I’m still reading Here Comes Everybody. On p. 279, Shirky writes:

Wikipedia, which looks like a reference work to the average viewer, is in fact a bureaucracy given over mainly to arguing. The articles are the residue of the argument, being the last thing anyone declined to disagree about.

This made me think: in other words, Wikipedia is a massive experiment in shared understanding of the world. Shirky discusses “shared awareness” a lot in HCE, but this is not really that… this is more shared world-view. Wikipedia represents the lowest common denominator of what the entire “community” surrounding Wikipedia (and Shirky discusses the problems with calling Wikipedia a community on p. 278) agrees is an accurate representation of the world. Obviously, constrained by the limitations of a wiki as a tool, and the attention of the contributors: in other words, some things will always not represent that shared understanding because of the rapidity of change of some pages and the infrequency of edits to others. But to an approximation, anyway.

So, that said… the following thought occurred to me. There are several different language versions of Wikipedia. There is likely to be at least some overlap in topics across language versions, particularly for popular topics, topics in the news, etc. So here we have a natural experiment in comparative shared world-views, across different language communities.

Calling all speakers of a language a community is even more problematic than calling all Wikipedia contributors a community (and forget about all language-specific Wikipedia contributors). Though the linguistic pride that French speakers display about the French language, and the quote attributed to George Bernard Shaw that Americans and English are two peoples separated by a common language, is I think evidence that one can reasonably generalize about language communities.

Has anyone ever done a study like this, comparing worldviews across linguistic communities? This is essentially the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, I suppose, so there must be some empirical work on this. But as I’ve always understood it, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis concerns the individual, not communities or societies. Anyway, as a massive collaborative production, Wikipedia seems to me to be a field just crying out for some interesting sociology.