In praise of Wikipedia
赞美维基百科

狄德罗之梦 Diderot’s dream-书迷号 shumihao.com

WIKIPEDIA IS CLEAR on the matter: Wikipedia is not a reliable source. Yet on this particular question, few people seem to agree with the world’s most popular encyclopedia. The site approaches its 20th birthday, on January 15th, as the 13th-most-visited place on the web, offering more than 55m articles written in 300 languages. Worries about fake news, filter bubbles and market power have soured public opinion on the Utopian promises of the early internet. But Wikipedia—written by amateurs, freely available to all—stands as the great exception. It is the dream that worked.
维基百科有一点说得很明白:维基百科不是一个可靠的资料来源。不过对于这一点,似乎没有多少人认同这部全球最受欢迎的百科全书的说法。1月15日,维基百科迎来了自己的20岁生日,此时它是访问量第13大网站,提供以300种语言编写的超过5500万页条目。对假新闻、“过滤气泡”和市场操控的担忧让公众对早期互联网的乌托邦承诺幻想破灭,但由业余人士撰写并免费提供给所有人的维基百科却是个突出的例外。它是梦想得以实现的例子。

Or at least, mostly worked. Wikipedia’s crowdsourced model remains vulnerable to the occasional hoaxer or chancer. In August it emerged that many articles on the Scots version of the site had been written by an American editor who, by his own admission, was not really a speaker of the dialect. Nor is it free from honest mistakes. That can cause problems: for better or worse, powerful platforms from social-media firms to the World Health Organisation have come to treat it as a wellspring of truth online. All the same, the world is much better off for its existence.
或者说,至少大体上实现了。维基百科的众包模式还是会偶尔遇到恶搞或投机。去年8月,有人发现维基百科苏格兰语版上的许多条目其实是由一位美国编辑撰写的,他本人承认自己实际上不怎么会讲这种英语方言。维基百科上也不是没有无心之失。这可能会引发问题,毕竟无论好坏,从社交媒体公司到世界卫生组织的各种强大平台都已把它看做是一个线上真相源泉。尽管如此,世界还是因为维基百科的存在而变得美好了许多。

Indeed, familiarity may have dulled the scale of its achievements. As well as being roughly as accurate as old-style encyclopedias, Wikipedia is also incomparably broader. Curious readers can learn about worthy subjects like Homer, general relativity or the Taiping Rebellion. They can also read about Québécois slang, the nature of magic in the “Harry Potter” novels and the fortunes of Yeovil Town Football Club, which toils in obscurity in the fifth tier of the English league. Denis Diderot, the 18th-century editor of the French Encyclopédie, hoped to “assemble all the knowledge scattered over the face of the Earth”. Wikipedia would have delighted him.
事实上,人们可能因为司空见惯而没有意识到维基百科实际取得的成就。维基百科不仅在准确度上与旧式百科全书大致相当,内容还无可比拟地广泛。好学的读者可以从中了解荷马、广义相对论或太平天国之乱等有价值的主题。他们还可以读到魁北克俚语、《哈利波特》小说中魔法的特性、英格兰足球第五级联赛中默默无闻的约维尔镇足球俱乐部(Yeovil Town Football Club)的际遇浮沉。18世纪法语《科学、美术与工艺百科全书》(Encyclopédie)的主编德尼·狄德罗(Denis Diderot)希望“把散落在地球上各地的所有知识集合起来”。要是他能看到今天的维基百科,一定会很欣慰。

The project owes much of its success to its unique structure. Funded by donations, Wikipedia earns no profits. It has no venture-capital backers demanding growth at all costs. Without advertisers to satisfy, it can focus exclusively on the interests of its readers and contributors. It is curated and run by people, not machines. There is no recommendation algorithm humming away in the background, choosing what to show readers in order to keep them glued to the site for as long as possible.
这个项目的成功很大程度上归功于它独特的结构。维基百科由捐款资助,不谋求盈利,没有风险资本家在背后要求不惜代价的增长,不需要讨好广告商,因而可以仅专注于其读者和条目编辑者的利益。它由人而非机器策划和运作,没有推荐算法在后台运行来选择向读者显示的内容以求让人长时间沉迷其中。

Other tech titans should study its success. Relying on algorithms is one reason they have achieved enormous scale with so few employees. Yet the downsides have begun to haunt them. As the social-media giants hire ever more people as moderators, and write ever longer sets of rules about what is allowed, Wikipedia offers a lesson in how to run a human-powered website.
其他科技巨头应该对维基百科的成功做一番研究。它们用这么少的员工人数达到如此庞大规模的原因之一是依赖算法,但其弊端已开始困扰它们。随着社交媒体巨头聘请越来越多的内容审查员,并制定越来越长的规则来管控用户的行为,维基百科为如何运营由人员驱动的网站提供了借鉴。

It is also a welcome boost for Enlightenment values, which have suffered at the hands of populism and authoritarian capitalism. If Wikipedia’s occasional scandals make people approach it with a little scepticism, all the better, for fair-minded scepticism is a healthy attitude in general. Wikipedia sees itself as a work in progress. If a fact is wrong, it invites users to persuade others so that it can be corrected. Its internal culture holds that knowledge comes from evidence, reason and good-faith debate, not pronouncements from the pulpit or the party.
启蒙价值观受到了民粹主义和专制资本主义的戕害,维基百科对它的提振也是人们所乐见的。如果说维基百科偶尔出现的丑闻让人们对它抱有一点怀疑,那也是好事,因为合理的怀疑通常是一种健康的态度。维基百科认为自己是一个不断发展的未完成项目。当内容被指有误时,它会邀请用户说服他人,以纠正错误。维基百科的内部文化认为,知识源于证据、理性和善意辩论,而非源于宗教布道或政党宣言。

Like any institution, Wikipedia has flaws. It sometimes fails to live up to its own ideals. The nature of crowdsourcing means its quality varies. The most popular articles receive the most scrutiny, and tend to be the best. That leaves a long tail of obscure entries of lower quality. Articles can be overlong, or too technical. Much of its magic comes from the distinctive culture that has built up among contributors—but cultures can be fragile.
和任何机构一样,维基百科也有缺陷。它有时无法达致自己的理想。众包的特点意味着内容质量会参差不齐。最受欢迎的条目受到最严格的审查,质量往往最高。但在此之外是大量受关注不多、质量较低的词条。条目内容可能过于冗长或充斥着术语。维基百科的魔力主要来自编辑者们建立起来的独特文化,但文化可能并不牢靠。

Perhaps its biggest flaw is that, for all its breadth, it is still too narrow. The site’s editors are mostly male, and mostly from North America and Europe. A small number do a disproportionate share of the work. That colours both the encyclopedia’s choice of entries and the way it covers them. Wikipedians have been trying to change that, but progress has been too slow. A lot is at stake. In rich, liberal countries, where information is widely available, Wikipedia is a convenience. In poorer places, and illiberal ones, it can be quietly revolutionary. ■
或许,维基百科最大的缺陷是:尽管它的内容如此广泛,却还是过于狭隘。该网站的编辑者大多是男性,而且大多来自北美和欧洲。一小批人编撰了内容的一大部分。这会影响到维基百科对条目的选择和诠释方式。维基人一直想改变这种状况,但进展太慢。这里牵涉很多风险。在富裕、自由的国家,信息广泛开放,维基百科提供了一种便利。在较贫穷、不自由的地方,它可以成为悄然革命的工具。