Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Withering Wikipedia

I've made no secret of my disdain for Wikipedia, especially as an "anyone can edit" source. Now, no surprise: Wikipedia's got problems -- and it is thinking of solutions to make the problems worse.

A reader noted some articles (links below) with some rather telling and disturbing information indicating the following:

Wikipedia is short on writers -- and keeps losing them. Well, why is this a surprise? Even the most ardent volunteer will eventually wonder why they put up with having to edit and check the work of 13 year olds named Jason who clearly don't have any idea what the heck they're talking about. Or why they put up with vandalism. And why they ought to do it essentially anonymously.

That's an ever expanding cycle, too, because as more editors quit and/or as the number of articles and/or content increases, the more work there is to do, and the more thankless the job becomes. One source gives the figures:

The total number of active English Wikipedia editors making five edits or more a month is down from a peak of over 50,000 in the summer of 2007 to just 30,000 this year. In October 2005, Wikimedia elected 67 administrators, and a typical month around that time would see the number reach at least 40 or 50. Nowadays, that figure is in the single digits.

Part of the problem is something Wikipedia's founders forgot about -- to really do this right, you need to know what you're doing. As another of the sources states, referring to Andrew Lih, one of the editors:

In the early days of Wikipedia (Lih became an admin in October 2003), editors were promoted to admin-status almost as a perk: someone else would nominate you, others would affirm, and after about a week you'd have new privileges around the site. "If you proved you weren't a bozo," said Lih, the process was easy.

But the process has gotten more and more intense over the years. Applying to become an admin now involves answering questions about copyright law. You have to write essays about notability and explain how you would act in hypothetical situations. And other Wikipedia editors dig deep into your distant edit history, find any testy discussions you got in and grill you about them.

"It's a rejection of the commitment [Wikipedia editors] put into the project," said Lih. Adminships used to be conferred without much fanfare, but now, even if you seek the position, you're going to get a "gigantic amount of scrutiny."

Wikipedia's solution: Idiotically exacerbate the problem. They want to increase the number of editors from 85,000 to 200,000. Among the steps will be incorporating a "visual editor that makes editing easier," and changes that will make it easier to make editing changes from smaller screens (as on smartphones). So, pretty soon, you can be even less intelligent than before to figure out how to edit Wikipedia, and you can do it from more places.

Wikipedia has competition. A new website called Quora, designed by a couple of former Facebook workers, has combined the notion of Facebook and Wikipedia to create personalized "homepages" that allow the user to keep on track with topics of their interest. It also frames matters in a question and answer format, which makes it seem more personable.

I know enough about how the Internet affects the mind to know that these interactive features will trump Wikipedia's current services. People want this illusion of interaction that Quora provides. 

I'm not sure yet whether Quora will be any better than Wikipedia in terms of being an information resource. It does promise that it will deliver "content from people who share your interests and people who have first-hand knowledge -- like real doctors, economists, screenwriters, police officers, and military veterans." That would at least be a step up from 13 year olds named Jason, if it can be delivered.

In all of this, it would be premature to celebrate (as I would) the death of Wikipedia. In a sense it is like the church using entertainment to keep or attract new members: Things like the new editor at to Wikipedia what a Mercy Me concert is to a church. As long as they have new eye candy and tricks to promote, they'll survive. The question is whether they will get to it fast enough, and be able to outpace the competition.

Which, ironically, is exactly the problem with an "editable by anyone" encyclopedia.



  1. I really don't think Wikipedia is *that* bad per se. For me personally, it's been a quick and dirty way to get basic information on topics I know nothing about.

    The key is that, after reading a wiki, I don't suddenly proclaim myself an expert, nor do I take everything I've read as gospel. It's a launching point for further study if I feel so inclined.

    I think the problem is with the user, and the "abuse" of wikipedia is a symptom of a much broader cultural depravity.

  2. Just the other day I was looking up Wikipedia's entry on Australian TV and radio personality Phillip Brady. It contains a link to what is allegedly his personal website, only it's written in Chinese and has pictures of dugongs.

  3. @Jon That's where my issues lie. If Wikipedia pasted a banner on every page billing itself as a "quick and dirty" information source, and if so many users didn't assume they were experts because they had read a Wiki entry, I wouldn't have any problem. As it is, Wales & Co. maintain delusions of grandeur about the actual utility of their project.

  4. Yeah, if they are trying to market themselves as anything more than a "quick and dirty" source of basic information, then they certainly warrant our disdain.

    Delusions of grandeur indeed. That goes for both the site administrators and abusive users...

  5. I remember problems i had 4 editing years ago, while more of a novice, in trying to provide some balance to the WP [ David and Jonathan], article, which is still on the [ talk page], which still places more space to sodomite "scholarship." While some criticism of my edits was warranted (references), among other things my reference to Robert Gagnon (; Associate Professor of New Testament, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, B.A. degree from Dartmouth College, an M.T.S. from Harvard Divinity School, and a Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary, and author of many books) as a "scholar" was denied because he was an "annoying little self-publicist pushing a hate-filled POV, who has a post at a highly partisan and non-neutral religious institution." Yet he is not even a "fundamentalist" (Biblical inerrancy).

    Thus if you cannot get your work published due it being politically incorrect, or other reasons, and do not work at such "neutral" non-religious institutions as Harvard, and are hated by the Left due to exposing them, then you cannot be a scholar!

    Reminds me of insightful cartoon (

    In addition, they sanction the use of the slurs "Islamophia" and "homophobia," to describe those who oppose each, respectively, while those to oppose Christianity are critics, or perhaps anti-Christian