Wikipedia missing China's voice in its 10 million articles

Online encyclopedia has reached a new article milestone. But participation in this global brain-share is severely restricted in the world's most populous country.

That's right, Wikipedia now has 10 million articles. But participation in this global brain-share is restricted in China.

Wikipedia being blocked is news to no one in China, but there's a bit of a catch-22 even for those who use proxies to get around the restrictions: many proxy URLs and anonymizers are banned from editing Wikipedia to reduce vandalism.

When I want to see an article on Wikipedia, I pop it into the Anonymouse Web site, and the content comes right up. But if I see a mistake in an article, I'm unable to make my contribution.

Vandalism on Wikipedia is a serious issue. People turn entire pages into insults directed at their subject. Others insert more insidious misinformation that's hard to detect. The community is generally very good at catching these things, but banning open proxies was seen as a good way to reduce the number of people doing these things with impunity. If you don't want your own IP to get banned for vandalism, maybe you'd use a service that hid your identity.

Tor is perhaps the best known relatively robust anonymizing tool online. The Global Voices Online project promotes it in its guide to anonymous blogging. (It's in English, but not blocked in China.) But Tor nodes, too, are usually blocked for editing.

This means that people in China would have to display exceptional ingenuity to participate in the great compilation of information going on at Wikipedia. Some time ago, I wrote a review of now-Harvard Law School Professor Cass Sunstein's book Infotopia. Sunstein focuses his book on the great potential, and potentially great downfalls, of online information gathering by massive communities.

To his reservations, I add one. By no means am I the first to point this out, but when Wikipedia excludes most Internet users from the most populous country on Earth, it's got a long way to go before its relative robustness in English is matched in Chinese. Of course, the billions of individuals not online around the world are also missing their say.

Here's to 10 million nodes in this emerging body of knowledge, but idealists should be careful to note the limits of the project. I just hope the franchise extends more and more. If nothing else, I have a lot to learn from people who aren't yet participating.

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