Pat Gunn (dachte) wrote,
Pat Gunn

Distro 87

I've been bothered that some external scholarly criticism of Wikipedia and its future rings true to me (at the very least as a strong possibility). I am not convinced that projects like Wikipedia must fail, nor completely convinced that Wikipedia's is doomed, but it now seems quite likely that it's on the road to ruin. There are a few major issues:

  1. People insist on democracy, in spite of clear notices that the project is not a democracy. Very few admins have the courage to close things by arguments based on policy/good of the project and argument in spite of the numbers. Several admins stand on the side of complete democracy
  2. Rules lawyers twist our intentionally loose rules and insist that the rules be hardened and always followed, in spite of our policy of IAR. Rule of law in the hard sense is a bad idea precisely because it provides opportunities for people to do that, and makes good people with good judgement turn away from problem situations, saying "Well, you won the game, despite being abusive".
  3. Related to above, people come to hate judgement, partly because they can't manipulate it, and prefer to restructure the way things happen to avoid subjectivity. This means that the community relies on frozen, inferior notions of good sense rather than the living thing.
  4. There's little help from the few people who have the capability of standing against rabid populism and these other problems
  5. Most people on the site have never seen an encyclopedia in their life, and have no idea what they're supposed to be. They forget that there are other wikis in the world (see wikia), and that things that have no greater importance to society have plenty of other homes they can be housed on
  6. We lack the will to educate or remove people who not only misinterpret the project but have little interest in it
The community is rotting. The content is a mixed bag - on many topics, we have excellent articles. These tend to be in areas where the articles should actually exist on Wikipedia. We also have a lot of catalogue-type articles that should not exist, e.g. CD catalogs, things on toothbrushes, cookies, etc. There's then endless articles about specific episodes of TV shows, every minor comic book character, and the like. These are all defended from efforts to send them elsewhere by WikiProjects specifically to keep such junk, who regard the loss of the smallest scrap of information on Wikipedia as a great crisis.

In the past, I've advised other people who see the problems to propose fixing these things on a case-by-case basis. The mechanisms are too broken at this point for that to happen except in rare cases. We have had nobody instructing people and politely saying "no" when needed for so long that we now have every 14 year old in America using "I like it" and otherwise failing to see the big picture deciding how things are run.

Fixable? It's probably still possible. It's going to piss a lot of people off, but the alternative is to watch the project swirl the drain. Fortunately, we can fork at any time if need be, although dealing with starting a new, more sensible community that's not so populist is tricky, and the loss of the project name would be a great blow, especially if a new fork had to compete with a dying giant.

I'm not very sure of these ideas and if they're correct yet, but they've come together as an intuition. As such, I haven't actually given up yet, but I'm at least deeply concerned and wondering what to do. I can't demonise the people who are hurting the project - I don't think they have ill will -- I just think they lack the perspective on these projects that I've acquired from having been on several failed projects, and they have deep trust that democracy will always give good results. When deeply held intuitions like that lead them to harmful action, what can we do? What can I do?

Tags: wikipedia

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