Google or Wikipedia? Those of us who search online — and who doesn’t? — are getting referred more and more to Wikipedia. For the past two years, this free online “encyclopedia of the people” has been topping the lists of the world’s most popular websites. But do we really know what we’re using? Backlight plunges into the story behind Wikipedia and explores the wonderful world of Web 2.0. Is it a revolution, or pure hype?
Director IJsbrand van Veelen goes looking for the truth behind Wikipedia. Only five people are employed by the company, and all its activities are financed by donations and subsidies. The online encyclopedia that everyone can contribute to and revise is now even bigger than the illustrious Encyclopedia Britannica.
Does this spell the end for traditional institutions of knowledge such as Britannica? And should we applaud this development as progress or mourn it as a loss? How reliable is Wikipedia? Do “the people” really hold the lease on wisdom? And since when do we believe that information should be free for all?
In this film, “Wikipedians,” the folks who spend their days writing and editing articles, explain how the online encyclopedia works. In addition, the parties involved discuss Wikipedia’s ethics and quality of content. It quickly becomes clear that there are camps of both believers and critics.
Wiki’s Truth introduces us to the main players in the debate: Jimmy Wales (founder and head Wikipedian), Larry Sanger (co-founder of Wikipedia, now head of Wiki spin-off Citizendium), Andrew Keen (author of The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet Is Killing Our Culture and Assaulting Our Economy), Phoebe Ayers (a Wikipedian in California), Ndesanjo Macha (Swahili Wikipedia, digital activist), Tim O’Reilly (CEO of O’Reilly Media, the “inventor” of Web 2.0), Charles Leadbeater (philosopher and author of We Think, about crowdsourcing), and Robert McHenry (former editor-in-chief of Encyclopedia Britannica). Opening is a video by Chris Pirillo.
The questions surrounding Wikipedia lead to a bigger discussion of Web 2.0, a phenomenon in which the user determines the content. Examples include YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, and Wikipedia. These sites would appear to provide new freedom and opportunities for undiscovered talent and unheard voices, but just where does the boundary lie between expert and amateur? Who will survive according to the laws of this new “digital Darwinism”? Are equality and truth really reconcilable ideals? And most importantly, has the Internet brought us wisdom and truth, or is it high time for a cultural counterrevolution?