Can Wikipedia really challenge traditional knowledge ´gatekeepers´?

´Broadly speaking, the most intensive scrutiny has centered on two main issues: Wikipedia’s breathtaking growth and popularity as a basic reference for a remarkably wide sweep of topics in numerous languages; and persistent worries about its quality – its credibility, accuracy, validity, and even (among philosophers) its epistemic value´. (Lievrouw,2011:201)

I think this in a nutshell represents what Wikipedia is nowadays, a source of vast of information of any kind, which but at the same time is a target of long-lasting dilemma whether these information are qualitative enough to compete. I think I am not the only person who on a regular basis visits Wikipedia and goes first to Wikipedia to learn about something unknown. It has became almost routine for Internet users to use Wikipedia, the easy and  encyclopedic way of Wikipedia can give ´information seekers´ as me the starting point to learn. The popularity of Wikipedia may, but in a big portion stem from its commons, being a project of commons knowledge, where knowledge is produced by amateurs and not knowledge ´gatekeepers´ in form of credibilited authors, publishing houses or other traditional links that have the power over knowledge distribution.

On the other hand from my experience during my student life, I many times crossed personal and academic struggle how and if to use Wikipedia as a source of information in my assignment papers or essays. It seems to always come down to the topic of ´not being a trustworthy source´. Thus then when I elaborate about the role of commons knowledge project such as Wikipedia as being a challenge to the traditional institutionalized knowledge and expert authorities as expressed by Lievrouw, it leaves me doubtful. Doubtful about the commons knowledge projects power to rival traditional keepers of knowledge. It makes me question if a collective effort of ordinary people ´information amateurs´ can challenge the dominant means of knowledge institutions. Lievrouw mentions writers who say that collective knowledge enhances the autonomy and liberty of individuals and streghtens democratic practises against technocratic elites, but at the same time he stresses the common issues associated with commons knowledge projects. Firstly Lievrouw says that commons knowledge is volunteer- based, thus it may contribute to the ´free labor´ outlook problem of nowadays creative industries. Secondly that information on websites such as Wikipedia may not be always so democratic, since they also depend on anonymous sources and reproductions of information, thus this leads to the third and for me personally the biggest issue- ´the no guarantee of quality´.

One of the more idealistic ideas about Wikipedia is many times connected to enhancing the democracy with being more free and unbiased source of information than those traditional ones, because it is constituted by a collective effort and not single or priviliged group of professionals. But Wikipedia´s articles are based on many sources some of which include also as their basis ´institutional´ work of some academics, that may already be biased in one direction. Athe same time even the ´amateurs´ itself go in their contribution process to Wikipedia thought sort of gatekeeping, they pick up some articles while neglecting others.

I think its not possible to 100% proclaim that Wikipedia is an alternative and that is the only thing Wikipedia represents, since it at some point will apply a sort of ´filtering of information´ and apply a more like traditional knowledge gatekeepers policies and rules of how to contribute to the website so the information are not just a collection of any information, but trustworthy ones. I think more what Wikipedia can be if not a sole alternative to other power knowledge sources, at least for me is a good basic starting point of entry into my process of getting new knowledge that can direct me to many other usefull links also outside of Wikipedia. Wikipedia I think thus serves as a complementary source of information to traditional sources and thus go hand in hand with them rather than against them.

The idea of a collective people information production site however more than traditional knowledge gatekeepers serve as a platform for participation. People can be part of information distribution channel as contributors, editors and this certainly does in some ways contribute to free expression, free entry of ideas, any ideas, that would not be possible for an amateur contributor, to  express in or break into the structures of old knowledge gatekeepers. Wikipedia despite of the criticism over bugs of reliability and quality, I think does not take its fame of being one of the top commons knowledge projects, being a big information playground to learn, discover and participate. I am sure next time I will encounter any unknown term I will again not hesitate to search for it on Wikipedia, as I believe will do many other Internet users daily.

Reference:

Lievrouw, L. (2011) Alternative and Activist Media. Cambridge: Polity Press