Expertise vs. Wikiknowledge

On: October 4, 2010
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About Frank Molenaar
Born in 1986, Frank graduated from Stedelijk Gymnasium Arnhem in 2005. After a year off studying art history at the Vrije Universiteit decided to join the Media and Culture New Media department. For his bachelorproject he worked for Westergasfabriek to create a GPS game based in the Westerpark. Very sceptical and highly nostalgic, Frank is an avid doomsday specialist, conspiracy theorist and classic nintendo game collector. Also served in the salvation army as m60 machine gun operator. Enjoys: Orwell, Adams, Thompson, Vonnegut


Tuesday morning 10 o’clock: Workday as usual. I’m working on some notification plug-in for the forum on the website I manage for VOS/ABB – an organisation looking after the interest of people working in and managing public primary- and high schools in the Netherlands – and all of a sudden the entire team for market and communication barges through my door and seats itself in front of my desk: They thought of something. Now this is not a unique thing to happen and at this point it might be worth noting that most people in the organisation are of a very different generation than I am. 

“Frank,” one of them starts,” we thought of something for the website…” Here we go, I hear myself thinking. “We want Wikipedia on the website!” After two hours it became clear that a Wiki is not exactly what they were talking about. Their plan was to build a hyper textual reference document that would skip to and fro from different subjects that have to do with the public character of the schools that are members of the organisation. I took me a while to get my point clear: A Wiki’s character lies not only in its contents but mainly on the way they are built collaboratively with the people reading them. Of course that wasn’t their intention either just like they hadn’t planned on using twitter for discussion after they opened it. Long story short: They almost got onto the new technology bandwagon before they realised the consequences. Again. 

I imagine that this is how things go in a lot other organisations as well. They would like to join the party when it comes to new media technologies because they sense the hype but the changes in business structure is ignored. The consequence of a Wiki for VOS/ABB could mean a lot of new input from the members, but the business ethics of my employers is and remains very conventional and while they are interested in the opinions of our members, they still want to maintain the final word in what is on the site and what is not. 

This raises the question of expertise. In modern society and especially in organisations like VOS/ABB a lot of work is being done to train specialists in a certain area of expertise for example financial, legal and ICT experts who all have a lot of knowledge when it comes to these fields. They write their pieces, consult different schools and try to spread their specialised knowledge throughout the system they work in. Wikipedia is – in a way – the death of the expert. In 2002 Andrew Barry wrote about interactivity:

“interactivity is intended to turn the user (visitor, school child, citizen or consumer) into a more creative, participative or active subject without the imposition of a direct form of control or the judgment of an expert authority” 

While a broad discussion between the experts and people in the field (the actual managers the whom the experts are trying to train in their specialized field) may result in some interesting new theories/discoveries but at the same time endangers the authority of the expert. To take it further: In a completely democratized discussion, is there still need for the expert? Does networked society in the 21st century slowly make the expert fade away more and more? 

Simone Braun and Andreas Schmidt write about Wikipedia: collaborative activities are increasingly understood as collaborative learning activities.” In other words, participating is a new way of becoming a neo-expert. The open character of the networked, democratic information flow opens itself for everyone to become one of these users. 

With that in mind I thought I’d give it a try and build a Wiki for VOS/ABB myself. Turns out the end of the expert is not there yet. It’s just a different kind of expert. One minute after I posted the page I got the following comment: It’s was written in a bad encyclopaedic style, it’s written by the Webmaster of the company, it needs to go. 

There you have it. The expert of the 21st century is not the expert in any specific field. It’s the expert in writing on wikipedia.


Andrew Barry, Political Machines: Governing a Technological Society, Athlone Press: London, 2001.

Hester, Andrea. “Innovating with organizational wikis: factors facilitating adoption and diffusion of an effective collaborative knowledge management system.” Special Interest Group on Computer Personnel Research Annual Conference. ACM: New York, 2008. p161-163

Reagle, Joseph. “In Good Faith: Wikipedia Collaboration and the Pursuit of the Universal Encyclopedia”. New York, 2008. (retrieved on 30-9-2010)

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