Sharecroppers Have it Better

Seth Finkelstein’s latest column for the Guardian examines Jimbo Wales’ efforts to expand his empire outside Wikipedia:

In general, we are poorly served by slogans such as the “wisdom of crowds”, which often stand for nothing beyond finding a few popular selections by various types of polling. It may work well for entertainment sites, and business owners are enthused at how consumers can be led to volunteer to undertake part of the process of determining what to sell to a target market. But the idea that these simple systems can be applied to deep value-laden social problems, of politics, or even relevant search results, is like trying to use a hammer to turn screws on the basis that it works so well to hit nails.

He uses the “digital sharecropper” image to describe Wikipedia contributors. Actually, sharecroppers do make some money from their work, so Wikipedia contributors are more like slaves. But given the voluntary nature of their participation, “slaves” overstates the inferiority of their status relative to Wiki overlords Wales et. al. Perhaps “brainwashed cult members” works best.

See Seth’s blog for more.

And for related news, see this Valleywag story about Wikipedia’s number two and his defense of pedophilia. Not kidding, boys and girls, it’s for real.

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