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Strong opinions, weakly held

Giving smart people stuff to do

Yesterday I read that Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday had drawn some unwanted attention to his article in Wikipedia. I checked out the page history and in looking over the revisions, I noticed a name that looked familiar among the people who were rolling back malicious changes to the page — Jpgordon. A quick trip over to the user’s bio page confirmed that it was in fact, Josh Gordon, a one time incredibly prolific user of The Well. Anyway, Josh used to be a full time programmer, struck it rich at eBay, and has retired. Anyway, Josh disappeared from The Well about 5 or 6 years ago, and I had wondered what he was up to. I’m not surprised to see that he has occupied himself by working to make Wikipedia better, mainly by working on thankless tasks like getting rid of junk and reverting vandalized pages. In discussions, he was always the person who brought facts to bear in an argument, and it’s logical that now he’s working on an encyclopedia.

I think this is the real secret to Wikipedia’s success. Josh is one of the smarter people I’ve met online, and would certainly command a high price for his services were he selling them on the open market. Wikipedia, just by existing and giving people something interesting to contribute to, gets a lot of labor out of him free of charge. I’m sure there are plenty of other Josh Gordons working on the site, and that explains in large part how Wikipedia turns anarchy into an orderly resource.

1 Comment

  1. Today I decided to google “jpgordon” and “wikipedia”, and look what I came up with! Thanks for the kind words, Rafe. I think you’re right about why Wikipedia can work: lots of people working hard for free. The big problem we face is that there are also people working hard for free at being destructive. There are fascinating issues regarding the balance between creating an encyclopedia and the Wiki philosophy; between order and anarchy; between freedom and license. I’m uncertain if Wikipedia can succeed, but it’s an interesting experiment to be part of.

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