Hayek and Wikipedia
| Peter Klein |
This passage from a 2006 New Yorker essay on Wikipedia caught my eye:
As an undergraduate, [Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales] had read Friedrich Hayek’s 1945 free-market manifesto, “The Use of Knowledge in Society,” which argues that a person’s knowledge is by definition partial, and that truth is established only when people pool their wisdom. Wales thought of the essay again in the nineteen-nineties, when he began reading about the open-source movement, a group of programmers who believed that software should be free and distributed in such a way that anyone could modify the code. He was particularly impressed by “The Cathedral and the Bazaar,” an essay, later expanded into a book, by Eric Raymond, one of the movement’s founders. “It opened my eyes to the possibility of mass collaboration,” Wales said.
The Hayek-Wikipedia connection has been noted before (e.g., this post by Cass Sunstein on Larry Lessig’s blog — scroll down for a comment by Jimmy Wales himself). While there’s no reason to doubt that Hayek was a significant influence on the wiki model, the passage above has an apocryphal ring. If “The Use of Knowledge in Society” made an impression on Wales as an undergraduate, I’m impressed; it’s not exactly an easy read. (I gave up assigning it in my classes a few years ago, substituting Jensen and Meckling’s “Specific and General Knowledge, and Organizational Structure” instead.) And who would describe Hayek’s rather dry, technical paper as a “free-market manifesto”?
NB: The New Yorker article is getting a lot of airplay this week because of a serious attribution error, discussed here.