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The first rule is: there are no rules.
June 24, 2014 5:18 AM   Subscribe

Counterintuitive as it may sound, it is perfectly fine and acceptable to just use common sense when editing Wikipedia.
posted by paleyellowwithorange (42 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wikipedia's rules are sort of like the Spanish Inquisition's weapons.
Ximinez: NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition! Our chief weapon is surprise...surprise and fear...fear and surprise.... Our two weapons are fear and surprise...and ruthless efficiency.... Our *three* weapons are fear, surprise, and ruthless efficiency...and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope.... Our *four*...no... *Amongst* our weapons.... Amongst our weaponry...are such elements as fear, surprise.... I'll come in again.

[The Inquisition exits]

Chapman: I didn't expect a kind of Spanish Inquisition.

[JARRING CHORD]
[The cardinals burst in]

Ximinez: NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition! Amongst our weaponry are such diverse elements as: fear, surprise, ruthless efficiency, an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope, and nice red uniforms - Oh damn!
After a while, it's just gotten silly. Yet people take it deadly seriously.
posted by graymouser at 5:31 AM on June 24 [3 favorites]


What's happened to Wikipedia actually exemplifies a general malaise.
posted by flabdablet at 5:32 AM on June 24 [1 favorite]


If you want to edit articles on something no-one else wants to edit - then it is fine. But if you want to edit a topic with other people who were there first, and you don't know how to cite WP:RS or how citation standards work or what good faith means on wikipedia (it means a pointless 20,000 word talk page argument is fine but if you are exasperatedly rude to the person who is not even wrong about the subject you are editing you can be blocked) then you are going to have a bad time.

Non-paid (another can of fish) Wikipedia editing appeals to a limited community of nerdy individuals (me included) but those individuals have created a culture that is actively hostile to outsiders in huge ways. A "bureaucracy task force" has about as much chance on wikipedia as pigs have of flying.

The editors who are really active on wiki, who identify wikipedia as their hobby - they would never allow such a thing. And with some justification, it probably would lead to a messier, less reliable, more expansive site. It is like the " diversity" initiatives on that site. Trying to get people who have never been interested in editing wikipedia in 10 years to suddenly become editors alongside a phalanx of nerds who are actively hostile to new editors? lol

Fortunatley, huge expanses of wikipedia are deserted wastelands. You don't need to argue in a dispute, you can just exit and find somewhere else that interests you to edit. If you want to edit wikipedia the best advice I can give you is avoid other people
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 5:42 AM on June 24 [12 favorites]


Until other people decide that your subject of interest isn't notable because they don't care about it.
posted by Simon! at 5:45 AM on June 24 [25 favorites]


Phalanxes of hostile nerds. That's your problem right there.
posted by jonp72 at 5:45 AM on June 24 [6 favorites]


Metafilter: Phalanxes of Hostile Nerds.
posted by DWRoelands at 5:47 AM on June 24 [12 favorites]


i used to edit wikipedia.

I stopped around the time that they decided that the characters from one fictional series were notable enough to have a page each, but the characters from another fictional series had to have all the characters on one page.

What's the solution? I think it'd be stellar to "refresh" wikipedia every 10 years. Take the current version and publish it as "Wikipedia Volume 1." Delete all the rules. Delete all the user pages. Hell, delete all the pages.

Make it so that you can't import the old wikipedia pages unless you are adding new citations for each fact. Or highlight all the information from Volume 1 in red, and the new information in green. Or something along those lines.

But it needs a refresh for certain.
posted by rebent at 6:04 AM on June 24 [7 favorites]


Isn't it disingenuous or cynical (or yet more Slatey link-bait) to call for "common sense" coordinating a major information source if you believe information has power? "Common sense" is useful when all parties are acting in good faith. That doesn't strike me as the case with parts of Wikipedia, which have political implications, on whatever level you want to define politics -- international, national, local, or within competing social groups (the "hostile nerd" factor).
posted by aught at 6:06 AM on June 24 [2 favorites]


The only wiki editing I do these days is to delete all wiki content warnings I come across older than 1 year. If people haven't fixed a request for better cites made in January 2008, they never will.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:13 AM on June 24 [9 favorites]


Fundamentally, I have better things to do with my life than engage in endless rules-lawyering with people that have a fanatical devotion to Pokemon phyla. Some years back I made the crucial error of attempting to add a page for a guy who is a titan of modern welding science, only to have it removed "for relevance".

Well, fuck you Wikipedia. Enjoy the Pokeballs.

/stillbitter
posted by aramaic at 6:16 AM on June 24 [13 favorites]


I wonder if the experience of Wikipedia is different depending on subject matter. My areas of particular interest - science, medicine, technology, history, some geographic bits and bobs - seem to work very well overall. There are chunks of incomprehensible brain-dump here and there, and some shallows, but by and large it's useful and accessible. The few times I've made edits of late, the sky didn't fall, and I read plenty of 'science journalism' these days where the writer really should at least have looked at Wikipedia first. ("Light is a particle, but because its so fast it's very weird. Almost nothing can go as fast as it, so scientists have trouble with it". I hurt when I see that stuff. Wikipedia is a shining castle on the hill in comparison.)

Although I did delete a large chunk of totally fictitious 'history' from the page for the village I grew up in, after elderly friends from the village had complained to me. After I'd checked that the stuff was bogus and cut it out, I did ask my friends why they hadn't edited it themselves. Much incomprehension:"We didn't know we were allowed to".
posted by Devonian at 6:22 AM on June 24 [3 favorites]


Wouldn't it be neat to tie a wikipedia to the eigen-trust project from a couple of days ago? That might help ferret out the 'monomaniac with excessive time on their hands' hijacking of pages.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:25 AM on June 24


Some years back I made the crucial error of attempting to add a page for a guy who is a titan of modern welding science, only to have it removed "for relevance". Well, fuck you Wikipedia.

Consider the large number of self-promotional articles on non-notable people that are added to Wikipedia every day and which must be evaluated, argued over, and deleted by consensus. This is done by volunteers, many of which are young people, some of whom are very immature, many of whom are necessarily completely clueless about most things. Mistakes will be made.

(I myself would prefer looser rules about keeping articles on less notable subjects...)
posted by goethean at 6:27 AM on June 24


I've already told the story about my friend trying to replace a figure so poorly drawn it was inaccurate and being rebuffed for lack of citation. It obviously wasn't true unless he found a book on Lie algebras with the correct picture, noted the title and reported back to a person who presumably didn't even understand what the article was about. Never mind that you drew the figure simply by applying definitions. Somehow the obviously incorrect figure (it had to vertices in the same overlapping, so vertex 8 (or something) was missing--they were numbered) was inherently true because it was already in the article. I swear half the math articles I look at cite one of a handful of general abstract algebra books, probably just to satisfy someone demanding citations. If I'm looking at an algebra article on Wikipedia, I probably already know I can consult Lang's Algebra.
posted by hoyland at 6:27 AM on June 24


I think all the rules are fine. It saves having to explain over and over why somebody's blog isn't a reliable source or how dates should be formatted. Many of the rules are just the "common sense" that you would have if you'd been editing wikipedia for years.

The source of most conflict on wikipedia is reversion of edits. People put a lot of work into their edits and very often they are reverted quickly without giving much reason. A more polite way of doing this is needed.
posted by bhnyc at 6:33 AM on June 24 [2 favorites]


I once visited National Geographic offices in DC and spoke with one of the editors and they described the process of writing an article for "old yellow" magazine. Every sentence and fact is sourced (they don't print the cites). A team of editors and fact checkers make suggestions to the author for changes. The authors often have major battles with the editors and fact checkers. Collaborative writing is the same no matter where you go, it has the same issues. The problem isn't with the people or processes, it's the nature of the beast.
posted by stbalbach at 7:28 AM on June 24 [3 favorites]


Until other people decide that your subject of interest isn't notable because they don't care about it.
True although I think deletion is probably the least messed up bit of wikipedia at the moment which is saying something
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 7:41 AM on June 24


If people haven't fixed a request for better cites made in January 2008, they never will.

I agree with this and I think part of the problem is that on Wikipedia it's very easy to identify the problem without fixing it so you can feel like you're accomplishing something, but just adding "citation needed" isn't actually helping very much. I don't think many people see "citation needed" and think "then, by God, I shall find a citation!".
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 7:48 AM on June 24 [2 favorites]


I don't think many people see "citation needed" and think "then, by God, I shall find a citation!".
You underestimate how much of a nerd some of us are. I have spent days of my life on articles I found tangentially doing just this.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 8:04 AM on June 24 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I have done that from time to time when it's a subject I'm interested in. But mostly I wander past; I hardly ever edit these days.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:43 AM on June 24


I think Wikipedia hurts itself when it pulls stunts like this:

EDITOR 1: Person X did Z in 2000.
EDITOR 2: Person X did Z in 2001.
EDITOR 1: Person X did Z in 2000.
EDITOR 2: Person X did Z in 2001.
PERSON: Oh, hey, actually guys, I did Z in 1999.
EDITOR 2: We cannot accept personal research.
RESULTING WIKIPEDIA PAGE: Person X did Z in 20010.
posted by Spatch at 9:56 AM on June 24 [4 favorites]


The deletionism is getting bad. I can't remember what obscure show I was looking up but it automatically re-directed me to a page that had no mention of the show I had looked up. I understand how that could happen, but it's as infuriating as an asterisk with no matching footnote.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:59 AM on June 24 [2 favorites]


Eh, 'deletionism' is an annoying concept in the first place. The point is to create an encyclopedia, not an exhaustive taxonomy of all Pokemon characters ever, you know?

Stuff like that is exactly why Wikia was born.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:02 AM on June 24


Much incomprehension:"We didn't know we were allowed to".

Welcome to Wikipedia,
the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.


Nobody reads things any more.
posted by flabdablet at 10:05 AM on June 24


Also: obligatory Wikipedia Brown, because it isn't notable enough for Wikipedia.
posted by flabdablet at 10:14 AM on June 24 [1 favorite]


I think Wikipedia hurts itself when it pulls stunts like this:

How do you propose that Wikipedia verify that PERSON is who s/he says s/he is?
posted by goethean at 10:52 AM on June 24


Oh, hey, actually guys, I did Z in 1999

Spatch- what is your point? You think we should just trust that this editor is the real person and they are truthful? Wikipedia is sourced to published information for good reasons.
posted by bhnyc at 10:53 AM on June 24


Many of the rules are just the "common sense" that you would have if you'd been editing wikipedia for years.

As an erstwhile highly committed, now-alienated Wikipedian I find this claim pretty hilariously false. The spirit of the rules may well be as you say, but the actual rules are a morass of complex attempts to codify that spirit, replete with Kafkaesque consequences, often appealed to and sometimes enforced in bad faith and ignorance of articles' subjects. And what's worse, the community norms, as they are performed in editors' daily practice, are another thing entirely from the explicit rules; around a decade ago, the "Ignore All Rules" principle truly was a guiding idea that had at least some traction among Wikipedians, but in recent years' explosion of ludicrous bureaucratic nerdfighting culture it's gone entirely by the wayside. Even this article's quite mild suggested antibureaucratic measures seem quixotic given the actual state of the project as a community of users and its current power structure.

those individuals have created a culture that is actively hostile to outsiders in huge ways

Honestly, it's pretty hostile to insiders, too. Adversarial behavior, if sufficiently tenacious, is always rewarded, regardless of the parties' (and their contributions') ignorance or knowledge. This is what makes contributing so frequently unrewarding: even if you care to take the time to cite policy chapter and verse, if you want to write articles and then maintain them, you're eventually going to be involved in a lot of drawn-out fights with snitty passive-aggressive rules lawyers — and it truly won't matter that they know a lot less about the subject matter than you.
posted by RogerB at 11:24 AM on June 24 [4 favorites]


The point is to create an encyclopedia, not an exhaustive taxonomy of all Pokemon characters ever, you know?

But since the primary goal is unrealistic and silly, whereas the Pokemon taxonomy is very realistic, and since the taxonomy doesn't hinder the primary goal...what's the harm? Wikipedia used to be awesome for South Park episodes. People deconstructed every reference and in-joke. It was great, and I'll bet the Pokemon taxonomy was, too. Because that's what those people—and c'mon, "those people" are exactly who we all think they are—actually do know about.

Ditto what RogerB said. For these people, the process is the hobby. It's not about building an encyclopedia. It's about governing, under pretense of building an encyclopedia.
posted by cribcage at 12:57 PM on June 24 [2 favorites]


Maybe what Wikipedia really needs is a constitutional convention. Somewhat in line with rebent's suggestion, somebody respectable should propose the ten core rules of Wikipedia (or however many, but the list should be short), then they could take a year for all the editors and administrators to argue over them and propose alternate lists, and then finally vote on the new constitution. All the old regulations would be deleted and they'd start anew. At least then there would be some sort of institutional core to Wikipedia that couldn't changed or lawyered into meaning its opposite.
posted by Kevin Street at 1:56 PM on June 24


It's not about broken tools. A mechanic can make a day's pay with a rusty wrench, while a weekender can spend thousands on brand-new Craftsman gear and still not produce anything, because that's not why he's doing it. He's doing it because he likes playing with tools. Akhil Reed Amar and Lawrence Lessig could draft a beautiful ten-point constitution and the "Wikipedians" would still use it to rules-lawyer over their little corners of turf, because that is literally why they're there. They enjoy the process and the feeling of power. Merely writing encyclopedia articles doesn't accomplish that.
posted by cribcage at 2:33 PM on June 24 [3 favorites]


The problem isn't the Pokemon articles. It's that the pokemon articles are kept while so much else is actively destroyed.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 2:45 PM on June 24 [1 favorite]


Akhil Reed Amar and Lawrence Lessig could draft a beautiful ten-point constitution and the "Wikipedians" would still use it to rules-lawyer over their little corners of turf, because that is literally why they're there.

If that's the case (and I don't know anything about WikiCulture, so this is all hypothetical), then the problem of rules creep is baked into the fundamental definition of Wikipedia - specifically, the "anyone can edit" part. And a solution would have to involve professionalizing some segment of the userbase, most likely the administrators.

But disenfranchising the current administrators and hiring a new group of professionals much like Mefi's paid moderators would be incredibly difficult. It might even cause a drop in user participation that cripples the website.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:51 PM on June 24


Honestly the biggest problem with wikipedia, imo, is that if i go in and edit a BLATANT typo it'll be reverted.

This isn't something open to interpretation like some sort of wikipedia AP style guide thing, it's noticing something like "intarrpretation" and correcting it... and having it reverted.

Apparently you have to be part of some in-group of elitist nerds to edit anything. I got completely burned out on that shit in high school, sorry guys. I'd happily correct every typo i see as i read whenever i have the time... but i know you'll just fucking delete my corrections.

The source of most conflict on wikipedia is reversion of edits. People put a lot of work into their edits and very often they are reverted quickly without giving much reason. A more polite way of doing this is needed.

There should be some sort of process for this, with oversight, where you can only immediately revert something if it's vandalism, blatant racism, etc. and should have to tag it explicitly as such. There should be a facility for marking a page as "this page gets fucked with all the time, allow instant reverts" in addition to the locking... but other than that no one person who isn't like, a super senior staff member should be able to instantly revert something. There should be something like flagging, and either several other moderators or a more senior person or both should have to look at it and go "ok".

A critical thing here is that another moderator should be able to push a "fuck off" button if someone submits a revert and can it. Obviously, you should be able to appeal this to a senior mod/editor, but you should have to write an actual contact-form type screed about why that isn't just "no".

Others have talked about it on here as well, but i'd venture a guess that a huge majority of reverts are stupid stuff like U AREN'T ALLOWED TO CORRECT MY SPELLING! on stupid obscure pages some neckbeard obsesses over, where even if it's a blatant error they're going to revert and then correct it themselves later... or worse, just leave it shitty.
posted by emptythought at 3:06 PM on June 24 [1 favorite]


@RogerB: Adversarial behavior, if sufficiently tenacious, is always rewarded

Yep. I used to edit Wikipedia a lot, but very little now - largely down to several episodes where it became apparent that the system has no clean or effective way of combating "tendentious editing" and "civil point-of-view pushing".

This, I think, is one of the most toxic aspects of Wikipedia, leading the most burnout in others: obsessive editors with an Agenda and a generally obnoxious style (but not obnoxious enough to get clear-cut censure) who get their way in articles simply by making it too exhausting to collaborate.

It took over a year to get rid of one such editor by the normal channels - requests for comment, arbitration, etc etc. After that, I suddenly had the epiphany that this wasn't a productive use of time; I could go and write a book without some wall-eyed Mr Logic rewriting it every night to include his theory about the Martians.
posted by raygirvan at 4:03 PM on June 24 [4 favorites]


Much incomprehension:"We didn't know we were allowed to".

In practice, in the Wikiverse, they were actually not allowed to edit the article. If you personally know something about the subject, then that makes you biased, and therefore invalid, and wrong. But if you just want to randomly squash someone's plink on the Wik without knowing anything about the subject, then that's allowed, okay, fine.


What might make more sense in the future, is a Wik technical rule/requirement/guidline to provide some evidence/justification of the intrinsic value of A REVERSION in the talk page, for every time an editor makes a significant reversion to a previous state. Citations are important, yeah, but some of the original data isn't really thoroughly cited either. Of course, this would still require casual editors to spend their free time battling against the entrenchments, etc.
posted by ovvl at 6:21 PM on June 24 [1 favorite]


Spatch- what is your point? You think we should just trust that this editor is the real person and they are truthful? Wikipedia is sourced to published information for good reasons.

When Wikipedia publishes factually incorrect information which the subject itself, who has presented credentials and verified their identity with the admin staff, is not permitted to confirm or refute--even if they do it through a second party, so they won't commit the faux pas of editing the article themselves (no self-editing being a rule with which I more or less agree)--then Wikipedia has failed.
posted by Spatch at 7:15 PM on June 24


But disenfranchising the current administrators and hiring a new group of professionals much like Mefi's paid moderators would be incredibly difficult. It might even cause a drop in user participation that cripples the website.

Wikipedia is already crippled. But if a serious administrative overhaul is done correctly it might result in the return of many of the people who tried editing in the past, but gave up because of all the unpleasantness they had to endure just to correct a mistake or a typo.

On the other hand it might be too late and Wikipedia's toxic reputation too well established. But just asserting that a proposal would be "incredibly difficult" is a pretty weak argument for not fixing something that's broken.
posted by Umami Dearest at 8:24 PM on June 24


But just asserting that a proposal would be "incredibly difficult" is a pretty weak argument for not fixing something that's broken.

It might be easier to simply strip-mine the data and establish a new site.

...which is not, I should emphasize, something that would normally qualify as "easy". Faaaaaar from it.
posted by aramaic at 6:01 AM on June 25


Has anyone proposed (or tried) a fork or expanded version to overcome the deletionism? What were the arguments (or results) against that?
posted by Hello Dad, I'm in Jail at 3:07 PM on June 25


A couple spring to mind.
posted by flabdablet at 10:55 AM on June 26


the subject itself, who has presented credentials and verified their identity with the admin staff,

What you are proposing isn't encyclopedic. I still don't understand your point. You want Wikipedia to censor things if the person said they didn't do something? You want biographies to be approved by the person?
posted by bhnyc at 11:40 AM on June 26


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