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January 27, 2009 6:35 AM   Subscribe

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia that anyonetrusted users can edit. If the MediaWiki FlaggedRevisions extension is enabled, the general public will see changes to articles only after approval by a trusted editor. Wikipedians conducted a poll on whether Wikipedia should enable the feature for a limited trial. Almost 60 percent of voting editors answered in the affirmative. Wikipedia founder Jimbo Wales's subsequent request to enable the feature anyway has been opposed by some, claiming that the margin of votes does not meet Wikipedia's consensus standard. While it might help avoid embarrassing incidents of vandalism, the proposed trial could lead to a big change in the Wikipedia way.
posted by grouse (120 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wikipedia has already been infiltrated by the idiot league.
posted by Brian B. at 6:41 AM on January 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


Some of the editors are idiots too: the company I work for is a big business publisher quoted all over the media on a daily basis and some dork at wikipedia still wanted to remove the entry because it didn't meet notability standards, and managed to delete it once.

But if you have a bit part role in a late night soap opera you get in unquestioned.

What's all that about?
posted by MuffinMan at 6:46 AM on January 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


"Wikipedia founder co-founder Jimbo Wales's...." I suppose it's technically correct to say that Wales was "a" founder of Wikipedia, but he certainly wasn't "the" founder as the recent Wikipedia fundraiser would have you believe ("A Personal Appeal from Wikipedia Founder Jimmy Wales.") We shouldn't forget this fellow. After all, he thought of restricted editing in 2002 and put it into action in 2006 (see this).
posted by MarshallPoe at 6:48 AM on January 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


So who gets permission to edit Jimbo's page?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:48 AM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


While we are talking about Wikipedia, this article is pretty interesting, being able to create a custom printed book of Wikipedia articles, everything built in to Mediawiki.
posted by stbalbach at 6:53 AM on January 27, 2009


....managed to delete it once.

And is it still gone? Wikipedia has never promised to be a permanent, continuous archive. The Wikipedia bargain is that the result is the consensus of those that care. Momentary blips are going to happen.

I really don't get the MeFi hate against Wikipedia. It's 10-100 times better than any commercial offerings in both depth and breadth. Granted, often a random google link will be better but you can't count on even finding such a link, especially for non-technical topics. Don't look at it as The Oracle of the Internet. Look at it as the You Are Here map. It's basic guide and orientation mechanism that puts you on the right track.
posted by DU at 6:55 AM on January 27, 2009 [12 favorites]


Oh and my apologetics aside, this proposed change is stupid. I've changed a few typos and badly constructed sentences on Wikipedia and it's mainly the "joy" of seeing my fixes immediately reflected that keeps me on it. If I have to submit a change request and then hope someone sees it in a few weeks I'll just move on.
posted by DU at 6:57 AM on January 27, 2009 [12 favorites]


This is ridiculous; the best way to get rid of vandals is obviously to trick Mr. Gfdjklsdgiojksdkf into saying his own name backwards.
posted by dgaicun at 6:57 AM on January 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


Only Jimbo, obviously. Or maybe his girlfriend.

I'm pretty disgusted by Wikipedia- not only by some of the complete trash articles they have ("Butt Flaps" comes to mind) but also because of their stupid infighting, edit wars, and their 'notability standards'-- just because a mod thinks something's uninteresting doesn't mean it fails to meet the notability criteria.

It seems to me that it's a general rule of thumb in nonprofits, Wikipedia included, that the completely sanctimonious asshats end up rising to the top, because everyone else is tired of engaging in arguments, edit wars, or whatever with people hopped up on crazy pills.
posted by dunkadunc at 6:58 AM on January 27, 2009 [16 favorites]


That said, I really do like the idea of Wikipedia in theory. I just wish the people stuffing the Furry article with weasel words would call it off.
posted by dunkadunc at 7:00 AM on January 27, 2009 [4 favorites]


It depends which you think has a worse effect on the content: temporary vandalism, or Wikipedia cliquishness.

Unsurprisingly, the Wikipedia cliques think it's the first.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 7:01 AM on January 27, 2009 [7 favorites]


I just wish the people stuffing the Furry article with weasel words would call it off.

What if you're into weasels?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:02 AM on January 27, 2009 [5 favorites]


"I really don't get the MeFi hate against Wikipedia"

To be clear, I don't hate it. On the contrary. But I do recognise some of its editors are.. amateur and make silly decisions.

My point sort of tallies with what you say about an entry being "the consensus of those that care" in that an arbitrary decision by an editor meant that a $1bn company disappeared off wikipedia. It is back now, but it made me question what qualifies someone to be an editor when they can make such an odd decision.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:02 AM on January 27, 2009


But if you have a bit part role in a late night soap opera you get in unquestioned.

I find the exhaustive list of porn star biographies on Wikipedia to be pretty amusing.

What the site needs is a good editor to increase the focus of the site, and enhance quality. Why does there have to be a detailed entry on undergarments?
posted by KokuRyu at 7:04 AM on January 27, 2009


Oh, and my wikipedia confession. I've edited wikipedia very infrequently but I once changed the age and educational qualifications of an actress I knew from uni so it was correct. When I went back on she was 4 years younger again and got her degree somewhere else entirely. I changed it back to what was accurate and added some more pertinent and verifiable biographical detail again and... she went back to being much younger and educated elsewhere again. Hmm.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:06 AM on January 27, 2009


What the site needs is a good editor to increase the focus of the site

Yes, if there's one thing an encyclopedia needs, it's a restriction to just a few, well-trodden topics.
posted by DU at 7:07 AM on January 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


MarshallPoe, Sanger's claim to being a co-founder is what turns me off from Citizendium. Jimbo founded the company that founded Wikipedia. Sanger was important but he was an employee. Did he put up money? Was he a director of the company? He showed up for work and got paid and did a great job. He was a creator of many of the concepts of Wikipedia. His debate over "co-founder" actually lessens his importance and makes him look like a fool.
posted by stbalbach at 7:14 AM on January 27, 2009


I had already mostly moved to Conservapedia, but this settles it.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 7:15 AM on January 27, 2009 [8 favorites]


Wow! Never having thought to look up undergarments on Wikipedia before, I must say I'm pleased. To me that seems like a classic Wikipedia article (i.e., classic in the sense of being representative, not in the sense of nearing perfection).

It reflects all the obsessions that make Wikipedia, good and bad. One the one hand, it's way too stuck on pop culture (Marky Mark), on the other hand, it also contains legitimate historical content (strophiae and subligaculae) on a subject that most traditional encyclopedias would have scorned.

I also like the sly humor, which may or may not have been intended, of the line "Codpieces were sometimes used as a pocket for holding small items."
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 7:20 AM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Janis Joplin speedwalked everywhere and was deathly afraid of toilets.

That said, the proposed change seems drastic and in direct oposition to the original idea, which has been one of the great successes of the internet.
posted by longsleeves at 7:23 AM on January 27, 2009 [6 favorites]


I really don't get the MeFi hate against Wikipedia.

I don't hate it, I hold it in contempt - the kneejerk defensiveness of its supporters, the self-importance of its contributors, the inconsistency ("The episode guide anyone can edit!").

If they hadn't done it, someone else would have.

Though to be fair, I didn't know what Tangas were called until now, so they have that going for them, at least.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:24 AM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


The changes that have Jimbo all worked up (fake death reports for senators Byrd and Kennedy) were reverted within 4 and 5 minutes, respectively. Is it sensible to make a change of this scale and scope to a functioning system just to avoid these brief periods of time? I realize the issue is the public embarrassment of hosting bad content (with members of the press screaming GOTCHA!) regardless of timeframe, but this looks like a pretty serious reaction to a very minor incident- and one that was resolved within existing structures quite quickly and correctly.

Maybe Jimbo's not the right guy for the job.
posted by jenkinsEar at 7:28 AM on January 27, 2009 [4 favorites]


I'm going to create hybrid wikipedia/you tube site in which users can upload documents relating to their chosen area of expertise to act as a high quality online archive.

I'm was going to call it pediafile. I asked some VCs if they were interested in investing but strangely none were. It must be because of the credit crunch.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:28 AM on January 27, 2009 [8 favorites]


Wikipedia has proven what I've suspected for a long time. Given free reign, a large portion of the population will act in their own self interest rather than in the larger interest of the community as a whole. Therefore, there has to be some system of checks and balances in place in order to ensure that any bias is filtered from the content.

In other words, any open community will draw ass-hats, and you have to have system to keep them in check.
posted by JeffK at 7:29 AM on January 27, 2009


In theory Wikipedia is an excellent idea. In a perfect world, people would admit they are wrong and let someone who knows what they are talking about input into a topic. People wouldn't make false articles or vandalize good ones. They would simply use it for general knowledge. However "Asshole Effect" and "Some People are Just Human Garbage" theory can take control at anytime thus ruining anything that anyone hopes to accomplish. Because of this wikipedia will never have any real creditability. For every honestly, well written, informative article on that site, there is either a 17 year old asshole who wants to act cool and fuck it up or a 2nd year college student wikipedia editor who likes to think they know more than everyone else (even Ph.D. on the subject matter at hand). So that being said, wikipedia should not be trusted like it is written in stone.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 7:33 AM on January 27, 2009


I really don't get the MeFi hate against Wikipedia.

Me neither. The hate against religion is stupid and embarrassing, but at least I can see what motivates it. This is just inane. Talk about not being able to see the forest for a few trees with bark beetles! Wikipedia is one of the great advances in human knowledge, and I always feel I'm rendering yeoman service when I improve or create articles (none of which, to date, has been vandalized by the teenage villains that haunt the nightmares of Wikiphobes).

As for the proposal, note that the linked FlaggedRevisions page says "when edits are made to certain articles, those edits might not be immediately visible to readers, until they have been 'sighted' by someone trustworthy." (My bold.) It may well make sense to do this for controversial articles that are frequent targets of vandalism; it would be dumb and counterproductive to extend it to the whole of Wikipedia.
posted by languagehat at 7:52 AM on January 27, 2009 [12 favorites]


Wikipedia has proven what I've suspected for a long time. Given free reign, a large portion of the population will act in their own self interest rather than in the larger interest of the community as a whole.

Oh FFS where do I even start. You've been to the site in question, right?

What Wikipedia proves is that DESPITE the population acting in their own self-interest, something can be built (for free) that is in the larger interest of the community as a whole.

I realize the issue is the public embarrassment of hosting bad content (with members of the press screaming GOTCHA!)...

Yeah, this is probably it. Even the generally-internet-savvy MetaFilter doesn't seem to understand Wikipedia. The general media (who additionally have a vested interest in remaining gatekeepers, btw) are even less clueful. "Compromising" by destroying your basic working principle just to meet the expectations of an obsolete worldview seems like a bad move.
posted by DU at 7:54 AM on January 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


Where's the wikipediawilleatitself tag when you need it?
posted by Spatch at 7:57 AM on January 27, 2009


JeffK: I believe that's one of the conclusions of public choice theory
posted by leotrotsky at 8:06 AM on January 27, 2009


I really don't get the MeFi hate against Wikipedia.

The smell of the unwashed.

Truly, a vague floating contempt for All Those Stupid People and The Stupid Things They Care About is the only reason I can see for it.

"Why does there have to be a detailed entry on undergarments?" KokuRyu asks. I refer them to the American Heritage Dictionary definition of "encyclopedia": A comprehensive reference work containing articles on a wide range of subjects.

In the majority of human cultures, the clothing norms include undergarments. Why the hell shouldn't there be an encyclopedia article about it? To save scarce resources of data storage? Because you find it embarrassing?

FWIW, I disagree with the proposed change - though I don't think it will cause serious harm. And if the catalyst for it was a very short-lived error in the article for that sacred cow Ted Kennedy, I have all the more reason to reject it on general principle.
posted by Joe Beese at 8:15 AM on January 27, 2009 [7 favorites]


I don't like wikipedian editors because they're better than me.
posted by Liver at 8:16 AM on January 27, 2009


dunkadunc: "...

It seems to me that it's a general rule of thumb in nonprofits human social organizations, Wikipedia included, that the completely sanctimonious asshats end up rising to the top, because everyone else is tired of engaging in arguments, edit wars, or whatever with people hopped up on crazy pills.
"

FTFY
posted by symbioid at 8:25 AM on January 27, 2009


Wikipedia is imperfect, because we live in an imperfect world. It will have weaknesses - most notably anything politically controversial (like, say, "Hamas") or an attractant to garden-variety axe-grinders and nutjobs ("New World Order").

If all you care about is imposing your worldview on a wikipedia page being edited by people who have a different worldview, wiki sucks.

If you want to look up accurate information on interesting but maddeningly obscure topics (Stethacanthus, Netherlands Reformed Congregations, red-black spanning trees, Society of Actuaries, Pechenegs, ahlspiess, Froggy Gremlin) there is nothing better. Nothing.

In the history of human learning, only the advent of the printing press has made so much knowledge available to so many people. Much like with books, you need to learn to filter out the crap... but welcome to the human experience. You want absolute truth, top to bottom? Tough luck.

If you hate on Wiki, you hate on learning as a human right. Go back to your monastery.

In light of this, I'm leery of the change... if anything, we need less "citation needed" and "this page needs cleanup" crap cluttering up the view. If you think an article needs something, rull up your sleeves and do it, don't whine about it.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:27 AM on January 27, 2009 [25 favorites]


No, I think most of the distaste comes from the way Wikipedia was relentlessly overhyped at the beginning. It was astonishingly naive and at the same time incredibly prideful. Recall those days of yore, when it all sounded like a long, breathless "and the sum of human knowledge will be there and if there is anything that goes wrong people will just change it back and it'll be totally egalitarian Cathedral and the Bazaar and we won't do anything the way Britannica does it because expertise is dead and we don't need gatekeepers because information wants to be free and most importantly it wants to be on Wikipedia and it'll all just happen in realtime!"

But it didn't quite happen like that. It turns out that they get moderators, and gatekeepers, and cliques, and infighting, and everything else that anyone who had been around since Usenet knew pretty much had to come with the territory. People will vandalize articles (and others will have endless flamewars about what constitutes vandalism), more people will self-promote, subtle errors will be introduced, and people with an axe to grind and a lot of free time can often win over someone who has actual knowledge. Go ahead, try editing an article when you connect via Tor; doesn't seem so egalitarian now, does it? Secret cabals have formed, scandals uncovered, and it all looks like business as usual to some.

So, watching them come back to Earth and *gasp* adopt things that seem rather Britannica-like at times isn't hate, it's a smirk at the way Bright Young Things so often stumble against the exact same problems they declared irrelevant in the dawn of a new age.
posted by adipocere at 8:27 AM on January 27, 2009 [11 favorites]


"... wikipedia will never have any real creditability. For every honestly, well written, informative article on that site, there is either a 17 year old asshole who wants to act cool and fuck it up"

"Wikipedia has proven what I've suspected for a long time. Given free reign, a large portion of the population will act in their own self interest rather than in the larger interest of the community as a whole."

Yes, the fact that 2 entries out of 3 million articles were edited with some minor factual errors and corrected within 4 minutes, unambiguously proves that the system is collapsing under the inevitable weight of barbarian hordes.

Freedom has failed again. We need a strong group of insider Mandarins to control things with an iron fist and protect us from ourselves and the enemies at the gate.
posted by dgaicun at 8:29 AM on January 27, 2009 [5 favorites]


My dislike for Wikipedia actually stems from the fact that I think it will lead to a blackhole of knowledge, rather than clarify anything.

One of the big problems with the CIA's warrantless wiretaps program was that when you cast the net that wide - past terrorist suspects and to a list of everyone you don't like, whether they are ACLU members or librarians or people that maybe went to a protest once - you have to put more and more man-hours into watching what goes on, and then more and more man hours into the infrastructure to co-ordinate between the people who are watching, until finally you have so many false leads that it becomes impossible to actually follow up on anything that might be a real lead because you've already wasted all your time. Its an irony of life that the more information you have, the less you are able to functionally act on it. (Discussion of this using Enron as an example here.) And Wikipedia is basically founded on the opposite of that principal: that given unlimited knowledge, somehow insight will follow.

So my fundamental issue with Wikipedia is that it is more than an encyclopedia, but that an encyclopedia is more than enough, thank you. Philosophically, I don't want to have everything documented; not everything has to be remembered because then what are you missing during all the time you spend walking around in your memories? We've become a world where every moment has to be taped, on camera-phone if necessary, and every step is photographed, every secret has to become a Post-Secret, and I can easily find out the complete biographical history of everyone whose Myspace page was popular enough to get them a reality tv show on a channel I find so worthless that I would never dream of paying for it. But who has the time for it? There's so many legitimately interesting things out there that I'd rather spend my time interacting with new things than re-watching old home movies and then uploading them to Youtube and asking the world to watch them.

Wikipedia is like a Borges story, a crazy infinite regress in the library of Babel, where every meme and every fifteen minutes of fame is logged so that something fleeting can be immortalized. I mean, for Christ sake - the hubris of having a list of living people!

And yes, I do read it, and I do find out worthless things about former cast members of that 70's show, and yes, I do understand the appeal of a community memory bank. But I also remember quite well what my life was like before it came out and it was no better or worse to lack the ability to instantly get vaguely reliable half-facts whenever I wanted them. Its a diversion, a parlour trick; something that we use to fill little gaps when we can't quite place the name of something or have a few minutes to kill. But that's all it can ever be, given it's express purpose and the human brain's limitations.

Any gnashing of teeth and wailing about how wikipedia is going astray in its mission to exhaustively catalogue everything of even minor interest that has ever happened in human history is a waste of time because it pre-supposes that the only reason why we can't see the forest yet is because we haven't planted enough stunted shrubs behind all the trees we're already tired of looking at.
posted by Kiablokirk at 8:31 AM on January 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


Philosophically, I don't want to have everything documented...

You don't have to document anything or look at the documentation. But don't stand in the way of others who enjoy knowing more about the world.
posted by DU at 8:35 AM on January 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


You don't have to document anything or look at the documentation. But don't stand in the way of others who enjoy knowing more about the world.

One notes that anti-Wikipedia posts seldom tend to "It's not rigorous enough to be of use to me professionally". Far more often it's "Wikipedia was relentlessly overhyped at the beginning" [translation: People suck] or ""Asshole Effect" and "Some People are Just Human Garbage" theory can take control at anytime thus ruining anything that anyone hopes to accomplish" [tranlsation: People suck].
posted by Joe Beese at 8:44 AM on January 27, 2009


Since the wikipedia is free, you can't vote with your dollars. But you can vote with your attention span. If you don't like it, don't read it. It's not like it would be difficult or even particularly expensive to start your own.

Also, the wikipedia sucks in a lot of foreign languages. Big opportunity for someone there...
posted by christhelongtimelurker at 8:45 AM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


There's so many legitimately interesting things out there that I'd rather spend my time interacting with new things than re-watching old home movies and then uploading them to Youtube and asking the world to watch them.

Then why don't you, I don't know, take a minute out of your busy schedule as an internet blowhard and go interact with interesting things? I mean, normally I think the "go outside" comments are lame. But if you're going to pompously (excuse me, "philosophically") sneer at the big, evil Internet panopticon, you'd better put your money where your mouth is. Unplug. Shut down. Disconnect.

Go away.
posted by nasreddin at 8:52 AM on January 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


Could someone explain in simple non-insider language what "trusted user" means in Wikipedia? The one article I read left me with the impression that the only edits that would be flagged were those from non-logged in users who normally show up just as IP addresses. But rereading the article I realize that definition isn't there at all.
posted by Nelson at 9:07 AM on January 27, 2009


The thing is, FlaggedRevs work perfectly well on the German Wikipedia, which is second only to enwiki in terms of size. There is somewhat of a backlog (two weeks-ish), but what the mouthbreathers fail to understand are a few things:
1) This is a test
2) This is a limited test, on biographies of living persons only
3) This will not increase any backlogs, it just moves backlog out of one queue (recent changes/vandalism patrol (which is a term I fucking hate for the record)) and into another
4) This is something that is aimed at readers, who outnumber editors by hundreds of thousands to one. Many complaints of Wikipedia include, somewhere, "you can't trust it!" Well, FlaggedRevs is a way of addressing that concern. What you--the reader--will see is, hopefully, only something that has been verified by others, and not some errors/vandalism introduced by an asshat. You won't see editwars where content will change back and forth in the space of minutes. You won't see typing students and friends of gays' edits anymore, because they will be ignored. It has been endlessly amusing to me, through this whole debate, that the only people bitching and moaning about FlaggedRevs are editors... and not a single one of them has paused to think "hey, we're here for the readers, and this would be better for them."
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 9:16 AM on January 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


I wish I could edit this FPP because it's completely wrong.

This change will just mean that edits by anonymous users will have to be checked before they're added to the page. Get a (free) account and log in and you can edit at your whim.
posted by flatluigi at 9:18 AM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Nelson:

A trusted user (I think the usergroup will be called 'sighter') is someone who can look at a new revision and approve it or not. Basically, as I understand it, admins will automatically be part of this usergroup, and anyone else in relatively decent standing (e.g. no history of vandalism, for one) can ask to be added. We already have hundreds of users who do little other than looking out for vandals. A tiny refocus of their efforts from reverting vandalism to reading flagged edits would ensure minimal backlog.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 9:21 AM on January 27, 2009


flatluigi: that's not actually true. There will be some sort of threshold before edits of logged-in users are automatically sighted. Not sure what that threshold is, but it'll be higher than the autoconfirmed one.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 9:22 AM on January 27, 2009


Get a (free) account and log in and you can edit at your whim.

Which is exactly what almost stopped me from an edit the other day. Fortunately I was bored enough that I went through the process. Making the barrier to entry higher is a mis-application of the 80/20 rule. See Here Comes Everybody for an explanation.
posted by DU at 9:33 AM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Penny-Arcade really said it best.
posted by jcruelty at 9:37 AM on January 27, 2009


Ah, Wikipedia. Are you a drama-loving rules freak who wants to delete everything outside your particular sphere of interest (most likely some subset of anime or manga)? Then Wikipedia is the place for you!
posted by Artw at 9:39 AM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Too bad that many trusted users are dumb as bricks who know nothing about the subject. Most authors rely on easy-to-find secondary sources and internet sources which tend to be either too general or outright wrong.
posted by JJ86 at 9:48 AM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Penny-Arcade really said it best.

Skeletor is doing it wrong. He should slap cite tags all over the Heman article, and then AFD it as unsourced (If the article had sources to begin with he should delete them as "not meeting the standard for sources").

Actually if he AFDs the article that brings it up in the "Articles for Deletion" section, and people get to vote on it, so he might be better off just blanking Heman and redirectong the article to Bodybuilding or something, and edit warring with anyone who reverts it.
posted by Artw at 9:52 AM on January 27, 2009 [5 favorites]


Wikipedia is a good, if imperfect, resource.

It gets pretty ridiculous when people start linking common words, though, which seems to happen in every other entry.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:57 AM on January 27, 2009


There is already a Wikipedia cabal who will revert you into the stone age. Making it a formal submission policy only reinforces that.
posted by cavalier at 10:31 AM on January 27, 2009


dirtynumbangelboy, thank you for the explanation of "trusted user". How big is the group of trusted users? Hundreds? Tens of thousands? I edit Wikipedia about once every six months: could I be a trusted user if I asked?

If there's some place a Wikipedia novice could read the proposal in plain English, I'd appreciate it. My previous efforts to understand Wikipedia administration always fail in a circle of Wikipedia: meta pages and poorly threaded Discussion wars.
posted by Nelson at 10:59 AM on January 27, 2009


If this happens I think everyone should get themselves trusted editor status and then spend a couple minutes a day approving everything that isn't blatant vandalism.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 11:01 AM on January 27, 2009


Heh. The people who spend their time doing that are freaks. Wikipedias best contributers are it's occasional contributers, the middle teir between the drive-by trolls and the people who hamster-wheel it ever day. The full time Wikipedians are almost without exception pompous jerks with OCD issues, and don't do much in terms of actual content at all. They're needed as a balance to the vast armies of drvie-by trolls, I guess, but the balance is shifting further and further in their favour and I suspect it'll be to wikipedias detriment.
posted by Artw at 11:07 AM on January 27, 2009


"Given free reign, a large portion of the population will act in their own self interest rather than in the larger interest of the community as a whole.

Iron Law of Oligarchy.

My brief notes on Wikipedia:

It is, on the whole, an incredibly good and useful thing.

That said, its supporters, reacting (from my vantage) to the frequent lack of acknowledgment of such by critics, wildly over-sell the accuracy and reliability of Wikipedia. For instance, that the Aquatic Ape theory is routinely treated as if it's a viable, scientific notion instead of some crank's pet derangement.

This is compounded by a couple of things—the frequently retarded interactions with low-level editors who don't know their subject matter and who revert incorrectly (I've tried multiple times to correct stuff about Hustler and LFP's corporate structure, but they've been reverted to show us publishing things we don't, either because they're dead or because they're published by someone else), and the lack of desire to try to get those people trumped.

That there are well-publicized instances of rot in the upper echelons of Wikipedia helps reinforce this perception, though it's doubtful that Jimbo is personally involved in the vast majority of Wikistupidity.

It is also the resting place for a lot of what the early web was—insane compendiums kept by cranks of, say, every Simpsons reference or the history of American buckles. Think of your prototypical Geocities fansite and you'll realize that it's mostly formatting which distinguishes it from the fansites of Wikipedia. This is both a good thing, in that it increases how encyclopedic Wikipedia is, and a bad thing, because it makes it easy to dismiss Wikipedia as full of trivia.

Finally, those most vociferous in defending Wikipedia are, by the nature of the project, those who are most involved with the minutiae of maintaining Wikipedia. As partisans, they have all of the advantages and disadvantages of partisanship—access, appreciation for systemic nuance and bureaucracy, groupthink, tribalism, etc.
posted by klangklangston at 11:08 AM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't think there's a plain-English version of the proposal. It is, as you say, rather liberally peppered with the usual in-crowd acronyms and links.

The easiest way to explain it is to consider FlaggedRevs to be like software versioning. Readers (that is, people not logged in) will see only the production version. If you hit 'edit' you'll see the beta version and be able to edit that. And it only goes to production when devs (sighters) say so. Broadly.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:12 AM on January 27, 2009


Hasn't the German version been doing this for a while?
posted by Artw at 11:16 AM on January 27, 2009


Eh, klang, I'm pretty damn involved with the minutiae and I'm the first to loudly criticise everything we do wrong. Which is a worryingly large number of things. Frankly, what one user said about Jimbo directing the Foundation to implement the FlaggedRevs test is entirely accurate:
If 60% agreement is not sufficient to approve a test, then it is time someone took important decisions out of the hands of (physical and intellectual) children and let the grownups take over.
That should, however, go for decisions implemented every day across the site. The bottom line is that the communal model--of anything--is not scalable. Wikipedia triply so. All the communes in the 60's went tits-up because nobody wanted to muck out the privy and would rather argue about how to decide the process by which they'd figure out the best way to examine the issue of who should be mucking out the privy.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:17 AM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Artw: yep. Enwiki has a very strong tradition of AmericanEnwiki Exceptionalism.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:18 AM on January 27, 2009


It has been endlessly amusing to me, through this whole debate, that the only people bitching and moaning about FlaggedRevs are editors... and not a single one of them has paused to think "hey, we're here for the readers, and this would be better for them."

This shows a deep misunderstanding of how people work. As DU said above, I want to make an edit and boom, it's in the article. If I'm going to have to wait for a bunch of self-important assholes to approve it, fuck it, I'll do something else with my time. Now, you may think that's a bad way to be, and you may wonder how anyone could possibly be that way, but I'll bet you money there are a lot more people with my and DU's attitude than the selfless one you seem to think should be standard. So this change, if made general, is going to drive a lot of good occasional editors away and leave it to the obsessives (which may be what they want).
posted by languagehat at 11:20 AM on January 27, 2009 [4 favorites]


That's certainly how I began my breif arc of Wikipedia Being Serious Business, and I suspect it's how most other people get started too.
posted by Artw at 11:22 AM on January 27, 2009


No no, languagehat, I understand what you're saying. I just don't think it's as big an issue as making the site better for readers is. More to the point, taking the long view (historically something Wikipedia has an enormous antipathy towards) would suggest that the more respected Wikipedia gets, the more likely there will be more editors joining in, knowing that they're contributing to something more worthwhile, and knowing that obsessives who are trying to create accounts just to push a specific point of view are not going to have much traction.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:23 AM on January 27, 2009


Oh, and more to the point, languagehat: the ones bitching and moaning abour FR are largely the obsessives.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:26 AM on January 27, 2009


It would be nice if you could change your account setting, and choose whether to see the latest version of Wikipedia, or whether you are generally shown the slightly older "approved" version. You should also have the ability to easily toggle back and forth.
posted by washburn at 11:37 AM on January 27, 2009


I'm pretty certain that logged-in users see the most recent version.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:57 AM on January 27, 2009


Actually think Wikipedia has turned out well despite the Jimbo Wales and the clowns at Wikimedia. The beaurocracy, cliques, and intriguges on that site are preposterious, yet the end product is pretty good. Not flawless, but it's a fantastic source of information

Which is exactly what almost stopped me from an edit the other day. Fortunately I was bored enough that I went through the process. Making the barrier to entry higher is a mis-application of the 80/20 rule. See Here Comes Everybody for an explanation.

Actually on Wikipedia it's more like 99.99/0.001. Only a very small number of people contribute the vast bulk of articles.
posted by delmoi at 12:02 PM on January 27, 2009


Actually there was a recent study (can't find it at the moment) that showed that whereas most edits are done by a relatively small number of people, most new content comes from a wide variety of people. It turns out that there is a dedicated core who act like book editors, who follow-up added content by cleaning it up and making it fit the 'standards' of Wikipedia.

One problem with the Internet is that it is so diverse that those posting useful information and those trying to find it can have a hard time crossing paths. Wikipedia is at least one standard place where people can look for and post useful reference information. Want to know how to create an Ethernet cross-over cable? Chances are you'll find it on Wikipedia.

Still, the fact that anyone can edit it means that you ultimately can never trust what you read.
posted by eye of newt at 12:34 PM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Truly, a vague floating contempt for All Those Stupid People and The Stupid Things They Care About is the only reason I can see for it.

Since you made note of my comment about underpants, I take it you're referring to me here.

Anyway, what you say is kind of true. I find Wikipedia and Jimmy Wales kind of amusing (although to do so is a very BAD thing, and is tantamount to contempt) because, while creating indepth article about underpants and lists of hentai authors, both Wikipedia and Jimmy Wales demand to be taken seriously. While (arguably) Wikipedia may be just as accurate as Britannica, Wikipedia has less far less quality than Britannica. And you get good quality by hiring a good editor who can focus the efforts of the publication.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:38 PM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


We know that Wikipedia is supposed to be taken with a grain of salt, because it's entirely possible that the entry you're looking at was just vandalized by some 14-year old script kiddy, but has anyone actually made an effort to see how deep the rabbit hole is? When I was in school four years ago, Wikipedia was just getting to the point where people were trusting it as authoritative (which it clearly isn't, but hey, college kids writing term papers at the last second), which means that if it hasn't happened, it won't be long until someone publishes a paper citing something made up out of whole cloth by some idiot making a malicious edit to a Wikipedia article, because the barriers to trusting Wikipedia articles are coming down pretty quickly. Once it's in a paper, it's a secondary source, which means you can legitimately cite it to back up the bullshit claim in your Wikipedia article, which means... I'm sure you seem where I'm going. It's an ouroboros, and it's a critical design flaw of a distributed system that doesn't understand how trust works.

It would also be an awesome sociology paper if you could track it happening.
posted by Mayor West at 12:43 PM on January 27, 2009


I find this all rather asinine bureaucracy. Flagged revisions seem only useful for conflict resolution, i.e. page locking. I'd also say that any `established' editor should have `reviewer' powers, except for
posted by jeffburdges at 1:27 PM on January 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


Mayor West: There was fairly recently an FPP (at least I think it was) about some college students who, as a research project, created a fake Wikipedia article. I'm not sure exactly what it was about (a nonexistent country in Europe? maybe I'm imagining that), but they created some web sites to use as "sources" and basically bootstrapped their way around the "trust" issue in the way you describe.

Apparently even after they revealed the hoax, the page kept getting recreated, and there were arguments back and forth about whether to delete it or not. (The smart solution, and the one I hope ended up happening, would be to leave the page up but make it about the hoax; i.e. use the page to explain the hoax and prevent it from popping up again.)

So there certainly is a vulnerability there. I think creating hoax articles in WP, even as part of some research project, is sort of a dick move, but it was admittedly interesting to read about.

Personally, I don't think the acceptance of possibly-bad information is the most serious problem at Wikipedia; the tendency to throw away loads of content on a whim, however, is. I think this is driven mostly by editors and administrators who take their positions, and Wikipedia in general, far too seriously. But the net effect is that if you want to create articles or add loads of content about things that the Wikipedia administrators (a very small and frankly not that diverse group, compared to readers) find interesting, you're golden. But if you try to add anything that isn't to that very small core of users' liking, expect to have it speedily deleted, blanked, or merged. Hence, while Wikipedia has a lot of content, the really in-depth articles tend heavily towards what the cabal find interesting enough to not purge based on biased readings of the inclusion criteria.

Perhaps this is unavoidable and simply a consequence of any group project where the leadership is essentially an oligarchy, but it's unfortunate because it limits Wikipedia to something much smaller and much less interesting than it might otherwise be. Don't get me wrong, it's still a nice resource and I'm glad it's there at all, but the way it's been managed is unfortunate, and I cringe to think about the amount of time and effort that's been spent creating content, only to have that content irrevocably destroyed by some overzealous admin at the click of a mouse.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:58 PM on January 27, 2009


If you want to look up accurate information on interesting but maddeningly obscure topics (Stethacanthus, Netherlands Reformed Congregations, red-black spanning trees, Society of Actuaries, Pechenegs, ahlspiess, Froggy Gremlin) there is nothing better. Nothing.

Yes there is: Google. Wikipedia, by its own rules (no original research, though this seems to fall by the wayside when it comes to TV shows minutiae) brings nothing new to human knowledge. It only collates it, generally with dubious grammar. Google already does that, including links to sites of original research, with none of the bureaucracy and arsy 15-year-old editors editing for the sake of it, in subjects they know nothing about.

I was going to say that in their defence, they do take their criticisms on board, and even have a carefully written and well-thought-out page listing them. But it turns out they've deleted it, doubtless after a bitchfight.
posted by bonaldi at 2:06 PM on January 27, 2009


Wikipedia is still a Wiki, but it is a Wiki with major bureaucratic deformations. The encroachment of bureaucracy does not alter Wikipedia's fundamental nature, which is based on social editing, but the bureaucracy will naturally defend its own privilege against threats, both internal (vandals) and external (rival encyclopedias). This accounts for its maniacal zigzags. Chairman Jimbo, who once purged the renegade Sanger for his Britannicaist deviations, now embraces Sanger's totalitarian methods. The bureaucracy is motivated by terror: terror that its users will drag it into the anarchy of 4chan, and terror that its colleagues will initiate a Britannicaist restoration. It defends itself against these dual threats by the accumulation of adminsitrative power against users, and by regular factional purges of rival editors and administrators.

Even as we oppose Wales, we must recognise that either collapse or restoration would be a world-historical defeat for the global Wikitariat. As Wikipedia is still a Wiki, we have a duty to defend it from all external threats, even as we call for political revolution against its bureaucracy.
posted by stammer at 2:34 PM on January 27, 2009 [6 favorites]


There was fairly recently an FPP (at least I think it was) about some college students who, as a research project, created a fake Wikipedia article.

Let me guess, you heard about it from a friend whose cousin saw it? It sounds like bullshit to me, and unless I see a link I'm not buying it.

Yes there is: Google.

Bullshit. I spent a lot of time creating articles on Maria Petrovykh, David Vygodsky, and Phil Jutzi, to take three recent examples; try googling those names, ignore the Wikipedia results, and see how much you come up with. You could come up with most of it given sufficient time and effort, but the whole point of the Wikipedia articles is to assemble available information in one place, so that people can find it easily. And for other articles, like Vasily Kamensky, good luck replicating the information, because half the sources I used are in Russian.

brings nothing new to human knowledge. It only collates it

That is bringing something new to human knowledge, unless you have an understanding of "human knowledge" so restrictive as to be useless.
posted by languagehat at 2:35 PM on January 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yes there is: Google. Wikipedia, by its own rules (no original research, though this seems to fall by the wayside when it comes to TV shows minutiae) brings nothing new to human knowledge.

How can a tool for searching Wikipedia be a better source of information then Wikipedia itself? Wikipedia results are (almost always) first for a reason, that's the best source of information. One of the great things about Wikipedia is that everything is well organized and properly hyperlinked, which makes it easy to find extra information. On non-wikipedia pages you're likely to find poorly formatted, sketchy, and poorly linked info on most obscure topics.
posted by delmoi at 2:45 PM on January 27, 2009


languagehat: Here's an FPP about it.
posted by carbide at 3:18 PM on January 27, 2009


eye of newt: I think this is the article you mentioned:
When you put it all together, the story become clear: an outsider makes one edit to add a chunk of information, then insiders make several edits tweaking and reformatting it. In addition, insiders rack up thousands of edits doing things like changing the name of a category across the entire site — the kind of thing only insiders deeply care about. As a result, insiders account for the vast majority of the edits. But it’s the outsiders who provide nearly all of the content.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 3:24 PM on January 27, 2009


Now, look at this interesting Roberto Bolaño-esque Wikipedia page I found recently. Did Guilherme Gavrilov ever exist? I don't think so. I can't find any reference to him, "The Shoe," or "Tutenkhamun" in the Google Books snippet view copy of Statyi o Lermontove. King Tut wasn't even well known in the 19th century. The whole story seems far too far-fetched to be true. And I discovered it because it was reposted on everything2 by a user who called himself "Tolstoevsky"--a pseudonym once used by the satirists Ilf and Petrov.

I can be fairly sure, if not certain, that Gavrilov is a fake--but would someone not Russian-speaking or familiar with the world of nineteenth-century Russian literature be able to smell a rat? I doubt it. Such impostures, as long as they are kept quiet and maintain a sense of verisimilitude, can persist forever. It would be possible to create a vast network of realistic-looking lies, I think, without being detected.

Now, I don't think that this is a strike against WP. I'm not overly attached to truth, so I think it's actually a cool idea that someone decided to do this. And it would be equally possible to game a peer-reviewed journal, although it would take a bit more effort. (FYI, peer-reviewers in the humanities do not generally spend their time checking your facts and citations, unless something seems glaringly off to them.) But it's something to think about, at least.
posted by nasreddin at 4:12 PM on January 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


There's also the issue of petty power politics being played out by a handful of editors at Wikipedia.

I followed a surreal Google trail that included Overstock.com, the Kremlin, MI5, a creepy Business Week and Forbes columnist Gary Weiss, various Wikipedia editors/users (some now indefinitely banned) named Wordbomb, slimvirgin, and Mantanmoreland, and even Boris Madoff and the economic collapse we are now in.

Here are just a couple of these:
http://www.deepcapture.com/index.php?s=slimvirgin
http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/10/01/wikipedia_and_naked_shorting/

My head is still spinning. Just who are these guys watching over Wikipedia?
posted by eye of newt at 4:29 PM on January 27, 2009


Perhaps I should have said here are just a couple of these.
posted by eye of newt at 4:32 PM on January 27, 2009


languagehat: I was responding to your hyperbole about WP being "one of the great advances in human knowledge", which is palpably bullshit. Yes, there is value in the sort of articles you create, but your example is flawed: if you'd done the same work for your blog, then Googling would have found those equally as well as it would find them on WP. Google's information is always going to be a superset of what's on Wikipedia.

How can a tool for searching Wikipedia be a better source of information then Wikipedia itself?
Because it has more information at its disposal than just Wikipedia? Google isn't just a tool for searching Wikipedia, though WP's search is pretty bad, yes.

Wikipedia results are (almost always) first for a reason, that's the best source of information.
No, they're almost always first because people always link to them. That's related to the quality, but it's not a necessary connection.

On non-wikipedia pages you're likely to find poorly formatted, sketchy, and poorly linked info on most obscure topics.
On outlying wikipedia pages you're just as likely to find all of these things, as well as maliciously incorrect facts, like nasreddin mentions. Even in its technology heartlands, you can find the most appalling writing -- many of the Amiga articles seem to have been written by a German->English translator.

Then there are the problems of bias, fan editing and idiot editing. I've just corrected and cited one particular fact that I've known to be deliberately wrong for some time; I'm waiting now to see how long it persists before it returns to its original state of wishful thinking.

Wikipedia's one advantage is in collaborative editing. But the social problems that are concomitant with that haven't been addressed beyond ad hoc legalese, and now the inner circles seem to be denying and lalalala-can't-hear-you-ing the idea that there are any problems, rather than admitting them and attempting to address them. When Wales speaks, though, he can't be ignored, so he must be shouted down.

Unstable but potentially useful website? Sure. Great advance in human knowledge? Hardly.
posted by bonaldi at 4:43 PM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Truly, a vague floating contempt for All Those Stupid People and The Stupid Things They Care About is the only reason I can see for it.

What horseshit. It's not about hate, it's about disappointment in the way things are run. I don't see how anyone can recall Wales' pathetic reaction to the essjay episode and not have acquired permanent skepticism about the folks running it.

Even languagehat was moved to note "I've pretty much lost whatever respect I had for Jimbo Wales" after that one. Honestly, the essjay episode is just one of many, many examples of arbitrary, obnoxious and utterly indefensible actions by high-level editors at Wikipedia. After a while, the cumulative effect of those episodes changes the way you feel about the site. Deeply changes it.

Smearing everyone who dislikes the way Wikipedia has been run as people with contempt for the great unwashed just shows you to be embarrassingly ill-informed about the subject of this conversation.
posted by mediareport at 5:13 PM on January 27, 2009 [6 favorites]


Google's information is always going to be a superset of what's on Wikipedia.

Since there are a great many citations in Wikipedia articles for resources which are not available online, or which are restricted to snippets, limited previews, or subscriber and authorized-user only access, this assertion is demonstrably false.

I know it's cool to think that Google online search, books, and scholar pretty much covers all available knowledge that can be found in a library, personal or public nowadays, but it simply isn't true.

Now, were I interested in establishing a disputed fact for an article, I'd consider citing a reliable source for the article to greatly improve its chances (not to 100%, but a heckuva lot better than without). Otherwise, it's merely they say-you say. That goes for everybody who says they corrected something because they know the true facts, yet keep getting those facts reverted.
posted by mdevore at 5:20 PM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ha, great catch, nesreddin; that entry is total bullshit! And makes a nice contrast to languagehat's entries linked above, which are also all on obscure Russian figures that are largely from Russian-language sources.
posted by dgaicun at 5:30 PM on January 27, 2009


MetaFilter: Britannicaist deviations.

Apparently my Newspeak dictionary is long out of date. May I ask what version you're using?
posted by loquacious at 5:48 PM on January 27, 2009


Since there are a great many citations in Wikipedia articles for resources which are not available online, or which are restricted to snippets, limited previews, or subscriber and authorized-user only access, this assertion is demonstrably false.

Uh, yes, and Google will also include those citations. Wikipedia is just a bunch of HTML pages. Google indexes all the information it contains, and more (not to mention it has its own offline citations in Google Books and Google Scholar. Ergo Google is always going to be better for "looking up information" than just plain searching WP, which is where this started.

Now, were I interested in establishing a disputed fact for an article, I'd consider citing a reliable source for the article to greatly improve its chances

Which is what I said I did, and, in fact, did.
posted by bonaldi at 5:58 PM on January 27, 2009


Ah good, it turns out they just moved that page about Wikipedia's flaws elsewhere in the byzantium, to here. I'm glad it survived, I was genuinely impressed at its existence.
posted by bonaldi at 6:02 PM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Uh, yes, and Google will also include those citations

Uhh, well, citations are not placed in Wikipedia by the gods of entropy. Editors placed those citations the articles after research, frequently after quite a bit of research. If Wikipedia didn't exist, the cites wouldn't be created, and Google couldn't use the citations.

What do you think a person looking in Google would probably do after seeing the Wikipedia link if they wanted the cites? Well, they would probably go to the Wikipedia page and get them. Do you wish to argue against using Wikipedia because Google can use what is placed in Wikipedia? And you see no logical fallacy there?

Google outperforms Wikipedia for the information only in the most meta sense, and critically depends on Wikipedia for much of that information. (Incidentally, Google is often a month or more behind on the Wikipedia article information, so even that isn't accurate, strictly speaking.)

And as I said, "That goes for everybody" on the cites. But humor me. Post to me this fact which you are watching for reversion. I'll put it on my watchlist and we'll see how it fares. If it's a good cite, there shouldn't be a serious problem keeping it there.
posted by mdevore at 6:21 PM on January 27, 2009


We're all here having paid five bucks for the privilege of posting, yet the issue at hand for Wikipedia is how to reduce vandalism and raise money and quality.
posted by Brian B. at 6:31 PM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Google's information is always going to be a superset of what's on Wikipedia.

This is true, which is why I google something instead of enter it into the Wikipedia search field - Google will correct my spelling. The Wikipedia entry is usually a concise overview of what I'm after, and often, provides a lot of background material and interesting things I never knew, or thought had never been.

Searching google for Petropavlovsk, to follow up on a specification on private jet, Google yielded this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. From it, I learned that it's the 2nd largest city not reachable by road (which brought me to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iquitos), and, oh yeah, it was where the French and British fought the Russians in the Pacific with a steamship fleet during the Crimean War, and got trounced by a serioiusly out-manned and out-gunned Russian garrison.

This stuff I learned all in a couple minutes of skimming the links on the first Wiki page... this would take me hours to run down in a library, provided it was well stocked with Russian military history books.

Google? I get mostly tourist-information bullshit skimming the google rankings for Petropavlovsk.

Google would be nothing without the Wiki, and the wiki would be nothing without obsessive nerds giving back what they take.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:48 PM on January 27, 2009


Working inside scientific academia, the value of Wikipedia is an interesting topic - and something that I have had to deal with very recently.

While most (younger) scientist will privately "admit" to using Wikipedia regularly, it is treated with outright derision (particularly by older scientists) as an actual source of information. Yet, those same scientists will sanctimoniously declare failure to site sources as plagiarism (and argue at length about things such as whether failure to report intermediate references is plagiarism or not) while asking for any citation of Wikipedia to simply be removed.

For a review paper our group recently submitted, we cited Wikipedia as a reference. In this case, we cited Wikipedia not for any particular piece of information, but rather as a dynamic (and pretty comprehensive) list of software packages related to the topic of the review. The journal objected as Wikipedia is not an "authoritative source" - and asked us to delete the reference or find a paper which served the same purpose. The first suggestion is clearly fraudulent while the second is both fraudulent and impossible. On the other hand, a study done by the journal Nature found that Wikipedia was, on average, as reliable as standard encyclopedias (USA Today link or Nature link (requires subscription)) - this finding is disputed by Encyclopaedia Britannica. An interesting and related note is that the journal RNA Biology requires a Wikipedia entry upon submission. In the end, we settled for a URL embedded in the text and formal citation removed - hardly a victory but hopefully a push in the right direction.

I don't think this change from everyman-editor to super-editors would be beneficial. While it may cut down on the more egregious cases of vandalism, it seems to violate one of the founding principles of Wikipedia which made it so interesting and successful. I also have a suspicion that one of the reasons people are willing to dedicate so much time to composing such detailed entries on quite obscure subjects is that they could immediately see their work becoming part of one of the most extensive compendiums of human knowledge ever assembled. Remove that and make it more like submitting a report to your boss... participation may plummet. I don't know if one can go with a business model of having supervisory editors without having a business model of compensated content providers.

Regardless, Wikipedia is an unbelievably useful resource. You may have to double check all information, but really when isn't that true? Further, while you have to be conscious of the policy that everyone can edit, the end result is effectively a peer-review process - the same principle underlying virtually all of scientific publishing. And the success of this is evident from the statistics. A couple of examples of biased editing on very prominent topics (most of which are caught quickly because they are... prominent) does not negate the value of the corresponding hundreds of thousand of entries providing instant insight on a simply staggering diversity of topics.

Leave Wikipedia open - the system works (as well as can be expected).
posted by sloe at 7:17 PM on January 27, 2009 [5 favorites]


But the social problems that are concomitant with that haven't been addressed beyond ad hoc legalese, and now the inner circles seem to be denying and lalalala-can't-hear-you-ing the idea that there are any problems, rather than admitting them and attempting to address them. When Wales speaks, though, he can't be ignored, so he must be shouted down.

That would be the nail on the head. Wikipedia, in general, prefers to deal with problems by sweeping them under the rug, and anyone who tries to talk about how lumpy this rug is getting, well, they get shouted down. The unwashed masses have far, far too much power, which creates serious inertia against changing anything about how the site works on the back end. And what they forget--I alluded to this above--is that whatever your motivation for participating, the end goal must be an encyclopedia that is useful to the readers, who outnumber the editors by many orders of magnitude.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 8:19 PM on January 27, 2009


Smearing everyone who dislikes the way Wikipedia has been run as people with contempt for the great unwashed just shows you to be embarrassingly ill-informed about the subject of this conversation.

What about those of us who think the great unwashed are precisely the problem with how Wikipedia is run? ;)
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 8:22 PM on January 27, 2009


I really don't get the MeFi hate against Wikipedia.

Hate? Google for links to Wikipedia from the Metafilter.com domain. We all but hump its leg when YouTube isn't watching. I've pulled tons of info off of Wikipedia in the past and I'm sure I will in the future.

On the Con side: Wikipedia is the unholy trinity in action. A low entry cost, cliquishness and a "greater purpose". I mean consider the unexaggerated death of Fred Saberhagen. The guy explaining how web 2.0 works to Cory Doctorow. And that's just stick to your guns idiocy, not anything mean spirited.

On the Pro side: All those people who used to show up at SCA events, wear lots of black, and tell me about how they'd like to do armoured combat, but with all their martial arts training, they're afraid they might accidentally kill someone have one more thing to do on weekends than talk to me.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 8:35 PM on January 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


bonaldi: "Ah good, it turns out they just moved that page about Wikipedia's flaws elsewhere in the byzantium, to here. I'm glad it survived, I was genuinely impressed at its existence."

Great link. I just added this under the "Behavioral/cultural problems" section:
Wikipedia is an honor culture. Honor cultures are defined by anthropologists as cultures in which three conditions exist: 1. Lack of resources 2. Lack of an effective state, or law enforcement 3. Bad behavior goes un-punished and/or is rewarded. Typically honor cultures are places like Appalachia America (Hatfield and McCoys) or the Scottish Highlands. They are characterized by feuding and gangs. HC's also exist in inner city youth gangs. How is Wikipedia an honor culture? 1. Lack of resources. For any article, there is limited "real estate", there is only one article and everyone must fight over their contribution to it. 2. Lack of an effective state. For the most part, users are required to stick up for themselves - if someone wrongs you, you are expected to take action on your own. One normally can't just call up the police to resolve a dispute. 3. Bad behavior pays. For the most part, one can typically get away with a lot of Wikipedia by behaving badly when it pays to do so. Honor Cultures are violent prone places. They breed strife and conflict.
It needs a lot more clarity but wanted to keep it short, general idea here is that Wikipedia is an uncivil place. Not uncivil in the sense of "rude", but uncivil in the sense of 17th century Scotland, or present day Afghanistan. The solution is Wikipedia needs a stronger central authority that can better enforce its policies - just as Afghanistan needs a stronger government.
posted by stbalbach at 8:36 PM on January 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


Wait, you Wikipedia Federalist, did you just argue that Jimbo needs more power? Because currently, the top levels of Wikipedia government are pretty much cockmongers.
posted by klangklangston at 9:04 PM on January 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


If it involves Jimbo telling the baying hordes to STFU and start actually using their brains, I'm all for it. There's actually a user who would do far, far better in that sort of role, but staging the coup is proving difficult.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 9:20 PM on January 27, 2009


I really don't get the MeFi hate against Wikipedia.

Once we were wide eyed, bushy tailed and ready to contribute. Then came editors with reverts. Then came edit wars. Then came TLAs. RFD WP:NOTE? Say goodbye to all your work because an exclusionist editor came walking by. Not quite up to Wikipedia standards? WP:NOT and sayonara article. Try to play their game and get ganged up on by bureaucratic tards and possible sock puppet.

I gave up quite quickly after all the BS. I think by the tone of these posts most of us gave up.

One of these days I'll fork Wikipedia so that I still have all the info from it prior to any upcoming great purges.
posted by Talez at 10:32 PM on January 27, 2009 [5 favorites]


Grmph, some shithead is crafting WP:FRINGE into the ultimate deletionhammer for all fortean subjects at the moment, which is more than a little annoying. His MO is bitching about sources, stripping out as many as possible, and then AFDing, which he'll do to dozens of articles at a time which makes finding sources a scramble (my particular joy is finding cites to pre-web news sources on ufology sites, which I have no way of verifying, making them tantilisingly out of reach).

Most of the abductee stuff from the 50s will probably be gone soon, which is a bit annoying if you're into that particular area of mythology.
posted by Artw at 11:39 PM on January 27, 2009


Hate? Google for links to Wikipedia from the Metafilter.com domain. We all but hump its leg when YouTube isn't watching.

Just wanted to see that again. Carry on.
posted by mediareport at 6:08 AM on January 28, 2009


languagehat: Here's an FPP about it.

Thanks—don't know how I missed that. Must have actually been working that day. I note that the bogus article lasted three days. Bullshit that is printed in regular books lasts forever.

Even languagehat was moved to note "I've pretty much lost whatever respect I had for Jimbo Wales" after that one. Honestly, the essjay episode is just one of many, many examples of arbitrary, obnoxious and utterly indefensible actions by high-level editors at Wikipedia. After a while, the cumulative effect of those episodes changes the way you feel about the site. Deeply changes it.

See, I don't agree with this. Yeah, I lost respect for Jimbo. So what? He's just a guy. The way I feel about the site depends on my experience with the site, which has been overwhelmingly positive. A couple times I've created an article, checked my contributions list and seen that somebody's changed it, and gone charging over to see if they've fucked it up, only to discover someone's added a photo. Feeling bad about Wikipedia because Jimbo is an asshole is like refusing to read an author's books because the author was an asshole: sure, you can do it, but it's stupid.

Uh, yes, and Google will also include those citations.


What does that mean? If you mean that once the citations are on Wikipedia, Google will "include" them because it indexes the Wikipedia article, sure, but they wouldn't have been there without the Wikipedia article, so what's your point? If you mean that everything is on Google anyway, that's ridiculous. I frequently add material from printed books that are not googleable. In your effort to counteract what you see as excessive fondness for Wikipedia, you are going way overboard and making it difficult to take you seriously.

Great advance in human knowledge? Hardly.

I am reminded of the truth of my statement every time I go back and read something I first read before Wikipedia was available and remember how hard I had to work to get information about obscure people, places, and facts, sometimes giving up; now I go to Wikipedia and it's almost always there. You can close your eyes if you want, but the facts don't disappear just because you can't see them. Wikipedia is a great advance in human knowledge, whether you like it or not.
posted by languagehat at 6:39 AM on January 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


The journal objected as Wikipedia is not an "authoritative source" - and asked us to delete the reference or find a paper which served the same purpose.

Alas, this attitude is by no means limited to academic journals.
posted by blucevalo at 7:32 AM on January 28, 2009


I'm was going to call it pediafile. I asked some VCs if they were interested in investing but strangely none were. It must be because of the credit crunch.

Or the name.
posted by IvoShandor at 8:19 AM on January 28, 2009


Its a diversion, a parlour trick; something that we use to fill little gaps when we can't quite place the name of something or have a few minutes to kill. But that's all it can ever be, given it's express purpose and the human brain's limitations.

Uhhh . . . the internet is serious business?

Ted Kaczynski fan?

Or maybe, just maybe, Wikipedia is actually just a reference source, a place to read about aluminum Christmas trees.

Are you sure you get out and interact much? Lighten up.
posted by IvoShandor at 8:31 AM on January 28, 2009


If you mean that once the citations are on Wikipedia, Google will "include" them because it indexes the Wikipedia article, sure, but they wouldn't have been there without the Wikipedia article, so what's your point?

My point, which it looks like mdevore missed as well, was in response to the claim that "wikipedia is the best place to look up information and nothing at all is better", since Google is necessarily going to be better at that as it offers, by proxy, all the information contained in Wikipedia and more.

I am reminded of the truth of my statement every time I go back and read something I first read before Wikipedia was available and remember how hard I had to work to get information about obscure people, places, and facts, sometimes giving up; now I go to Wikipedia and it's almost always there.

This just sounds like the internet to me. It was once incredibly difficult to find information like that, but the web made it easier. As a focal point, Wikipedia has undoubtedly become a key element in adding obscure information to the web as a whole, but as it has effectively grown with the web there's no way to tell whether or not that information would have ended up online without it.

For me, it's the web that's the great advance in human knowledge, Wikipedia is merely one, flawed, element of that. I am reminded of the truth of my statement every time I compare the philosophical information available on Wikipedia to that at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Unfair comparison? Possibly. But it's the web that allows me to have both. It's the web that gives me information about obscure people, places and facts, almost always.

If Wikipedia vanished tomorrow, I'd be sad, but I sure wouldn't feel like human knowledge had suddenly regressed. If the web disappeared, I'd be distraught. That would be a million Alexandrias aflame.
posted by bonaldi at 8:36 AM on January 28, 2009


Grmph, some shithead is crafting WP:FRINGE into the ultimate deletionhammer for all fortean subjects at the moment, which is more than a little annoying.

Which one is that, ScienceApologist? Yeah, he's sort of known for that sort of thing. And, typically, nobody will just say "Right, you've shat in the sandbox too many times, you're going home permanently now."
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 9:03 AM on January 28, 2009


Ha! Yes, that's the one. His point of view is that theres no such thing as UFOs/ghosts/whatever and so Wikipedia should not discuss them at all, or if it does it should discuss them in as disparaging terms as possible . It's incredibly POVy and as far from neutral tone as you can get, not to mention a rude fucker (he's one of thsoie types who deletes your message from his talk page if you try to talk to him, and he leaves snide edit comments all over the place) but he throws up a cloud of acronyms and the admins all love him because he's a deletionist and therefore automatically awesome.

When I first noticed him he'd actually listed between ten and twenty articles for deletion with more or less the same reason, a lot of them obvious no-hopers, basically because they were in a subject area he didn't like. He refused all communictaion so at that point I raised it on the admins noticeboard because at that pointg as far as I new he was some wrecker troll on a rampage.

Big mistake, because of course they love a wikilawyering ass there. Not only did a ton of people leap in to defend him and shit on me for pointing out what I considered suspicious behaviour, but they also leapt into all the AFD debates, and turned around a lot of the ones that were heading for keep status, making it much more of a fight.

This culminated in someone nominating Nick Pope for deletion. Nick Pope, the "space expert" who's fucking everywhere at the moment because he's leveraged some MOD job he had as being "the british X files". Bit of a self promoting dick but clearly notable, and I had to do all kinds of scrambling to save that article.

Honestly, I don't go looking for this shit. I just get entangled in it every so often when I notice a useful article has an AFD on it or is blanked, and then I notice another one and before I know it my compulsive insticts take over and I'm in a fight with an idiot.
posted by Artw at 9:28 AM on January 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, and if anyone out there is considering adding anything to wikipedia PLEASE ADD CITES. It's like a magic talisman that makes deletionists go away, and without there your article is doomed as soon as they notice it.
posted by Artw at 9:29 AM on January 28, 2009


if anyone out there is considering adding anything to wikipedia PLEASE ADD CITES.

Yes, I was doing this anyway just because I like to back up what I write, but when I became aware of the deletionists (sounds like a Marxist tendency of the '30s), I appreciated the talisman effect.
posted by languagehat at 12:24 PM on January 28, 2009


"[I]t makes [Wikipedia] even more ridiculous. What you've proposed is a kind of quantum encyclopedia, where genuine data both exists and doesn't exist depending on the precise moment I rely upon your discordant fucking mob for my information." — Tycho on "Penny Arcade"

Ever since I've left, I've occasionally observed with amusement the more extreme moments of Deletionists Gone Wild on Wikipedia. It's a fun thing to observe when I feel the need to feel cynically superior — the deletionist motive now apparently happens not only on a meta scale (whether an article deserves to be there or not), but on a micro scale: a large number of articles end up being purged of any useful information, due to one bureaucratic policy or another.
posted by WCityMike at 1:39 PM on January 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


Feeling bad about Wikipedia because Jimbo is an asshole

That's a distortion. It's not just Jimbo; it's the culture of the upper editorial circle. I still visit, still occasionally edit (mostly adding related links), and would never say the site isn't useful. But the issues at work here go far beyond "feeling bad about Wikipedia." More accurate to say I don't *trust* any of the upper level people who run Wikipedia.

If you want to suggest, languagehat, that broken trust based on a consistent pattern of arbitrary and obnoxious behavior on the part of its administrators is a poor reason to criticize a web site, knock yourself out.

It's crazy, but knock yourself out.
posted by mediareport at 3:04 PM on January 28, 2009


re: the talisman effect of citations

This is actually a weakness. Very few people verify citations. So it's possible to mis-represent the sources. I've often seen it done in bad faith. I've even done it (in good faith). Some deletionist will {fact} tag a common knowledge, but finding a source that says it is difficult. So I just add a cite to a standard text on the topic (only available in book form off-line). The deletionists never check it, problem solved. However if anyone were to actually bother to check the sources, they wouldn't find it. I believe this is common on Wikipedia, an exasperation with dealing with amateur know-nothings demanding common knowledge citations. The thing is, deletionists ''could'' ask the editor to verify on the talk page, to quote the relevant section - but again, they rarely if ever do. So the weakness is, the deletionists are easily duped and not very careful. It's sort of like global warming skeptics - they are a PITA, but not very good. This is a loss, because we need good skeptics to check the work.

Even when doing Featured Article reviews, no one really checks sources. Probably the best practice I have seen is when editors cite the source AND add a quoted sentence from the source in the citation that backs it up.

So, Wikipedia has lots of citations but rarely does anyone verify the citations are accurate.
posted by stbalbach at 3:59 PM on January 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


"So, Wikipedia has lots of citations but rarely does anyone verify the citations are accurate."

My girlfriend took over as reviews editor for an academic journal last year and found out that despite the editor listing the journal as "peer reviewed," no one even bothered to check citations to make sure they were accurate. Were her boss not basically forcing her to take part in the journal, she would have quit right then.

(And I admit as an undergrad to wildly over-citing anything and everything because I thought it made stuff look more impressive [it also allowed me to steal ideas left and right and simply attribute them properly to avoid plagiarism].)
posted by klangklangston at 4:20 PM on January 29, 2009


Wikipedia has lots of citations but rarely does anyone verify the citations are accurate.

I suggest caution before accepting the accuracy of that statement. I've seen citations checked by others in review, checked them myself, and even used citations to uncover articles and claims that were bogus. And I, in much same way as is frequently pointed out to us all on MetaFilter, am not a Wikipedia special snowflake.

Interesting that deletionists are being reviled here. Deletionism is just a term for a particular viewpoint, an arbitrarily drawn line in the sand of what is generally notable. At lower and more innocuous levels, judicious application of deletionism keeps Wikipedia from becoming a notebook of everyone who ever had a college degree, maybe had an original thought, or performed in a public arena. It does things like keep Wikipedia from becoming a document of just about any structure that has ever been built by humans. I could go on, but a look over a month or two of the deletion review and articles for deletion sections demonstrates the point better than ever I could. Better yet, catch the speedy deletion nominations before they are carried out. Some real winners there.

The arguments made by radical inclusionists for keeping articles can be every bit as contorted as those of radical deletionists to remove articles. Though I must say, on occasion the heated debates between the two can rise to the level of cheap entertainment. A moderate view between the extremes seems best, but it doesn't seem to generate that passion found with those on the far side of either philosophy.
posted by mdevore at 4:59 PM on January 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


mdevore, ok - lets look at an example, we'll even pick a Featured Article at random, the best Wikipedia has to offer: Baden-Powell House. It's a small article and was featured in July 2006 (2.5 years ago). It has 14 sources and 27 citations (some sources multiple cites).

Sources #6, 8, 11, 12 are dead links that are no longer active. Thus 28% of the citations need to be removed or fixed. This is not uncommon, after a few years or so web links start disappearing and is a problem throughout Wikipedia.

Most of the article is sourced to #1, a book. There are no page numbers. Whoever verifies will need to read the entire book. Oh, and the book is extremely rare. It doesn't exist on Amason or ABE Books, much less Google Books. Is Baden-House so obscure a topic that it needs to use as a primary source a rare and difficult to obtain 48 page "book" printed in 1971 that was only distributed in England?

We could continue this exercise of finding dead cites, obscure and difficult sources. What are the solutions? Just because an article has a bunch of citations doesn't mean it's well cited and very few people are really looking at this.
posted by stbalbach at 8:17 AM on January 31, 2009


You should be leary of taking individual examples and extrapolating them to support the general assertion that citations are rarely checked. I'll accept it isn't done most of the time, but they are checked pretty frequently for the so-called quality articles. For good and ill, references are also not uncommonly checked when there is a content dispute, with edit combatants pummeling each other with opposing facts, wielding their weapons of carefully-selected references. This happens even with dead tree cites. Anyway, based on article reviews and dispute resolution, cite checks do happen, and they happen with increasing regularity the higher the article climbs up the rating ladder.

It is certain that you can sneak a reasonable-sounding cite in an article and get away with it a nontrivial amount of the time (and a not so reasonable-sounding cite once in a while, although the famous author I. P. Freeley doesn't have much of a chance nowadays). But students did that for term papers back in the day, and I am doubtful much has changed since then. Teachers would swear they spent hours checking every reference. Maybe they did, but I think I might have heard of a few they missed.

Dead links are a growing problem that is addressed by some editors, but far too few. However, this is true of the web in general, including MetaFilter. I do not know what the solution to that problem will be, if ones comes at all.
posted by mdevore at 10:56 AM on January 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Uhh, "leery", not "leary". I usually know how to spell, but my brain often trails my fingers by distressingly long periods of time.
posted by mdevore at 10:58 AM on January 31, 2009


"although the famous author I. P. Freeley doesn't have much of a chance nowadays"

How about cites of Claude Bawls, author of the respected book, Jumping Over Tigers?
posted by klangklangston at 11:39 AM on January 31, 2009


Pfft, there's no such book. His classic work is The Tiger's Revenge. (I have a signed copy.)
posted by languagehat at 12:27 PM on January 31, 2009


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