom-up, it is recommended as well.

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  • ISSN: 1742-3600
  • EISSN: 1750-0117
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