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Somey
Over the last few days, the folks on WikiEN-L have been scrambling to put a rational "spin" on the current leadership crisis at Wikipedia, and in particular the whole question of "what Jimbo's role is." The general idea, of course, being that Jimbo is supposed to be fading into the background somewhat and letting people who were elected by the community take over. This may have contributed significantly to the decisions by Danny Wool and Brad Patrick to resign, but nobody seems all that interested in them, for some reason. (Maybe they just never liked them.)

This particular question evoked a considerable response:
http://lists.wikimedia.org/pipermail/wikie...rch/066287.html
QUOTE(ScottL @ Fri Mar 23 21:13:04 UTC 2007)
Could a non-admin (or even a single admin) go against him and not get banned? Honestly? That is not a measure of respect or even deference except perhaps by a majority of admins.

Jimbo was quick to try and reassure everyone that this was really a non-issue, only his response should have raised even more questions:
http://lists.wikimedia.org/pipermail/wikie...rch/066334.html
QUOTE(Jimmy Wales @ Sat Mar 24 09:20:02 UTC 2007)
Of course. People go against me all the time and don't get banned. Indeed, some of our worst trolls who have attacked me most viciously have survived quite a long time under my personal protection.

If I went bonkers and banned someone who had done absolutely nothing wrong other than disagree with me in some way, I hope that the ArbCom would quietly and firmly tell me that I am bonkers. I would listen.

Some of their "worst trolls" are now under his "personal protection"? What kind of statement is that? This is extraordinarily disingenuous. If he was really trying to "protect" people, he wouldn't be calling them "trolls," for one thing. More importantly, what constitutes Jimbo's "personal protection"? And this "protection" - is that in the Clint Eastwood, Fistful-of-Dollars sense of the word, or the organized-crime "protection racket" sense of the word, or what? If someone who's under his "personal protection" does something truly horrible, and the Faithful unanimously want that person gone, what happens?

So why didn't this response raise even more questions? Maybe the Faithful simply like the idea of having someone who could be their "protector" when they get in trouble? Later, Jimbo thinks the better of this statement, but only with respect to one person:

http://lists.wikimedia.org/pipermail/wikie...rch/066335.html
QUOTE(Jimmy Wales @ Sat Mar 24 09:21:40 UTC 2007)
In a separate email I mentioned something about our worst trolls under my personal protection. I just got scared that someone might think I mean people like geni, who have had plenty of disagreements with me.

NO. Geni is (in my opinion) often a pain in the neck, but also a very valued member of the community who needs no protection or support from me to do very well.

Well, at least he cleared that up. Now instead of merely harboring suspicions as to whom he's referring to, we simply have no idea whatsoever. Unless he's talking about SlimVirgin, of course...

This was followed by the usual spin-doctoring, back-slapping, and feel-good pronouncements from the peanut gallery. And, of course, this classic from uber-spin-doctor Dave "nothing they say can ever hurt us, really" Gerard:
http://lists.wikimedia.org/pipermail/wikie...rch/066339.html
QUOTE(David Gerard @ Sat Mar 24 16:46:44 UTC 2007)
An environment where criticism is possible is necessary to us not sucking. Fortunately, Wikipedia is pretty good at self-examination.

Okay, everybody, stop laughing... I know, I know...

QUOTE
Jimbo's a very smart guy, but with Wikipedia I think he's finally found a reliable way to meet lots of people who make him feel really dumb by comparison ;-)

And by this, I'd have to assume he means himself. But Jimbo never actually admits that users are smarter than him, at least not with respect to running the website... does he? Can anyone remember him doing that?

QUOTE
It surprises me when our odder critics claim Wikipedia is the personality cult of Jimbo Wales. I really can't imagine L. Ron Hubbard putting up with the crap Jimbo does ...

This strikes me as the Big Kahuna of All Strawman Arguments, at least WRT Jimbo Wales. I realize Dave isn't just referring to certain members of this forum here - there are plenty of people on Wikitruth, ED, and elsewhere who have suggested this sort of thing, with the most well-known example probably being Jaron Lanier in his essay on "Digital Maoism." But regardless, Wikipedia doesn't have to have a "God-King" figurehead to be cult-like. Too many people conflate the idea of cultism with either religion or personalist totalitarianism. In fact, a cult can form around anything - a non-political idea, a non-religious belief, or even an inanimate object, just for starters. The reason they're conflated is because religions and totalitarian regimes always start out as cults before they grow into something vastly more damaging to society.

Having said that, to suggest that Jimbo doesn't bear some resemblance to a cult-leader in the Wikipedia context is, quite simply, intellectually dishonest in the extreme. (Dave might not actually be doing that in this case, but it's still a strawman argument.)

And as for L. Ron Hubbard, he probably did put up with a certain amount of internal dissent during the first few years of Scientology's existence. Besides, what sort of "crap" does Jimbo put up with? Accusations of corruption and being a danger to society? People in the media telling him he's wrong about things on occasion? Questions regarding what the legal status of the organization should be with respect to things like corporate liability and taxation? Is David honestly trying to tell us that L. Ron Hubbard never had to "put up" with any of that during the formative years of Scientology?

And people wonder why we never take what they say seriously!
anon1234
QUOTE(Somey @ Sat 24th March 2007, 6:44pm) *
This may have contributed significantly to the decisions by Danny Wool and Brad Patrick to resign, but nobody seems all that interested in them, for some reason. (Maybe they just never liked them.)
Jimmy has power because he has been the public face. He is seen as its public representative still. Ask most Wikipedians (probably 80%) who the hell is Danny and they'll give you a blank stare. 97.5% of Wikipedians don't know who Brad Patrick is. They don't have power because now one knows who they are.
QUOTE(Somey @ Sat 24th March 2007, 6:44pm) *
Some of their "worst trolls" are now under his "personal protection"?
In all fairness here, I think Jimbo is referring to Xeq, whom simply posted attacks on Jimbo on his talk page for quite some time.
QUOTE(Somey @ Sat 24th March 2007, 6:44pm) *
Having said that, to suggest that Jimbo doesn't bear some resemblance to a cult-leader in the Wikipedia context is, quite simply, intellectually dishonest in the extreme. (Dave might not actually be doing that in this case, but it's still a strawman argument.)
It's logically that Jimbo will have such a position. There are frequently cults of personality around founders of organizations, although it depends on the nature of the leader's personality.
QUOTE(Somey @ Sat 24th March 2007, 6:44pm) *
And as for L. Ron Hubbard, he probably did put up with a certain amount of internal dissent during the first few years of Scientology's existence. Besides, what sort of "crap" does Jimbo put up with? Accusations of corruption and being a danger to society? People in the media telling him he's wrong about things on occasion? Questions regarding what the legal status of the organization should be with respect to things like corporate liability and taxation? Is David honestly trying to tell us that L. Ron Hubbard never had to "put up" with any of that during the formative years of Scientology?
Wikipedia has grown beyond Jimbo's ability to manage it but he still attempts to be involved in the daily details on some days. Various aspects of Wikipedia are dysfunctional and some of it is related to Jimbo but a lot of the dysfunctionality is related to the admins and the editors and various policies. I actually support Jimbo's credential verification push or some variation of it, but I don't think he is going about it the right way such that it will have success. I don't really have any concrete solutions, as the problem is well outside of my area of competence as well, but I think that Wikipedia would benefit from being the subject of some management studies from a place like Harvard School of Business or similar groups. It is a very complex problem and it needs a more thorough study and consideration than what is currently going on. The issue is larger and more involved than just Jimbo, the Foundation or a bunch of wacky admins. The more outside, thorough and impartial study of Wikipedia and its problems the better, as long Wikipedia reacts appropriately to constructive criticism.
Somey
QUOTE(anon1234 @ Sat 24th March 2007, 2:49pm) *
In all fairness here, I think Jimbo is referring to Xeq, whom simply posted attacks on Jimbo on his talk page for quite some time.

In other words, "protection" means simply telling the admins not to ban an established user (or to un-ban him, as the case may be) who posts nasty entries to Jimbo's talk page? What happens if he posts nasty stuff to someone else's talk page? also, why call him a "troll"?

If that's all it is, then I still think he's being a tad disingenuous - even if there are multiple examples of that sort of thing.

QUOTE
...I think that Wikipedia would benefit from being the subject of some management studies from a place like Harvard School of Business or similar groups. It is a very complex problem and it needs a more thorough study and consideration than what is currently going on. The issue is larger and more involved than just Jimbo, the Foundation or a bunch of wacky admins. The more outside, thorough and impartial study of Wikipedia and its problems the better...

Well, they've just recently named an Advisory Board, but I'm not sure what the purpose of that group is, other than to allow them to say they've named an Advisory Board.

QUOTE
...as long Wikipedia reacts appropriately to constructive criticism.

D'oh! So much for that idea...
Somey
Okay, this is getting slightly more interesting. Apparently, Seth Finkelstein has gotten into the discussion, pointing out ways in which Wikipedia is cult-like, and as one would expect, they're asking for the diffs. Since as we all know, if there are no diffs, then it must not be true...
QUOTE(Dave Gerard @ Sat Mar 24 23:27:50 UTC 2007)
i.e., you'll make a vague accusation, but getting you to actually substantiate it is like pulling teeth.

As I understand from your Guardian piece, your theory is more or less (and correct me word by word as needed): Wikipedia is a cult of Jimbo's personality, where he gets everyone to write stuff for him for free, so that he can profit from it using Wikia.
However, not wanting to be simply put "on moderation," Seth chose to be non-specific. (And pretty soon they're going to start accusing him of being me, but at least I've been through that bit of fun before...)

And this, from Slimmy:
QUOTE(Slimmy @ Sun Mar 25 01:01:44 UTC 2007)
To support the cult hypothesis, there would have to be something illegitimate, untoward, nasty, inappropriate, dishonest, corrupt, harmful to the individual -- where what we're doing isn't *really* what we're doing, or something like that -- and it's not clear to me what that thing would be.

As anyone who isn't hooked up to a Kool-Aid I-V will tell you, the cult doesn't get to be the one that determines for the rest of society if its activities are harmful. Society does that.

Mr. Finkelstein seems to think that the key illegitimate cultish aspect of WP is the "false illusion of academic standing" obtained by being a prominent Wikipedian. This, of course, is in the process of being pshawed by the Faithful, but there are certainly other cult-like aspects of WP that Seth has yet to mention. The most important, of course, is that you can have many, many imaginary friends who don't have to look at you, smell you, put up with your bad habits, or know just how unattractive you are. But what separates WP from the average MMORPG is the illusion of purpose - it makes you feel good, in that if you buy into their "sum of all human knowledge" schpeil then you think you're helping humanity in some substantial way. This has very little to do with illusory academic standing...

Slimmy, in the same post, tried to claim that WP can't be considered a cult because it doesn't coerce people into staying:
QUOTE
I don't mean to be dismissive of your argument, which I find very interesting, but you haven't managed to put your finger on what the cult-like thing comes from. It can't simply be a group of people huddled around a charismatic leader, because if you go to any major corporation, any political party, any monarchy, you'll find courtiers doing the bidding of (or plotting against) the king, and we don't call them cults. There's also no element of coercion to stay on Wikpedia. Quite the reverse: anyone who wants to leave can just turn off the computer. There may be an addiction, but that's a personal thing that's not obviously related to the group dynamics.

Obviously Slimmy is being ridiculous here, but as long as I'm still taking the whole thing seriously:

1. It's a whole lot more than a bunch of people huddled around a charismatic leader; this is just a strawman argument, exactly what Mr. Finkelstein didn't want to be drawn into. Oh well, sorry Seth...

2. There's a huge element of coercion to stay on Wikipedia. Just look at the histories on MONGO's talk page, Zoe's talk page, and for a while last year, SlimVirgin's own talk page. How many times have we seen people whine about how "if you leave, the trolls will have won" or "you can't go, Wikipedia will fall apart without you"? Answer: All the time! And the idea that you can leave by just "turning off the computer," while theoretically possible, essentially dismisses the whole idea of psychological (as opposed to physical) coercion. In fact, what Slimmy is saying is a total crock of shit! (Who would have guessed?)

3. Addiction to WP may be a "personal thing" in some cases, but it's hardly unrelated to the group dynamics. In fact, it's intimately related to the group dynamics. The addicts are well aware of who their fellow addicts are, and those are the ones they trust and gravitate towards when they have problems, or when they perceive a threat to the supply.

All this stems from an article that Mr. Finkelstein recently wrote for the Guardian entitled Read Me First:
QUOTE(Seth Finkelstein @ Thursday March 8, 2007)
...Frequently, what is naively viewed as spontaneous generation is in fact the product of a relatively small number of people who have been induced to provide a huge amount of unpaid labour. The lifeblood of Wikipedia is selling heavy contributors a dream that their donated effort will give them the prestige of an academic. This is very clear in the Wikipedian's credo of "writing an encyclopedia". But all that'll happen is they will work for free, while elsewhere the Wikia investors will reap the rewards. But it's a powerful dream.
(snip)
One of Wikipedia's major public relations successes has been in misdirecting observers into a narrative of technological miracles, diverting attention from analysing its old-fashioned cult appeal. While I don't mean to imply that everyone involved in Wikipedia is wrapped up in delusion, that process is a key factor. A charismatic leader, who peddles a type of spiritual transcendence through selfless service to an ideal, finding a cadre of acolytes willing to devote their lives (without payment) to the organisation's projects - that's a story worth telling. But not abetting.

So, here's a question: Is it worth our trouble to come up with specific examples of cultish behavior among the WP'ers? I'd normally say no, but I kind of feel sorry for him somehow.
Jonny Cache
Gee Wikilers !!! They're even starting to plagiarize Us !!!

Example of Cult Behivior:

In Wikipedia, the Virgin Sacrifice You ...

We have of course been documenting examples of cult behavior and cult psychology in Wikipedia on a daily basis. This has been one of the main components of our inquiry into authoritarian (aka fascist) personalities.

By way of enumerating a few of the most salient symptoms, we might begin as follows:
  • All human beings have a natural need for affiliation with others, but cult-inclined personalities have a need for group acceptance that goes way beyond the normal human limits, to the point of distorting their perceptions and leading them to engage in conduct that they would probably not normally do on their own initiatives, such as persecuting people whom the group has marked out as scapegoats. By this point, most of you will have recollected a veritable host of Wikipedians who behave this way on a regular basis. Indeed, demonizing diverse others as "trolls" is a pervasive part of the Wikipedian Cult Mythos.
Jonny cool.gif
thekohser
QUOTE(Somey @ Sat 24th March 2007, 10:30pm) *

Well, they've just recently named an Advisory Board, but I'm not sure what the purpose of that group is, other than to allow them to say they've named an Advisory Board.


And the Advisory Board is chaired by Angela Beesley. So they've got a Wikia co-founder positioned as the God-King of Wikipedia, and they've got the other co-founder of Wikia positioned in the role of guiding the task force that will advise the Wikimedia Foundation.

I'm starting to think we need to fork The Wikipedia Review, so that we can keep a closer watch just on Wikia.

Greg
Daniel Brandt
In the early 1970s, I remember attending a big antiwar demonstration in Los Angeles. By then opposition to the war was broad-based. I think the keynote speaker was Leonard Woodcock from the United Auto Workers.

Then in the middle of all these well-meaning, good-natured people, who had a correct perception of global reality and were peacefully expressing their opinions, a "cult" came on the scene. It was the Children of God, founded by David "Moses" Berg, marching about 30 strong in single file, in sackcloth and ashes, with walking staffs. They walked speechless right through the crowd, banging their staffs on the ground with every step. Everyone made way for them, and pretended that nothing had happened.

"Holy crap, what is this?" I asked myself. Then I spent the next couple of years at the School of Religion at USC, taking interdisciplinary graduate courses. I did a paper on cults. Soon Rennie Davis, one of the original Chicago 7 heroes, had become a disciple of Maharaj Ji, a teenaged guru from India. There was a long article in the June 1974 Playboy about this.

A cult is an alternative reality that suddenly emerges and sets itself against the accumulated wisdom of history. Wikipedia is a cult. They put on their cyber-sackcloth and march down the information superhighway. And just like any cult, if you are aware of what goes on behind the scenes, it turns out that human nature hasn't changed at all. There are power struggles on top, and blind obedience by mindless idiots at the bottom.

There's nothing new about Wikipedia at all, except that it's a new cult.
blissyu2
There are plenty of examples of users who are abusive, damage Wikipedia and all of its users, and are a dis-service to the general community, and Jimbo protects them - like Snowspinner for example. People who can, if they like, argue with Jimbo, and he wouldn't even dream of doing anything against them. This is not limited to admins either (although if you are protected, your chances of becoming an admin are greatly enhanced). Slim Virgin had Jimbo's protection well before she ever became admin. All she had to do was to cry that she was being harassed by all of those nasty men who were trying to stop her from changing history! I don't know if Snowspinner had such protection when he started, or if it is true of all of the worst admins.

Perhaps this is what Jimbo means. If he really deeply likes you, you can argue with him all you like.
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