Metaphors for Wikipedia

  • An ant farm. As discussed by Andrew Lih in his book The Wikipedia Revolution, many have made the comparison between Wikipedia and an ant farm. That comparison does not make sense if you think of ants as having a centralized authority in the form of queen. But actually ants operate in a distributed and decentralized way like Wikipedia. (Revolution, p. 82)
  • The Piranha Effect. “The carnivorous fish swarm and work as a team, each one attracted by the activity of another.” (Revolution, p. 83). As Jimmy Wales observed, “You start with a tiny little article and it’s not quite good enough so people are picking at it and sort of a feeding frenzy and articles grow.”
  • Sidewalk. Lih notes similarities between Wikipedia and neighborhood sidewalks and quotes Jane Jacobs: “Sidewalks work because they permit local interactions to create global order . . . . The information networks of sidewalk life are fine-grained enough to permit higher-level learning to emerge.” (Revolution, p. 97)
  • Lots of unhammered nails. “There’s a famous saying in the tech world: When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. If there was ever a project that had unhammered nails, thousands and thousands of them, it was Wikipedia.” (Revolution, p. 107)

Read more interesting and philosophical Wikipedia metaphors here: Darwikinism.