Shirky: Wikipedia's "anti-elitism" is a feature, not a bug

Kuro5hin published an article by a Wikipedia co-founder, in which he slams Wikipedia for its "anti-elitism" and calls on the organization to mend its ways in order to earn the confidence of academics, librarians and other learned types. I read it when it was first published and it seemed wrong to me, but I couldn't put my finger on it.

Now Clay Shirky — himself an academic — has written a wonderful and comprehensive rebuttal of the piece, explaining why complaints of "anti-elitism" are misplaced.

Of course librarians, teachers, and academics don't like the Wikipedia. It works without privelege, which is inimical to the way those professions operate.

This is not some easily fixed cosmetic flaw, it is the Wikipedia's driving force. You can see the reactionary core of the academy playing out in the horror around Google digitizing books held at Harvard and the Library of Congress — the NY Times published a number of letters by people insisting that real scholarship would still only be possible when done in real libraries. The physical book, the hushed tones, the monastic dedication, and (unspoken) the barriers to use, these are all essential characteristics of the academy today.

It's not that it doesn't matter what academics think of the Wikipedia — it would obviously be better to have as many smart people using it as possible. The problem is that the only thing that would make the academics happy would be to shoehorn it into the kind of filter, then publish model that is broken, and would make the Wikipedia broken as well.