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Reason for this entry:
The NZZ asked me in March 2020 if I wanted to do a text on the 20th anniversary of Wikipedia. I delivered two texts. One on Wikipedia and a second on Wikidata. The first text was published in April 2020. The second text was not accepted. For the current occasion I have both texts translated into English by #chatGPT4. I will not make any changes to them. The original texts are linked below.#ChatGPT4: Natürlich, ich kann den Text für Sie ins Englische übersetzen. Hier ist die Übersetzung:
#CoronaVirus Provokes the “Thick-Skinned”
The full chaos has escalated: Numbers, facts, images are still racing through the live ticker. Fear has turned into panic. Reaction into overreaction. Who offers calm, sober, factual knowledge in times like these? Science? The Federal Council? Quality press? Volunteers on Wikipedia.
Stefan M. Seydel/sms ;-)
Wikipedia has existed for almost two decades. For a decade now, the German-language Wikipedia community has been mired in seemingly insoluble conflicts: The number of contributors is steadily decreasing, the relevance criteria for entries is dominated by a meritocracy, the fun of editing is pulverized. And yet the results are impressive.
In the first decade, it was said, “Where everyone can take notes, there can be no quality.” In the second decade, the sparrows whistle it from the rooftops: “Against fake news, a look at the discussion page and the version history in the corresponding entry on Wikipedia helps.” — If it’s so simple, why hasn’t it long since become common knowledge?
“The survival of the pachyderm in times of sensitivity.” (Ernst Peter Fischer)
Understanding Wikipedia is quite simple. But it requires an understanding of how science works: Science creates knowledge by making the implicit explicit and relentlessly exposing it to criticism. And this — and nothing less — is exactly what the free software “Mediawiki” of the sponsoring organization “Wikimedia-Foundation” makes possible.
Even the smallest entry — every edit — is logged in Wikipedia down to the hundredth of a second. The genesis of the text is ideally transparent and fully traceable. In the version history, a graphic bar shows what is entered and what is deleted: The scandalized “edit wars” thus become immediately visible. And because all versions of a text state can be compared, the dispute illuminates the argument.
Granted: Wikipedia cannot be consumed like an encyclopedia in the form of a book. But those who put in the effort get a lot of insight, whether it’s about Donald Trump, the founding of the state, or the corona virus.
Just like the possibility of anonymous publishing by means of letterpress printing, Wikipedia also radically focuses on the elaboration of arguments: Who enters something is not of interest at first. But whether and how a statement is substantiated and made verifiable, whether the idea entered contributes to the creation of multi-perspectivity, whether it succeeds in criticizing central aspects of an argument — verifying or falsifying — that is what interests. Radical. Exclusively.
Unfortunately, the real-life, German-language Wikipedia looks different today. In combination with more than 300 language versions and a rapidly growing Wikidata, the research environment is nevertheless something of the best that is freely accessible on the Internet these days.
So if a knowledge-creating environment is so robust, why isn’t Wikipedia protected as aggressively as the university? Why hasn’t the public service taken Wikipedia under its wing long ago?
- Why should politics admit that there are also quite different ideas on how “the consensus to disagree” (Mani Matter) could be worked out?
- Why should science admit that the production of knowledge, also outside the university, is possible?
- Why should economy admit that quite excellent products, quite without money, can be produced?
- Why should mass media admit that robust, relevant, informative information is accessible entirely without their mediating activity?
- Why should the arts admit that more surprising, provocative, and fascinating criticism is carried into discourse on the Internet?
- Why should educational institutions at all levels admit that learning and teaching is possible beyond year classes?
Against this background, Stefan Haupt’s Zwingli film offers itself as a metaphor. It depicts how “new media” — at that time the possibility of anonymous publishing by means of letterpress — undermine the legitimacy of the “pachyderms” and make possible a long-awaited, next answer to “The Social Question:
Zwingli squats on his chariot in the very first scene, gawking at his new medium. Zwingli was supplied with the latest writings from near and far by “limping Andreas” (Castelberger) in Hottingen. This new, different, next knowledge flooded the city. Unlike Luther in Germany, Zurich worked in collaborative writing systems. That is why we speak of the Zurich Bible to this day: in such working environments, there are no longer authors, and there is no longer any question of establishing authorship.
What was established 500 years ago applies to Wikipedia today: The quality of an entry in Wikipedia declines if too few or too many collaborate. If, however, it succeeds that the most diverse perspectives are entered, that the “community care” of the administrators is focused on maintaining the joy of editing, then entries become prudent starting points for further research.
How existential an “informational commons” is can be read in the current escalation around Corona Virus: Marc Walder, CEO of Ringier, rebukes the NZZ via Twitter and calls a refused equalization of all mass leading media in Switzerland “unsolidaric”. ZDF deletes a contribution with pharma critic Wolfgang Wodarg. Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, announces that there will be no cooperation with ignoramuses and deniers of scientific knowledge. We do not even want to imagine their possibilities to hide unpopular information.
https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Sei_mutigEgal, how bad or even wrong a piece of information on Wikipedia is: The dispute about the origin of the current entry has an enlightening effect. The discussion page and the version history tell — including graphical representation — about the “editwar”. Deletion within Wikipedia is hardly possible, has to be justified and discussed, and leaves linkable traces. It can be edited, archived, structured, emptied, blocked or hidden. That all this is “esoteric knowledge of insiders” may contain a grain of truth: It is strange, however, why this easily learnable “secret knowledge” has not long been part of the “compulsory literature” in schools, universities or educational television. It cannot be due to missing explanation pages within Wikipedia. The input of WP:MUT in the search field at Wikipedia, helps.
WIKIPEDIA IS NOT PAPER
Even before it was known what Wikipedia was, a dispute with Jimmy Wales in 2002 clearly answered what Wikipedia is not: “paper”. There is no space limitation at all. It is very easy to edit. There is no editorial deadline. And on and on it goes.
What “Jimbo” — as the community more or less tenderly calls the founder of Wikipedia — has never understood in all these years is that it is precisely the principle of “Anyone can edit” that guarantees success. One after the other, he tried to prove that main authors, experts and specialists were needed. But the only successful Wikimedia.org projects are those that have been kept radically open.
Open is the new safe
And then it suddenly strikes us that open, inclusive, dissent-favoring, collaborative writing systems have long since become the supporting networks of our societies:
People have been working on the idea of a blockchain since 1991. Since 1992 on the open operating system Linux, without which hardly any computer is kept in the network today. In 2001, not only Wikipedia appeared out of nowhere, but also an entire legal system that understands copyright as “the right to copy”: the Creative Commons. Many programming languages have been created this way. For example, Pyton. Content management systems like WordPress. Khan Academy shows how traditional knowledge can be taught to children in a completely different way. Once understood what to look for, the enumeration hardly finds an end.
In just three decades, the World Wide Web has fostered a global communication culture that people seem to intuitively understand. Children who were born with their thumbs on their smartphones are exchanging ideas. Show each other on TikTok how seemingly complicated things can be made simple. They distribute their ideas more effortlessly than pamphlets did in the time of Zwingli: If something works, it is adopted. In no time at all. Globally, regionally, locally, individually.
While the Boomer generation described a necessary paradigm shift, in the current Corona crisis it is now actually noticeable that the ecological challenge, the economic challenge, the communicative challenge precisely cannot be meaningfully dealt with using the action patterns of the “pachyderms”. Politics, science, economy, mass media, art, educational institutions are easily recognizable in the Zwingli film in the role of the Bishop of Constance.
But this must be credited to the pragmatic forces around Zwingli and Bullinger: They first drowned out the radical forces as they achieved their Reformation goals: The priests wanted to establish families. The guilds did not want to have their business activities determined from the pulpit. And the city of Zurich could finally become an independent administration.
If Wikipedia is celebrating “the marriage of traditional knowledge with the electronic machine” (Umberto Eco), it would be a good moment to take another fresh look at this global culture of discourse and not let the resulting informational commons disintegrate. In particular, because since 2012 Wikidata has been realizing the communicative inclusion of those who have long been communicating with us: The machines. But that would be a next topic.
Stefan M. Seydel is an entrepreneur, social worker and artist. As a blogger, he has been using the abbreviation sms for decades, as well as the abbreviation sms2sms on social media and in Wikipedia.
Open is the new safe — #TheGreatReset
What if … — just for play! — What if Wikipedia and Wikidata were adopted as the two most low-threshold and practically relevant collaborative writing processes in human history? Would it be possible to learn from them how world society seeks to communicate? Would this observation be able to describe the requirements of a public service at the height of the times? Could the distinction between “Open” and “Free” defended there even be a signpost to the “great filter” that must be overcome in order to realize #TheGreatReset @wef? — An attempt.
Stefan M. Seydel/sms ;-)
It is very easy to understand how it could happen that Wikipedia has been used for twenty years by most people with internet access around the globe, but rarely described appreciatively, curiously, offensively in the content of social innovation: “Wikipedia provokes the pachyderms.” (NZZ, April 18, 2020, page 7) Why, on the other hand, Wikidata may not be communicated, that must have other reasons, is most astonishing and urgently in need of explanation:
Wikidata does not provoke politics, science, economy, mass media, arts, educational institution in any way. Wikidata ignores pachyderms. If data is the new oil, Wikidata is an unconcernedly bubbling source on an openly accessible, entirely free commons.
Who is afraid of greenfield projects?
Wikidata is a classic project on a greenfield site: Free of any social restrictions, people tinker and build, try out and improve. The most committed forces, who started what became a woe!woe!woe! for others, described the basic idea back in 2001. They tried to launch a powerful movement with the best people, successful networks, attractive meetings and among many great names: Semantic Web, Web 3.0, Giant Global Graph, Web of Data, Linked Open Data … None of it succeeded. That changed on October 29, 2012, when the idea was implemented in the Wikimedia Foundation’s Mediawiki software environment. The supporting organization is committed to “free knowledge” and “free content”. Its best-known project is called Wikipedia.
The construction of the global encyclopedia of the knowledge handed down by people, had a similar odyssey behind it until the breakthrough was achieved on January 15, 2001. With the change from an “open” to a “free” working environment, wind has fallen into the sails. That’s what the working thesis here wants to suggest: The two little words “Open” and “Free” make the difference, which make the practical difference.
But first, the question of what the difference is between Wikipedia and Wikidata. Spoiler: “Wikidata is Wikipedia for machines.”
The workflow of creating knowledge as established in classical science applies equally to Wikipedia and Wikidata: The implicit is made explicit and openly accessible to radical criticism. Whoever makes a statement is obliged to seek criticism and to integrate it. For criticism itself there is no input form and no standards of decency. Science is the best way in our form of culture so far to deal with the corrosive circumstance that all human knowledge is colored, selective, perspectival knowledge. That’s why informational quality is measured by how comprehensively dissenting cues are included.
The provocation now lies in the fact that a computer-mediated reading/writing process not only pulverizes the limitations of the academic workflow through publication on paper and the associated expense of distribution to obtain critique, or the storage of version histories of ideas in the university library with a click, but flaunts other most fascinating “goodies”:
- There is unlimited space for the most diverse to unfold.
- The radical traceability and transparency of the genesis of the text is ideally offered in all its versions to the hundredth of a second.
- In Wikidata, the unconditional “Anyone Can Edit” of Wikipedia extends to machines, and:
- When a record undergoes an update, it can be brought to display in real time within Wikidata.
This has enormous advantages for the creation of knowledge of humans and changes most powerfully the entire social life in all directions.
Naive, who does not immediately have a thousand ideas for the most dramatic problems and challenges. Naive, too, who pretends that the fascination of Wikidata just has to be hushed up long enough to eradicate the basic idea.
Caught in this dilemma, the official hashtag of @wef 2021 is refreshing: #TheGreatReset. As always, @elonmusk boldly tweets one more on top: “We must pass The Great Filter.” It is not answered in what these high-flyers and subversive bottom-feeders recognize the great filter, which must be overcome in order to tackle a new start, a next reformation, the supposedly necessary greenfield project.
On August 27, 2018, Stefan Langenauer, head of the Statistical Office of the Canton of Zurich, in his welcome to the national annual meeting of his discipline #SST18, wishes that after 150 years of government statistics, control over data would be relinquished.
What might have caused some of his accurate colleagues to gasp and shake their heads in disbelief is, of course, merely a realistic comprehension of what can be photographed: Data sovereignty has long since passed to what is disparagingly and admiringly called #GAFAM in equal measure: Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft. In a tweet during the writing process for this text, @LangenauerStefn specifies what he meant to express two years ago: “…lose control of “our” data so that third parties can drive discourse based on the data.” — Persuaded:
“On to the controversy”
When the state collects, gathers, analyzes and publishes processed data, this has always had the goal of serving fact-based, criticism-favoring discourses in offices, parliaments and citizens. But because we have just come out of the celebrations of 500 years of Reformation and because we are threatened from “Auf und Davos” via Twitter and Youtube or — depending on the denomination — promised that #TheGreatReset is at work, this state-coercively financed, extended production of facts first becomes recognizable as a predicate of the current cultural form: facts instead of fasting. (Like this?)
Because the idea of how people take for True is part of social agreement and understanding, it is worth looking at what the most current system theories have formulated as the next proposition and which has long since become dominant. Science, by the way, was also developed, taught and lived in monastic schools. Exactly the same the system theory in the university. What do the system theories say:
A system has three elements: It must be able to distinguish an inside from an outside. It must secondly have energy and thirdly communication, which guarantee reproduction and recursion. All three elements can shift. If one of the elements shifts, everything shifts. Everything is quite a lot. The early adopters called it paradigm shift. #TheGreatReset sounds cooler, though.
If the shift in the “human” system boundary is left out of the equation — although we’ve long since grown accustomed to artificial hip joints and it’s not a matter of time before motors and computers become similarly irritation-free — productive narratives have taken root in the realm of energy and communication:
Along the “Four Industrial Revolutions,” the science-driven field of energy can be shown: The successive phases of mechanization, motorization, automation, digitalization implicitly thematize the changes in the field of energy use and extraction: the transition from human muscle to natural forces (fire, water, wind), to fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas, nuclear fission), and now further to renewable energy (photosynthesis).
Humanities speak of media changes in the field of communication. In many iterations, four terms have also emerged (surprise!), but which are now to be read more symbolically here: Language, writing, letterpress, computer. Tribal, ancient, modern societies can be admired stuffed in the anthropological museum, and Suhrkamp has been pressing a lively game about the cultural form of a “next society” between two book covers for two decades. The description of the elements of a next cultural form, the concrete contents of a next literacy, which are collected under the hashtag #DataLiteracy, are becoming increasingly clear.
In short, while natural sciences developed a linear-causal-deterministic approach to the world, humanities have been inspired by a dynamic-processual-systemic approach to the world: The complementarity of the two starting points, of complication on the one hand and of complexity on the other hand, is evident and a situational use is a matter of course for every countrywoman: When preserving vegetables or fruits, it makes sense to work like the engineers: First pour what is to be preserved into the jar. Then screw the lid on. Not the other way around. No experiments. Zero creativity at this moment. But when it comes to teaching her cowherd and goat herder, within the “divine order”, what he has to stand for at the next Landsgemeinde, beautifully dressed up and freshly washed, she quite agilely applies more imaginative methods.
Nothing new under the sun. Or is there?
Even a tree can tweet. An intelligent light bulb reflects its own transience bone-dry and knows when its light will go out: It orders its own replacements from Amazon. In this respect, is a dumb light bulb wiser than some tie-dyed, highly decorated representatives of pachyderms?
When the head of the office @LangenauerStefn proposes to file the work results of all statistical offices in the open net. When his colleague from the city of Zurich @grandgrue also makes the codes they use for “data analysis, visualizations and co.” freely available on GitHub. Then it can be shown far more than what the little word “Open” means under the patronage of Sir @timberners_lee:
Data is open as soon as it is openly accessible on the Internet. That’s awarded one star. Awarded three stars, open data is when it is made accessible in a software environment that in turn also makes its data openly accessible. And on and on: 5stardata.info — When it comes to data, “Open” is the equivalent of “Secure”. And something with “Closed” the synonym for “Suspect”: Open Data, Open Source, Open Access, Open Science, Open Educational Resources … The end of the endless list (Umberto Eco) is open, but dealing with it has long since found a name: “Distributed Ledger Technology”.
“Free” is the new #ServicePublic.
If Jimbo Wales had his idea of an encyclopedia (Wikipedia) and Tim Berners-Lee had his idea of a Semantic Web (Wikidata) “Open” on the web, but it only found support around the globe under the promise of “Free”, can we now guess the difference?
A founding member of Wikimedia Switzerland and Italy once answered the question in a larger plenary at the University of Zurich, chuckling, “Open? — Just 2 little Free.” And kept silent. Consistently. Until today. He knows that 20 years ago it was no coincidence that Wikipedia wanted to be a “Free” — and not an “Open” — encyclopedia. It is the three German-language Wikimedia associations that are not only no longer willing to defend this difference, but are aggressively working to whisk it away. And already inquiries on discussion pages are regulated by the group dynamic processes of meritocracy: Who wants to indicate inwardly to be a meritorious address will do the necessary.
If an “Appeal for Free Debate Spaces” is currently signed by more than 15,000 people, then the difference between “Open” and “Free” is at best perceived: “Open” is the opposite of “Closed”. But “free” means not only being able to take part, but also to give part.
According to these assumptions, the big filter is likely to be the sharing economy. The World Economic Forum will want to see this differently. The consensus will be that no one needs state-distributed and pre-sorted news, and that state infotainment brings back the worst memories. A #ServicePublic at the height of the times would be recognizable by the fact that a professional #CommunityCare in a #SmartSetting protects open debate spaces and that these in turn can obtain bases, results and knowledge from a free commons and in turn also maintain them there. But that would be another topic.
Stefan M. Seydel is an entrepreneur, social worker and artist. He lives and works in Dissent.is/Muster. The “making of” this text with many links: https://dissent.is/nzz-wikidata
The Basic Textes in German:
“Wikipedia/Wikidata is the worst of all settings dealing with #DATA #INFORMATION #KNOWLEDGE. Except for all the others that have been tried.”user:sms2sms
“Wikipedia/Wikidata ist die schlechteste Umgebung im Umgang mit Daten, Information, Wissen auf der Höhe der Zeit. Ausser aller Anderen.” Stefan M. Seydel/sms ;-)