Larry Sanger, cofounder of Wikipedia, writes about concerns he has withthe project (having left it some years back). He sees three major concerns withthe project, summarized as follows:
- People don't see Wikipedia as reliable because anyone can edit it (PR problem)
- People tolerate the clueless and the trolls too much in the name of civility
- People don't defer to experts, in the name of anti-elitism
You can read his posting for the fine details of the above. So far, this is thebest critique of Wikipedia I've seen -- Larry backs up his points well, andone can see how he thinks and how it makes sense, even if one doesn't agreewith him. Having been deeply involved in the project and the politics involved,I can see that the issues he's pointing out are quite real. Now, for my specificthoughts on each part of his article. The first part I don't see as so much of aproblem -- while it'd be nice not to have the PR issue of being seen asunreliable, I don't think it's quite so bad. Of course, he addresses my reply,as it's a predictable one, and makes a case for perception of reliability beinguseful. I remain unconvinced that it's very important, but I can see it to bea plus to have good PR. I also don't find the SEP to be a particularlyinspiring example. As for the second part, I really have mixed feelings. I'lldisclose that I'm a candicate for the Mediation Committee, which works to tryto help people work together, attempting to build compromise between editorswho have trouble agreeing, and I was a (failed) candicate for the ArbitrationCommittee, which deals with applying judgement to users who cannot be dealtwith other ways. Should such groups be necessary? Historically, on theinternet, we've always had a variety of people, from full-fledged kooks suchas a certain stamp collector with whom I once dealt to marginal people who wouldbe fine for years or on most topics, but have a few ones where they were a bitunhinged, to people who knew each other personally and would not be friendly forany reason, topic-independent. The community has always had difficulty decidinghow to deal with them -- in part we all had tools that would help make theirposts disappear (blocklists *PLONK*) and similar, because Usenet consists ofthreads of discrete posts, with intelligent clients that dealt with the dataas they saw fit. Wikipedia isn't shaped like that though -- we use genericclients that are handed the data in a way significantly closer topresentation-layer than data-layer, and it wouldn't really work to ask for allof Ralph Raver's contributions to Wikipedia to be filtered out for our view,because articles have many editors, and it's not really possible to ask for anarticle sans one of them. In other words, that solution doesn't fit here. Oneway to deal with the trolls is to have harsher punishments for bad actions.This sounds good to me -- it does seem to me that people are willing to givethe benefit of the doubt too far on Wikipedia. It is important to be polite,and all other things being equal, to be welcoming, but not at the expense ofthe project. Wikipedia has its share of slogans that various policy factionsuse to push their point of view -- the one for this one isWikipedia is not a social club. I think Arbitrators and Mediators playan important role in helping with civility though. As for the third point onanti-elitism, I'm not sure Larry is entirely right in his assessment on theproject, or at least that it's so clear-cut. I've been involved with disputeswhere people pull sources from all over the place, dealing with historians,philosophers, and similar sources in order to justify their positions on whatshould be in an article (e.g. is X a theocracy, is Y totalitarian, etc). I'mnot sure they consult experts directly, instead consulting their work to bolsterarguments, but I'm also not sure if that's the same thing as Larry suggests.As for his suggestion for peer reviewed versions of Wikipedia articles, it hasbeen brought up, and I think it's a good idea. It may need to be managed ina separate wiki from the main one, in order to keep those articles open formainstream edits. In sum, social changes would be helpful with Wikipedia, toremove the idea of "the newbie is always right", and to move further in thedirection of an open meritocracy (without the shame that the culture currentlyascribes to its motions so far in that direction). I wish I had met Larrywhen I was at Ohio State -- it would've been interesting. I was involved inNupedia, almost, when it was starting, but found their organization to be tooexclusive, so I do appreciate that Larry's ideas for wikipedia now are minimallyinvasive.
Of course, this being posted on Kuro5hin, a slashdot clone,there are a few people who replied who have nothing to say and want to say itloudly. Larry has a reply to some of them that's kind of interesting.
In other news,I just got back from visiting my family for new years. It was enjoyable,although I really wish my grandparents had been around. N got to meet my family,and I got a large number of things that I lacked that my parents had spares of(mainly kitchen supplies). Among the things that happened in the gift exchangewere my reciept of a 300G external USB2 hard drive. This is *very* useful --I finally don't need to worry so much about hard drive space. Hurrah!