Archive for January, 2008
The below essay (by Review member “Dogbiscuit”) was submitted after Wikipedia Review discovered that Wikia, Inc, the for-profit company founded by Jimmy Wales and Angela Beesley, were hosting a Wiki called Spanking Art. This Wiki detailed sexual fetish practices relating to corporal punishment, but also featured numerous sexualized images of children and photographs of minors uploaded in innocence by editors to Wikipedia and the Wiki-Commons.
Our discovery provoked protests against “Spanking Art” on Wikipedia itself. One editor, a representative of the Scouting movement whose uploaded photo of boy scouts had been transported onto the Spanking Sex site without permission, demanded answers on Jimbo Wales’s Wikipedia talk page. Eventually Wales personally deleted material from the Wikia site. Later, the entire Spanking Art site was removed, with an accompanying statement made by a representative of Wikia Inc. :
Thanks for the concern. There have been some outside inquiries about the content of the wiki that were very difficult to deal with in a thoughtful way on a Friday afternoon. We chose to remove the wiki from public view while we work with the both the complainants and the community to make sure that the wiki is focused on its mission of documenting adult sexuality. All parties have been polite and responsive and we hope to have the issue resolved soon.
We do reserve the right to remove access to our wikis on the very rare occasion when we decide it is necessary, but the GFDL license means that the content belongs to the community, and we comply with that license by making backups of all wikis available on a daily basis. We will be happy to provide more information as it becomes available. â€” Catherine (talk) 03:15, 28 January 2008 (UTC)
At first blush, Wikipedia appears to be a vast, sprawling melange of competing Points of View, with no particular ordering principle other than a Darwinian “survival of the fittest.” But in viewing the activities of the dominant elites in the Wikipedian hierarchy, or what Jimmy Wales once infamously dubbed “the cabal,” a pattern begins to emerge.
First, let’s consider Wales’ own ideological profile. He is best known as a “Randroid,” an acolyte of quasi-philosopher Ayn Rand. The essential feature of the Randian Weltanschauung is the assertion that efforts to order society through the establishment of governments and constitutions are inherently counter-productive, and that society prospers when such efforts cease. This is similar to the doctrine of the “invisible hand” from Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations: that if governments follow the doctrine of Laissez-faire and avoid any intervention into the economy, the “invisible hand” of the markets will order matters to the benefit of all.
When The Review published its Compendium of Criticisms recently, responses were largely positive. That’s not to say we didn’t come across Wiki-idealists who continued to doubt some of the facts. One counter-critic questioned Clause 2 of our summary, which focuses on the Biographies of Living Persons dilemma :
Wikipedia’s anyone-can-edit culture has allowed baseless defamation of various individuals to spread widely through the Internet.
Wikipedia’s dwindling supporters have yet to come to terms with the reality that the site has become the world’s largest and most efficient revenge platform. And on Wikipedia, anonymous character assassins can (and do) strike at any moment, round the clock, 365 days a year.
Gaging and communicating the scale of the problems that beset a project as broad as Wikipedia is often a struggle. You can highlight as many examples as you like; but the bewitched Wiki-apologists merely dismiss them as “exceptions”. There is no method of quantifying the mass antagonism caused by Wikipedia, and those within the cult seem unwilling to even contemplate the task.
To get an idea of the scale of the problem, look no further than the archives of the Biographies of Living Persons Noticeboard. This is the Smithsonian Institution of defamation, a vast virtual museum bursting with tales of false rumors, libelous comments, and revenge attacks on biographical subjects — all cataloged, dated, and folded away in neat little drop down boxes.
The noticeboard was introduced some fifteen months ago, (following the Siegenthaler controversy) but has already swelled to unmanageable levels, becoming a burden to maintain in itself. This is before one considers the complex subject matter of each case and the numerous legal ramifications, which at present appear to be (mis)handled by besieged juvenile Wikipedians way out of their depth. And the noticeboard only covers the problems that got profiled by administrators. Most of the nastiness never even finds its way into this back chamber. And worse, a lot of the horror remains entirely unattended to.
An enlightening way to spend a few moments is to browse these archives, stopping at a whim on a given date and picking a case at random. Here’s a few exhibits we discovered on our brief expedition down those dusty aisles…
Read the rest of this entry »
Wikipedia Administrator : Believe it or not, some of us do stuff other than push POVs and hang out on AN/I. A lot of admin work is pretty dry and boring.
JohnA : I believe you. However you are being exploited to provide free labor in return for supporting an enormous enterprise because having sacrificed so much, it’s difficult to walk away from.
Once you realise that you want a life where someone isn’t turning your house and garden over every five seconds 24 hours a day 365 days a year, then you’ll start to dislike Wikipedia. Then you’ll feel like quitting. Then you’ll pick one final fight. Then you’ll sit in a darkened room and decide whether to go for “blaze of glory” or just walk away into the night.
It’s a labor of love, right until the moment you realise that the project and most everyone else, could not give a shit about you and what you’ve sacrificed for it. You’ve sacrificed so much but the returns will diminish and the “sysop”* bit will mean less and less emotionally and intellectually.
Oh and Jimbo Wales is making money hand over fist because of Wikipedia while you get nothing.
One day, you’ll wake up and realise that what seems like cynicism or vindictiveness on my part today, is nothing more that the unvarnished truth, the red pill that most of us here took some time ago.
This piece was written by The Review’s resident Agony-Aunt, Somey, and first published on his Wikiphrenia site in May 2007.
Wikipedia is really, really big.
Impossibly big. So big, in fact, that nobody can really get their head around how big it is. That very bigness tends to cause a few problems. In some cases, big problems.
“When a group grows from dozens of individuals to thousands, it becomes impossible to feel any real acquaintance with more than a fraction of the population. When this happens, community standards and unwritten rules stop working. The group loses focus. Things fall apart.”
What are some of the manifestations of this problem, though? It’s all well and good to say “things fall apart” - it’s a lot like saying “Wikipedia is on the verge of collapse” or “Wikipedia is heading for a massive implosion.” Terms like “lose focus,” “collapse,” and “implode” are very handy - they’re often used by people who can see that something’s failing, but can’t quite explain the nature of the failure, or even the likely result of it. Of course, since this is Wikiphrenia.com, we know that the primary effects of failure are psychological, but the secondary effects are often quite practical - or rather, impractical.
In a follow up to a previous posting Give Us Money And We’ll Give You Free Culture, The Review’s resident culture-vulture, the fieryangel, submitted this post to the forum on 31st December 2007. After reading the article, please follow the thread for more discussion.
In the latest installment of the WMF fund raising blog, there is one more “Free culture” pitch, this time from the point of view of Wikipedia commons. I’ve already commented extensively about the last “free culture” pitch here, pointing out why I think that this line of reasoning is essentially the same as going into someone’s house and telling them to move out because it’s yours now.
The current poster, who is an active image contributor on Commons, suggests that we all read Larry Lessing’s book “Free Culture” which is available for “free” as in “beer” at this link. I won’t comment on the contents of this book yet, as I’m currently reading it, but I can say at this point that Mr. Lessing does not seem to understand that US copyright law, especially as it concerns individual creators, has changed profoundly since the 1978 implementation of the Bern convention and most of his examples are simply no longer true. I will comment on this book in detail on a further post, once I have time to digest this (it’s a pretty easy read, though…I would suggest that everyone read this, just to get a handle on these issues).
What is the life expectancy of Wikipedia?
- It has a scandal-prone structure, from the Board of Trustees right down to “anyone can edit” which includes an anon editing an article on Seigenthaler that sat there for four months.
- The person most closely associated with Wikipedia loves his celebrity status but prefers to spin away over Wikipedia’s problems rather than deal with them.
- The social networking model, from Wikipedia, to Orkut in Brazil, to Napster, Grokster, and YouTube and copyright, is headed for a more restrictive legal environment.
- To the extent that any sort of wiki-type “encyclopedia” survives, it will probably have to go with non-anonymous editing. Examples are Citizendium, and Google’s Knol.
- The funds from donations will not be sufficient to sustain the needs of the Wikimedia Foundation. If Google is serious about Knol, it may even be too late to start showing ads on Wikipedia. Google is not likely to rank Wikipedia well if it competes with Knol.
- The mainstream media is losing its infatuation with Wikipedia.
I give it three more years.
Jimbo Wales, the God-King, Sole-flounder, or Spiritual leader of Wikipedia (depending on your gullibility) launched his latest scheme, Wikia Search, today.
But his renewed efforts to make big-bucks off the back of unpaid volunteers like you fell on stony ground with a cynical media. This was no doubt due to the sharp realization that his previous venture was teetering out of control at Wales’s own hands. A string of scandals have undermined what faith people had left in the “encyclopedia”, and with questions still unanswered about the relationship between the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation and the for-profit Wikia, the knives are surely out.
According to a critical Salon Magazine:
TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington called it “one of the biggest disappointments I’ve had the displeasure of reviewing.” And at Search Engine Land, Chris Sherman labels Search Wikia “essentially useless as a search engine,” and he wonders if the project can ever succeed, and, indeed, if it’s even necessary.
Our own resident polymath, Jonny Cache, was the first Reviewer to test Wales’s “revolutionary tool”*. Inevitably, Wikia exhibited the same level of competence and responsibility as its spiritual brother:
That’s right. The first entry for George W. Bush was a guide to the site “George Bush is A Crackwhore“.
Back at Wikipedia, it was business as usual. Bush was “President of the United States and a cage dancer by night”, whose “Vice President was Osama Bin Laden“. Oh and he’s “a dickhead and a crook” as well, if you didn’t know already.
(* See comment 2)
(This post was submitted to the forum by The Review’s resident Troubleshooter, Gomi, on January 1, 2008)
Gomi: For the New Year, I decided to attempt to compile a list of Wikipedia Review’s criticisms of Wikipedia. I have tried to approach this broadly — I don’t agree with all of these myself, but this is my view of the complaints that come up over and over again. One thing that is clear, after looking at Wikipedia for several years, is that these problems are not getting better, they are getting worse.
1. Wikipedia contains incorrect, misleading, and biased information. Whether through vandalism, subtle disinformation, or the prolonged battling over biased accounts, many of Wikipedia’s articles are unsuitable for scholarly use. Because of poor standards of sourcing and citation, it is often difficult to determine the origin of statements made in Wikipedia in order to determine their correctness. Pursuit of biased points of view by powerful administrators is considered a particular problem, as opposing voices are often permanantly banned from Wikipedia. Wikipedia’s culture of disrespect for expertise and scholarship (see below) make it difficult to trust anything there.
2. Wikipedia’s articles are used to spread gossip, abet character assassination, and invade the privacy of the general public. So-called “Biographies of Living Persons” are often the result of attempts by powerful but anonymous editors and administrators at humiliating or belittling those real-world people with whom they disagree. Wikipedia’s “anyone can edit” culture has allowed baseless defamation of various individuals to spread widely through the Internet. When the family, friends, associates, or subjects of these biographies attempt to correct errors or insert balance, they are often banned from Wikipedia for “Conflicts of Interest”. Subjects of these hatchet jobs usually must resort to legal action to get the articles removed or corrected, a course not available to all.