Wikiality

by on August 4, 2006 · 8 comments

Steven Colbert has discussed the concept of “Wikiality” on his show: that on Wikipedia, reality is whatever the majority wants it to be. We find evidence for this contention on the Wikipedia entry for network neutrality:

The debate has moved into the regulatory and legislative arena in a somewhat unusual way, because those who prefer to leave the status quo unchanged are advocating legislation in the U.S. to formalize elements of “net neutrality.” Those would want to change by introducing “non-neutrality” do not presently want any further legislation.

The two proposed versions of “neutrality” legislation to date would prohibit: (1) the “tiering” of broadband through sale of voice- or video-oriented Quality of Service packages; and (2) content- or service-sensitive blocking or censorship on the part of broadband carriers. These bills have been sponsored by Representatives Markey, Sensenbrenner, et. al., and Senators Snowe, Dorgan, and Wyden. Advocates of continuing with the status quo include content providers such as Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft and several prominent social-action non-profits, and media critics such as Robert McChesney.

It’s fun to watch whoever wrote that twist himself into semantic pretzels to portray the advocates of change as defenders of the status quo without saying anything that’s literally untrue. Here’s a less truthy way of saying the same thing: Those who advocate the status quo of a regulation-free Internet oppose new regulation, while those who want to change the status quo are urging Congress to enact new regulations.

  • http://metapundit.net/sections/blog metapundit

    What’s my line here? I can’t remember if I’m supposed to blast you for being a techology ignoramus for not understanding the href tag or if I’m supposed to discern the malice that leads you to deliberately leave off the link to wikipedia.

    Ah, I can’t decide. I’ll go read the wikipedia article on Network Neutrality now.

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim Lee

    Dammit! It’s been fixed. Thanks.

  • http://metapundit.net/sections/blog metapundit

    What’s my line here? I can’t remember if I’m supposed to blast you for being a techology ignoramus for not understanding the href tag or if I’m supposed to discern the malice that leads you to deliberately leave off the link to wikipedia.

    Ah, I can’t decide. I’ll go read the wikipedia article on Network Neutrality now.

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim Lee

    Dammit! It’s been fixed. Thanks.

  • Greg Price

    The prose of this passage is about as pretzelline as can be, but I think the underlying idea is more straightforward.

    The status quo of the Internet has two relevant aspects:

    • the status quo of law is that it’s (nearly) regulation-free;
    • the status quo of practice is that ISPs carry traffic without (much) regard to what’s inside it—or who the parties to it are.

    You’ve persuasively argued (as in yesterday’s NYT op-ed) that the legal status quo matters; many people, headlined by Vint Cerf, think the practical status quo matters.

    Now ISPs threaten to change the status quo of practice, and some interest groups and interested companies want Congress to change the legal status quo—precisely (goes the standard story, anyway) to stop the ISPs from changing the practical status quo.

    That’s what this passage is saying, only more awkwardly and without acknowledging the Internet’s near-freedom from regulation as itself an aspect of the status quo.

    But the larger point is that this Wikipedia entry is enormous—over 8000 words, and about fifteen pages—and this passage is less representative of the whole in the thoughts it expresses than in the miserable meandering clumsiness with which it expresses them.
    (How does that happen? Well, it doesn’t help that it’s easier to add a word or a paragraph and disrupt the flow of the prose than it is to see the badly flowing prose and fix it.)

    After all, there are certainly other passages in the article whose substance you’ll find more congenial:

    There is also the issue of regulatory capture, where the supposedly regulated entities manipulate the system to their advantage (through political power gained by campaign contributions or independant expenditures), either over competitors, or in collusion with them, largely to increase profits and/or exclude market entrants (partcularly those employing new technologies). This exclusion and control by various means has been shown historically to be to the ultimate detriment of consumers, both from higher cost and from slowed innovation.

  • Greg Price

    The prose of this passage is about as pretzelline as can be, but I think the underlying idea is more straightforward.

    The status quo of the Internet has two relevant aspects:
    <ul>
    <li>the status quo of law is that it’s (nearly) regulation-free;</li>
    <li>the status quo of practice is that ISPs carry traffic without (much) regard to what’s inside it—or who the parties to it are.</li>
    </ul>

    You’ve persuasively argued (as in yesterday’s NYT op-ed) that the legal status quo matters; many people, headlined by Vint Cerf, think the practical status quo matters.

    Now ISPs threaten to change the status quo of practice, and some interest groups and interested companies want Congress to change the legal status quo—precisely (goes the standard story, anyway) to stop the ISPs from changing the practical status quo.

    That’s what this passage is saying, only more awkwardly and without acknowledging the Internet’s near-freedom from regulation as itself an aspect of the status quo.

    But the larger point is that this Wikipedia entry is enormous—over 8000 words, and about fifteen pages—and this passage is less representative of the whole in the thoughts it expresses than in the miserable meandering clumsiness with which it expresses them.
    (How does that happen? Well, it doesn’t help that it’s easier to add a word or a paragraph and disrupt the flow of the prose than it is to see the badly flowing prose and fix it.)

    After all, there are certainly other passages in the article whose substance you’ll find more congenial:

    There is also the issue of regulatory capture, where the supposedly regulated entities manipulate the system to their advantage (through political power gained by campaign contributions or independant expenditures), either over competitors, or in collusion with them, largely to increase profits and/or exclude market entrants (partcularly those employing new technologies). This exclusion and control by various means has been shown historically to be to the ultimate detriment of consumers, both from higher cost and from slowed innovation.

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim Lee

    Greg, thanks for commenting. I think you’re right that that’s what the passage was trying to convey, but whoever wrote it seemed to be working awfully hard to avoid admitting that regulation is not the legal status quo. Since the op-ed ran, I’ve had several people accuse me of lying for suggesting that Snowe-Dorgan would represent an expansion of government regulation of the Internet.

    And glad to see the regulatory capture passage. It’s hard to tell because of time zone weirdness, but it appears that was added after I wrote my post. It’ll be fascinating to see how the article evolves over time.

  • http://www.techliberation.com/ Tim Lee

    Greg, thanks for commenting. I think you’re right that that’s what the passage was trying to convey, but whoever wrote it seemed to be working awfully hard to avoid admitting that regulation is not the legal status quo. Since the op-ed ran, I’ve had several people accuse me of lying for suggesting that Snowe-Dorgan would represent an expansion of government regulation of the Internet.

    And glad to see the regulatory capture passage. It’s hard to tell because of time zone weirdness, but it appears that was added after I wrote my post. It’ll be fascinating to see how the article evolves over time.

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