Speaking of Wikipedia, the LA Times has an interesting article today about what happened when Jimmy Wales — the founder — posted a one-sentence article about a butcher shop on the outskirts of Cape Town. It was deleted quickly — not important enough — but then a big debate ensued. The Times piece turned to the bigger issue:
Perhaps the granddaddy of all the Wikipedia debates is the question of which information deserves to be included, and which doesn’t. So-called Inclusionists believe that because Wikipedia is not bound by the same physical limits as a paper encyclopedia, it shouldn’t have the same conceptual limits either. If there’s room for an article on unreleased Kylie Minogue singles — and a group of people who might find it useful — why not include it? Deletionists, meanwhile, believe that because not all articles are created equal, judicious pruning increases the overall quality of Wikipedia’s information and strengthens its reputation. An encyclopedia, they say, is not just a dumping ground for facts.
While the people who run craigslist try hard to figure out what users want and how to give it to them — starting with the assumption that they themselves do not know — the people who run Wikipedia play God, at least by comparison. In this debate, both sides are playing God. As Aaron Swartz said, it isn’t wise. Jane Jacobs tells a story about a Pennsylvania Girl Scout troop. They were snobs; they made it hard for new members to join (the Wikipedian attitude that Aaron criticized). The girls who couldn’t get in formed their own troop. Several years later the new troop was thriving; the old troop was dying.