| Why Wikipedia Is Doomed
, The Six Rotten Pillars of Wikipedia
Mon 27th October 2008, 12:25pm
Joined: Sun 11th Mar 2007, 5:58pm
From: God's Ain Country
Member No.: 1,116
WP user page -
When this site went down briefly this summer due to a database attack, what could be termed a declaration of purposes was published a temporary page. It read as follows:
Wikipedia Review is not a conspiracy, a team-building exercise, a role-playing game, or an experiment in collusion. It is not meant as a resource or training ground for those who would instill fear and misery in others. It does not exist to corrupt, but to expose corruption; it does not exist to tear down institutions, but to expose the ways in which institutions are torn down; it does not exist to hate, but is meant to expose hate in others. To expose these things is not evil. It is not a monolithic entity, nor the sum of its parts. Like-mindedness does not imply singularity of purpose; respect for the rights of one group does not imply disrespect for the rights of another. It is not intended to be predictable, consistent, or dull.
Imagine a world in which human beings are not user accounts, are not programmable, and are not mere words on a display screen. That's what we're doing...
Part of this statement was even included in a recreated article about Wikipedia Review on Wikipedia.
My personal belief is that this is as good a summary of what WR is not
supposed be about as any I have read.
But this necessarily begs the question: What is
WR supposed to be about? A good part of the answer is contained in the above statement. A certain segment of our membership, sometimes referred to as “the old guard”, would say that WR is primarily about serious criticism of WP. I identify with this view. Of late, there appears to be an increasing segment of WR, composed of a significant number newer members, who also happen to be WP administrators and prolific editors, and who would appear to view to WR as more of a “Wikipedia Improvement Association”. That is, a place to exchange information, to gather and discuss problems with WP, and to plan improvements to WP, with a freedom of speech not available on WP itself.
This is not meant to be a thread devoted to which of these points of view should prevail here on WR, or even if it is desirable that one or the other prevail. Rather, it is meant to be addressed to phenomenon producing this situation: WP’s decline and impending fall.
It is becoming clear to even the most fervent wiki-apologists that something is really wrong with the current state of WP. A number of WP users have complained that editor conflicts have definitely been on the rise since 2004, and that the last two years on WP have been particularly bad. This is cited as an ever growing distraction from “building the encyclopedia”. In fact, edit wars over particular articles and other editor conflicts do appear to be growing at an ever increasing rate. In the early days of Wikipedia:Adminstrators’ noticeboard/Incidents (“WP:ANI”, WP’s drama center, founded in December, 2004
), it usually took around one week to fill an archive. Now archives are filled about every two days.
So why all the drama? There are a number of reasons, all of which have been discussed here before at WR, and at some length. The most basic causes I identify as
THE SIX ROTTEN PILLARS OF WIKIPEDIA1. INSTANT EDITING OF ARTICLES
. I believe that this one feature of WP is the single greatest factor causing WP’s decline and will largely cause its eventual destruction. This feature ensures that both the improvement and the marring of articles are impermanent, and that the battles against internet trolls, polemicists (in wikispeak, “POV pushers”), spammers, vandals, and ignorant interlopers will be everlasting (at least while WP still exists). It is this single feature of WP, more than any other, that gives rise to the MMORPG character of WP and makes ridiculous its claim of being an “encyclopedia”.
If the WP experience has proved nothing else, it has proved that there is indeed a reason that previously established print encyclopedias (wikispeak: “paper encyclopedias”) use editorial boards to vet suggested changes to content: they are needed
. A number of members here (including myself) have suggested as a reform that all
article pages (wikispeak: “articlespace”) on WP be “locked down”, editable only by an editorial board, qualified by knowledge and/or expertise in a particular subject area. WP could still retain its user pages and discussion pages, which in this case would be refocused upon users making suggested changes to an article, or suggesting new articles, for the editorial board to act on. The ability of knowledgeable amateurs to suggest changes, and the transparency of the process, would still distinguish WP from other encyclopedias.
What is chance of such a salubrious reform being enacted? Absolute zero. The reason for this simple enough: the “sole founder” and “God-King” of Wikipedia, Jimbo Wales, says so. His 2001 pharaonic fiat reads in pertinent part:
"You can edit this page right now" is a core guiding check on everything that we do. We must respect this principle as sacred.
Later, this “sacred” principle was made into the Third Pillar of The Five Pillars of Wikipedia
, which “define the character of the project”. In other words, instant editing is sacred; it is off the table for discussion; and any suggestion of such a reform of WP is wiki-heresy for which the offender shall be banned and consigned to “off-wiki” hell. Never mind that the central administrative junta that largely runs WP (“The Cabal”) makes exceptions as to who constitutes the “anyone” that may edit WP (after all, certain individuals and IP ranges are unmutual and must be suppressed for the good of the wiki); the basic principle remains inviolable.
“So let it be written! So let it be done!”(Tomorrow's installment: “NEUTRALITY” (“NPOV”) OF ARTICLES)
Sat 1st November 2008, 1:42pm
Joined: Sun 11th Mar 2007, 5:58pm
From: God's Ain Country
Member No.: 1,116
WP user page -
THE SIX ROTTEN PILLARS OF WIKIPEDIA6. BAD GOVERNANCE– THE REIGN OF THE LORDS OF MISRULE.
This Sixth Rotten Pillar of Wikipedia has probably attracted more attention here on the pages of Wikipedia Review than have the five others. The names and exploits of certain abusive admins, the policies they choose to selectively enforce and why, the follies of the Arbitration Committee (“ArbCom”), and the battles between individual users, or gangs of users, are the subjects of frequent commentary here. WP has been called an anarchy, or alternatively, an absolutist dictatorship on a fascist or Stalinist model. While neither view is entirely correct, neither is entirely wrong either. WP has in fact managed in its own dysfunctional way to combine many of the worst elements of both
anarchy and absolute dictatorship for its governance model.
Just what that governance model was meant to be is more than a little confusing. In April, 2002, The Jimbo issued a vaguely worded essay entitled “Wikipedia Governance”
. The essay makes clear that Jimbo intended to retain a super-veto power as to policy issues; but as to other matters, all he seems to specify is that NPOV is absolutely central to WP governance, and that those who disagree should leave WP and “set up [their] own project”. A more recent page entitled “Power structure”
is more detailed, but also more diffuse and confusing. There it is claimed that “Wikipedia's present power structure is a mix of anarchic, despotic, democratic, republican, meritocratic, plutocratic, technocratic, and bureaucratic elements.” Add a few diced carrots and some paprika and you’ve got goulash.
One is given to wonder if all of this confusion is largely or wholly intended. Perhaps so, but more often when one finds a large organization with such a diffuse and ill-defined governance model, the people running the organization are essentially making it up as they go along. Given WP’s sheer size and its largely open and instant editing policy, there is no way that WP’s admin corps of 1,600 has any hope of effectively policing the entire site. It depends greatly upon ordinary users to do grub-work like reverting vandalism, “recent changes patrol”, correcting grammar and punctuation in articles outside of the user’s areas of interest, etc. There are a number of users willing to do this, but they tend to burn out after a time, and then limit their activity to their subjects of interest, or give up on “the wiki” altogether. A great deal of WP is a constantly roiling mass, agitated by thousands of pot-stirrers. In terms of any meaningful quality control, WP is anarchy. While WP’s much vaunted “self-corrective process” does indeed exist, it is hardly any match for the pace of constant change, and has not been for quite some time.
Still, WP is not a perfect anarchy; it does indeed have some of the elements of an absolute dictatorship, but not a terribly efficient
one. As noted above, core policies of WP, like “NPOV” and determining “consensus”, are vaguely worded or contain essentially illogical or unworkable formulas. This, in addition to the anarchy that otherwise prevails on WP, serves as a powerful incentive for admins to act in arbitrary fashion to suppress perceived “enemies of the wiki”, which not a few succumb to.
To some degree, WP governance does bears a resemblance to the government of Nazi Germany. A popular misconception about Nazi government is that it was ruthlessly efficient. Ruthless, to be sure, but efficient it was not. The Nazi bureaucracy was an absolute rabbit warren of numerous agencies with overlapping jurisdictions and responsibilities. Bureaucratic infighting was thus ensured and was rather common. This was not the result of inadvertence or incompetence, but rather the result of Hitler’s intended design. With this bureaucratic chaos and the sweeping powers granted him under the Enabling Act, Hitler essentially made himself the German state constitution and the ultimate arbiter of disputes. All was designed to enhance his personal power and worked very much as intended. Where the analogy to Nazi government really falls apart, however, is right at the top. While it would appear that Jimbo always intended to retain some ill-defined special role in WP governance, there is no evidence that Jimbo ever intended for himself a role as central in WP as Hitler intended for himself in Germany. Indeed, Jimbo created ArbCom and other parts of the WP bureaucratic structure in order to take over responsibilities that he had previously exercised himself. In the last analysis, Jimbo is simply too much of a dilettante to be an effective absolute dictator.
If one wants to cast about for a historical analogy here, the Middle Ages in Europe or the Warlord Era of early 20th Century China provides a better fit. As so often happens in the wider world, anarchy is followed by feudalism, and this is what happened on WP. Note that the word “feudal” does not appear in the WP governmental goulash list above. I would suggest that that is no accident. Feudal systems by their nature arise from, and are sustained by, conflict; and by decree of The Jimbo, “Wikipedia culture is strongly opposed to Usenet-style flame wars”. But as a matter of ever increasing fact, WP is
dominated by Usenet-style flame wars, and to extent it has any effective governance at all, it is exercised through a number of cabals (also supposedly verboten, according to The Jimbo). This has been documented time and again on the pages of WR. The cabals are truly the “sausage factories” of WP where “consensus” gets manufactured. Were it not for arbitrary misrule of these cabals, staking out and defending "their" territory; there would be no rule at all.
“Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! All those having business before the
Arbitration Committee draw near and demonstrate your fealty!”(Tomorrow the final installment: THE END GAME)
Posts in this topic
Cedric Why Wikipedia Is Doomed Mon 27th October 2008, 12:25pm dtobias You seem to want to turn WP into Nupedia, the thor... Mon 27th October 2008, 1:01pm anthony
You seem to want to turn WP into Nupedia, the tho... Mon 27th October 2008, 1:43pm Cedric
You seem to want to turn WP into Nupedia, the tho... Mon 27th October 2008, 2:17pm flash
You can edit this page right now...
I think thi... Mon 27th October 2008, 1:07pm Kato
What has caused most of the ill-feeling towards t... Mon 27th October 2008, 1:36pm flash
The principle is flawed.
"The project... Mon 27th October 2008, 6:17pm Peter Damian
If so, what are your criteria for failure? Look, ... Mon 27th October 2008, 7:15pm anthony
You can edit this page right now...
I think th... Mon 27th October 2008, 1:54pm Kelly Martin An excellent example of this would be the three re... Thu 30th October 2008, 6:04pm everyking
An excellent example of this would be the three r... Thu 30th October 2008, 6:34pm Milton Roe
An excellent example of this would be the three r... Thu 30th October 2008, 6:38pm Son of a Yeti
Going to 3RR forces "teamwork." It... Thu 30th October 2008, 6:57pm Milton Roe
Going to 3RR forces "teamwork." It... Thu 30th October 2008, 7:45pm Son of a Yeti
Marx or no, we're well past empire-slavery, ... Thu 30th October 2008, 7:52pm Kelly Martin But first, I'm afraid the "beheading... Thu 30th October 2008, 7:52pm Moulton Abandoned Avatars of Azazel's Assassins
... Thu 30th October 2008, 8:21pm Cedric
But first, I'm afraid the "beheading... Thu 30th October 2008, 10:04pm Moulton Go Jump In the Lake
Another Sacred Principle of W... Mon 27th October 2008, 1:32pm Cedric THE SIX ROTTEN PILLARS OF WIKIPEDIA
[b]2. “NE... Tue 28th October 2008, 12:46pm Emperor Instant editing got Wikipedia millions of articles... Tue 28th October 2008, 1:39pm Son of a Yeti
Instant editing got Wikipedia millions of article... Tue 28th October 2008, 3:13pm UseOnceAndDestroy Most of the useful stuff on WP pages is still act... Tue 28th October 2008, 3:45pm Son of a Yeti You use the example of the US senators as a benchm... Tue 28th October 2008, 5:04pm Random832
You use the example of the US senators as a bench... Tue 28th October 2008, 5:09pm Kato
You use the example of the US senators as a bench... Tue 28th October 2008, 5:09pm Son of a Yeti
Not at all. Around 90% of the Senators articles i... Tue 28th October 2008, 5:18pm flash It's the wisdom of the crowds principle. Yes, ... Thu 30th October 2008, 2:07pm dogbiscuit
It's the wisdom of the crowds principle. Yes,... Thu 30th October 2008, 2:22pm Peter Damian
It's the wisdom of the crowds principle. Yes... Thu 30th October 2008, 3:07pm Milton Roe
[quote name='dogbiscuit' post='138972' date='Thu ... Thu 30th October 2008, 3:53pm Peter Damian
Instant editing got Wikipedia millions of articl... Tue 28th October 2008, 5:18pm Piperdown
[quote name='Son of a Yeti' post='138452' date='T... Sun 2nd November 2008, 4:47pm Somey Well, I always knew, pretty much from Day One, tha... Sun 2nd November 2008, 5:37pm EricBarbour
For the exteme trainspotting trivia on pokemon, p... Mon 3rd November 2008, 3:22am SpatzelL I was quite amazed at the insight, much as Herr Dr... Tue 28th October 2008, 2:16pm Cedric THE SIX ROTTEN PILLARS OF WIKIPEDIA
[b]3. ANONY... Wed 29th October 2008, 12:47pm Moulton Abandoned Assassins of Azazel
To persuade people ... Wed 29th October 2008, 2:19pm Cedric THE SIX ROTTEN PILLARS OF WIKIPEDIA
[b]4. HOSTI... Thu 30th October 2008, 12:46pm Peter Damian I have converted this into an article here
http:/... Thu 30th October 2008, 1:29pm Cedric
I have converted this into an article here
http:... Thu 30th October 2008, 2:40pm everyking It looks to me like these "rotten pillars... Thu 30th October 2008, 4:20pm dogbiscuit
It looks to me like these "rotten pillars... Thu 30th October 2008, 4:29pm flash Yup... sure, why not. Both the 'winning pub te... Thu 30th October 2008, 5:46pm dogbiscuit
Yup... sure, why not. Both the 'winning pub t... Thu 30th October 2008, 5:55pm flash
[quote name='flash' post='138996' date='Thu 30th ... Fri 31st October 2008, 12:01pm dogbiscuit
[quote name='flash' post='138996' date='Thu 30th... Fri 31st October 2008, 2:16pm flash
There is still a problem with what you have writ... Fri 31st October 2008, 5:32pm dogbiscuit
No, I do not agree taht an expert writes a better... Fri 31st October 2008, 6:30pm Moulton You then drink of the Kool-Aid and make the fallac... Fri 31st October 2008, 6:57pm EricBarbour
Which, I suppose, is why it's traditional to ... Sat 1st November 2008, 8:05am Peter Damian
Nor do I even agree that 1 or 3 experts writes a ... Sat 1st November 2008, 1:59pm Moulton It looks to me like these "rotten pillars... Thu 30th October 2008, 5:39pm Doc glasgow Outside the articles no one cares about, Wikipedia... Thu 30th October 2008, 6:54pm Peter Damian
I noticed this proposal on AN yesterday: "An... Thu 30th October 2008, 8:42pm EricBarbour
I noticed [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikip... Fri 31st October 2008, 8:51am Angela Kennedy
Outside the articles no one cares about, Wikipedi... Fri 31st October 2008, 9:33am Cedric THE SIX ROTTEN PILLARS OF WIKIPEDIA
[b]5. EXPLO... Fri 31st October 2008, 2:02pm Son of a Yeti
5. EXPLOITATION OF THE ADDICTED AND MENTALLY IL... Fri 31st October 2008, 2:10pm Peter Damian Yes, thanks for this series. I particularly liked... Fri 31st October 2008, 2:42pm Cedric
I had a really good laugh reading this installmen... Fri 31st October 2008, 4:00pm Son of a Yeti Another excellent installment!
To some degre... Sat 1st November 2008, 3:43pm Cedric
Another excellent installment!
To some degr... Sat 1st November 2008, 4:03pm Cedric THE SIX ROTTEN PILLARS OF WIKIPEDIA
[b][center]TH... Sun 2nd November 2008, 3:20pm Proabivouac A brilliant series, Cedric. Thank you. Sun 2nd November 2008, 4:02pm Kato
A brilliant series, Cedric. Thank you.
Indeed... Sun 2nd November 2008, 4:21pm The Joy
A brilliant series, Cedric. Thank you.
Indeed... Mon 3rd November 2008, 1:20am Son of a Yeti Why not fork wikipedia and start a new one with th... Mon 3rd November 2008, 3:59pm Kelly Martin Our best hope for the death of Wikipedia is that i... Sun 2nd November 2008, 5:46pm Cedric Thanks to everyone for the kind words. Thanks als... Sun 2nd November 2008, 7:35pm Shalom Thank you, Cedric. Reading your series of essays ... Sun 2nd November 2008, 9:49pm Peter Damian Excellent and thank you Cedric - the full version ... Sun 2nd November 2008, 6:50pm Kato Cedric's piece is remeniscent of Sam Vaknin... Mon 3rd November 2008, 1:27am everyking I said it before, but I'll reiterate, just to ... Mon 3rd November 2008, 6:56am Cedric
I said it before, but I'll reiterate, just to... Mon 3rd November 2008, 3:02pm Moulton The fundamentals of Wikipedia are most insightfull... Mon 3rd November 2008, 2:40pm Kelly Martin I think everyking has a point in that Wikipedia... Mon 3rd November 2008, 3:09pm Peter Damian
I think everyking has a point in that Wikipedia... Mon 3rd November 2008, 4:14pm Basil If it is any consolation Peter, while Charles Faul... Mon 3rd November 2008, 6:51pm Peter Damian
If it is any consolation Peter, while Charles Fau... Mon 3rd November 2008, 8:35pm
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