OrthodoxWiki:Meta Reflections

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This is the place for thinking about the project we're engaged in together at OrthodoxWiki.

Can a wiki be Orthodox? Can Orthodoxy be wikified?

We received the first major objection to our project today (March 28, 2005):

For true Orthodox Christians, this is a very dangerous web site. Any nut case or schismatic can edit the material herein and change meanings, change teachings of the True Church, etc. For serious students of Orthodoxy, this site should be avoided...shunned. The teachings of the Holy Church are not subject to willy-nilly editing.
Al Green
Orthodox church and bible Study Links

I invited Al to visit and asked him if he might be willing to share some of the fine work he has done on his website. He voices some common concerns about wikis. I do think it can be difficult for people to grasp the wiki concept - it can seem counterintuitive at first. One site I'd recommend on this topic is UseMod:WhyWikiWorks along with its links, especially the page on "soft security".

Does anyone else want to say something about this? Fr. John

Sure, I'll jump in. Nothing authoritative, but I have worked on the Orthodox pages of wikipedia off and on.

The same criticism is levelled against wikipedia on the authoritativeness of its content. Many educators will not use wikipedia because they feel that the authority wikipedia wields is compromised by the possibility of mis-content. However, in my experience, wikipedia has been the most informative, unbiased, and authoritative source I can find for many topics. Is it possible for a medium that allows non-experts or non-authorities to mess things up, to itself become a repository of accurate expert, and authoritative knowledge?

I have several things to say to these educators. One is that any source of information should be judged for its authority and bias. Would I trust Encyclopedia Brittanica for the accuracy of all its articles? Of articles on Orthodoxy? Surely not. Would I without question accept any Bishop's word as the voice of the Church, all-holy, and blameless? I know too much Church history to allow me to do that. We do not hold the absolutistic Roman view of Apostolic Succession. Bishops also must be within Holy Tradition, as I understand it, and there have been (thankfully rare) times that the people have been more true to Holy Tradition than their Bishops. I'm not against the Bishops or the office. As most Orthodox, I love my Bishops and think they do a wonderful job. But they don't have the final say in the same way that the Pope has the final say, and that I am glad for as Orthodox. We should never expect a source to be absolutely, without question (even visions of Christ may be the devil!).

These educators are also concerned that popular opinion will trump expert opinion, by being more numerous. This is obviously a fallacy when you realize that wikipedia pages are ongoing discussions. Think about a discussion you have been in where most people, at the beginning of the discussion, believe one thing, and few people believed the right thing. Most often, in my experience, the truth sways opinion far better than popularity, especially if it can be backed up with good reasons and argumentation. I just don't see popularity trumping expert opinion in my experience, except for when the opinions are unstated, unexamined, or assumed. The wiki method, however, is against these factors. And if a mistake is entered into a page, it will get examined and taken out.

I think that the problems of mistrust and feeling betrayed by a medium occur when the wrong expectations are set or assumed about what that medium is supposed to accomplish. Is OrthodoxWiki a voice of the Orthodox people? A voice of Orthodox truth? A voice of the Orthodox hierarchy? A place where non-Orthodox can reliably learn about Orthodoxy? Is this site responsible or, when that responsibility would be compromised, liable for any of these concerns or others?

No. That is a lot to assume on any site, and what people say they are responsible for is not necessarily right either. Can you find the voice of the Orthodox people here? Probably. Can you find the voice of Orthodox truth here? Probably. Can you find the voice of the Orthodox hierarchy here? Probably. Can non-Orthodox learn reliably about Orthodoxy here? Probably. These sort of things tend to happen if you get us all together in the same room.

But what about the undiscerning, lost sheep who can't tell black from white and would walk off a cliff if you let them? What about those who just might find some inadvertent error, or some opinion by a rather non-Orthodox person? They might be corrupted! They might never find the faith!

Is this any different, I ask you, than walking into any Orthodox church and talking to the people there? We are, regrettably, sinful people who must rely upon God's providence and mercy to make up for our shortcomings. Any panic on the part of blind sheep not only betrays an opinion that is probably patronizing to those sheep. Is there anyone truly incapable of judgement or without friends that are incapable of judgement?

But, the argument goes, someone will eventually come along, make misplaced assumptions about this site, and be disillusioned by some bit of content that may not even be representative of most of the efforts of the wiki editors. Yes, unfortunate incidents happen. Sometimes someone in a discussion hears wrong or misunderstands an argument. Sometimes a person catches an Orthodox person in a particularly bad mood and will latch on to whatever that Orthodox says even though there are other Orthodox standing around saying, "No, that's not right." Can we, through extreme carefulness, or through security measures, keep everyone from misinformation? No.

Is wiki more prone to misinformation than an authoritative/security model? No. The authority can be wrong, may have mistyped something, and may definitely be misheard, in which case there is even more possibility of the perception/assumption of authority leading to disillusionment.

Editing within the OrthodoxWiki is also not likely to be "willy-nilly", since the perceived importance and authority of such a site adds to the gravity felt by, and the care taken by, the editor. I know this is true for myself at least, because I very well do know how it may be perceived. I may be wrong, and I don't want to put words in anyone's mouths, but I think that would go for most of us.

-- Rdr. Patrick

Thanks for your words, Rdr. Patrick. I wanted to share another criticism we received on the site, this one from User:Colin:
"I think this orthodoxwiki should demand that people give their real names, their real emails and the name of their Orthodox Priest before they are permitted to post or edit anything. That way, if they behave like this, they can be referred to their bishop. I admit to being shocked that an Orthodox Priest would run this site on any other lines."
Does anyone want respond to this? Fr. John 22:47, 3 November 2005 (CST)
A small response, perhaps.
Even if Fr John were to request real names, real emails and the names of real Orthodox priests, it is entirely impossible to verify whether these are, in fact, real names or priests. Fr John is a priest in the OCA, in (if I'm not mistaken) the USA. A delightful country, of course; but there is virtually no chance that he can check the real name of anybody, much less the name of their Orthodox priest. Even in the USA, a random 'Fr James' can belong to, I imagine, dozens of priests from over a dozen different ruling churches, archdioceses, metropolis' and dioceses.
And that's just in the USA. Once the Antipodeans start being part of OrthodoxWiki, we get into all sorts of difficults: the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese is, without any doubt, the largest Orthodox Archdiocese in Australia; however, on their website, they have no listing of priests, and the only listing that I am aware of is in book form and in Greek. How is Fr John, or any other sysop, supposed to verify that Fr Amphilochios can speak for me? Or, indeed, that he will? Unless I'm referring to Metropolitan Amphilochios, of course, verification can't happen.
We must remember that this is the internet. It is virtually impossible for a person with an external full-time career to verify a person's identity on the off-chance that they might like to post. And moreover, any person who would comply with this puts themself in danger of their name and exact location being found. And no editing is worth that. -- oea 06:21, 4 November 2005 (CST).
Thanks for your words Pistevo. Here's a brief response from me:
About OrthodoxWiki, I can assure you that these kinds of abuses are rare. The kind of requirements you are suggesting are not tenable for us -- they would present too much overhead and quench the site. The sysops do monitor articles to make sure there are not gross theological inaccuracies or personal attacks. Thankfully, these are usually dealt with within a few hours. Fr. John 10:50, 4 November 2005 (CST)

Interesting discussion of the whole WikiPedia concept

Just ran across an interesting discussion of the whole WikiPedia concept started by an OpEd piece by one of its co-founders, Larry Sanger. Sanger's article and the ensuing discussion can be found here.

Yep, that's interesting. It's definitely worth thinking through these things a little bit. Regarding the concerns brought up in that article, I suspect we have an advantage in that, even if this site takes off wonderfully, we will still be a small community limited in scope, with recognizable "experts" in church life. I think also the sysops/moderators should have a broad enough knowledge of Orthodox matters to be able to tell if something is really off base. Also, we can be stricter in dealing with trolls (although that can certainly be a challenge on an open site like this one). I'd love to hear more about your thoughts on this article with regard to OrthodoxWiki (and perhaps you'd want to login or otherwise identify yourself). Thanks, FrJohn 22:36, 20 Jan 2005 (CST)
It occurs to me that, aside from what FrJohn says here (with which I thoroughly agree), the Orthodox Church is by its nature in some ways already prepared in terms of its phronema to embark on a project like OrthodoxWiki. The whole Church is the guardian of the truth, after all, and we are essentially trying to submit ourselves to the public proclamation of the Gospel, not become researchers in obscure academic fields. Thus, while there are certainly things that are good for specialists and experts to work on for OrthodoxWiki, the real meat of our content is something that we should already in many ways have a consensus on.
The other thing that occurs to me is that it's unlikely that OrthodoxWiki would get infected with anti-elitism. The Orthodox Church is hierarchical, and respect and obedience toward authority are a standard, normal part of our Church life. --Rdr. Andrew 06:13, 21 Jan 2005 (CST)
One problem with relying on "experts" is our experts are often already wearing too many hats. Some who qualify for that title have already participated and I hope, especially with time, many more will. Of course, the rest of us can happily draw from "experts" in our articles. I think it's great that anyone can contribute. And sometimes, folks who are not "experts" have a great deal more time to delve into the specifics or something, and the rest of us can benefit from that work and knowledge.
I'm also excited by this OrthodoxWiki project because I think there are still so many things that are oral tradition in the Orthodox Church. I'm not saying that should change, except that by getting some of that down in an organized and written form, it will be accessible to so many more people. Mostly, I think this is for the good - especially when Church life is undergoing tremendous changes across the globe (due to globalization or whatever you want to call it) and there is also an influx of converts who are just learning the ropes. - FrJohn 15:08, 21 Jan 2005 (CST)

Knowledge Management / Communities of Practice

Over time, I think it would be great to broader the concerns introduced by the article above into a more general discussion of the nature, character, and potential of "communities of practice" within Orthodox Church life -- I mean especially the use of emerging technologies for collaborative efforts at knowledge management at the service of the Orthodox Church.

There are many resources on "communities of practice" and "knowledge management" available online and in print. A couple books I've found helpful and thought-provoking include Communities of Practice by Etienne Wengner (ISBN 1578513308) and The Knowledge Landscapes of Cyberspace by David Hakken (ISBN 0415945097).

I think it's a good time to think big and brainstorm about possibilities for the future, e.g. what effect might semantic technologies have on Orthodox KM? I'd love to hear other people's thoughts on this (here or at OrthodoxWeb Dev).

To resurrect this discussion, first let me ask what was OrthodoxWeb Dev? On to the point: I've mentioned some Christian wiki collaboration ideas on my user page. It includes ideas mainly about sharing common resources and information across the Christian "wikiverse". We all have different beliefs about God, but I think that we can at least create a central community to discuss how we can improve each of our wikis and share the information that we do agree on. --RockOfVictory 14:54, August 10, 2006 (CDT)
More discussion at ckb:Christianity_Knowledge_Base:ChristianKM

See also

  • Semantic Web Overview
  • KmWiki
  • Rhizome - "a Wiki-like content management and delivery system that exposes the entire site -- content, structure, and metadata as editable RDF. This means that instead of just creating a site with URLs that correspond to a page of HTML, with Rhizome you can create URLs that represent just about anything..."

Inspirational Reading

From page 2:
"What makes the model work is not only the collective knowledge and effort of a far-flung labor force, but also the willingness to abide by two core principles. The first: neutrality. All articles should be written without bias. Wikipedians are directed not to take a stand on controversial subjects like abortion or global warming but to fairly represent all sides. The second principle is good faith. All work should be approached with the assumption that the author is trying to help the project, not harm it.
"Wikipedia represents a belief in the supremacy of reason and the goodness of others. In the Wikipedia ideal, people of goodwill sometimes disagree. But from the respectful clash of opposing viewpoints and the combined wisdom of the many, something resembling the truth will emerge. Most of the time.
Of course, not all of this applies here. We have our own interpretation of neutrality and the role of reason, but it's worth noting the basic similarities between our project and Wikipedia. Fr. John

User Contribution Stats

  • Who writes Wikipedia? - An article worth reading on user contributions to Wikipedia that also seems to apply pretty well to OrthodoxWiki