Good article comparing Wikipedia’s development and life as that of a city by Noam Cohen, drawing on Lewis Mumford’s description of how a city comes to be:
Since their creation, cities have had to be accepting of strangers — no judgments — and residents learn to be subtly accommodating, outward looking.
Mumford elaborates: “Even before the city is a place of fixed residence, it begins as a meeting place to which people periodically return: the magnet comes before the container, and this ability to attract nonresidents to it for intercourse and spiritual stimulus no less than trade remains one of the essential criteria of the city, a witness to its essential dynamism, as opposed to the more fixed and indrawn form of the village, hostile to the outsider.”
The marvel of Wikipedia — and cities — is that all the intercourse and spiritual stimulus don’t make living there impossible. Rather, they are exactly what makes living there possible.
It is this sidewalk-like transparency and collective responsibility that makes Wikipedia as accurate as it is. The greater the foot traffic, the safer the neighborhood. Thus, oddly enough, the more popular, even controversial, an article is, the more likely it is to be accurate and free of vandalism. It is the obscure articles — the dead-end streets and industrial districts, if you will — where more mayhem can be committed. It takes longer for errors or even malice to be noticed and rooted out. (Fewer readers will be exposed to those errors, too.)
Like the modern megalopolis, Wikipedia has decentralized growth. Wikipedia adds articles the way Beijing adds neighborhoods — whenever the mood strikes. It is open to all: the sixth-grader typing in material from her homework assignment, the graduate student with a limited grasp of English. No judgments, no entry pass.
That simple and that beautiful…