- 11.02.10 - 8:00AM
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- Daniel D'Addario
'Truth in Numbers? Everything, According to Wikipedia' - The Documentary Reviewed
Truth in Numbers? Everything, According to Wikipedia, a new documentary explaining the site's methods and guiding vision, is available for viewing online before its theatrical release. Whether the sort of people who seek out online documentaries need a tutorial in how the go-to information site works is an open question, but the film raises interesting questions about authority, only somewhat intentionally.
The film opens in India, at a school whose students don't use the internet, in a town whose adults aren't familiar with Wikipedia. An American man shows the citizens Wikipedia, and one instantly notices an error in the entry for the city of Varanasi, which the man fixes. By this time, we've learned the stranger's identity, after he calls Wikipedia "my website" – he's Jimmy Wales, and we jump to a lecture he's giving, far from India, about the potential his site has.
Much of that potential has certainly been fulfilled already; Truth in Numbers? may well be coming too late. For whom is it news that Wikipedia entries often have glaring mistakes input by vandals? John Siegenthaler, a public figure whose entry was vandalized, makes an interesting case study, but Wales responds exactly as anyone who's aware of Wikipedia works would expect. He doesn't care about specifics, citing the speed with which the site self-polices and laughing about the traffic boost concurrent with the Siegenthaler case.
Some of the experts' commentary is as contentious – and as unsourced – as a Wikipedia editors' battle. Wales debates an academic who declares that Pamela Anderson is "more important" than philosopher and journalist Hannah Arendt on Wikipedia, because Anderson's article is longer. Well, not quite! Arendt's influence and career just can't be broken down into a Wikipedia-ready arc for easy consumption. Some things transcend the site, and deserve to be addressed on their own terms.
Such things, those that deserve consideration beyond Wikipedia, may soon include this movie. According to the site, the entry for Truth in Numbers? is being considered for deletion – it links to few other articles on the site, and is an "orphan." Given the tenor of Truth in Numbers?, which combines avid interest in Wikipedia with wide-eyed dismay at much of its particulars, this is either very surprising or not surprising at all.
Watch the full documentary below or at Snag Films:
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