Golden oldie: The one true encyclopedia?

Given everything else that’s going on (read: given distractions and a couple of legitimate projects) the only way to make this blog seem alive at all may be a methodology I’ve seen elsewhere, one that may be legitimate given the change in blogging platform and likely turnover of readers.
To wit, blasts from the pasts, from the archive, golden oldie–reusing part or all of an old post that might still be worthwhile or amusing.
Here’s one from the very first day of this blog, April 1, 2005–although it was the third post.


The one true encyclopedia?

I see one immediate use for this space: items I printed for possible use in Cites & Insights that turn out to be a bit too odd or difficult to use there–and, as a post later this weekend will show (I hope), topics I plan to cover that deserve a head’s-up earlier.
I’ve got several more items in the unending saga of Wikipedia in the Net Media folder, but as I look at “The political importance of the Wikipedia Project : the only true Encyclopedia of our days”, I think it deserves separate comment.
That comment might boil down to “Wha?” or “The French, they will be French.” Or it might not.
Jean-Baptiste Soufron subtitles this four-page essay “Wikipedia : Towards a new electronic Enlightenment Era ?” (Those extra spaces around punctuation are in the original; I can only assume they’re important for some reason. I quote the first three paragraphs:

“Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. That’s what we’re doing.” — Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales
I am convinced that Wikipedia is the only real Encyclopedia of our days because it’s the only one that relies on a real political goal : to pursue freedom over content and information.
On the other hand, books like the Encyclopedia Britannica are nothing else than simple knowledge compendiums without any political soul and usurping the term “Encyclopedia”.

Scratching your head yet? I love that first paragraph: Wales could give Michael Hart lessons in grandiosity. “The sum of all human knowledge.” Sure, Jimmy. Never mind that.
Were you aware that something is only an encyclopedia if it has a “political soul”? No, neither was I. Ah, but after trashing Robert McHenry and explaining why Wikipedia is inherently superior in every respect, we get the real stuff here: Diderot and d’Alembert of the French Encyclopedie, of the mid-18th century, had a strong political basis for that encyclopedia. So, “a real encyclopedia should be a place directed toward a political project of its own…”
What’s that you say? The word “encyclopedia” has Greek roots? According to Merriam-Webster, it was used in English as early as 1644–a full century before the French Encyclopedie?
That may be factually true, but I’d guess it’s irrelevant to Soufron. Once the French took over the word for a definition of their own, it is uncivilized for anyone else to give it any other meaning, even if that usage preceded the French usage. The Diderot and d’Alembert effort was “the original encyclopedia,” and nothing else can claim to be an encyclopedia unless it has a similarly political end.
Wikipedia’s goal? “The political goal of freedom over content and information.” Read that carefully: freedom is more important to Wikipedia than the actual content.
My only real comment here is: “I laugh in your general direction.”


Tiny little update

“Unending saga of Wikipedia” indeed! By April 2005, I’d published three essays related to Wikipedia and mentioned it possibly half a dozen times in all. Since then?
Three more mentions in later 2005. Four in 2006, including one major essay. Four more in 2007, including two major essays. Four more in 2008, and although there wasn’t a major essay on Wikipedia, there was one on Citizendium (also mentioned in some other articles). This year? So far, three mentions, one essay–and half a dozen source items for the next go-round. Meanwhile, Wikipedia’s changing (or at least being more up-front about how editing actually works)–and, cross fingers, I’ve still managed to stay obscure enough to avoid an (English) entry.
Of course I use Wikipedia…with caution. And I’m so happy that, in 2009, few people use the “if you think something’s wrong with Wikipedia, it’s up to you to fix it” handwave that was so widely used around 2005 to deflect any and all criticism of the project.

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