Interview with Florian Cramer

by Juliana Brunello

Have you/would you contribute in editing Wikipedia? Do you use it?

Yes, I have contributed to Wikipedia and am the principal author of a few articles in the German and English Wikipedia.

You mentioned in your presentation that Wikipedia is precisely the opposite of a CPoV, because it is based on objectivism. Do you believe it is possible to successfully create a project like Wikipedia based on CPoV instead of NPoV?

Not as a unified resource where diverging views have to be merged into a single text since the balancing of those views would itself imply a NPoV. The most realistic model would be to replace the current database underlying the Wikipedia Wiki with a distributed version control system that allows to run several branches of a project in sync to each other.(“Project Levitation”, an initiative by the German Chaos Computer Club, tried to do just that, but doesn’t seem to have gone anywhere.)

How would it look like?

Probably like a number of parallel versions of the current Wikipedia where the articles have a stronger critical voice, and do not pretend to purvey objective knowledge.

Why has no one created it yet?

Because there are issues of scale. Such a system is considerably more complex and requires more work, but Wikipedia has a limited number of contributors and administrators. As we have learned at the CPOV conference, limitations of administrative capacity – time for and necessary amounts of editorial work – are the bottleneck of Wikipedia, and the genuine root of exclusionism and mainstreaming of voices.

Would that still be an encyclopedia?

The definition of “encyclopedia” is not set in stone. The success of Wikipedia was founded on leveraging new technological possibilities of collaborative authorship in the Internet, much in contrast to the standard approach of considering the Internet just another channel or outlet for existing media and editorial work flows. It seems as if Wikipedia has reached a critical impasse now and needs to make the next step embracing networked media and ridding entirely itself from the textbook paradigm.

Would it be better than Wikipedia’s NPoV?

It would depend on the particular domain of knowledge. The current Wikipedia policy is good for articles on engineering, science and other areas of formal knowledge, but doesn’t scale well to social, cultural and political topics. We are encountering, in other words, yet another failure of the cybernetic paradigm of computable knowledge.

Peter Naegele posted on our blog that “objectivism holds that reality exists independent of observation. Therefore, defining reality based on consensus is non-objectist“. Would you comment on that?

The problem – known since Chuang-Tzu, Plato, Descartes and Kant – is that we have no grasp of reality independent of observation so one needed to be god in order to be a qualified objectivist, and have a “neutral point of view”. (And a gnostic would even dispute that.)

Where do you see the Wikipedia project in the future? Will it evolve into something new or stagnate?

It will likely continue to stagnate because it has reached the limitations of what is possible with its technological and editorial structure.