How to understand the internet and new pseudoacademic anonymity

This weeks readings saw a shift from the creation of the Internet and with it the emergence of faster communication towards anonymous intellectual collaboration. The role of the ‘masses’ plays a big part in keeping the intellectual state of the Internet alive. The authors draw on Wikipedia (Rosenzweig, Swartz) and more general community projects (Owens, Benjamin) to put forward their take on Internet collaboration. To briefly summarize this topic, the Internet finds its most successful projects to be free to access and free to edit educational archives, which bring about certain realities and headaches for scholars. The biggest questions seem to be ‘who does the editing?’, verifying the quality of these hobby articles as well as what exactly these academic outsiders or faceless contributors do that tradition forms of information transmission has not (Filene).


From what I can tell, there seems to be a lot of old norms at play here, such as the general mistrust of collaborative work given academia’s long history of pursuing personal glory or research. Another thing is the fact that we don’t quite understand how or why exactly these systems work – the founder of Wikipedia himself believed that it was on the backs of a few thousands that articles found themselves published, and Aaron Swartz initially thought similar with an 80-20 split. Both proved to be very off-mark and with a rather quick test it was shown that it was in fact anonymous individuals throwing in their information into the deep well of the web and afterwards being formatted to the ‘active’ thousands liking instead of the ‘active’ few doing all the legwork. We also see that in the case of cultural projects and crowdsourcing (Owens seems to want to find a more accurate term) that ‘crowds’ as we think of them are not always the ones advancing our knowledge database, but often the dedicated individuals, amateurs.


It interests me that not only is there no consensus on how exactly these projects are getting done, or who is to be attributed credit to, but they are. Some believe it is one group of individuals who are overly dedicated, while others point to a faceless mass that slowly builds up the archive of communal knowledge. Many have come to almost outright dislike things like Wikipedia for while it has information, it lacks credibility. In my opinion, I’m at the complete opposite side of the table as authors who mistrust Wikipedia and communal Internet projects, not just because I believe in the goodness of man, but also because I feel this is completely new territory in the field of collective knowledge unlike our hundreds and hundreds of years of static academia. I would not try to conceive of any notions to describe or understand the processes involved in the creation and maintaining of these projects based on the realities of yesterday. I would go about it by observing the projects grow organically and be a lot less suspicious.

I’m interested to see what the rest of you think, and maybe I’ve focused too much on just a single aspect of our readings but it is what caught my attention the most.


2 Responses to “How to understand the internet and new pseudoacademic anonymity”

  1. What interested me about the Swartz and the Owens reading is their optimism towards the “amateur.” The Swartz reading found that although it was a small few who formatted pages to their correct uniformity it is the lone amateur that adds in their actual bit of information to the page. Similarly Owens seemed rather optimistic in the ways in which different groups and projects could use an open sourced platform to recruit people to do specific tasks that can be easily done with some basic instructions. Owens in particular seems enamoured with the “passionate amateur” somebody who has no formal training but is nonetheless able to viably contribute to larger projects. Although there is also this inherent distrust in “amateurs” to be able to actively contribute Owens believes that under the correct condition an open source system could have great potential. Good Work!

  2. “not just because I believe in the goodness of man”
    This is a topic that I was thinking of exploring but I thought it to be too philosophical to me. I somewhat natively agree with you about the “goodness of man” which seem to act as a safeguard against vandalism. In addition to this I think it would be important to mention the additional tools we have for preventing/undoing this vandalism as it inevitably might occur- it’s no longer the case that we have hardcopies to stay loyal to, we can just ctrl-z!

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