[okfn-discuss] Everything you wanted to know about Wikipedia but were too afraid to ask

Kimo Crossman kimo at webnetic.net
Tue May 18 14:54:05 UTC 2010

Have you listened to the Great Failure of Wikipedia?
also here


A little over five years ago, I wrote an essay and put it on my
talking about Wikipedia. After that essay came a number of essays, including
an example entry <http://ascii.textfiles.com/archives/847>, a bunch of
predictions <http://ascii.textfiles.com/archives/943>, a for-dummies
and the occasional <http://ascii.textfiles.com/archives/1062>
comment<http://ascii.textfiles.com/archives/1064> on
current events within the Wikipedia space.  I also gave presentations about
my thoughts on Wikipedia, including this
, this one <http://www.archive.org/details/20070427-jscott-brickipedia>, this
one <http://www.archive.org/details/20061202-jscott-mythapedia> (for which I
was flown to London) and a couple at other places, including Google. Those
were very fun and I thank my hosts for the opportunities.

For all that verbiage and presentation, it would be sad if this was all I
did with my time, and obviously I believe I’ve done a lot more than that.
But understandably, this got me billed as a Wikipedia Critic, and in some
situations The Wikipedia Critic.

I have written so much, so many places, and made so many people miserable
when they asked me to recount the reasons for my position, that I’m not
inclined to drop much in this notation other than to say I’ve really, really
not been convinced I wasn’t right, that I stand by what I said, and I’m
pretty sure the problem will not repair itself.  But let me add some
additional thoughts for perspective.

The Wikipedia of today is not the same entity it was 5 years ago –
everything grows and changes.  They’ve had staff churn, moved locations, and
gone through several dozen rounds of what I labelled “information fads”;
changes in policy and outlook on information classification mean that there
have been what could sensationally call *pogroms* but in fact are just slow
paper-pushing of other peoples’ work to show you’re “improving” wikipedia.
I’ve watched the entries of living people fossilize and the Wikimedia
Foundation add what is essentially a hotline to complain about bad changes
to them, and I’ve watched the locking down of entries increase dramatically,
like all tools of control tend to. Through all of this, the project has
survived, but the missing fact in all the lauding of Wikipedia is that when
you turn collections of information into living things, those living things
have an actual *life cycle*, and at the end of the life cycle is decay,
irrelevancy, and destruction.

I still harbor little respect for Jimbo Wales, and don’t see that changing
anytime soon. I don’t wish to waste your time with my big bad listing of why
I think he’s a toad, but I didn’t want to lead you astray that I’ve gone *
soft* or something. Wikipedia needed him for its success, since lying is
part of the game and the slicker the liar the quicker the success, but that
doesn’t mean I have to think much of him beyond that.  So I won’t.

Speaking of muckity-mucks. I met Erik
you know. Chatted amicably for most of it and we only raised our voices at
each other a couple times. Something that I think gets lost in all of these
discussions and debates and things I’ve said and written is that I don’t
consider any of the human parties particularly *evil*, or displaying *malice
*. Some have shown to be petty, and controlling, and Wikipedia allows you to
game the system both on the back and front ends to your own purposes, but
these people are not, you know, subhuman villains or something.  I watched a
couple, over the years, who were easily the worst offenders of abuse and
power-madness, divest and leave the Wikipedia space and become critics in
their own right. I think there’s something to be said for the philosophical
idea that it’s sometimes not the person, but the role that causes the pain
and despair. The person should be held accountable, but they’re not the sole
motivating force; it literally is a case of if they weren’t there,
Wikipedia’s structure would invent them. Erik is what the system needed, and
I do respect someone leaving his homeland definitively and completely to
travel halfway around the world for something that he believes in. I even
got a hug off him.

I’ve been thanked and high-fived and smiled at for my criticism, and I’ve
been threatened, insulted and lied about as well. It comes with being
high-profile with something, and it’s something I’ve had to deal with in other
subjects <http://ascii.textfiles.com/archives/1303> since. What I have not
been, really, is corrected or given a situation where I thought I’ve been
wrong. I’ve made predictions that have gone south, but usually because the
prediction has become irrelevant, much like debates about classifying all
BBSes as businesses became moot when ISPs took over.  I’ve watched things I
said five years ago continue to be the case, and watched people innovate new
ways to be fucks. I’ve watched a lot of people take Wikipedia entries and
treat them as the end-case proof of something, but I’ve watched a lot of
other people snort when someone cites Wikipedia.

As I write this, Wikipedia is going through another destructive information
fad – tons of computer history articles are being deleted, and people are
letting me know of them. Every one that’s been deleted, I could do a really
nice page on. In some cases, the number of people voting/discussing the
deletion of an article are as little as 3-4. This is fine for me, as I’ll
just bring the information back better, more completely, and better
researched. I’ve been given a
do so, after all. After I finish my movie, that’s where I’m turning. The
entries on Impulse Tracker, Fidonews, SDF BBS, and many others are gone, but
I’ll give those subjects their due, I promise.

Some of the names of the deleters are in my memory of the years – others are
not. Like I said, roles are at play. Deleting things should be a sorry, sad
act, and one done carefully and with a way to pull them back if they’re
improved or repaired. A few choices many years ago ensured this wouldn’t be
the case. I’ve been sent more terrible recountings of Wikipedia horrors and
internal politics that I think I’ve cared to see, and none of it tells me to
follow the refrain so lauded, so pushed by anyone who is under Wikipedia’s
spell: *If you have issues with Wikipedia, join it*. No, thank you. I have a
lot of unique work being taken in no other quarters, and I think
concentrating on that stuff betters the world a lot more than joining the
endless Sisyphean experience of a Wikipedia member.

Do I still comment or occasionally roust some indignation on what goes on
there? Oh, sure. Even in a machete war, you have to admire/notice the guy
who gets three machetes in his head, or the person who carves particularly
elaborate symbols in his victim’s chests. Even in the horror, there is,
ultimately its own level of horror. And that’s kind of where it’ll always

One last, positive note: Through the years of listening to interviews and
presentations on the subject of Wikis, one name has really consistently
impressed me: Ward Cunningham <http://c2.com/~ward/>, the credited creator
of the Wiki concept. This is a brilliant, brilliant man, who has done a lot
of good in the world, and who has maintained the perspective, intelligence
and insight that befits someone of that pedigree. I have never heard
anything that puts his voice to digitized form that didn’t make me think to
myself, *now here is a guy who I am lucky to share the planet with*. Were
there more like him, a lot of problems in the world would be merely bad
possibilities and not reality. I wish him a very long life.

I wish everyone, in fact, a very long life. At the end of the day, we are
discussing ideas, and the ideas, for all the efforts of people, will

And that’s a comforting thought.
On Tue, May 18, 2010 at 7:45 AM, Jonathan Gray <jonathan.gray at okfn.org>wrote:

> Interesting! Can any OKF folks make this?
> ---------- Forwarded message ----------
> From: "Stuart DEMPSTER" <s.dempster at jisc.ac.uk>
> Date: May 18, 2010 1:48 PM
> Subject: Invitation to a FREE "Everything you wanted to know about
> Wikipedia but were too afraid to ask" event...
> To: <SCANEWSLETTER at jiscmail.ac.uk>
>  ********Apologies for cross posting***********
> Dear Colleague,
> *Re: Everything you wanted to know about Wikipedia but were too afraid to
> ask event – Monday 7th June, Brettenham House, London *
> Liam Wyatt is Vice President of  Wikimedia Australia and a historian. He
> has recently been appointed as the first "volunteer Wikipedian in residence"
> at the British Museum - the first residency of its kind anywhere in the
> world. His principle task there will be to build a relationship between the
> Museum and the Wikipedian community through a range of activities, both
> internally and public-facing.
> We are running a FREE event on the afternoon of Monday, 7th June (two
> sessions about 2 hours or so in duration). At this event, Liam will be
> drawing on his experience in bringing the museum and Wikipedia communities
> together to present a museum-sector-specific overview on the opportunities,
> benefits and challenges of working with Wikimedia. After his presentation,
> and along with other Wikipedians attending, there will be the opportunity
> for in-depth discussions and Q&A.
> For further information and to register please go to
> http://c24scawiki.eventbrite.com/
> With good wishes,
> Stuart Dempster
> Director,
> The Strategic Content Alliance/JISC,
> Brettenham House,
> 5 Lancaster Place,
> London
> WC2E 7EN
> Tel: Office +44 (0)203 0066 062
> Tel: Mobile +44 (0)7791 594 199
> Email: s.dempster at jisc.ac.uk
> Web: http://www.jisc.ac.uk/contentalliance
> *Building Bridges to Digital Content *
> _______________________________________________
> okfn-discuss mailing list
> okfn-discuss at lists.okfn.org
> http://lists.okfn.org/mailman/listinfo/okfn-discuss
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://lists.okfn.org/pipermail/okfn-discuss/attachments/20100518/8bd8573a/attachment.html>

More information about the okfn-discuss mailing list