Chris Wilson on Technology

Chris Wilson is doing a bang-up job at Slate: his latest, on the myth of Web 2.0 democracy, is excellent, and not the predictable harangue you might be expecting.

Palo Alto Research Center’s Ed Chi, the scientist who determined that 1 percent of Wikipedians author half of the content, told me he originally hypothesized that the site’s most energetic editors were acting as custodians. Chi guessed that these users mostly cleaned up after the people who provided the bulk of the encyclopedia’s facts. In reality, he found the opposite was true (PDF). People who’ve made more than 10,000 edits add nearly twice as many words to Wikipedia as they delete. By contrast, those who’ve made fewer than 100 edits are the only group that deletes more words than it adds. A small number of people are writing the articles, it seems, while less-frequent users are given the tasks of error correction and typo fixing.

This certainly reflects my experience, and I tend to think this is all to the good. But Wilson offers some thoughts about how to broaden the base of contributors, asking

Is this a necessary artifact of operating an open-access site? Or is it possible to build a clearinghouse for high-quality, user-generated content without giving too much power to elite users and secret sauces?

Check out the piece, and also check out his piece on the fight for the future of cloud computing, a robotic analysis of the state of the union, and his incredibly zany Obama glossary. This guy is a true talent, and he happens to cover one of the beats I care about most.