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Today, Mitch Kapor gave the last talk of the SIMS Distinguished Lecture Series for the Fall 2005 semester (audio linked to below). His talk, "Thirteen Ways to Look at the Wikipedia", was a superb capstone to the series (as well as a great follow-on to last week's visit by Wikipedia-founder Jimmy Wales.
Here's how Mitch sums up the subject of his talk:
I've called my talk, Thirteen Ways to Look at the Wikipedia... apologies to Wallace Stevens; I'm borrowing his title. The Wikipedia can't possibly work. When I describe it to people who have never seen it or used it, I say 'It's a completely open encyclopedia, written entirely by its volunteers.' Eight times out of ten, this is what I hear. But it does; it does work; it's really amazing. It is now one of the top forty websites in the world. A few months ago, it was fifty; Jimmy said on a good week it's number thirty; I think it's heading towards the top ten of any website. That's eBay, Amazon, Yahoo... it's continuing to grow very very rapidly. I could give you more statistics[...]
But it can't possibly work. It's so counter-intuitive. When I first started using it, I understood perfectly that it was open, and anyone can contribute and it wasn't centralized. I became interested in it precisely because it did work despite the fact that something in me said that it shouldn't. [...] There's really a Zen koan aspect to it; when you're given a paradox to wrestle with you can either go down with it -- because it's insoluble on its own terms -- or you can transcend the paradox because you find out you've had some limiting assumptions that you didn't know you had and it's only an apparent paradox. So, this talk is my effort to recount how I've wrestled with some of the paradoxes of Wikipedia and share that with you.
(The file linked to below is 39.8MB in size and 1:25:39 in length at 64kbps.)
UPDATE [2005-11-24T08:29:39]: Here's a PDF of Mitch's slides for this talk: