The phenomenon that is Web 2.0 and editable webpages including sites like Wikipedia has far surpassed the dreams of those people who developed them. However, the use of editable webpages and pedia websites has thrown up vast possibilities and also a multitude of epistemological problems.
The concept behind Web 2.0 is that the internet is taken to a new level. This includes advanced social networking through blogs, fora, podcasts, RSS feeds and of course wikis.
Wikis and editable databases are vast stores of knowledge that are set up, organised and edited by internet users. These users come together to create folksonomies, user-generated taxonomies which categorise the content found therein. However wonderful this all might seem as the realisation of the dream of Tim Berners-Lee, we must remember to take these wiki sites with a proverbial pinch of salt. Why?
As comprehensive as they are, it must be remembered that the majority of wiki sites are produced by amateurs and not professionals or experts which leads us to ask the question of whether the translator can rely on such encyclopedic entries, articles and definitions. A host of fora and editable glossary sites have cropped up on the internet but who is to say which term is correct. An illustration might be of use here. Perhaps we are curious about the translation of the phrase spółdzielnia mieszkaniowa into English. We check within an editable glossary site and we find four possibilities:
housing cooperative, building cooperative, housing association and building society
Due to the fact that wikis are in essence one of the only truly democratic ‘institutions’ in existence, which means a multitude of voice is always present, it is difficult to decide (especially for the novice translator) which of these equivalents is the ‘correct’ one. In procedural terms, more definitely means less. Plurality does not equal sweet polyphony but rather cacophony. We are overloaded with a variety of meanings and often have no way of verifying which is the more ‘accurate’ or ‘appropriate’ equivalent.
The wikilisation of knowledge has opened up and revolutionised our concept of encyclopedic/dictionary approaches to knowledge. Imagine a paper dictionary in which entries can be deleted, edited or altered – this is exactly what has happened. What Bill Gates termed as the ‘democratisation of knowledge’ can also be interpreted as an epistemological free-for-all.
Quantity vs. Quality. On the one hand, we can argue that truth is always objective and cannot be expressed by the masses. On the other hand, who is to say that a truly democratic approach to truth/knowledge is not the way forward. Whichever approach is taken, the translator and language specialist must be fully aware of these choices and the consequences of each.