Wikis and knowledge change

The old principles for organizing knowledge turn out to be based on principles for organizing physical objects; in the digital age we’re creating new principles free of the old limitations, says David Weinberger in his presentation “What’s Happening to Knowledge,” as part of Wikimania, held Aug. 4-6 in Cambridge, Mass.

Wikimania brought together members of various Wikimedia projects to exchange ideas, build relationships, and report on research and project efforts. It also provided an opportunity to share ideas about free and open source software, free knowledge initiatives, and wiki projects worldwide.

The basic shape of knowledge is changing from (typically) trees to miscellanized piles, Weinberger said. “This has consequences for the nature of topics, the role of metadata, and, crucially, the authority of knowledge. In short, the change in the shape of knowledge is also changing its place. Despite the hysteria too often heard, knowledge is not being threatened. We are way too good at generating knowledge, and it is way too important to us as a species. But, much of what we’re doing together on the Web is about increasing meaning, not knowledge. That re-frames knowledge — traditional and Wikipedian — in ways that are hard to predict but important.”

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