Wikipedia edits and the perils of community clashes

I read Dave Winer’s post about Wikipedia edits with some interest, particularly the part about his edits to the RSS topic, a topic which has been politicized in the past. He writes:

Then I decided to look at the RSS page to see if it linked to the RSS 2.0 spec. It didn’t, so I added a link. I haven’t been back to see if that has been reverted.

It surprised me that the RSS page wouldn’t link to the spec, so I went and checked it out. Sure enough, I saw Dave’s edit linking the spec into the article, and then someone else taking his edit out.

Curious as to why someone would make the change, I looked at the article and found that there actually was a pointer to an RSS 2.0 spec. But where Dave was pointing to the Berkman spec page, the Specifications section links to the RSS Board spec page.

The point that grabbed me first, of course, is that the RSS Board is making transparent some minor edits that have happened to the spec over time (I wouldn’t have told you that there had been eight revisions of the RSS 2.0 spec). But the other point that caught my interest is the nature of Dave’s change that was reverted. Dave put an external link into the body of a Wikipedia entry. Most Wikipedia entries I’ve seen put external links in a subsection at the end of an article. Two very different philosophies of linking. Dave’s is bloglike, where the external link adds immediate context; Wikipedia’s is … well, weird. I’m not sure why one would separate out that content, except to say that “This is information that is to be treated differently from the main article.” But, Wikipedia being Wikipedia, one doesn’t have to guess at the intentions of the site. There is a general External links policy and a Manual of Style for links. The main thrust appears to be that only external links that function as sources of article information (i.e. footnotes) appear within the article, while other links appear in a ghetto.

Obvious? No. Does it make sense that Wikipedia has evolved this way? Maybe. What it reminds me more than anything else is that Wikipedia is a group of individuals that have evolved collective guidelines and practices for managing a common resource, that they are in fact a community with different practices and standards than the blogging community. I think the blogging way is right and the false objectivity of Wikipedia is going to be problematic over time. But that’s not the direction Wikipedia has gone and I suppose we should respect that.