Wikipedia and the Internet Grow Up

To celebrate the web’s 20th birthday, the BBC – never one to miss anniversary of an insurrectionary movement – is producing a major new television series entitled “The Digital Revolution”. Scheduled to be broadcast next year and featuring interviews with web revolutionaries such as Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales as well as reactionaries like myself, this four part BBC series is intended to be an “open and collaborative documentary” on the way in which the web is supposedly "changing our lives".

The media here, of course, is designed to be the message. Ask any filesharing internet revolutionary what the web has achieved between 1989 and 2009 and the two words you’ll likely hear first will be “open” and “collaborative”. They will boast that all the progressive achievements of the internet – from social networks to Wikipedia to peer-to-peer “sharing” of information to crowd-sourced creative projects – have been built upon a culture of radical openness and collaboration.

Given the undeniably subversive impact of the internet on our culture and economy, there’s no doubt that this classically Whiggish version of history contains more than a grain of truth. But for all the grandiose transformational promise of the digital revolution, I wonder if 2009 actually represents a watershed in its history.....