Wikilisation of Knowledge 2.0

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.

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6 Responses to “Wikilisation of Knowledge 2.0”

  1. Madzia B Says:

    it is well knwon that a translator always has to make a choice…
    and I think it is obvious that the less expercienced ones have a toughest one to make…
    but I do think that wiki can be a usefull tool and, plus, that other sites or corpora can help in making such a choice ;))

  2. transubstantiation Says:

    The question is why do you not think wikipedia is a useful tool?

  3. Madzia B Says:

    well, starting from the fact that each tool can be useful and ending on an idea that yes, it can be when used properly…wikipedia gives us a bunch of articles and topics we can choose from; of course, not every topic is so widely written about but surely more than on any other web site 😉

  4. transubstantiation Says:

    Indeed, there is a great deal of inconsistency in wikipedia. It would be interesting noting how many translators/linguists use this site…

  5. Agnieszka K.K. Says:

    I would say using a source which is being constantly edited might prove problematic… If you have to justify your choice it could happen the article you refer to does not exis anymore. That’s why wikis are not considered reliable sources in academic writing for example. And we should be aware of it as translators as well. Finding “eqiuvalents” is one thing, but checking them in, let say, original context would be another. It’s like looking up words in a thesaurus. One word could not be replaced by another one in a given context even though the two might mean the same in another one. And so it’s great that finding what we’re looking for is so easy thanks to wikis BUT a double check is always advisable.

  6. transubstantiation Says:

    Agnieszka K.K.: Interesting comments, however, the fact that wikipedia is constantly edited might actually be a very good thing in that the facts found therein are both up-to-date, authentic and relevant. That is the idea, of course, but whether this is the case is a different matter.


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