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May 5, 2007

Grep that spool
Posted by Teresa at 11:57 PM *

That’s it. I hereby give up on Wikipedia. It’s doomed.

What did it was their article on Kibo. Right there at the top is a notice that says:

This article or section is not written in the formal tone expected of an encyclopedia article.
What half-educated stuffed shirt came up with that dictum? I worked for years as a literary criticism reference series editor without once hearing about yon “formal tone expected of an encyclopedia article.” The editors in our department weren’t slangy—it wouldn’t have been proper—but Wikipedia’s current article about Kibo would have been well within our standards. It’s certainly better written than most professionally produced encyclopedia entries.

Toodles, Wikipedia. You were fun while it lasted.


Classical music composer, critic, and professor Kyle Gann has written a fascinating blog post about his own experiences with Wikipedia. “The problem is that Wikipedia forces its contributors to come to a consensus, and building consensus with a crank is a fool’s errand.” Thanks to commenter Scott Spiegelberg for the link.

Graydon Saunders, in comment #40: “Google and Wikipedia have the same fundamental problem—distributed mechanisms intended to label information quality function as mechanisms of apportioning social status, at which point the incentive to hack them is functionally infinite.”

Cory Doctorow, in comment #75, makes a lengthy and thoughtful case for Wikipedia optimism.

Teresa rants, comment #89.

Andrew Gray, comment #93, gives us the view from inside Wikipedia.

And Dave Luckett writes a villanelle, comment #104.

Comments on Grep that spool:
#1 ::: Anticorium ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 12:29 AM:

In my role as a tenured professor of religion at a private university, I respectfully disagree with your opinion of Wikipedia.

#2 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 12:36 AM:

Drat. I can't top that.

#3 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 12:42 AM:

Toodles, Wikipedia. You were fun while it lasted.

You lasted far longer than I. I spent about a year on wp and gave up on it a long time ago. The lunatics run that asylum.

It's maddening because I still go to wikipedia whenever I need to read up on some unfamiliar topic, but I do so with the filter in the back of my head that says "This may, at most, only give me a list of places to start reading about the topic. This should not be read for learning about the topic itself, at least not without some external checks."

I'm amazed how the most trivial things have been blown up into massive edit wars, still. Their rules were sufficiently vague to be gamed by anyone. And some of the worst offenders were administrators.

I eventually decided it was best for my health to let the lunatics mow the grass with a paint brush and take everything I read on WP with a huge grain of salt.

#4 ::: Todd Larason ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 12:44 AM:

Azer Red added that tag. As far as I can see, sie is no more official or empowered than I am, or you are.

#5 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 12:50 AM:

Yeah? Just try and post "No, the article is fine the way it is," and see what happens.

#6 ::: Gigirose ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 01:01 AM:

I know it has it's flaws, but I've been impressed with most of the things I've looked up on Wikipedia.
I suppose my son's (high school) teachers are right when they tell them not to use that site for their research, but for a few topics I know it's the best site around. I personally encourage my students (at the alternative school) to use it, with caveats of course! What every person must learn is that NO source is 100% reliable and that we must always have some filters in place to help us separate truth from fiction. I still know many folks who think if something is in print (hardcopy) it must be true.

As for the lunatics on the site... They are just a lot more visible. I think you can gain a lot by reading the background information. How many other sites allow you a glimse of where they found their "truth".

#7 ::: Mary Robinette Kowal ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 01:08 AM:

I gave up on Wikipedia except for quick overviews after I started reading the puppetry sections (I'm a professional puppeteer by day) and they were so wildly inaccurate that it made me doubt everything else on there. What was really crazy making was when I would make a correction only to have someone change it back.

#8 ::: Darth Paradox ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 01:09 AM:

Todd@4: Technically, no. Practically? Your edits and opinions will be judged by your standing in the community, and rarely by the quality of your work, at least when it comes to contentious issues.

Generally: Most of the webcomics community has known Wikipedia was next to worthless (at least as far as pop-/internet-culture goes) for a while, now, ever since a small band of WP editors took it upon themselves to delete as many webcomic articles as they could, claiming that none of them were "notable". Their "notability" standards tend to revolve around published works - "published" as in "dead trees" - and completely ignore the possibility of reliable sources being found in an electronic format.

Without a good policy to handle Internet media and culture, Wikipedia is as antiquated as dead-tree encyclopedias. And that's not even getting into the notability cancer - the idea that, in an encyclopedia of infinite capacity, there are reasons to outright exclude vast swaths of subject matter from any consideration.

#9 ::: Nabil ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 01:19 AM:

And that's not even getting into the notability cancer - the idea that, in an encyclopedia of infinite capacity, there are reasons to outright exclude vast swaths of subject matter from any consideration.

Amen. I love the concept of Wikipedia, and I still use it for when I want to grab some quick information on a topic, but the "prune it if possible" mentality is infuriating and seems to completely contradict the original intent of the project. I've had friends who have been published, and been reviewed in multiple newspapers (actual dead-trees print, plus online), and still get deleted for "notability".

Wikipedia remains a good idea in principle, but needs a SERIOUS refresh and reset. Sadly, I'm not sure if it can really be saved... the mentality is too entrenched.

#10 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 01:25 AM:

That tag has been there for more than three months and seems to have been cordially ignored by one and all. But, yeah, Wiki culture is the one of the oddest damn combinations of idealism, nerdery, and crank enthusiasm I've come across outside of actual cults or political parties. (And for a hanger-on in science fiction fandom for nearly 40 years and a long-time computer dweeb, that's saying something.) What drives me nuts is that Wiki now seems to be a first-stop site for student research (even before Cliff Notes and the Encyclopedia Americana. I'm glad I'm not still teaching the term paper (though tracing plagiarism would be a bit easier with Google).

#11 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 01:33 AM:

Anticorium: I regard it as a pseudonym and I don't really have a problem with it. [*]

Wikipedia's main problem - even more serious than the "quantum encyclopedia" problem, as Penny Arcade called it - is that: "All editors are equal, but some are more equal than others." Criteria for more equal would include hanging around making an ass of themselves for ages, or being a friend of Jimbo Wales - but of course it would not include being a recognized authority on something. That would be elitist.

#12 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 01:37 AM:

Darth@8: Oddly enough, in some SF-related articles many of the editors seem to know *only* what's on-line--it's like pulling teeth to get anybody to look up anything in a book (though Clute & Nicholls does get some respect). My favorite Web "sources" are Amazon reader reviews and on-line bookstore blurbs.

#13 ::: David Bilek ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 01:40 AM:

Yeah, wikipedia seems to be running full tilt away from the very thing that made it such a great resource in the past. The stuff I needed wikipedia for were things I couldn't get in a normal encyclopedia; cutting edge pop culture information, quirky trivia about old 80's saturday morning cartoons, plot summaries of doorstop fantasy novels so that I don't have to reread 3000 pages before I can start the latest book.

Wikipedia used to be the place for that. But when I went yesterday to look up what happened in Erikson's "Memories of Ice" 'cause I can't remember who the heck Fanderay and Togg are and why I should care, I saw they had deleted 90% of the plot summary because wikipedia is now supposed to " contextualise the fictional nature of the work" instead of do something, you know, useful.

The great quirky stuff is exactly the sort of thing that the idiots at wikipedia are trying to get rid of. Why would they try to be just like a print encyclopedia? If I want a print encyclopedia I can look on my bookshelf.

#14 ::: Paula LIeberman ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 01:46 AM:

What, does the self-proclaimed arbiter want people to write in one of those lethal to comprehensibility (assumed one hasn't gone to sleep from sheer tedium within three sentences) turgid academic prose styles? I have a piece of information for that person, turgid academic prose is bad writing! That's the dirty secret, all those articles written in the passive voice, are in the passive voice because the writers can't write well or are getting forced into writing abominable prose, and either the editors are lousy at grammar and editing to make something readable, or have inflated inane views regarding what appropriate writing styles are!

During the 1970s and some of the 1980s there were pushes in the US Government to get people to use clear, comprehensible language in their writing, and stop the mis- and overuse of the passive voice. The Schmuck and his associates and his Daddy's asociates, however, are the types to be/have been much more interested in obfuscation and diversions and distraction, including using the technique of writing documents that need the secret decoder roing to begin to try to figure out what the documents say and what the letter of the law has become.

#15 ::: PublicRadioVet ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 01:49 AM:

As a Wiki fan, I've always taken their links with a grain of salt. If I spot anything in a listing that looks even a little suspect, I am immediately cross referencing it through other sources.

On the balance, I'd say Wiki gets it right about 75% of the time, and they do try as best as they can to correct errors and not let bad information get in, or stay in.

#16 ::: Todd Larason ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 01:53 AM:

#5 et al: Okay, I've removed the tag and added a comment to that effect to the talk page. We'll see what happens.

Maybe I'm just being overly optimistic because I've been immersed in Conservapedia for the past few months, and in comparison at least WP is a haven of rationality and due process.

#17 ::: Michael R. Bernstein ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 01:56 AM:

Greg @ #3: "This may, at most, only give me a list of places to start reading about the topic. This should not be read for learning about the topic itself, at least not without some external checks."

Umm, that's basically true of any tertiary source of information. ie. all encyclopedias.

#18 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 02:08 AM:

My favorite snarky Wikipedia quote of the day, courtesy of my girlfriend: "This isn't from Wikipedia; it's from something even less reliable." Try learning their editorial standards from their "help", sometime--big on general principles, short on specifics, which made life really interesting when I wondered if middle initials in biographical article titles got periods. Their citation macros are equally wonderful--my favorite, so far, is "cite journal", which doesn't allow for a publisher, let alone a location. And then there's the Theosophical Society... Hey, Anticorium! What's the history of the term "theosophy"? Aside from the Theosophical Society, about which I can find entirely too much on Wikipedia. (Well, I looked up "mahatma" and--ack! phhht! aaaaagh!)

(And if you are wondering about that middle initial, the answer is that customary practice is to use a period, but the general rule is no punctuation in article titles. Good luck finding the period in the help.)

#19 ::: Anticorium ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 02:21 AM:

Hey, Anticorium! What's the history of the term "theosophy"?

It is, of course, derived from theosoft, the philosophical study of the universe as the product of a computer program.

And while we're sharing moments, I'd have to say that my favorite Wikipedia moment was when they started lecturing danah boyd that she didn't know how to spell her own name.

#20 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 02:33 AM:

Anticorum, #19. Phfffbt! LOL! (Really. And my girlfriend, too.) Danah Boyd--oh, dear.

#21 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 03:23 AM:

The core problem that Wikipedia has or will have with "notability" is searching. Hard drive space is getting cheaper (though not as cheap for 24/7 terabyte reliability), but organising the data is non-trivial.

Wikipedia-tech, done well, gets around a lot of the search problem by cross-referencing. But I find it easier to start my search on Google.

And if you can avoid the Whackopediaists, requests for clarification do get answered. But, like any other open internet resource, the loonies tend to take over.

rec.arts.sf.fandom is nothing like as good as it once was. There are painfully few people posting worthwhile stuff. You know, things like actually engaguing in conversation. And there are long-established regulars, such as David Friedman and Mark Atwood, whose postings have become politicised to the point of tedium.

And maybe American politics is part of the problem. We've talked about astroturfing and the other tricks of media manipulation that appear to be the dominant mode of action of one political faction in the USA. I can't believe that it's just a coincidence that the politicisation of these people's posting habits has nothing to do with the bugfuck crazy, devil-take-the-hindmost, fundamentally un-Christ-like, thinking of those who control the Republican Party.

Of course, I'm biased too. Under their apparent model of society, I and the rest of my immediate family would be dead and bankrupt, several times over.

Which is getting a long way from Wikipedia, but it all seems part of the who shouts loudest pattern of decision making, and somebody keeps re-wring the connections between amplifiers and loudspeakers.

#22 ::: Jonathan versen ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 03:36 AM:

Teresa, I really think you're wrong to give up on wikipedia. I don't know how to persuade you. the formal tone edit is obviously not the product of an anonymous "drive-by" editor, because you have to know the coding to produce the tag.

Nevertheless, part of the wiki "ethic", such as it is, is if you see something wrong, instead of griping, take responsibility and fix it.(the tag has since been removed, though not by me. It was already gone when I got there.)It's easy to cast aspersions and insist on a fairly rigid wall between the authority and the audience.

I remember Billmon's last post(Dec 2006) at the much-missed Whiskey Bar in which he referenced various posts of his 2002-2006 regarding the Iraq war and insisted the reason he was far more right about the likely outcome of the war and the occupation than the experts were was not because he was necessarily smarter but because of his diligence in making the effort to educate himself and his willing to follow his paths of inquiry to where they led. Obviously I paraphrase.

But I think you know my point. Wikipedia has been slammed a lot, mainly by respectable op-ed types who are threatened by the ramifications of the wiki idea, that a collective call to the commons, and the belief that most people will act with good will when given an opportunity to contribute to the common good, just might produce something more valuable, or comprably valuable when compared to the traditional wares offered with arguments by authority. (If anything, I think the formal tone tag has come to be precisely because of wiki's critics.)

And as far as the noteability tag goes, the moment you suspend this, managing an already massive database (and bandwidth bill) will become exponentially harder, and wikipedia could well morph into a wikipedia-myspace hybrid prone to "wikibombing" that will make searches incredibly problematic.

One of the reasons for the formal tone tag, obviously, is there are some atrocious articles out there in wiki land. (Browse the articles on pop stars, especially younger ones, for a concentration of these.) The formal tone tag allows experienced editors to search specifially for tagged articles quickly, and correct them (or detag them.)

Wikipedia has lots of problems, but it's still an incredibly valuable resource, and far more readily searchable than a print encyclopedia. Take Gigirose's point about the relative transperancy of wikipedia, letting you know where they got their info(well,in the better, properly written articles.)

Then there's Paula LIeberman's point that academic prose is often bad writing. Absolutely-- but I don't think the best articles on wiki are like that. David Bilek says that if he wants a print encyclopedia he'll go to his bookshelf. Well, wikipedia also empowers poor people who don't have access to a public library, if they have web access. Regular encyclopedias are expensive, and you don't need me to tell you about how relentless the drive is in this country to defund public libraries.

Your point about writing "the article is fine the way it is" is undoubtedly valid. But some people are just jerks.

(Incidentally, there's also a new development by some ex-wikipedians called Citizendium. For my part I wish them both well.)

And yes, if this were a wiki article, someone would immediately criticize its length. Guess I got carried away-- sorry.

#23 ::: Joe McMahon ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 03:36 AM:

I feel a filk coming on:

Grep that spool
Perl will be your tool
Find your name
Binaries and flames

When your name comes along
You must post there
ROT-13'd or reversed
You must post there

I'll stop now.

#24 ::: Alter S. Reiss ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 06:37 AM:

The thing about wikipedia is not so much that it's wrong, though it often is, it's that it's wrong with such confidence. I was willing to deal with that when there was a sense of fun to the thing; now, it's lost the humor, but retained the flaws.

I think part of why wikipedia gets that tone of unjustified confidence is the way that stupid articles get numerous layers of cosmetic edits, which make them look less stupid, without actually improving the content. Wikipedia's insistance on print sources magnifies that effect -- people might be willing to track down online sources when cleaning up an article, but aren't going to have the time or energy to track down books, many of which might be hard to find or non-existant.

I realize that I'm blathering at great length on an only tangentially related subject, but it's something that's been on my mind, and hey -- tangentially related is the best kind of related.

To continue blathering:

Before I started this, I thought to myself, "hey, wikipedia isn't very good on archaeology; let's see if I can find a bad article or two as an example." The first thing I looked for -- Blanche Garde -- doesn't actually have a page on wikipedia. The second -- Terra Sigillata -- has an article flawed in exactly the way I described earlier.

It's reasonable to redirect Terra Sigillata to Samian Ware, as it does tend to get called that in English.

A cursory google with the term "Eastern terra sigillata" will demonstrate that the idea that Terra Sigillata was first made in the first century AD is profoundly stupid. It also didn't originate in Arrezio -- terra sigillata probably first appeared in Pergamon some time before 180 BCE. The timeline given for terra sigillata in the article is a lot closer to that of African red slip ware, though that continues on until around the seventh century, if I'm not mistaken. And it doesn't appear outside of Africa in any great quantities until the second or third centuries.

It's interesting to watch the history of the article. In some cases, the flagrantly wrong assertions tend to be introduced in edits with poor grammar and ideosyncratic word choices, but those get smoothed away, leaving only the wrong information behind. In other cases, there's a bunch of reasonably correct information included with the stupidity.

In short, when you're trying to do serious research, you're much better served starting with google. There'll be clues in the sites you find that tell you how seriously you should take assertions made. On the other hand, if you want episode capsules of the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon from the 1970s, wikipedia is the place to go. At least for now; the current climate in wikipedia indicates that they'll be taking that stuff out sooner or later.

#25 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 06:40 AM:

8 and 9: yeah, that's what I've heard, too. Rampant deletion of articles has made wikipedia ridiculous. I heard they got rid of the "In ur base killing ur doodz" article... If they can't cover an internet phenomenon as consequential as that, they're a pretty piss-poor online encyclopedia. And I hear that anything female/feminist-associated has to be constantly defended from deletion.

Convinces me to skip learning the syntax and not bother adding stuff. What a waste of potential to worry more about wikipedia becoming a "facebook" site than about it becoming an inbred backbiting backwater. Using the technical problem of "potentially troubled search" to cover for the social problem of "pompous blinder-wearing jerks"... Sheesh.

#26 ::: Scott Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 07:39 AM:

Darth Paradox at (8) wrote -
And that's not even getting into the notability cancer - the idea that, in an encyclopedia of infinite capacity, there are reasons to outright exclude vast swaths of subject matter from any consideration.

So say we all.

This appears to be a somewhat more recent thing - there have been a great number of AFD (Article For Deletion) requests in various topics recently (Webcomics, various non-canon/semi-canon aspects of fandom, pornography...) based on "notability" that seem spurious at best.

A good chunk of this seems to be axe-grinding, and/or some midguided sense of seeking respectability. But... if I want respectability, I'll go grab an encyclopedia off the wall. Wikipedia is where I go, most often, to either double-check some fact I already know, get an idea of where to go for more information, or look up something that won't be easy to find elsewhere, especially in print media.*

So I want Wikipedia to reference not just Megatokyo and Girl Genius, but The Whiteboard and Erfworld as well.

Yes, I understand that you run into scalability issues with Very Large Databases - but wikipedia is going to run into that anyways with any sort of reasonable amount of information - and the same with bandwidth. Reaching the limits of the technology is going to be inevitable anyways (especially given wikipedia's dislike for larger articles, preferring to split pages off into sub-topics - the anime fate/stay has generated a couple of dozen pages all on its own, between character pages, series pages, etc.).

Like Google, wikipedia is going to be a constantly growing thing, and I think the administrators need to acknowledge and plan for this, rather than trying to delete articles that aren't "notable" (except when they are an obvious case of googlebombing, etc. - but "in ur base, killin ur doodz"" may be silly - even stupid (most 4chan/SA memes are, at their base, a little silly and/or stupid) - but it's also culturally significant, at least onlline - and therefore should have a page on wikipedia.) - mainly because what's "notable" is so incredibly subjective (and so prone to bias - of course pages about porn stars aren't notable - to someone who dislikes or hates pornography).

*try finding out more about some porn starlet someone references, without ending up in a maze of porn redirector sites, all alike (it's dark in there - you could get eaten by a malware) - yes, IAFD exists, but the information there is strictly facts-and-numbers - height, weight, a photo, a website, and a list of titles.

#27 ::: Doug Burbidge ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 07:45 AM:

#24: "The thing about wikipedia is not so much that it's wrong, though it often is, it's that it's wrong with such confidence."

This, I assert, is a problem with many sources, particularly computer-generated ones. I discovered it when following a set of driving directions generated by, oh, MapQuest, MapBlast, one of those. It created for me a set of driving directions, which when I was driving down the road diverged from reality in a way that had not been apparent when I was sitting at my computer printing them.

Subsequently I've seen the phenomenon several times in widely divergent places on the internet, including in MSDN: inherent clues that you could use to estimate the accuracy of the material are absent or are different to the point of being unrecognisable to the casual user.

#7 mentions the experience of correcting an article only to have those corrections reverted, and this is not the first time I have heard this complaint. Wikipedia is a clever idea in that it allows rapid creation of content by a large number of people, but it's so different from more traditional editing processes that it has bugs they don't: there is no mechanism to give preference to the input of people who know what they are talking about. Citizendium is an attempt to fix this problem -- I don't think it will be a successful fix, but I'm glad that there are people out there continuing to experiment with a concept that I think fundamentally has value.

#28 ::: SKapusniak ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 08:06 AM:
This article or section is not written in the formal tone expected of an encyclopedia article.

Aha, I recognise that one! It's straight out of the 'Cargo Cultists Corporate Management Handbook'.

- Real (Important, serious, big!) Organisations do X.
- Therefore we must do X, firmly disregarding whether its actually useful or helpful, or even relevant to us.
- Thus proving we (irrelevant, small, amateurs) are TOO a Real Organisation!

I joined my current employer very near the beginning, and that sort of thing was pretty much the epitome of the company culture back in the day. I suspect it might be a known hazard of startups where the founders are drawn from a big companies middle-management and their higher ranked engineering or technical people. It took years for that sort of thing to die down to the general background level of occasional stupid, rather than being an elephant in the room of an unstated guiding principle of operation.

#29 ::: G. Jules ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 08:35 AM:

From #22: Nevertheless, part of the wiki "ethic", such as it is, is if you see something wrong, instead of griping, take responsibility and fix it.

I've heard this argument before, and I have to say, in the case of Wikipedia, I find that argument facile.

Here's a particular situation I ran into. There's a biography of a great-uncle of mine on Wikipedia. Nobody seems to have raised any questions re: notability, so that wasn't my problem. My problem was the three mysterious sisters the article mentioned -- sisters who would be my great-aunts. I don't have any great-aunts.

The Wikipedian ethos for biographies seems to be that people close to a biographical subject are suspect. Do I have a print source for my lack of great-aunts? No. Can I link somewhere? No. I can tell people I'm his great-niece, but that'd just lead to people telling me I'm unqualified to edit the article, because I'm too close to the subject.

Similarly, the article about what I do for a living is a joke -- anyone who actually works in the field would choke if I showed it to them. (Come to think of it, it may turn into my new Don't Trust Wikipedia example for trainings.) And when I look in the discussion, I see people arguing over why the bullshit, inaccurate information needs to be included.

Why not take responsibility for editing a Wikipedia article?

Because people will edit it back, and put in all the errors you took out.

Because taking the time to edit the errors out of one deeply-flawed article written about my field won't fix the other thousand. Or the hundreds of thousands of flawed articles about other fields.

Because there's no way for me to say "No, really, I do this for a living." and get taken seriously.

Because life is too fckng short to spend locked in endless Wikipedia edit wars.

#30 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 08:50 AM:

On the one hand, I wish for a proper bibliography article on Wikipedia. On the other hand, I fear getting an incorrect one that I'm not allowed to edit.

In the end, it's a safer bet not to be on Wikipedia at all. :-(

#31 ::: John F ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 09:15 AM:

Eh, I enjoy Wikipedia. It's quick and semi-accurate information about the world that gives me a good place to start if I want to seriously learn about something, or which can be interesting if I'm just noodling about.

#32 ::: Robin Z ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 09:16 AM:

I knew Wikipedia was broken when I found people deleting hundreds of articles a day.

It's a great idea, and it's useful, but there aren't enough hours in the day to both know something and convince Wikipedia to include it.

#33 ::: Scott Spiegelberg ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 09:37 AM:

Composer (and former Village Voice music critic) Kyle Gann has had similar problems and came to the same conclusion as TNH.

#34 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 09:44 AM:

G. Jules's #29 pretty much encompasses what I would say to Jonathan Versen's #22.

I do in fact believe that, on balance, "most people will act with good will when given an opportunity to contribute to the common good". The problem with Wikipedia isn't this is incorrect, it's that its creators and managers have made a bunch of bad social engineering decisions which actively discourage "most people" who might be interested in helping to build Wikipedia from doing so. If I had a nickel for every intelligent person I know who's tried to contribute to Wikipedia and been brushed away by Wikipedia's toxic culture of hall monitors and parking-lot lawyers, I'd have a jar of nickels.

Telling us "no, please stay" doesn't cut it. G. Jules is exactly right: for most people, life is too short to waste it in these sorts of arguments. The design of Wikipedia relies far too much on the sort of lengthily-repeated iterative processes that work fine for software but which wear human beings out. Wikipedia's tag line is "The online encyclopedia that anyone can edit." To be truthful, it should read "The online encyclopedia that anyone can edit if they're willing to engage in unending trial by combat against a cadre of creepy, unblinking ideologues who all seem to know and support one another."

Robin Z's #32 sums it up perfectly: "There aren't enough hours in the day to both know something and convince Wikipedia to include it." This is a fundamental design flaw which cannot be fixed with tweaks. The moral isn't that we need to revert to a knowledge aristocracy of "experts" and plebes. The moral is that Wikipedia's specific design choices resulted in the creation of an empowered class of unpleasant and energetic ignoramuses who actively drive most other people away. Now those of us who care about "open culture" need to learn from that.

#35 ::: Mike Kozlowski ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 09:45 AM:

There's a lot of sausage-making in Wikipedia, sure, but I still find it the most useful site on the web for looking up information, easily beating out the increasingly-worthless Google.

If Wikipedia is doomed because there are a bunch of officious assholes involved in it, then every open-source software project ever is also doomed. Also just about every other product of human endeavor, if we account for the officious assholes being invisible to the public.

#36 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 09:46 AM:

(And if the latest twist of Wikipedia culture really is going to be the elimination of broad swathes of pop culture and internet-meme stuff on grounds of "notability," that really will be the end of its usefulness for me and a lot of other people. Because that stuff is the one thing we do use it, and praise it, for.)

#37 ::: Sam Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 09:54 AM:

I don't do Wikipedia edits, partly for the same reasons others have cited - not wanting to face edit wars or a lack of community status - and partly because I only ever go there when I'm looking something up, and I can't shift out of 'researcher' mode and into 'presenter' mode. Well, not and keep the flow of what I was doing.

If I go to look something up in an encyclopaedia, I want to find it, have a reasonable idea of its accuracy or lack thereof (and the fact that something's included in Wikipedia, or indeed isn't, is usually a good piece of metadata), and take it away with me. I don't want to be told that being interested in that piece of information makes me responsible for it.

Fundamentally, I'm not interested in Wikipedia as a project, a community, a tool, or indeed anything else except metadata for the information in it. For that matter, I'm not interested in the Encyclopaedia Britannica in those ways, either, but at least they aren't trying to tell me that I've bought into their project by opening the shrinkwrap.

#38 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 10:01 AM:

Mike Kozlowski, with all due respect, I think the specific way your analogy is flawed illustrates exactly how the smart people who set up Wikipedia wound up making their particular set of dumb decisions.

Open-source software projects suffer from a certain amount of wear and tear on the humans involved because so many people in open-source software have defective social skills. This is a known and widely-discussed problem in the open-source world. But at the end of the day, most software design and implementation decisions can be shown to either work or not. There's a level of practical reality that can be appealed to. (Yes there is. I know all the caveats to this generalization. Stop snickering. Okay, snicker.)

This isn't the case with Wikipedia. For many of these disputes, there can literally be no end. Inevitably, the result is that people with anything else to do with their lives depart, leaving Wikipedia in the hands of the people who know and care about nothing except the perfect, autistic fulfillment of Wikipedia procedure. We're not even talking about the famous "edit wars" over topics that are controversial in the non-Wikipedia world--Israel vs. Palestine, the divinity of Jesus Christ, the military service of George W. Bush. We're talking about the sort of thing covered in that brilliant Kyle Gann post linked from #33.

How did Wikipedia get there? It got there because its implementers thought like Mike Kozlowski is thinking: this sort of iterative back-and-forth works in software development, so it ought to work in refining publicly-generated Wiki-based encyclopedia content into something strong and true. And sometimes it does. But more and more often, instead of refined steel, you get exhausted human beings and a toxic waste dump full of clumps of low-grade iron ore. Because sufficiently lengthy iterative back-and-forths with no appeal to practical functionality, no point at which something can be demonstrated to "work well enough," wear human beings out.

#39 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 10:06 AM:

I just noticed that "formal tone" tag this morning on a different article and it gave me the creeps. It seems like Wikipedia's success has gone to its collective head, and it wants to be a real, corporate encyclopedia. Except without pesky academic creds.

I like corporate encyclopedias...I've got Encarta on my PC and I may get a Britannica subscription. I grew up with the World Book on a shelf outside the family bathroom (handy!). But Wikipedia was supposed to be an alternative to all that. Sigh.

#40 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 10:08 AM:

#35 Mike Kozlowski

Open Source software has to compile. This is a tolerably effective bullshit check. (As is the question of whether or not someone will, of their own free will, use the stuff...)

Google and Wikipedia have the same fundamental problem -- distributed mechanisms intended to label information quality function as mechanisms of apportioning social status, at which point the incentive to hack them is functionally infinite.

#41 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 10:19 AM:

I stopped taking Wikipedia's view of "notability" seriously when Fandom Wank was declared "not notable" largely on the impetus of a person known at as "she who must not be wanked."

#42 ::: Mike Kozlowski ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 10:28 AM:

Patrick: I'm not saying it's necessarily a great social model, and I suspect that there's a lot they could do to make it better from a contributor's perspective. But from the perspective of someone who types "wp whatever" in their URL bar, it's an amazingly helpful and invaluable tool, and you don't have to get involved as a contributor, so can ignore all the contentious politics.

The open source software comparison is in that if you just download Firefox or Ubuntu or whatever, it'll seem like a relatively smooth and useful piece of software -- but if you hang around the parts where people are actually writing it, you'll see tons of controversies and bitchfests and whatever else.

Yeah, Wikipedia would be better off if they could get more (good) people to contribute (good) edits; but as it stands now, it's still useful, so I guess they have enough good people making enough good edits.

#43 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 10:33 AM:

Apologies for the long, rambling post that follows, but a lot of people have said things that I think need expanding on or explaining in-depth. I'm not a Wikipedia apologist. But I do think people might see it in a different light when they understand the issues in more depth.


As a regular Wikipedia editor, I see a lot of the comments here and recognise the truth in them. Yes, there are a lot of editors that have peculiar ideas about how to produce an encyclopedia article. This is the big problem with Wikipedia -- people who think they know better than anyone else how the project ought to work.

I've seen people come to the conclusion that an expert on a subject should never edit an article on that subject, and cite this as if it were a wikipedia policy (it isn't, and probably never will be -- Jimbo Wales regularly edits the article on himself, for instance).

Regarding G. Jules's problem, the official answer to this is that (according to policy) you don't need a citation to remove information from the page, only to add it in. If the incorrect information is unreferenced (which is usually the case with incorrect information), remove it as unreferenced. If it is referenced, then you have somewhat more of a problem. Trying to get the publisher of the original source to issue an erratum may be the best way of fixing it. Of course most people don't have time for this, so in cases where wikipedia has copied incorrect information from elsewhere, it tends not to be fixed.

I think the key to editing wikipedia without being brushed off by existing editors is, as always, to learn the ground rules before trying to take part. Part of wikipedia's mission is that it's open for anyone to edit, but it really does fail there: you have to understand it before you edit it. I've seen this happen time and time again: an editor who knows about a topic comes in, posts information about it, and the information is deleted because the editor hasn't followed the correct process: discuss changes first, then change while providing a reference to a published source that says essentially the same thing, stick around afterwards to make sure the changes are understood and answer any objections.

Unfortunately, Patrick's right about the bias against popular culture, and particularly internet memes, at least that portion of it that's outside of "mainstream". And the reason for that is that they will delete anything that doesn't have mainstream sources. Understanding the reasoning behind this requires you to stop thinking about Wikipedia as a monolithic block and start thinking about it as what it is: an anarchy, with different parts controlled by different people, but all referring back to each others ideas as if they were gospel.

Essentially, the problem is that there are three groups.

Group #1 is concerned with the quality of information in the articles they edit. These are articles in traditional academic disciplines that have large numbers of high quality sources, so when they set up the rules for what kind of source is acceptable, they make them strict. Specifically, they rule out anything self-published.

Group #2 is trying to keep stuff that people have made up themselves out of the project. In order to do so, they decide on a test: if information about a subject has been published somewhere else, and that publication is a reliable one (i.e., one that's not going to publish something unimportant that somebody made up), then we can consider the subject important.

Group #3 considers process and consistency important, and they see that group #1 and group #2 are both making decisions based on the reliability of some publisher, so decide that the same rules must apply to both groups.

Group #1 is right for the articles that they're working on. Group #2 is right as long as they are open minded about what a reliable publisher is. Group #3 would be right if group #1 had considered all article types when setting up the rules.

The problem we have now is that Group #2 are getting stricter and more and more literalist with interpreting their own rules over time, while group #1's rules have become more and more ingrained, and there is now huge resistance to even the slightest changes to them.

Unfortunately, I'm not sure what (if anything) can be done about this. I don't think it dooms the project to the point of worthlessness, but it does restrict it in unnecessary ways.

#44 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 10:42 AM:

Patrick, what would good design decisions for Wikipedia look like?

#45 ::: Ken MacLeod ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 10:42 AM:

PNH # 34 refers to: unending trial by combat against a cadre of creepy, unblinking ideologues who all seem to know and support one another and an empowered class of unpleasant and energetic ignoramuses who actively drive most other people away.

I'm having a Usenet flashback.

#46 ::: Jonny Cache ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 10:52 AM:

Just passing on a link to The Wikipedia Review for anyone who might find it useful.

#47 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 10:54 AM:

Jules, there's another problem, by way of being the converse of the Fandom Wank one: what gets included in Wikipedia is rarely reflective of the actual real-world significance of anything.

Thirty years ago, I was in the habit of hanging out at the Anthropology Table at the Compton Union Building in Pullman. The rotating population included a few undergrads, many graduate students (mainlining coffee and scribbling furiously), and several Professors, notably Grover Krantz, Bill Lipe, and Fekri Hassan.

Grover, who was a fantastic teacher but whose academic reputation was damaged by his mischeivous attachment to Cryptozoology, has an extensive Wikipedia Article. Bill Lipe, one of the most important modern southwesternists, past president of the Society of American Anthropologists (and the guy who pressed copies of The Dispossessed on students during office visits) is listed as "Archaeologist" with no article. And the last time I checked, Fekri Hassan isn't listed at all. He shows up on the Discovery Channel with some regularity, and is the Petri Professor of Archaeology at UCL, which is like unto being the pope of Old-World Archaeologists.

People say "write the articles yourself" but I haven't seen these people for thirty years. The people who write Wikipedia biographies seem to be the fannish and grudge holders, and unless one is in a pop-culture fandom (which is how Cryptozoology functions) or too fair or too powerful (or, like my examples, pretty much both) to incite trollish grudges, one has no wikipedia footprint.

#48 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 10:55 AM:

#43: "I've seen people come to the conclusion that an expert on a subject should never edit an article on that subject, and cite this as if it were a wikipedia policy (it isn't, and probably never will be--Jimbo Wales regularly edits the article on himself, for instance)."

Whereas those of us who aren't Jimmy Wales regularly get called down if we do so much as correct a bibliographical detail in entries about us.

I've been repeatedly informed by respected Wikipedia mavens--not random cranks, but people of obvious high standing in the world of Wikipedia editors--that contributors are "strongly discouraged from editing articles about themselves, their organizations, and other topics in which they may be assumed to have a conflict." This basically means I shouldn't correct or amend articles about myself, Tor Books, Holtzbrinck/Macmillan, and any SF author published by Tor. In other words, a pretty significant chunk of the modern SF and fantasy world.

The news that Wales regularly gets away with something I'm prevented from doing does not encourage me to go back and re-read the "ground rules." (Which I did read, back when I started.) What it does is suggest to me that Wikipedia isn't just broken, it's hopelessly broken. The only solution you and other defenders ever seem to offer is "work harder to master the rules in more detail." But the rules change constantly, and the ways in which they get interpreted and implemented by the Wikipedia mob change as well. I can't keep up and also do anything other than Wikipedia. Hearing on top of this that Jimmy Wales edits his own Wikipedia biography with impunity doesn't exactly incline me to see all this in a "different light."

Yes, I know there are reasons the situation got to where it is. None of that changes the fact that Wikipedia is now an actively hostile place for knowledgeable people who simply want to add useful information to Wikipedia without comitting to emotionally-draining trial by combat. As an exemplar of "open culture," it's about as "open" as the Curia.

People wear out. I keep saying that. People wear out.

#49 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 10:56 AM:

An example of internet memes and how decisions to keep or delete them is made: the "lolcat" article was considered for deletion last week. The only thing that saved this article was the existence of the languagelog article discussing them that's currently teetering near the bottom of "sidelights". Reading the deletion discussion, I think if only Anil Dash's post on them had been mentioned, the article would have been deleted -- Dash isn't a "professional researcher" and therefore doesn't come under the only remaining exception to the "no self-published sources" rule. And this is fundamentally wrong, because in many ways, Anil Dash is actually more qualified to discuss the subject of internet memes than Mark Liberman is. But it was Liberman's post that saved the article.

#50 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 11:05 AM:

Personal story. For my sins, I am listed in Wikipedia. The entry contains my date of birth. Since my understanding of Wikipedia rules is that I am way too close to the subject of the entry to edit it -- and also, there are many things I wish to learn in my remaining years, but how to edit Wikipedia is not one of them -- I e-mailed the Powers-That-Be, politely requesting that they delete this particular piece of information. Several years ago I was a victim of identity theft. Date of birth is one of those bits of information that identity thieves find very useful.

It seems a very reasonable request to me. Let's see what happens.

#51 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 11:09 AM:

#24 Alter S. Reiss: "The thing about wikipedia is not so much that it's wrong, though it often is, it's that it's wrong with such confidence."

Really? That's my biggest problem with conventional encyclopedias: the presentation of knowledge as though it were a settled thing, not subject to debate. That's fine if you're talking about the atomic mass of lead, less fine when you're talking about the Nanjing massacre. I feel like Wikipedia's state of constant debate, if nothing else, serves as a kind of warning to the consumer: don't believe everything you read. Wikipedia has plenty of problems above and beyond other encyclopedias when it comes to inaccuracy, but at least, with its recognition of the importance of debate, it doesn't pretend to have a monopoly on the truth.

#52 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 11:14 AM:

#51 sums up what I find very attractive about Wikipedia.

#53 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 11:17 AM:

The main question I find myself using Wikipedia to answer is "Is this topic (about which I know only a little, and that from one perspective only) as simple as it looks, or does it contain unexpected controversies and other traps for the unwary?" If I go to Wikipedia and discover that the article on the topic in question is festooned with tags and warnings and "see talk pages" notes, then I can say to myself, "Okay, here there be landmines," and back quietly away.

#54 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 11:19 AM:

(22) [...] poor people who don't have access to a public library, if they have web access.

Poor people (in the US) are much more likely to have access to a public library than to have web access. Or to be precise, if they do have web access, it's likely to be at their public library. Which is also where the encyclopedias are, in print or online.

Library Journal, in its column on online information sources, has a regular feature comparing Wikipedia to Encyclopedia Britannica on a particular topic. So far, Wikipedia is winning 4-1.

#55 ::: Evan Simpson ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 11:19 AM:

It may be worth mentioning, here, that Larry Sanger (Wikipedia co-founder) is trying to make a more sane version with the unfortunately hard-to-remember name "Citizendium".

It requires participants to use their real names, and claims to respect expertise. I just sent in an email to join it, and plan to try using it instead of Wikipedia. Here's hoping it succeeds.

#56 ::: FungiFromYuggoth ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 11:38 AM:

Speaking of webcomics and Wikipedia: Cat and Girl present Those Who Forget History Are Doomed to Repeat That Joke About Repeating History.

#57 ::: Jacob Davies ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 11:49 AM:

I'm a huge Wikipedia fan, but I agree that the deletist cult and the cult of boring are things that often tend to make it worse rather than better.

As for giving up on it, that's obviously something anyone is entitled to do. I'm very much of the "If you don't like it, fix it" strain of thought, but you're not under any kind of obligation to do so, and obviously one person can't hope to turn back the tide of a more widespread change in style.

Of course, one less person doesn't help either, but that's life.

Anyway, obviously a lot of deleting and, um, bold editing has to take place for Wikipedia to remain something other than a giant vanity site, geocities with wiki tags. But unfortunately there are groups of people who've put themselves on a mission to delete everything they can get away with deleting within the current set of rules.

Last time I encountered this was in relation to the "Sadly, No" article. SN is just another 2nd or 3rd tier blog, but it's regularly linked to by Atrios and there's no real question that it exists, is notable, has some longstanding characteristics that could be described, and so on. But some self-righteous crusader had made it a mission to delete all articles related to "vanity blogs". Obviously this is something that needs doing too: the mere ability to set up a page at Blogspot doesn't mean it's worth writing an article about you (although I think the dangers of this are vastly overrated). And it's true that beyond a broad and fairly subjective description of the site there's not much to say. But there's also no question, to me, that it was a reasonably worthwhile article. But of course it was deleted.

Those rules - notability, verifiability, style, no original research - work better as guidelines than as the letter of the law. Unfortunately but perhaps inevitably, they've been taken as The Word of God and used not just to settle disputes or to improve articles, but as justification for vandalism by an odd set of eccentrics. And it is vandalism to delete information about subjects you know nothing about that nonetheless is maintained and appears accurate. At the very least, you should find a domain expert to tell you whether or not the basic information is any good.

The "watch" function is a mixed blessing too. On the one hand, in those periods when I'm active on Wikipedia (not right now, too busy) the watchlist is an excellent way to help garden some of your favourite articles. You keep an eye out for vandalism or really crazy people, you integrate new information that people have added into a standard page structure, you edit for grammar and so on. Now on the other hand, some people tend to decide that they own various articles and goddammit they will NOT brook any interference! And if your edits don't meet their liking, it's not just that you'll have an edit war; it's that unless you have an edit war every day for the rest of eternity, if they don't like your edit, it's not going to make it in. This tends to mark the end of any gains from wiki collaboration on that article.

Anyway, that kind of vandalism is deeply annoying to me and I'm right there with all the people who wish they wouldn't delete, say, detailed plot summaries of series novels and so on. I mean, who are the Demarchists again? What happened to Dan Sylveste earlier on? I like not having to re-read someone's entire output just to try to recap a character's background.

Now on some pages, especially those on subjects that are mainstream and well-verified and have plenty of interested editors - those that you might find in a paper encyclopedia, pretty much - the sourcing and verification rules have made some excellent articles with nearly everything in them sourced. So don't get me wrong, there's a lot to be said for sourcing. But the groups that insist on deleting even useful, reliable, uncontroversial information that fails to meet all the guidelines are precluding any possibility that those articles will get improved to the desired standard. (Bear in mind that all the mainstream articles started off as poorly-sourced, poorly-written junk too.) If you're a knowledgeable fan of SuperTrout Nine but you can't find any STN articles on Wikipedia, and any that are created get deleted, and so no other STN fans are around, there'll never be the critical mass of STN fans to make good articles on the subject.

Anyway, finally, one thing in particular that I find really really annoying is the proliferation of in-article editing-critique tags of the kind that started this discussion. It's one thing, maybe, to warn someone that a controversial statement of fact in a page lacks sourcing. It's another to think that the first thing everyone reading an article on Kibo needs to know is that you think the style stinks. If you want to express that opinion and help gather people for rewrites, a much less visible tag or category would be appropriate. Sadly there are plenty of people who think their editorial opinion on a given page is vastly more important than the actual content. All you can do is delete when you see it - um, if you want to, that is.

#58 ::: Jacob Davies ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 11:55 AM:

Jules posted #43 while I was composing, which makes some of the same points in a better way.

#59 ::: Janni ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 12:22 PM:

So has anyone tried deleting the troublesome notice? It may or may not stick, but you or I are as entitled to edit wikipedia as anyone else.

I actually do think it's a good--if perhaps overapplied--policy not to let folks edit pages about themselves. Presumably that policy is there to keep folks who see their wikipedia articles as merely one more piece of personal pr from editing and re-editing said articles in an effort to show themselves in the best light possible.

#60 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 12:34 PM:

Patrick nailed it. The root cause of WP's problem is an amazing consistency to make horribly bad social engineering choices.

There are plenty of "Commons" projects where people contribute. Wikipedia just set up a whole bunch of rules that reward bad behaviour. The basis for a lot of their problems is their rules reward mob behaviour. Almost every conflict resolution phase is based on popular vote. So, the way to survive in wikipedia is to accumulate a ever increasing band of allies who will vote your way when you call upon them.

Because of wikipedia's choice of rules for conflict resolution, wikipedia looks like some mutant form of Survivor Island/Soap Opera rather than any sort of reasonable community project.

You want to fix the fundamental problem with wikipedia?

Change the whole rulebase so that "Administrators" are rules enforcers only. And make it so administrators cannot edit any article on wikipedia. Anywhere. Even anonymously.

Otherwise, wikipedia admins are encouraged and rewarded to build allies. Admin Alice edits an article shes interested in about dental floss. Her buddy, Admin Bob, edits an article he is interested in about pipe wrenches. When Alice gets into a dispute with another editor on the dental floss article, she'll call in Bob to "resolve" the dispute and "enforce the rules", which means Bob will favor Alice and come to that "neutral" conclusion.

Alice will then return the favor for Bob when he gets in a dispute with some editor on the pipewrench article.

The rule is you can't admin the article you edit. But any idiot can see that it simply means you form allies, edit your article, and admin theirs.

Make admins be rules enforcers only, prohibit them from editing any articles (except obvious vandalism perhaps) and the social engineering would stop the rules from encouraging people from forming gangs to game the system.

Of course, all the admins with all the allies are the most adamant that there are no allies and there are no gangs and will likely fight such a suggestion tooth and nail. Having accumulated an army of allies to enforce whatever viewpoint they want on an article, they certainly won't want to give that up.

Those who have the largest cabal in wikipedia are the loudest to shout "there is no cabal".

#61 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 12:38 PM:

Oh, and anyone who simply suggests "if you don't like it, edit it", please read my post at #60 again.

The problem is not the content. The problem is the rules reward the mob.

#62 ::: Matt McIrvin ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 12:49 PM:

Nevertheless, part of the wiki "ethic", such as it is, is if you see something wrong, instead of griping, take responsibility and fix it.

You often can't. It may appear that you can, but you actually can't, because somebody will say that you're an interested party, or that your edit is original research or inadequately sourced, and revert the edit with enough authority to make it stick. Or, somebody will simply be more crazy-obsessive about the topic than you are, and revert the edit with sufficient persistence to make it stick. Editing the page is not the end of the problem--if you've got any significant opposition, you have to be willing to defend your changes in an edit war, and most experts don't have the time or the inclination for this kind of pissing match.

I recall that for a while there was some outright crackpot material on the "Big Bang" page (don't know if it's still there) that I entirely avoided fixing, though I had the knowledge to do so and William Connolley was trying to persuade me to get involved, simply because it looked like the guy responsible was a passionate crank who would be able to outlast and outfight me in any conflict over it. I might well have been able to whip up a consensus to protect my changes with sufficient persistence, but I had other things going on in my life.

People talk a lot about the importance of building online communities, but I increasingly think that the problem with Wikipedia is the community. It might be better off with less of one. The most and best content on Wikipedia tends to be added not by longtime contributors but by drive-by editors, often experts or semi-experts who don't even get accounts on the site, or people who have some knowledge in a given subject and dump it all in there in a burst of early enthusiasm. The community does wikification and syntactic cleanup, but it also includes pedants who delete, dilute or deprecate useful material and occasional persistent cranks who poison the content. Drive-by editors can't be bothered to fight these people, and they really shouldn't have to.

One can take this too far. The kind of deconversion experience people go through when they get disillusioned with a community often involves extreme flips in attitude--people go instantly from thinking Wikipedia is a great idea to thinking that Wikipedia must be destroyed and everyone who contributes is a sad sick person. I have friends who still edit Wikipedia a lot--I go back there occasionally myself and poke around in uncontroversial corners--and I'm not about to say that these people are doing something bad. But the site does have a lot of pathologies and doesn't seem to always learn from past efforts at dealing with the same pathologies.

#63 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 01:04 PM:

I'm another who's gotten disenchanted with Wikipedia, mostly via researching the history of asylums for a project at the end of last year.

The thing that's really hard to keep intact in any community is the active awareness that any set of rules is only a means to other ends. No sane community makes rules merely because it can, not for anything apart from game playing. But once they're there, it's so easy to take the rules as ends.

The no-self-citation rule, for instance: I would probably make it myself, because I've seen and such. But then there are experts who can and should be writing entries, like Our Hosts, many of the folks who hang out at Crooked Timber, heck, maybe even me when it comes to some parts of the hobby games industry. And I don't think you can construct any rule at all that will with a sufficiently high degree of accuracy separate me from the Time Cube guy without collateral damage. It takes some refereeing. And then you have to get referees you trust...

This comes down to social stuff, sooner or later, and being willing to say "You're a nut, and he's not." (Or vice versa.) But without other constraints, the guys (almost all guys) doing the refereeing will be the sort of monomaniacs Patrick refers to.

It's not that all of Wikipedia is a howling wasteland. It's that when it starts howling, there exist no reliable ways of quieting it down and getting it back on track, and the emphasis on rules as solutions in themselves is part of the problem rather than part fo the solution.

#64 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 01:13 PM:

I started out letting students cite Wikipedia, but starting last autumn I banned its use.

I have three reasons for this:

(1) Wikipedia is not always a reliable source, both because anyone can edit it and because the neutral point of view is frequently a problem (this requires, for example, that the views of a Holocaust denier be given the same weight as that of a serious historian, or that of a survivor of the death camps).

(2)Given the volatility of Wikipedia, information that's there one day can vanish the next.

(3) Too many students are using Wikipedia instead of doing actual research and reading (even on material where they have an assigned text, and it is inexpensive).

To my surprise, I still have students who cite Wikipedia, and who get upset when I mark them down for it.

#65 ::: Alter S. Reiss ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 01:25 PM:

Heresiarch @51: The problem I have is that the format of wikipedia gives articles that haven't had much in the way of input borrow the authority of better articles. They're on the same page, they're in the same format, they've often been cleaned up by the same copy-editors.

It's that format that gives them an undeserved confidence, or at least, that gives them the appearence of confidence. And, at least in the field of archaeology, there's an awful lot of absolute gibberish borrowing what authority that wikipedia has; I challenge anyone with a working knowledge of the field to spot fewer than three hilarious, glaring errors in the Bronze Age entry -- hell, there are at least two whoppers in the sentence, "The precious copper was also imported by sea routes to the great kingdom of Mesopotamia."

#66 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 01:54 PM:

Personal story update (see post #50): I got a very pleasant e-mail within three hours of my original request. They have removed the item I asked them to remove. They warn me, however, that it may be put back in.

#67 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 02:17 PM:

While I was composing, others (particularly Patrick) have sung pretty much the same tune, but here it is in a related key. Wiki is subject to a kind of Gresham's-Law degradation of sense and civility: a small proportion of cranks, loonies, and the merely stubbornly uninformed (suffering from what the Church called "invincible ignorance" when I was a sprat) can drive out the moderate, well-informed, and diligent. Go look at the Science Fiction talk page for an example of one oddball's success at soaking up the energies of the majority. And I know that spillover feuds from real and virtual elsewheres (involving more participants) chased some people away from the Jack Vance article.

Ken MacLeod@45: "Usenet flashback," oh aye. And "back" isn't all that far, either. EZBoard and other forum-hosting operations suffer from the same pathologies.

#68 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 03:36 PM:

I've participated in two Wikipedia cleanups -- both just cleaning up typoes, basically.

#69 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 03:54 PM:

Todd Larson @16, it's now 14 hours later, and the tag is still gone. No complaints on the discussion page either.

#70 ::: Chuck J ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 04:10 PM:

I must be confused as to what it means to "give up on Wikipedia," whether it means not use the site at all, or just not treat it as an authoritative encyclopedia. Because it sounds like Greg London perfectly summed it up way back in comment 3:

"It's maddening because I still go to wikipedia whenever I need to read up on some unfamiliar topic, but I do so with the filter in the back of my head that says 'This may, at most, only give me a list of places to start reading about the topic. This should not be read for learning about the topic itself, at least not without some external checks.'"

Which is good advice for any general reference work, right? I don't know how things are in academia today, but at least when I was in high school over 15 years ago, we were forbidden from citing encyclopedias as a research source.

So what are people expecting from an online version, that casts the net even wider and takes pride in the fact that anybody can edit it? Is anyone other than lazy high school students really expecting it to be an authoritative compendium of all human knowledge? If so, they should be put in charge of the entry on unfounded optimism.

Once I stopped getting frustrated at the sloppy writing and the depressingly exhaustive entries on completely non-notable topics, I was able to appreciate wikipedia for what it is: Google + context. So when Russell Letson in #67 mentions Gresham's Law, I can look it up and then nod as if I understood what he's talking about. And if I needed more, authoritative information, I'd go back to Google, but now with enough context to be able to interpret the sites that Google is giving me.

If you're expecting more than that, you're going to be disappointed. But just having that context is pretty useful.

#71 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 04:21 PM:

Chuck J at #70:

I must be confused as to what it means to "give up on Wikipedia," whether it means not use the site at all, or just not treat it as an authoritative encyclopedia.

I think it means to stop editing it/contributing to it/trying to fix it.

#72 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 04:31 PM:

Aw, it's bugging me so I gotta ask, what does "grep that spool" mean? I know what grep is and and what a spool is, but not how to parse this phrase in relation to wikipedia.

#73 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 04:33 PM:

Oh, wait, now I get's a reference to the Kibo article thingy. Whew. Brain can rest now. Sorry for the density.

#74 ::: Chuck J ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 04:45 PM:

Mary Dell @ #71
I think it means to stop editing it/contributing to it/trying to fix it.
Ah. Hence all the comments about the futility of making edits that I seem to have completely overlooked. Well.

Comment 70 is under dispute because it does not meet Making Light's standards for relevance.

#75 ::: Cory Doctorow ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 05:55 PM:

I think that Jules@43 and Jacob@57 have done a really good job of explaining why this problem -- as deep, troubling, and frustrating as it is -- isn't the whole story, and isn't fatal.

My view is that Wikipedia -- and much of the world -- succeeds to the extent that you Don't Let Assholes Rent Space In Your Head.

By which I mean that Wikipedia threw away all of NuPedia's strictures on editing -- intended to stop bad people from doing bad things -- and replaced them with a set of systems designed to reward good people who do good things. The outcome was, to my mind, unalloyed good -- the first giant rush of Wikipedia articles was like watching entropy run backwards -- almost spooky.

Wikipedia's main defensive mechanism against bad people doing bad things seems to me to be not having a set of rules, but rather having a group of people who have a common goal and a stake in the project who work to further their common goal. They use large amounts of transparency to make it easy to migrate from "user" to "participant," depending on your commitment and interest.

One strategy of this "soft security" is to co-opt trolls and bad actors, to coax from them their best behaviors and make them part of the project. This is a good strategy, but it means that people who aren't very good at making peace and cooperating end up with some social authority that they can use to become pseudo-official Parking Lot Nazis.

I think that the recent crackdown on pop-culture material and the emphasis on citation come under the category of letting assholes rent space in your head. The people who poo-pooed Wikipedia as unserious, un-encylcopedic, and doomed to failure have gotten under the skin of some Wikipedians, so much so that they are attacking the thing that makes Wikipedia greatest -- its expansiveness and its ability to solve debates by finding common ground. It's like an allergic reaction, the immune system attacking the body.

But I don't think it's surprising or fatal that some defensive mechanisms will overshoot their mark. Wikipedia culture has changed a lot since its inception, moving towards and away from institutionalism and authoritarianism, creating new technological solutions to fights (for example, semi-locking pages as a way of creating a more free version of the locked pages), and forming and abandoning new procedures for resolving conflicts.

An example is the smoothing away Alter@24 references. The finely honed, efficient means by which Wikipedia assimilates and professionalizes content by casual contributors was an evolutionary innovation that made it easier for people to contribute to Wikipedia. This mechanism makes it unnecessary to steep yourself in Wikipedia formatting conventions before adding some text -- you can just drop it in there and a Wikipedian of more depth will come by shortly and fix it.

And as Alter notes, this, too, requires a defensive mechanism, because it means that it will often mindlessly make silk purses from sow's ears. The current mania for citations and deletions is, IMO, an attempt to correct for this problem. It's not a good strategy, but I also think it won't be the last strategy that Wikipedia emerges to cope with this.

Complaining about Wikipedia can help. As the current backlash against pop culture topics demonstrates, Wikipedians are sensitive to criticism about the project. But complaining is slow and indirect.

A more direct way of making change is to participate in the less-visible negotiations about Wikipedia. We tend to think of the main action in Wikipedia editorial as being on the article pages, or possibly on the talk pages. But the meaty stuff is deeper in the smoffy bowels where people have the long, sometimes dull, very time-consuming debates about what's going on up there on the surface. These are public, or semi-public, but participating in them requires a lot more participation than most of us can afford to get into (myself included).

But Wikipedia doesn't require that we *all* participate in order for all of us to reap its benefits. Some brave and reasonable people will carry the torch for this inside Wikipedia, and they will find Wikipedia filled with other brave and reasonable people who just haven't made these issues their priorities. But these people can be counted upon to make common cause, because they're not the co-opted trolls, they're the people who co-opted the trolls.

You can see this for yourself in microcosm. When some officious prick on Wikipedia reverts your entry and cites some regulation, thrash it out in the Discuss page. A lot of the Elder Gods have tripwires that go off when Discuss pages have sustained thrashes. My own experience was that when they show up and make peace, it works -- it arrives at an equitable solution that we can all agree is reasonable, even if it's not ideal.

I know that this requires effort that isn't within the scope of the energy that many casual Wikipedia contributors have to donate to the project, and I'm not suggesting that everyone should have to do it always. I'm just saying that this is a good way to see the Wikipedia conflict resolution system -- the one that produced astonishingly great entries on controversial subjects like Israel/Palestine -- in full swing.

Three other things I want to mention:

1. Editing your own bio. Jimmy Wales edits his bio. So do I. We both get shit from Wikipedians for it, and we both argue about it with them. Two widely adopted creeds for Wikipedia are "don't be a dick" and "there are no rules" -- which means, basically, "we, the community members of good will, don't have a codifiable code of conduct, but we are willing to work together to resolve conduct that disrupts the project we've all roughly agreed we want to do together." So Jimmy doesn't "get away with" editing his bio, he just does it. The biggest advantage he has over Patrick in doing this isn't that he can abuse his position to overrule dissenters, but rather that he has devoted his life to forming rough consensus with these people, while Patrick (reasonably) only wants to fix a mistake, not join a commune.

2. While the inclusion of the "tone" notice on the Kibo post is ridiculous and qualifies (to my mind) as vandalism, the notices themselves are incredibly powerful. Doyle@53 is on the mark here. These same bodies are buried in every single reference work, but you never see a NYT article that says, "Three people in the newsroom thought that this was a really biased presentation of the facts." I'd read the NYT a *lot* more if it did include those notices. The point of a reference work should be to tell you enough to make up your own mind, and pointing out the landmines is a great help in accomplishing this.

3. I'm not sure what I would do about the printed citation problem. I understand its reasoning: if someone comes along and says, "Uri Geller designed the logo for *NSYNC:

(to pick a deliberately trivial example)

it's hard to know what to do. It's the kind of outlandish claim that just might be a quirky truth, like Hedy Lamarr inventing the core technology in cellular telephony. OTOH, it might just be garbage.

So it's reasonable to want some confirmation of this. "I was NSYNC's manager" has the same problem as "Uri Geller designed NSYNC's logo." How do you know it's true?

And even if it *is* true that the information was added by NSYNC's manager, how do we know he's not bitter and trying to screw NSYNC, or Geller, or both? I know -- this is letting assholes rent space in your head. It's letting the bad guys set an agenda that scares off the good guys.

It can lead to some pretty weird outcomes. Say someone wrote on my Wikipedia page that Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom didn't sell well and that proves that Creative Commons licensing doesn't work (this actually was written on my entry). Discussion breaks the assertion -- the fate of Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom doesn't prove or disprove Creative Commons licensing.

But this leaves the canard about D&OITMK's sales figures hanging out there. We can all agree that selling 300 copies would be bad, and selling 2,000,000 copies would be good. But what's the threshold for "selling badly?" I think it sold well -- Tor keeps going back to the presses for more copies, always a good sign, and I get royalty checks twice a year.

So say Patrick goes to Wikipedia and changes it to "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom has sold very well and pleased Doctorow's publisher, Tor Books, a great deal."

It's likely that this would be deleted in the current climate. However, if Patrick were to blog the exact same statement right here, then add the same sentence to my entry, citing his blog post, it would probably stand. It would be cited to the Tor senior editor's blog, after all -- a credible source for the assertion.

I've had this explained to me as a future-proofing mechanism. Today, in the heat of the argument, we might say, "if the senior editor at Tor says the book sold well, it's true enough for the encyclopedia." But in five years -- as Wikipedia expands and expands -- this might come into contention, and figuring out who PNH is, whether he made that edit, whether the real PNH had that account, etc, will be a major forensics exercise. But a cite to Making Light will be preserved forever (at least if the Internet Archive has anything to say about it). The forensics task is much simpler.

This makes a kind of sense to me -- but it also makes my head hurt.

In any event, I think that whatever merit this policy has, it's about to go up in a puff of smoke. Print sources are now starting to cite Wikipedia. Wikipedia can't have a policy that says that things are only true enough to appear in Wikipedia if a newspaper reporter copied them from Wikipedia and published them in the newspaper so that they can be included in Wikipedia.

#76 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 06:14 PM:

"The problem with Wikipedia, you see," he began importantly...

...sorry... that no matter how broken and awful it is, it's still valuable. I was going to write "indispensible" there, in fact. I don't think it's indispensable for everybody, but it's indispensible for me. I orient myself with Wikipedia a dozen times a day. I'm working on a project, and I've spent hours looking up historical details. Then I spend more hours verifying what I find with other sources -- but without Wikipedia, I wouldn't know what there was to verify.

I remember learning not to cite encyclopedias in school essays. But nobody ever taught me that the encyclopedia *might be wrong*, or why. If Wikipedia manages to hammer that lesson into the collective conscious -- even by magnifying the problems into torrential streams of chaos -- I think we'll be ahead of the game, overall.

#77 ::: Jp ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 06:38 PM:

the first giant rush of Wikipedia articles was like watching entropy run backwards

I do think that one of the social rules that works a bit counter-productively in Wikipedia is that status tends to come from the number of edits made and to a lesser extent the number of articles edited, rather than from the amount and quality actually contributed (see Wikipedia and Aaron Swartz. It encourages the kind of trivial, meaningless edit Teresa noted on the Kibo article.

If the community were set up so that meaningful participation in a high-quality article were more prestigious than the number of edits, then a lot of the problems described would probably start healing themselves. The front-page featured articles could probably get that started by naming key contributors in the citation. But if there's a systematic problem occurring, then it's the system that has to be fixed.

#78 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 06:44 PM:

Ken @45, Russell @67,

For a recent example, just a couple of months ago Greg Egan showed up on rasfw to note a FAQ he'd written. As he doesn't participate as much as other writers do in online discussions*, I'd have wanted his appearance to be the seed of a nifty discussion.

No. As I recall, one argumentative person drove him off within a day.

People like me** didn't even have the chance to resurrect their dusty old usenet posting accounts in order to say "hi."

* from what I've seen***, for that bell curve he's on a plain with a hill hinted at off in the distance****.

** who've stopped reading usenet regularly, but who still drop by to check- from habit and irrational hope- if the magic of Old Usenet has returned. (Like early 3rd-age sailors checking to see if Numinor is back on the ocean.)

*** and as a fan I do watch for it, in a OMG!That's Him! sort of way. Darn that Usenet thread. Be like seeing him at a con, not sure what to say due to fansquee-speechlessness, and then a drunken f*lker drives him off.

**** There's a sign on the nearby road: "Paper bag hat club 5 km."

#79 ::: Chinedum Richard Ofoegbu ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 07:10 PM:

And that's why I don't use Wikipedia to research anything other than comics.

#80 ::: Andrew Gray ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 07:15 PM:

I feel guilty commenting here, because I haven't posted on ML in some years and it'll make me seem like I'm here to make kneejerk defences of Wikipedia, which is really the last thing I want to do - it'd be rude to return that way, given WP is itself one of the things that seduced me away from commenting on blogs &c. I love you people dearly and am not a wild-eyed crazy evangelist, I promise you. Herewith follows the perception from years on the coalface; I hope it serves as a useful backdrop to many of these complaints.

On wikipedia as a project:

For the past fifteen months, I've been handling the complaints email address that Lizzy mentions in #50. This is basically a giant parading cavalcade of problems, packaged up and emailed for us to deal with, fifty to a hundred a day. Any illusions as to wonderfulness go pretty fast. The interesting thing is, as Cory alludes to in #75, once one or two people with experience (and common sense, a somewhat rarer property among our administrators...) comes down on a problematic article, it tends to stabilise fast. I'm reasonably confident that the community as it exists can deal competently with any problem article individual; the problem is rolling that out further, because the people to do that don't scale - and there's always burnout.

Basically, to the extent that "Wikipedia" as a whole can be said to know anything, the core of people in the middle are bitterly aware of the vast amount of crappy behaviour going on, and quite worried about the general direction it's all going. We just don't know what to do about it. At some point, the project dropped the ball on enculturating newcomers. A failure to present good role models in the community? Communications failures? Just a spectacular explosion of success in 2005/6 that meant an influx of people we couldn't handle? We dunno. But over time, the capacity to deal with new community members diminished, and a lot of them ended up with very strange ideas of what the project was; a couple of waves down the line, there were all sorts of people, apparently members of the working community, who just had completely disconnected from the original ideas. Vast amounts of willing person-hours, wasted on some grotesque parody of a system when it could be writing an encyclopedia; somewhere the fundamental values slipped a notch between generations. ("Wikipedia is a grand experiment in online democracy and free speech" is particularly popular this week...) Online community enculturation fails to work as planned, film at 11; we've all been there, somewhere or another.

The joke floating around at the moment is that they got seduced into playing some kind of weird game, the Wikipedia MMORPG - bash a vandal! do this, do that! run a bot! level up to admin! There's a good kernel of truth to it - one of the cultural problems is "them and us", a growing tendency to percieve any external editor as more and more suspicious, and I don't need to say how utterly self-defeatingly stupid that is.

Regarding editing your own article - most of the community, if asked, doesn't care. As with so many of the proliferation of rules, it got put in place to deal with puffery by cranks and self-promoters, slowly crept in scope (it used to be "you probably shouldn't create an article, and some of us think editing it might be excessive too"...), and eventually became part of the endless game of nomic.

The problem is, most of the time, someone editing material related to them is fine and dandy, because 95% of people aren't malicious or crazy or timewasting self-promoters [re the last, we got hit by Stanek this time last year!]. It's the ones who are the latter that cause problems, and are the reason that position appeared; first it was a vague guideline, and the idiots ignored it, so it was made stronger... because people don't really realise that making rules stronger just makes life harder for those who follow them and doesn't even remotely bother those who ignore them anyway.

Unfortunately, I alluded above to Wikipedia: The MMORPG, where what you have to do is slay "vandals" and "trolls" and "sockpuppets" and so on. And, of course, what better way to gain points than to remove edits that are Against The RulesTM and Clearly Bad FaithTM?

So we have Strict Rules to deal with crazies, and a community that applies them without any actual clue, and, aaaaargh, sometimes I just want to deny it all ever existed.

I think that summarises a lot of the existing problems; a semi-dysfunctional community, without a clear goal or cultural ethos any more, trying to apply rules that objectively aren't in the best interests of an encyclopedia, for fear of anything more lax than those rules being worse.

I remain, on the whole, optomistic about the project - if I wasn't, if I didn't believe it can still achieve some good, I'd have thrown in the towel and found something else to work on. But there's just so much glaring stupidity around, masquerading as community behaviour, and we're just doing so badly at handling it...

#81 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 07:25 PM:

This give me an excuse to trot out the wise words of Douglas Adams in 1999 again:

Because the Internet is so new we still don’t really understand what it is. We mistake it for a type of publishing or broadcasting, because that’s what we’re used to. So people complain that there’s a lot of rubbish online, or that it’s dominated by Americans, or that you can’t necessarily trust what you read on the web. Imagine trying to apply any of those criticisms to what you hear on the telephone. Of course you can’t ‘trust’ what people tell you on the web anymore than you can ‘trust’ what people tell you on megaphones, postcards or in restaurants. Working out the social politics of who you can trust and why is, quite literally, what a very large part of our brain has evolved to do. For some batty reason we turn off this natural scepticism when we see things in any medium which require a lot of work or resources to work in, or in which we can’t easily answer back – like newspapers, television or granite. Hence ‘carved in stone.’ What should concern us is not that we can’t take what we read on the internet on trust – of course you can’t, it’s just people talking – but that we ever got into the dangerous habit of believing what we read in the newspapers or saw on the TV – a mistake that no one who has met an actual journalist would ever make. One of the most important things you learn from the internet is that there is no ‘them’ out there. It’s just an awful lot of ‘us’.

#82 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 07:26 PM:

Cory@75 if Patrick were to blog the exact same statement right here, then add the same sentence to my entry, citing his blog post, it would probably stand.

I suggested this when Teresa was fighting some knuckleheads on WP about disemvoweling. The odds are against you if you simply insert the truth into a WP, even if you are the person the article is about. Someone won't like it. I've seen PhD's put highly detailed and informative information into articles, only to have some knucklehead strip it out because there was no external reference to support it.

It seems weird and it seems like it should set of red flags that something is wrong with WP on a fundamental level, but if you want to put facts into WP, and you happen to be a notable source, put the info on your own website, then put it it WP and cite your website.

All that rule really does is expand the tautalogy of any statement so that it at least has to touch something outside WP, rather than be completely self referential inside WP.

It's dumb that you're not a sufficient source when you edit the article, even if you're a sufficient source if you post the same information on your own website.

Patrick should be a sufficiently notable source to post Tor's opinion of Down and Out sales. But WP rules say no. But then WP rules say if Patrick posts that exact same information on his blog, then posts it in WP, it will stick.

The fiction behind the rule is that while wikipedia can change, the internet will remain static around it. But, sometimes it's better to play stupid WP rule games than to fight some rule gamer who's got nothing better to do.

Like Patrick said, WP's conflict resolution is designed to wear people out, rather than empower them. I've seen dozens of good editors burn out before I finally gave up too.

#83 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 07:44 PM:

Cory: That works great if you really like argument and you have a lot of energy to devote to it. I don't mean that flippantly, either - the set of people who fit those criteria includes some of the best and brightest, people who are assets to their communities. But it also includes a lot of people who shouldn't be given respect or authority, ad it excludes a lot of people who don't fit one criteria or the other. It will inevitably skew toward a male technophilic middle-class-and-up opopulation of people either with jobs that allow them free time and net connectivity to pursue the exchanges or are not working because of chronic depression and the like, and so forth and so on. It would, for instance, exclude my Mom, in her late 70s and very muc not given to sustained argument with fools, who'd be an excellent source on many historical and cultural matters but wouldn't survive the editing process. It excludes both TNH and me (and a bunch of others here) when our health is slumping again. And so forth and so on.

#84 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 07:54 PM:

To a first approximation, any specific criticism of Wikipedia will be false within 24 hours of being made, *even if it was originally true*. It's that much of a moving target.

Implicit in the idea that "anyone can edit" is "some fraction of edits are ill-informed or malicious", but as long as the signal-to-noise ratio is greater than 1, you can still separate reliable information from disputed information from total crap, if you're willing to put in a little effort to do so. (Whenever I spot anything that looks odd I immediately check the history and/or talk pages. If it's important that I get something *right* I do that whether anything looks odd or not, or more likely, confirm with one or more independent sources - always a good idea regardless of what your main source is.)

For some subjects it's (IMO) a viable alternative to the stasis of traditional encyclopedias (which can't cover - at all - anything more recent than the age of their latest edition *plus* however long their review/editing process takes). It'll be years before any traditional encyclopedia has anything to say at all about the Virginia Tech shootings, for example - if they ever do; space limitations may prevent it, too.

For other subjects it's just faster than trying to grep dead trees.

Systemic problems like troll-administrator cabals take longer to fix than a simple vandal or self-important tone-whiner, though. I think part of the problem (he pontificated without detailed experience) is that the system is designed to filter out good people from bad people, not good actions from bad actions. This breaks when people are inconsistent, which is pretty darn often. The same person who makes valuable contributions to the article on knitting can be a raging troll in the article on the causes of the Civil War.

People aren't willing enough to say "Regardless of your other contributions, on this article you need to provide some verifiable sources or STFU", when it needs saying. This is likely to be several rounds of dialogue after "It seems not everyone agrees with this statement. What's your source for it?" and "I'm a senior editor with X edits, so back off, punk".

In short, it's the old arguments-from-authority problem, where "authority" means "said something useful about some other, possibly completely unrelated, subject".

#85 ::: Arwel Parry ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 07:54 PM:

Andrew Gray@80: Oh, Robert Stanek! His article got nuked last January by Jimbo Wales himself under the "Biography of Living People" policy, and now contains no sign that he ever wrote anything other than computer books. I suspect Stanek must have complained directly to Jimbo. The talk page is quite interesting - I argued that Jimbo's whitewashing was as bad as a hatchet job, but since the Seigenthaler case it looks like anything that reflects badly on someone is banned unless there are very strong published sources to back it up.

As an administrator with nearly 4000 articles on his watchlist, it's depressing watching the vandalism and general poor-quality edits that get made to many of them, but one tries to keep up the standard - and play whack-a-mole with the vandals...

Regarding deletionism, many of us are concerned that the "....for Deletion" (AfD, etc) mechanism is broken, but on the other hand about half the new articles which get created each day are instantly (well, within a day) deleted because quite simply they're crap - kids creating articles about their girlfriends, their bands, some inconsequentiality or other, and it's not surprising that some good stuff gets caught up and deleted with the rubbish. The Recent Changes patrollers don't have the time to review everything in detail as there's a tidal wave of nonsense being posted; we just have to accept that sometimes they'll make a wrong decision - they're only human after all.

#86 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 07:56 PM:

Andrew @80,

Thanks for that essay. Gives a good perspective on what seems to have become a place under siege.

One (suggestion? issue? feeling?) I have is about how you deal with the walk-up topic expert.

i.e. the woman upthread: her great uncle's wiki article claims he had sisters when he didn't. Or Cory's example of PNH, Down and Out, and Tor. Or anyone on their own article.

If you could figure out a way to welcome walk-ups to the discussion while still warning them off the article itself that'd be better than the current look and feel towards walk-ups. All you need is a (tag? method?) that's the equivalent of "your claim is being held pending citation" vs. the "you claim will be thrown away pending citation" feel the process has now.

Because if the topic-expert feels like their contribution isn't going to be immediately lost, they'll be much more likely to go out and create, or find, the needed citation.

[walks off]

#87 ::: Andrew Gray ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 08:07 PM:

Arwel@85: The Stanek story is, uh, interesting. I originally found all his crap and deleted it; one of the half-dozen accounts who were Not Stanek Or Working Together At All, Honest Guv suddenly decided the page on him ought to go too, because it suddenly wasn't praising him any more. It got kept, mostly - I think - as a "fuck you" to Stanek, which I can sympathise with entirely. I do see where Jimbo's view - that we kept it solely because we thought he was a bad person who needed punishing - is coming from, and it's arguably fair to say with detatchment that we shouldn't have been doing that. I'm not happy arguing the details of the case with him, which is why I never touched it at the time - we were factually right to produce it as was but he has the moral upper hand, I think.

(I'm tempted to mark it for deletion again, in fact - the guy is subnotable at best, and it seems the simplest solution. One less thing for us to worry about maintaining.)

#88 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 08:34 PM:

One basic implemenation change I'd like to suggest: Don't make it possible to obliterate history entirely.

I know that due to things like libel, copyright, etc., there are some versions of articles that WP can't keep. But it seems like it's increasingly common for those edits not only to disappear, but for any trace that the edit had ever been made to disappear as well.

I find this troublesome, since checking the history is one of the things readers do to get some idea of how reliable an article in its current state might be. If they see traces of a lot of recent edits that show some sort of conflict over the article, they're more likely to approach the present state with some caution. If those traces are gone, though, readers can get a false sense of how the article developed, which may affect what level of basic credence they give to it.

This isn't the only kind of deletion I don't like (I'd echo the suggestion of a number of others, for instance, for WP to embrace its inner geek and keep the various pop- and geek-culture items that may not appear in "respectable" ecyclopedias but that don't get systematically collected anywhere else.) But it's a type of deletion that concerns me.

So go ahead and put a " edit at 5 May 2006 -- not available" line in the history if the edit itself can't be kept. (On with ongoing problems, you could even resort to "73 edits from 2 May 2006 through 6 May 2006 -- not available". But don't make it appear as if those edits never existed in the first place.

#89 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 08:53 PM:

(Note: the following rant has been written off and on all afternoon. Many other comments have been posted to the thread while I was writing it. I apologize for not taking them into account.)

I passionately hate Wikipedia's policy of privileging/requiring hardcopy citations.

I've edited hardcopy reference books. In the process, I had to get close up and personal with other published reference works. It's startling to discover just how unreliable they can be. I've never quite gotten over moments like:

-- Realizing that the rule sets used to compile entries in the Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature vary considerably from entry to entry.

--Finding the Gale Research Contemporary Authors entry on "Robert Wilson" that mixes criticism and reviews of Robert Wilson, the avant-garde playwright, with criticism and reviews of Robert Anton Wilson, co-author of the Illuminatus! series.

-- Figuring out that the reason our project's undergrad researcher and bio writer was turning in seriously unreliable author biographies on medieval British writers was only partly because he didn't know to check more than one source. The encyclopedia he'd been using (in a university library reference room) was equally unreliable. The entries on those authors appeared to me to have been compiled by a very indifferent scholar who believed that one reference is enough, any reference will do (no matter how old and unscholarly), and assertions found in journal articles are as good as data taken from general reference works.

-- Learning over and over again that bibliographies can't be trusted. Twayne exercises no detectable quality control. The bibliographies in Gale Research's Contemporary Authors series are consistently unreliable. On the other hand, the equivalent publications (volumes of collected criticism on contemporary authors) from SMP's academic division are squeaky clean.

Trade nonfiction publishing is just as unreliable. Unlike magazines and newspapers, books don't have to be fact-checked by their publisher. All kinds of crap goes into print, especially when you're talking about small bottom-feeder publishing operations that go in for projects like packaging multivolume nonfiction series for the school library market. Also, now that setting up a book in print is faster, cheaper, and easier than ever before, there's effectively no check mechanism for bad data.

And yet, Wikipedia absolutely privileges hardcopy sources. The sheer stupidity of this is one of the reasons I can't cope with Wikipedia any more. There's a crying need for an encyclopedic depository for the vast amounts of data people are generating, compiling, and reworking on the internet. Some of that data is completely native to the net. But the self-important pig-ignorant dolts who are gradually taking over Wikipedia are apparently incapable of distinguishing information which can and should be verified from non-net hardcopy sources from legitimate information which can't be verified except via the net.

If you don't believe me, go to the Wikipedia entry on Mary Sue and hit the button that says "discuss". Read. Keep reading. Notice the damage being done to the entry by Wikidweebs who (1.) don't understand that the matter of Mary Sue is a legitimate, highly original, and useful body of critical theory, awareness of which has been spreading far beyond the bounds of the fanfic community; (2.) don't understand that that body of critical theory started from description and from there worked up to theory (which is a perfectly valid and in fact a rather sophisticated approach), and that if you remove the descriptions and examples of MarySueismo, the whole article will make far less sense; (3.) are either so stupid that they don't understand that critical characterizations of literary works are not objectively verifiable on the tinker-toy level, or are using "that's just your personal opinion" as an excuse to vandalize the entry and harass its contributors; (4.) are insisting that everything in the article needs supporting citations, when the whole matter of Mary Sue is only beginning to be referred to in widely scattered hardcover publications; and (5.) have neither sympathy nor respect for the critical theory or the literature and community that gave rise to it.

(If Wikidweebs are indeed going around deleting entries in wholesale lots because they're unsupported by external citations, and/or the person making the deletions either doesn't understand or doesn't care about the entries' significance, that's a terrible act of historic and scholarly vandalism.)

It's getting worse. Now we're seeing perfectly good entries penalized for "not being encyclopedic enough." Hear me now: whoever came up with that policy, and the policy requiring hardcopy citations, was no kind of scholar, researcher, or reference editor. Those are the policies of someone who worships hardcopy encyclopedias from afar because he doesn't know jack about them.

Yeah, some reference works are brilliant. I've got the 1911 Britannica shelved close enough to me right now that I could touch it with a fishing rod. It's excellent if you want to look up a subject that was understood in 1911.

Almost any reference work is going to have some very good entries. What the policymakers at Wikipedia don't understand is that they can also have entries that are pure hackwork. If you actually have to work with the information in them, you already know this. If you don't, the main thing that keeps you from seeing their failings is a painted-on layer of that lofty, turgid, word-from-Olympus monstrosity, the "encyclopedia style."

How hard is it to understand that that style is not an organic component of reference compilations? Encyclopedia style is a literary convention, not a natural property of reference books. Reference entries need to be clear, concise, and informative. A neutral voice is preferred because it doesn't get in the way of those goals. The great encyclopedias of the past were written in a style we now find rather stiff because nonfiction prose is a constantly developing technology.

None of this has anything to do with the excesses of encyclopedia style. For instance, the Kibo Wikipedia entry that started this thread is clear, concise, informative, and neutral. That's why Azer Red didn't think it sounded sufficiently encyclopedic: it's too well-written. Here's its two-sentence opening paragraph:

Kibo is the nickname, username and e-mail address of James Parry (b. July 13, 1967), a Usenetter known for his sense of humor, various surrealist net pranks, an absurdly long .signature,[1] and a machine-assisted knack for joining any thread in which his nom de guerre is mentioned (to "kiboze"). His exploits have earned him a multitude of enthusiasts, who celebrate him as the head deity of the parody religion kibology, centered on the humor newsgroup alt.religion.kibology.
Those are good sentences. If they were written in encyclopedia style, there'd be a lot more of them -- by default, one per fact -- and they'd all be simple declarative statements that failed to convey the relationships between those facts.

I've written before about the frustration of hitting the "discuss" button on a historical article, and reading a dunce explaining how he'd broken the article's formerly very effective expository structure. Why? Because it introduced its main subject, then explained various contextual elements in a way that led up to major conclusions about the main subject, then stated those conclusions. The dunce was certain that that was the wrong order. Since the article was about the main subject, the information about it should come first, even if it meant the conclusions were deprived of the context that gave them meaning.

I've also written about the frustration of being followed around Wikipedia and harassed by a talentless troll who calls himself "Will BeBack". Among his many deliberately irritating tactics is his insistence that you're not allowed to use contractions in reference entries. I edited reference books for years without ever hearing about that rule.

I decided Wikipedia was doomed when I saw the note on the Kibo entry that said, "This article or section is not written in the formal tone expected of an encyclopedia article." Question: expected by whom?

As I said, encyclopedia style is a literary convention. It's perpetuated by commercial reference publishers in part because naive and insecure purchasers find it reassuring to have an encyclopedia sound like an encyclopedia -- that is, like formal, neutral-voiced nonfiction prose that hearkens back to the Nineteenth Century. It's not an especially erudite voice, but it's good for letting the reader know that whatever erudition might consist of, they haven't got it.

Thus the answer to the question of who expects formal tone in encyclopedia entries: anxious consumers. Given that you don't have to pay to use the thing, it's a shame that the yearning for an encyclopedia that sounds like a standard (i.e., stultifying) encyclopedia should have nevertheless crept into the enterprise of Wikipedia.

I'm convinced the other reason that style gets perpetuated is because it's so useful for disguising poor research and writing. The grotesque overprivileging of encyclopedia style means that when your grossly late freelancer turns in a rubbishy, scraped-together collection of third-hand factoids unlinked by logical structure or overall understanding, you can rewrite it in that syrupy, authoritative style, and have it come out "sounding like an encyclopedia."

And mind you, that's the depraved professional version of encyclopedia style. Wikipedia's not made by professionals. What making a fetish of encyclopedia style is going to produce is Wikipedia entries written the way encyclopedia style sounds to half-wits.

I'll quit now. This comment is way too long.

#90 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 08:57 PM:

Arwel@85: As an administrator with nearly 4000 articles on his watchlist

I'll pose the question to you: What if wikipedia admins could only enforce rules and not edit articles? Or have some sort of split in functionality between cop and guy on the street.

My experience around WP was a group of admins that worked in cahoots. They didn't break any letter of any rules, but it was clear they were opererating in coordination with one another.

I don't know all the functions that admins do, but if the basic function determining whether another editor broke a rule was isolated to a group of individuals who could not edit, and all other functions were given to janitorial admins who could not make any determination about people breaking rules, then I think that would remove the cabalism around WP.

If an editor takes on this rule-determiner role, and is then forbidden from editing any articles, the method of building allies amongst admins by mutual back scratching becomes a lot more difficult.

I don't know how exactly it would be implemented, but the weakest link I see in wikipedia is the point where Administrator Alice determines that Editor Bob broke some subjective rule. That is where the system gaming among admins has evolved to the point where alliances form to the point that loyalty to an admin who blocked some editor on your page is more important than an objective determination of the rules.

There are some basic requirements needed when implementing a system that uses a Trusted Third Party to arbitrate subjective decisions. Checks and balances. And a removal of any influence that might unduly reward the Trusted Third Party to come to one decision over the other. Wikipedia seems to have failed to implement any such checks and balances and seems to have a system which rewards admin alliances.

So, maybe split the roles between (1) administrators who do janitorial work, and perhaps can edit an article to some extent, and (2) Trusted Third Parties who are the people who come in and can make a determination on even a single edit or situation that an editor broke the rules and can hand out blocks, but who are forbidden from ever editing articles.

Basically, Cops and Sanitation Engineers become two different jobs.

I've heard over and over on WP that being an Admin is supposed to be "no big deal", but usually, when suggesting that admins give up some power, they are violently opposed to it, which seems to indicate it really is about the power, and it really is a big thing.

#91 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 09:12 PM:

go to the Wikipedia entry on Mary Sue and hit the button that says "discuss".

Ah, I think I see your problem already. Runa27 says on her userpage that she writes fanfiction. My guess is, and I'd be willing to wager a whole dollar on this, is that if you investigated her fan fiction, its probably got Mary Sues galore in it. Or maybe someone told her something she wrote is a big fat Mary Sue.

What better way to improve the quality of your fan fiction than by dumbing down the definition of Mary Sue so that you don't qualify...

#92 ::: Andrew Gray ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 09:13 PM:

John@88: It used to be that if an edit was deleted, you'd still see the actual edit and summary in the page history, just be unable to access the content. (Or so I hazily recall - it was a good while ago) This worked fine... and then people started putting the crap [defamatory claims, abuse, telephone numbers... sometimes all three] in the edit summary, or even in the username, so the whole line had to go. Annoying as anything - the system was never really designed to handle selective deletion, and it shows.

I believe someone's knocking together a patch to allow for the edit summary to be deleted along with the edit, but leave the record that there had been an edit at that point; I haven't heard anything on that for a while, though.

#93 ::: Andrew Gray ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 09:15 PM:

Kathryn@86: God knows. We've toyed with some kind of "I want to flag a major issue with this article" button, but it's another of the dozens of "it'd be nice" ideas that will remain in limbo until someone works out how to make them work in a way that scales and doesn't break everything else. And even then, there's only so many technical solutions we can plaster on.

The most cautious approach, and the one we try to recommend to subjects of articles, is the discussion page - leave a note there, say who you are, explain your problems with the article, hopefully get some response from more active editors. (This can work both ways - David Langford helpfully answers queries about content on the discussion page for his biography...) Unfortunately, if this is a moderately dead article - one of the third or more not actively watched by any active editors - these comments can languish unnoticed for months... and we're no closer to fixing anything. The direct solution is email - info-en at wikimedia - which can get a little backlogged but usually works out well.

In the end, on a lot of topics, you just have to dive in and see what happens. Hopefully it will stay, or be moved to the talk page and discussed. If not... well, the anyone-can-edit system's failed again. Generally speaking, the more obscure the article the better for the drive-by expert; there's less real or percieved pressure to keep the article "clean" at all times, so any editors are more likely to leave it in with a note rather than whip it out on sight. If your topic of expertise is something big or popular or of contemporary importance, though... it's likely to get whipped out, fast. On the other hand, that generally means someone will be watching the discussion page as the last paragraph, so swings and roundabouts.

[This is an example of immediatism, the other major bugbear of community philosophy - at some point, the way people percieved the project switched from "Writing An Encyclopedia, On The Internet" to "Being An Encyclopedia, For The Internet". The latter is all well and good, and it's what most people like about the project, but it means that even pages which are no more than drafts are haunted by this urge to make them presentable, publishable... because we're an encyclopedia! today! everything must be urgent! contemporary! So we end up with things being rushed, disputes and discussions being much quicker and more acerbic than they need to be - all because people want good tomorrow, not better in a year or a decade. Myself, I've happily left arbitrary ruled lines in the middle of articles, to remind me where I'd edited up to, and not had anyone notice for months, and some of the metadata infrastructure tags that end up on articles have to be seen to be believed, so it thankfully hasn't permeated everywhere yet. There is someone fond of saying that what Wikipedia really needs is two-inch high animated "UNDER CONSTRUCTION" gifs on every page, 1997 style... that'd get the message across]

As I understand it, most major contributions from "external" (unregistered) users survive. I don't know what proportion of small corrections do, though - the problem with a culture which is so inward-looking that every outside edit looks like a possible vandal is that once people start thinking that way, they can justify percieving almost anything more complex than fixing a typo as potential vandalism. And so our vicious cycle of Utter Stupidity cycles on. If we could fix that, we'd be far better able to assimilate walk-up experts...

#94 ::: Cory Doctorow ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 09:21 PM:

JP@77 -- I think you're mistaking the first approximation for the final sum. One easy way to figure out if someone is a "Wikipedian in good standing" is to look at how many edits she's made. Similarly, you could guess at how popular an author is by counting his publications.

But in both cases, people who look beyond the surface have a means of weighting those numerical measures that is highly qualitative. And in both cases, the members in good standing, the cognoscenti, and the smofs know *exactly* what the person's contributions mean, without making recourse to the numbers. TNH knows when she sees a covering letter that lists 40 "books published," all from crummy rip-off vanity presses, that this means "-40 books published." She has Fingerspitungefuehl -- fingertip feel -- for the industry and the community.

Wikipedia's heavy hitters -- not people with high rank, but people who are widely listened to and afforded a great deal of benefit of the doubt -- have this too.

#95 ::: Alan Hamilton ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 10:03 PM:

I've often thought Wikipedia needed a "good parts" version, with links leading to pre-gutted revisions.

#96 ::: Jp ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 10:46 PM:

Cory, I accept that it's only a first approximation. But it's an easy first approximation, it's one which is actively measured, there's even essentially a high-score table for it, and I wonder if there are many who ever move beyond it.

You say that the heavy hitters have a good feel for genuine standing, but it doesn't appear to be the heavy hitters that people are complaining about. Being able to tell a PublishAmerica publication from a publication that actually means something to anyone other than PublishAmerica author is unlikely to help in an argument with a group of PublishAmerica authors.

Ugh, apologies for the overweening and probably unjustified cynicism.

#97 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 11:16 PM:

I've witnessed admins with thousands of edits operate as an alliance team to game the system. One admin made some really bad, biased edits. When those edits were opposed, they called in their posse of allies, fellow admins who claimed to be "neutral" and proceeded to "resolve" the "dispute" by making sure their fellow admin got their way.

A quick check of their history showed that these admins acted as a "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" team on many articles. One would edit, and the others would remain outside to be called in if needed.

When this behaviour was pointed out as the dispute continued to work its way up the resolution system, teh standard answer was "they have thousands of edits" with the implication that they couldn't POSSIBLY be gaming the system.

I saw a whole bunch of good editors burn out from that fiasco. So, I'm just a tad more than cynical about WP recognizing that edit counts is a first filter and that actual edit behaviour will be assessed with a unbiased eye.

The thing about social engineering is that it's like designing fail-safe systems for hardware. You design the entire system to handle bad parts. Even though you know that when you launch every part in the system will be good and checkout perfectly.

Wikipedia isn't failsafe. It only produces a good result when all the editors/admins in a conflict are good. As soon as one admin operates badly, the system fails. Very badly. Admins are a lifelong appointment. They don't need to be reelected. And the current administration should prove just how stupid of a fall-back plan the "impeachment process" is at weeding out bad parts. Alliegances are rewarded with the outcome the alliegance members want, not whatever the best outcome would be.

The folks who make the decisions as to whether a person editing an article (admin or editor) should not be able to edit any article themselves. It makes it impossible (or damn difficult) to form an allegiance to force the outcome of articles.

Admins can still do their janitorial duties, but the folks who make the call that a rule has been violated in bad faith, they need to be put into a system of checks and balances, and put in a system where they don't get rewarded by handing down unfair rulings.

#98 ::: Matt McIrvin ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 11:21 PM:

The thing that fascinates me about Teresa's criticism is that it's almost the exact opposite of the typical complaint about Wikipedia. Usually the standard complaint is that it's less authoritative than print sources and is filled with trivialities of interest to white American tech geeks (some manga gets more lines devoted to it than the Congo Civil War, etc.)

When I heard these sorts of complaints early on, it kind of bothered me that they were phrased so as to imply that it might improve Wikipedia not to beef up the article on the Congo Civil War, but to just delete all the horrible geeky stuff that was improperly getting more attention, so as to achieve somebody's idea of the right balance of emphasis.

Then, a couple of years later, I found out that people were actually starting to do that.

I suspect that part of the problem is what some other commenters have said, that the general sniping at Wikipedia-as-silly-geek-sandbox from newspapers, The Register (which has been calling all Wikipedia editors "wiki-wankers" for years), etc. got under some Wikipedians' skin and provoked this ham-fisted effort to make Wikipedia not be that, even at the cost of destroying it.

#99 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2007, 11:47 PM:

(The following idea is an outsider thought. I have no idea whether it's already been suggested and/or discussed to death in the Wikipedia world. Really, it must have been, but I'm posting it here anyhow.)

Hypothesis: Wikipedia would benefit by being turned into a gaggle of semi-autonomous fiefdoms.

Let me start at the absurdum end of that, and work backward. Many of the complaints here are of the form "Articles are being destroyed by people whose community is Wikipedia, not the article topic, and who therefore know everything about Wikipedia propriety and nothing about the topic."

What would happen if the person who *did* know about the topic had infinite free time? He'd put up a web site, all about the topic. It would be exhaustive and perfect.

What if that person had finite free time, but had lots of friends whom he more or less trusted to understand the topic? He'd put up a subject-specific wiki, open it to his community, and play moderator with some appropriate velvet/iron alloy ratio. (This is how we got Comixpedia, etc. And even Conservapedia.)

What if some other person had violently incompatible views of that topic, and a separate set of friends? We'd wind up with two wikis on that subject. They'd hate each other's guts, but neither would be able to do anything about the other.

What if all of those wikis, on all subjects, were all Wikipedia? (Yes, even Conservapedia.)

This presumes principles (and positive feedback mechanisms to support them):

- One person can't moderate an encyclopedia, but one person (or a small trusted group) can moderate a subject.

- You can't get concensus with idiots, but you can tell them to bugger off and make their own concensus. Replace "neutral point of view" with "labelled point of view".

- People gravitate towards their own kind. Give them tools to build a walled encampment and they'll all run inside. *Don't* give them tools to set fire to anybody else's camp.

- Most articles are not, really, at war with themselves. Furthermore, most articles don't care about most of the wars that exist. You're not partitioning all of Wikipedia, you're just turning small patches into multi-layer (but still small) patches.

- When the assholes outnumber you, bite your tongue and concentrate on improving your own camp. Being a majority must not mean being right, and being a minority must not mean being wrong. This hurts like hell, because so many minorities are lone crackpots and you *really want* that to mean they're wrong. Publish the statistics, sure. But make people draw their own conclusions from them. When twelve million Creationists assert themselves with a mighty roar, you're gonna have to say "Yup, there sure are a lot of them. Here's why."

#100 ::: Erin ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2007, 12:05 AM:

I'm not ready to give up on Wikipedia (as someone who has worked in reference publishing for years, I love the idea of Wikipedia), but this "tone" comment is a great example of what I've been saying for a while: online reference's ontogeny doesn't have to, and should not, recapitulate print reference's phylogeny.

What's important is that Wikipedia fulfill the FUNCTION of a reference work, not that it LOOK like a reference work. But a lot of people seem to want it to be just a reference-shaped object, because that's what they're comfortable with. It's the whole "to be rather than to seem" problem.

How do we fix this? I'm not sure. It's worth thinking about & trying, though.

#101 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2007, 12:14 AM:

[In passing, this seems worth re-"printing"]

I find the way people are taken in by the certainty of his--or any--voice discouraging. One of the signs of real knowlege is usually less, clearer, and more direct expression; many people regard voluable confidence as a reliable sign of knowlege, which it is not.

#102 ::: Rachel ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2007, 12:15 AM:

I have my own large number of very frustrating experiences being hounded out of Wikipedia by jerks with too much time and too little knowledge, but I don't feel like going into them any more. I can see the use in things like Citizendium, but I'm pessimistic about it working; Nupedia didn't.

My first useful contribution is this: I'd like to see an automatic button added to every Wikipedia page that displays, perhaps via color-coding, how actively edited the page has been recently. Probably one button for its level of activity over the past couple weeks, and one for its level of activity since it was started. Maybe a weighted combination of the two, or just a little bar graph. That would help readers to identify highly controversial articles immediately. Some people would probably try to game this somehow, but it'd still be useful to have.

My second useful contribution is this: I find it interesting how "Wiki" has come to be a nickname for Wikipedia itself. It even seems to be edging out the other main meaning of it, namely the type of webpage that anyone can edit.

Russell @ 67: My neologism for "invincible ignorance" is malignorance.

#103 ::: Matt McIrvin ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2007, 12:56 AM:

Using "Wiki" to mean Wikipedia is especially unfortunate given that one great benefit that's come out of the project is the MediaWiki software itself, which is used in most other public wiki projects.

#104 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2007, 12:56 AM:

That this is true, I wish to swear:
There's just no way you'll ever flee
The trolls. The trolls are everywhere.

A wiki article prepare
With scholarship and certainty
That this is true. I wish to swear

That learning, expertise and care
Are toys for their perversity.
The trolls, the trolls are everywhere.

Your comment, gentle, calm and fair,
Ignites a flamewar instantly.
That this is true, I wish to swear -

They love to hate. One might despair
Of hope for all humanity -
The trolls, the trolls are everywhere.

I play a game, and play it square,
Online. But trolls love griefing. See
That this is true. (I wish to swear.)

It's said the net builds bridges. Yeah,
Where trolls can build a trollery.
That this is true, I wish to swear:
The trolls, the trolls are everywhere.

#105 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2007, 02:33 AM:

#63 Bruce Baugh: "The thing that's really hard to keep intact in any community is the active awareness that any set of rules is only a means to other ends. No sane community makes rules merely because it can, not for anything apart from game playing. But once they're there, it's so easy to take the rules as ends."

That is a very wise thing. (And even game-playing rules exist to facilitate having fun.) Baugh's Law of Bureaucracy, perhaps?

#65 Alter S. Reiss: There's nothing you say about Wikipedia that isn't, according to TNH@#89, also true of other reference works.

#75 Cory Doctorow: "So say Patrick goes to Wikipedia and changes it to "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom has sold very well and pleased Doctorow's publisher, Tor Books, a great deal." It's likely that this would be deleted in the current climate. However, if Patrick were to blog the exact same statement right here, then add the same sentence to my entry, citing his blog post, it would probably stand. It would be cited to the Tor senior editor's blog, after all -- a credible source for the assertion."

I think this rule makes a lot of sense. Because Wikipedia is "a reference source anyone can edit," not "a place where anyone can author new information." If it becomes the latter, then it will instantly become dross. The entire apparatus of academia exists, basically, to guarantee that the self-proclaimed experts on any given subject actually know what they are talking about. Figuring out who deserves to be listened to and who doesn't is a hard, knock-down-drag-out, painful process and we as a society already do it reasonably well. It would be monumentally stupid for Wikipedia to try to duplicate that. Once it gets into the business of deciding who can say what about which subject, it's just gotten into the business of issuing diplomas, with all the hassles that entails.

Collating and indexing pre-existing knowledge is a far humbler goal which really can be accomplished by anyone. Anyone can pick up a book on astrophysics, check to see that it's written by someone with a degree in astrophysics, and type up a summary of key points. Or rather, it can't be done by anyone, but it can be done by an anonymous someone. It can be audited all the way back to the source without reference to the identity of the summarizer. Who does the work doesn't matter. Since anonymous editors are literally all that Wikipedia allows, the importance placed on references follows quite naturally.

All knowledge is interconnected like a web; everything relies on something else. Showing how this piece of knowledge is attached to that piece of knowledge is essential to the whole undertaking--information without context is useless. This isn't a problem that originates within Wikipedia. It's inherent to the way knowledge works.

#106 ::: SLR ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2007, 02:53 AM:

@Andrew 99:
It's actually already done to some extent.

As a member of a fandom for a number of arbitrarily unnotable musicians... I'm happy there are other wikis where I can find information about them, and squee with fannishness over trivial information there.

As a specific, Asian Pop Culture example: is FULL of stuff that would get sliced out of wikipedia with rapid and extreme prejudice, but is proper for theppn, because that's what theppn is about, even if it isn't what wikipedia is about. Whether or not wikipedia should be about that or not is a totally different question. Should wikipedia's (always-in-progress) end goal be an encyclopedia, or encyclopedic compendium of all human knowledge? Well, don't ask me, I don't know.

#107 ::: Andy ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2007, 02:56 AM:

Andrew Plotkin@99:
I think a problem with that approach is that it would probably increase the power that misinformed/ignorant/malicious people have over the content of entries, by preventing people who disagree with them or who know the subject better from being able to edit their entries. For example, there'd be nothing stopping people who were anti-vaccination from writing articles about vaccines with all manner of inaccuracies in them. While the current editing process can be frustrating and problematic, I think it would work better than allowing groups of people (or at least groups of un-credentialed people) completely free rein over a set of articles (especially their own articles.)

#108 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2007, 06:56 AM:

Dave Luckett @ #104:


#109 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2007, 07:12 AM:

Dave Luckett #104: Very good!

#110 ::: Arwel Parry ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2007, 07:46 AM:

Greg@90: I wouldn't agree with you about banning admins from writing articles, although it has to be admitted that I think most admins don't actually get to write many new articles any more - we're just too busy with the janitorial duties but we do keep an eye on articles we've edited in the past. I am however aware of the dangers of taking a proprietorial attitude to the articles I've written, and restrict myself to countering vandalism and updating articles with new facts.

A bit of background, I've been on Wikipedia since January 2003, and been an admin since the following July or August (when there were fewer than 250 admins, and getting adminship was "no big deal" - certainly I never had to jump through the hoops which they make admin candidates go through these days and which I doubt I'd get through). My particular area of specialisation is mainly confined to the UK, football, history of UK television, various historical topics, railways, stamps, coins, and banknotes. Some of those areas are pretty non-controversial, others - particular some football teams and players - attract vandals like flies to a honeypot. In my time I've created articles on obscure football teams from Luxembourg (ever heard of "F91 Dudelange"?!), eastern Europe and central Asia when they qualified for international competitions; I was an admin at the time, but would you say the articles should never have been created? Other people have since expanded the majority of those articles to be more informative than the basic stubs which I wrote, linked them to articles written in other languages (the article on Dudelange currently exists in Dutch, English, French, German, Hebrew, Letzebuergesch, and Polish), and generally made it apparent that the articles have value.

I won't deny that there may be tag-teams of admins looking after each other's interests - I myself will tend to look more kindly at an edit made by a named account I'm aware of than from some anonymous IP address, especially one that's never edited before, but I have to say that I'm more or less completely unaware of who most of the admins currently are and I've never come across them or their edits. If you do have problems with a tag-team, then please do complain to Wikpedia:Administrators' noticeboard/Incidents - but we've all seen far too many complaints from trolls and vandals claiming to have been hard done by, so please use moderate language and provide evidence of the tag match, to avoid being automatically assumed to be another troll. Three or four years ago it was possible to be familiar with the work of most of the candidates for adminship, and form an opinion of how well they'd do as admins; Wikipedia is now simply too big to do this, and when I see the list of new admins published on the Signpost it's usually the first time I've seen those user names. I certainly don't keep an eye on Requests for Adminship - life's simply too short.

#111 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2007, 09:33 AM:

If you do have problems with a tag-team, then please do complain to Wikpedia:Administrators' noticeboard/Incidents

Arwel, as you said, life is too short. Or as Patrick put it, Wikipedia is designed to wear you out. I'll just say that the issue was taken through pretty much the whole dispute resolution process to no effect. In the end, the admin allegiance team got their way with the article, the PhD who actually knew what he was talking about, and a number of editors who worked with him, did not.

#112 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2007, 10:01 AM:

The fundamental problem with the Wikipedia is twofold.

1) It assumes that everyone can edit well.

2) It insists that all editors are equal.

The first is obviously false, but it's the second problem that wrecks the idea. The two sides of the coin are that idiots are allowed to wreck articles, and good editors are forced to allow this.

Thus, good editors eventually leave. There's only so much time they have to work on the Wikipedia, and went that time is spent in edit wars and arbitration, that's time that they're not editing -- and when they lose, and are forced to accept (at best) a worse article, they lose motivation.

Never mind that a talented, knowledgeable editor in a subject is the very person least likely to have a great deal of time to spend on the Wikipedia.

#113 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2007, 10:57 AM:

One way to filter factual claims we have a lot of experience with in the world is peer-review. A major part of that is that the process of choosing referees is based on reputation in the community, the other referees can often see each others' comments with names attached, and the editor/program chair/etc. will always see the reviews associated with the reviewer's name. So, while you're reviewing a paper, you're doing it inside a community. You're anonymous to the paper's authors to avoid retaliation for bad reviews (and believe me, some reviews you get on good papers are embarrassingly dumb, despite the above process), but you're not anonymous to everyone. There's an incentive not to be seen to be any dumber or more careless or more vindictive than you have to be.

I wonder if some aspect of this could somehow be applied to Wikipedia. It would be useful to me if, when I'm reading an article on immunology in Wikipedia, I knew that:

a. A real, live immunologist had read the article, and not raised huge red flags about its accuracy.

b. He did it under his real name, so other immunologists could see the quality of his work.

I know this only works for technical articles, and it would be some level of risk for the technical reviewer who might have his ignorance or carelessness exposed. (You definitely get this writing reviews of papers for a conference or a journal.) It would limit the editing of technical articles once they'd been reviewed, though you might have a section like "breaking news" or "unverified claims" at the end for stuff that hadn't been reviewed yet.

You also have the problem that there are political/academic squabbles in many technical fields. Check out the scholarly nastiness involved in debates of sociobiology and evolutionary psychology, studies on heritability of IQ and personality, etc. Sometimes, you'll get different journals reflecting different sides of an academic squabble. It would be easy for an encyclopedia to get caught up in one side of the squabble, and (say) run with the idea that evolutionary psychology is obviously fatally flawed, or that security proofs of complicated cryptographic protocols are almost useless, or whatever.

But it's at least an example of a system that works passably well, and that might be adapted to Wikipedia.

#114 ::: Brennen Bearnes ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2007, 11:16 AM:

Apropos of Andrew Plotkin at #99, I'd like to toss in a quick pointer to wikipedia as source code / emergent trust structure, which suggests (or echoes a suggestion) that distributed version control be applied to the Wikipedia problem.

#115 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2007, 11:34 AM:

Bruce said No sane community makes rules merely because it can... That's succinct and lovely; and should be widely disseminated, especially to the members of such communities, who need to know that when their officers/representatives/neighbors begin to proliferate regulations without a clear and direct need, said leaders, etc. have gone wacko, and must be tranquilized with whatever is appropriate, scotch, kittens, long walks on the beach, and gently reminded of what they originally hoped to do in service to the community. Or fired. Whatever works.

#116 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2007, 11:59 AM:

albatross@113: He did it under his real name, so other immunologists could see the quality of his work.

Wikipedia doesn't like experts. Did I mention the story of the guy with the PhD who was squeezed out by small group of admins with a bias about an article and who were willing to let allegiances outweigh facts?

I proposed some time ago the idea that admins should be required to operate under their real name.

That gang of admins? All pseudonyms. The PhD? He worked under his real name.

Most Free/Libre/Open projects have a lot of people working under their real name. They usually don't forbid anonymity, but a lot of the people who make good, long term, contributions on those projects have no problem using their real name. Usually, there's some benefit to having your name become synonymous with your work. So, that system generally encourages and rewards good works under real names.

Wikipedia, on the other hand, has all the political influences that come with being the source of information about a topic that all people go to. So, for the politically biased troll who wants to make sure everyone reads his version of reality, it's important the article say what he wants it to say. It isn't so important that anyone know who did it. It might actually be a detriment if readers knew the treatise they're reading on Global Warming was actually written by some knucklehead who flunked out of Possum Washing school. Anonymity has many benefits on wikipedia for those who game the system. Most of them are for bad purposes.

Sure, one can argue that there are stalkers and crazy people out there and anonymity is the only defense against them, but no open community I know of is more in love with anonymity than the troll infested world of Wikipedia. And some of the worst editors I saw on wikipedia were anonymous admins.

#117 ::: Shii ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2007, 12:12 PM:

Speaking of trust and Wikipedia, I've explained why they don't go together, and how we should solve that problem, in an essay.

(Spoiler: You can't fix Wikipedia.)

#118 ::: Scott H ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2007, 12:22 PM:

Lore Sjoberg's take on Wikipedia is worth reading.

#119 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2007, 12:29 PM:

I'm not sure there's a lot of weight in choosing real names vs. pseudonyms when it comes to existing admins. A pseudonym that's been used in a particular context for long enough has effectively as much weight as a real name in that context.* If all the admins were to suddenly change their pseudonyms to their real names, the main change I can see is in an increase of internet loons stalking them IRL, and even when the admins are being idiots, I don't think any of us really want that.

Of course, when you have a professor who's published under his real name using his real name, there should be more weight attached to what he says about the field he's an expert in. This isn't because it's his "real" name; it's because it's the name his official and recognized expertise is attached to. In Wikipedia, the presumed official and recognized expertise in the field of Wikipedia management is already attached to the admin pseudonyms.

The problem here isn't a matter of real names; it's that your average Wikipedia admin isn't part of the group that can look at Joe X, Respectable Microbiologist, and go "Oh, I've seen him published in respectable journals; he knows what he's talking about!" and tell him from Bob Z, Crackpot Microbiologist, and go "That loon? Sure, he has publishing credits... in the 'trade' journals he prints in his basement. He doesn't know what he's saying." Making people use their real names is only going to be useful so long as there's some reliable way of determining authority from that name. And that requires a whole new level of selective admining for various categories, which I have no idea how to implement.

And that doesn't even begin to address the issues of making sure people using their "real name" are actually using their real name, and not just pretending to be someone else. Or disambiguating properly between Joe X the Respectable Microbiologist and Joe X the Gundam Wing expert.

* For example, the name I use here is not, legally speaking, my real name. But it's the name I've been published under. Insisting that I use my real name would mean I'd have no position of authority at all when discussing things I've published, because it would be a different name. If I use my standard pseudonym, that would be more reliable as an indicator of whether or not I know what the heck I'm talking about, within that particular context.

#120 ::: Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2007, 12:30 PM:

Dave Luckett @ 104

* Cheers, whistles, and screams of approval * You neatly make the point that we need a Billy Goat Gruff to deal with the mess. Or maybe a Super Billy Goat Gruff.

#121 ::: Christopher B. Wright ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2007, 12:33 PM:

Wikipedia is a constant source of amusement for me, and provides a seemingly endless source of material to parody.

#122 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2007, 12:34 PM:

Greg #82: It's dumb that you're not a sufficient source when you edit the article, even if you're a sufficient source if you post the same information on your own website.

The rule makes perfect sense when you consider it in light of the original reason for it: it's difficult to tell who added what information to the article. If Patrick goes and adds something about a Tor book to its article, there's no simple for somebody reading that article to see that it's Patrick who did it; whereas if he puts it up here it's easy for somebody to verify that the information is authentic, and he is who he claims to be. That's important because it allows people to check the information. The basic concept of Wikipedia (which is related to the old open-source trope of "many eyes make bugs shallow") requires people to be able to perform that check easily. If it's hard to check the accuracy of a statement, incorrect statements will be left in articles more frequently than if it's easy. It isn't a matter of wikipedia editors not being considered a valid source: it's a matter of not being able to check whether the editor is a valid source or not.

Teresa #89: I'm not sure why you believe that Wikipedia requires print sources. While it's true that there is a certain culture in Wikipedia that values print more highly than electronic sources, web sources are perfectly acceptable for most things. The only types of source that are excluded are self-published, unpublished, anonymous or "questionable" sources. Questionable sources are ones that lack editorial control or have a reputation for including false information. There are exceptions to all of these rules, including that a self-published source can be used in an article about its author (this would logically be extended to cover, for instance, the hypothetical situation Cory mentioned where Patrick posts here about Down & Out), or in a subject on which the author is an acknowledged expert (the phrasing in the policy document is "a well-known, professional researcher (scholarly or non-scholarly) in a relevant field", but this is generally interpreted broadly to include people who you wouldn't normally consider researchers. For example, on the subject of Mary Sues, I'd certainly expect that this (and your other such essays) would be considered a valid source.

#123 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2007, 12:49 PM:

Jules@122: If Patrick added some info to wikipedia about publishing, he could simply edit it a second time and insert a link that would take the reader to the diff page that shows he made the edit.

This is no more dumb than requiring Patrick to first put the information on an external page, and have Patrick put the info in wikipedia with a link to the outside page.

The difference is that if the outside URL changes, the source is lost. If Patrick points to the spot in the edit history of that article, then the information as to who made the edit is never lost.

At least not until someone does an RFD on the whole article.

But then, rule nazis will see Patrick making edits about publishing and say he's biased and shouldn't be doing that. Their solution is that Patrick put all the information on his external website, and then let the rule nazis put that information on wikipedia so they can increase their edit counts.

Really, the rule comes down to prohibiting people who know what they're talking about from contributing to wikipedia, forcing them to go outside wikipedia to make their statement, and then make it brain-dead simple enough so that some wikidweeb can do a cut and paste and get credit for an edit.

Speaking of which, the whole culture of counting edits on wikipedia should be banished.

Of course, all the morons who have accumulated 10,000 edits don't want to lose their precious status to some guy who actually knows what he's talking about but only has a dozen edits.

#124 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2007, 01:04 PM:

Jules @122: My own experience of using Wikipedia to look stuff up is that when I look on a discussion page and the edit history page, I often find arguments about edits that boil down to "I removed your material because you didn't cite a print source, and I don't care how many web sources you can cite, because only print sources count".

I also see the opposite, where people refuse to accept print sources and will only accept web sources, because it takes no more than a mouse click to go and check them, but the "only print is acceptable" attitude is very deeply entrenched on a large percentage of the pages I've seen where there was any discussion of edits and reverts.

#125 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2007, 01:52 PM:

Andy@107: No, that's what we have *now*. I want to *remove* the power of idiots over articles they disagree with, by ensuring that they can only edit the alternate article on that topic -- the one they *do* agree with.

Basically, I want to (consider the idea of) nuking Wikipedia's role as an arena in which truth is determined by concensus. It seems to do great in that role until an argument starts, and then it fails horribly and painfully. So drop it. Accept that Wikipedia will include multiple truths -- which is to say, it will include articles that you know are wrong. Does that really contradict the value of the project? Especially considering that it's a recognition of what Wikipedia *is today*, not a change to it?

Brennen@114: That is close to what I'm thinking -- except I think it's important to have a structure which is unitary *by default*, and only forks when there's a problem. *And* where the default state remains "not forked".

If the dude comes up with his better set of WW2 articles, he should *not* then be loaded down with the decision-making process of importing patches about genetic engineering and Don Imus. Nor should his server be loaded down with all those duplicate articles. His "view" (database connotation) of the whole should inherit the original.

Maybe I'm blurring together his idea (a source-control view) with his implementation (different people run their own Wikipedias). I like the idea. The implementation has terrible affordances, at least as written.

#126 ::: Bacchus ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2007, 02:01 PM:

I have read this discussion with great interest. My conclusion is that the very real problems with Wikipedia matter in varying degrees depending on what it is that you use Wikipedia for.

Take me, for example. I write blogs for a living, on a semi-narrow topic with pop culture elements. (Sex and porn.)

Sometimes when I'm writing a blog post, I want to use a word that's likely to be unfamiliar to my readers. Explaining it would be a pointless digression that borked my post. Leaving it unexplained would make the post mysterious to many. Solution? The humble hyperlink. Near as I can tell, this is the problem the web was invented to solve, before it went all Frankenstein and amazed its creators.

An example, from yesterday. I had a netloon come on my blog and complain bitterly about my chosen favicon. I believe that last sentence is (with the Wikipedia link) a better sentence than it would be if I left unexplained the obscure jargon for a bit of Microsoft-invented browser-tech.

In order to use the word "favicon" in my blog post about the netloon, I needed to hyperlink it to something. I didn't need an encyclopedia article, I just needed an explanation. The Wikipedia article serves handsomely.

And here's the key: it's almost impossible for me to imagine likely edits to that article that would destroy its value for my purpose. For this use, Wikipedia's structural problems matter little. The value of the favicon entry to me isn't in the quality of its discussion (which is currently very good) so much as in the fact that it exists and is likely to persist. And I could find it in less than ten seconds, allowing me to move on with my work.

But there is a hint in what I just said that the structural problems do still matter to me. Although I don't much care about the content of
Wikipedia articles so long as they are at least minimally informative, it's very import to me that those articles persist in that minimally useful form, so my links don't break.

I have, apparently, been burned by the developing trend of deleting pop culture articles, because I linked to the Lolcatz article awhile back. It was another case of gesturing (with a hyperlink) to a body of knowledge with which my readers might not have been familiar. And now (I understand from this thread, haven't gone back to look) my gesture has been rendered ineffective by deletion. That is a problem (for me) in a way that poor quality articles or hostility to drive-by editors is not (for me).

#127 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2007, 02:42 PM:

It just hit me.

Why should I ever cite Wikipedia as a reference on the web? Wikipedia itself explicitly rejects using such. If they don't consider web articles worthy of reference, why should I consider web articles -- including ones published on the Wikipedia -- worthy of reference.

Or, more simply -- Wikipedia has declared web resources as untrustworthy. Therefore, the Wikipedia, itself a web resource, is untrustworthy.

#129 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2007, 03:54 PM:

This print-privileging attitude must not be evenly distributed across WP--as I mentioned above, I keep running into, if not resistance to, at least ignoring of standard print reference tools, particularly in the entries connected to SF terminology and taxonomy. The problem there seems to be a preponderance of self-taught SF/literary critics reluctant to acknowledge that there's a well-developed body of work that addresses issues such as what constitutes a genre or what the label "hard SF" indicates. I keep getting flashbacks to undergrad lit classes, where I had to try to reconstruct literary theory and history from first principles for students with severely impoverished reading backgrounds. Maybe what I'm seeing is a local phenomenon rooted in SF-nerd/autodidactery as much as in Wikipedian culture.

#130 ::: Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2007, 05:14 PM:

#51: That's my biggest problem with conventional encyclopedias: the presentation of knowledge as though it were a settled thing, not subject to debate.

My two spouses are both professional writers of articles for reference works--things like Scribner's Encyclopedia of American Lives and so forth--and they have reminded me that there's a staggering amount of misinformation and just plain error in the supposedly fact-checked, supposedly refereed journals. At least when a Wikipedia entry promotes a long-disproven story about Albert Fish, it can be removed, or, better, labelled as "this is an urban legend and was disproven by Do, Re, and Me."

Maybe there's only a small chance it will survive. But there's no chance of that correction appearing in all of the paper copies of that supposedly authoritative journals.

I guess I'm just restating the appeal of Wikipedia, but man, some of the errors I've seen are beyond egregious; they're the type of errors which get through because no one cared to check.

#131 ::: Jacob Davies ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2007, 05:49 PM:

#118: My favourite part of that article is his short guide to Wikipedia terminology:

* non-notable: A subject you're not interested in.
* vandalism: An edit you didn't make.
* neutral point of view: Your point of view.

#132 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2007, 06:15 PM:

Kevin @130,

Good point.

Various types* of fact-checking have been part of my career for years, now.

Most facts survive a check, but all facts have to be checked. There's no pattern to which facts will have leaked over from nearby 'branes.

Charts that originated in journals that don't exist. Quotes about research results for research that hasn't yet been done. Data attributed to analysts where the analyst doesn't work in the field.

I'd find cases where 20 people quoted a fact, but they each were quoting each other. None linked to an original source, and I don't think that original source existed. Not in this universe, at least.

* i.e. book fact-checking where a mistake could lead to embarrassment, prospectus fact-checking where an error would lead to unfriendly inquiries from three-letter agencies.

#133 ::: Hamilton Lovecraft ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2007, 06:21 PM:

If PNH disagrees that Down and Out sold poorly, PNH should delete the sentence saying it sold poorly, without replacing it on the main page with a comment that it sold well. The "sold poorly" assertion isn't accurately sourced, right? If you anticipate that someone will argue against that deletion, explain the reason for the deletion on the talk page: "The assertion that 'Down and Out' sold poorly is unsourced and POV - removed."

#134 ::: novalis ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2007, 09:20 PM:

Andrew Plotkin, I once had a long conversation with Mako about the idea of distributed version control for Wikipedia (he was in favor, I was opposed). If you're interested in taking it somewhere, you should talk to him about it.
I think it is probably a mistake for subject experts to add material to Wikipedia. As everyone above notes, the Wikipedia process is slow and frustrating precisely because it's a democratic (in a rough, loose way) process. We rarely see academics entering politics for precisely this reason: even if you're 100% right, you still have to fight to get your way. That's the nature of political systems. The alternative for governance is called a dictatorship.

But the alternative on the web is simply to publish your own web page. If you write a good, simple, or comprehensive explanation of the subject, you'll probably get lots of Google-juice. I recently read an excellent article on Bayes's Theorem. As it turns out, it's on the first page of Google results. If I (personally) were now to start editing the Wikipedia article on Bayes's Theorem (something which is rather unlikely, as I mostly do RC-patrol), I would probably use it as a reference. Then, since my personality is of the activist type, rather than the academic/research type, I would go through whatever Wikipedia politics were necessary to get the result to stick. The guy who wrote the article wins, because he gets linked to as a source from WP. WP wins, because it's more accurate. I win, because I enjoyed kicking ass in a WP discussion. And everyone does only the piece that they enjoy.

#135 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2007, 01:51 AM:

Seems to me I got called "elitist" for saying things like this back when. Hmpf.

Graydon, #40: “Google and Wikipedia have the same fundamental problem—distributed mechanisms intended to label information quality function as mechanisms of apportioning social status, at which point the incentive to hack them is functionally infinite.” But this is also true of academe, not so? On academe, though, there's a second game; where people come through and assemble the work of the last generation into more organized form. If the view that Wikipedia is a collection of first drafts, rather than a finished encyclopedia, was widely adopted by Wikipedians, I think that might help a lot.

#136 ::: Greg Machlin ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2007, 03:08 AM:

When I was teaching a gen-ed theatre history course, I found wikipedia was useful to getting additional info on, say, Chekhov, that wasn't in the textbook's intro, just to expand on & liven up the overview I was giving my students. I also added a few touches to a few articles (Christopher Durang and Jason Robert Brown's "Parade," among others).

But I stopped trying to edit/write for wikipedia because of the article on villanelles. I'm still not sure why I looked it up.

The article was a little dry, and didn't have anything after Dylan Thomas's "Do Not Go Gently…," which, if memory serves, was written in 1951. To prove that the form was still semi-culturally relevant, I added John M. Ford's much more recent "I am the King now, and I want a sandwich," in full, linking back to this website.

A few days later I checked back. Deleted. Reason? "Possible self-promotion."

I suppose I should have been flattered. But seriously: screw you, anonymous editor. If you don't know who John M. Ford was, and don't know he's dead, and can't recognize a good villanelle when you read one--that made me angry, and very few non-Republican things make me angry. That poem was deleted by someone who didn't care about good writing (which ties into what TNH wrote in #89).

So long, wikipedia, and good riddance.

#137 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2007, 05:00 AM:

Re: priveleging of print sources to the exclusion of others. Yes, I've come across one or two people who do this, but I wouldn't say the problem is widespread and it certainly isn't official policy. I've edited probably approaching a hundred articles by now, using web sources for almost everything I've included, and as I recall I have only had _one_ objection to the unsuitability of such source (from a certain Mrk Yrk on the disemvowelling article). The problem is easy to deal with: point the editor towards the relevant policy (WP:V) and tell them that if they remove the content again you'll consider it vandalism. If they persist, mention the issue on one of the site noticeboards (e.g. WP:AN/I) and pretty quickly you'll have a team of respected editors on your side.

#138 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2007, 05:53 AM:

Kathryn@132: I'm somehow reminded of the time I went googling James Nicoll's famous "English Language" quote and discovered a whole bunch of web pages all attributing (the second sentence of) it to Booker T. Washington.

#139 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2007, 08:33 AM:

I wonder how much of the trouble Wikipedia has comes down to the difference between trying to get a stock of good articles (the part where entropy was running backwards, where I went out and edited several crypto-related articles, and thousands of other subject matter experts did the same) and trying to prevent its erosion/destruction. You surely need different rules for the first phase than for the second.

#140 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2007, 11:16 AM:

Not read the entire thread yet, so quite likely will be making points others have better, but as somebody who loves the idea of Wikipedia if not the reality, I need to say this.

For Wikipedia to progress Jimbo Wales delenda est.
Too much of it is shaped by his prejudices and concerns, one example being John Byrne whinging about a factual accurate article on him leading to a months long exercise in rebuilding his entry to make it acceptable to him and his disciples both, losing much of its information that way.

Also, the blogger speech code.

What else makes Wikipedia less interesting than it was is that the politics of it make it more rewarding for editors to play namespace, categorisation and noticability games rather than actually writing good articles. All that leads to silliness like the crusade against webcomix.

Other problems: how to recognise experts and the insistance on emulating the most stuffy of scientific magazines (citations and such). Yes, it is needed to some extent but it's going overboard now, again started from a Jimbo crusade.

And yet... I do love me wikipedia and it is the first stop I make when I want to quickly know anything about anything.

#141 ::: Daniel Boone ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2007, 12:14 PM:

Hmm, Wikipedia doomed?

Perhaps not quite.

Lately I've been telling people that email is doomed, too, dying like Usenet did under the weight of uncontrollable spam.

Yeah, Usenet's still there; yeah, some folks still use it; yeah, it's still got some utility. But most of what made it great is deader than the Dodo.

For the last year I've felt that email was going the same way. Will never disappear, but most folks will have stop using it because the noise-to-signal ratio is too high, even with the best machine-assisted spam filtering.

But, of course, the jury's still out on that one; there's more dollars at stake with email and clever anti-spam solutions are still being invented. It's a flawed giant that retains enormous utility.

The point being, the same may be true of Wikipedia. It's a flawed giant that retains enormous utility.

Its warts are oozing badly at the moment, and may be getting worse, but as folks have testified in this thread, there are still things for which it's great, or at least better than competing web resources. It may lose more and more of what made it great, and it looks never to fulfill all of its original utopian promise, but to be genuinely doomed, it has to be genuinely worthless.

Seems to me things would have to be a lot worse than they are before that were true.

#142 ::: Brennen Bearnes ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2007, 01:13 PM:

Andrew@125 - I agree that you'd not want to impose the (enormous) burden of maintaining an entire set of Wikipedia articles on domain-experts wanting to maintain their own WW2 or Anarchism or Star Trek sets or what have you.

I've thought for a while that the better role for a central Wikipedia in a world of distributed encyclopedia editing would be to aggregate an appropriate collection of changesets, rather than to serve as the One Repository of Encyclopedic Knowledge, but I admit that would introduce all sorts of technical complexity and barriers to entry.

I've had my own deeply frustrating Wikipedia moment, and it definitely left me soured on a lot of the culture there.

That said, I haven't given up on the basic project of Wikipedia. I'd like to believe that the deep problems I see are consequences of scale and structure which will eventually be addressed by forking the project all over the place. This is going to be messy as hell and painful for lots of people, but it seems necessary.

#143 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2007, 01:28 PM:

#136, Greg: to show how much I love Wikipedia, I've restored that Ford villanelle to its righful place.

#144 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2007, 01:26 AM:

Being an old dog, daunted by the learning curve, I don't understand the intricacies of how Wikipedia works, but I think I know enough about it to be adequately sceptical, and do sometimes use it.

IIUC, one of the complaints being made is that it's deleting Articles on topics that are "not sufficiently important".

Guess what? Most of the things I want to look up in WP are things that are not sufficiently important to be covered in mainstream, standard, dignified Reference Sources. WP may be standing or three legs, or seven or more, but as far as I'm concerned one of the most important ones, that has to reach the floor, is "there's something about [subject X] here, and it contains reasonably-useful information". To the extent that diminishes, WP is going to become less functional.

#145 ::: Greg ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2007, 02:43 AM:

Martin @143: You just made my day. That was lovely. Thank you.

#146 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2007, 10:32 AM:

I think Wikipedia is doomed to be a disappointment, but not doomed to be utterly useless.
In the meantime:

#147 ::: Torie ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2007, 11:10 AM:

I just went through a whole ordeal with Wikipedia over their deletion of an article I wrote on Archibald Motley, Jr. (a Harlem Renaissance painter). They deleted the entire article because of copyright violation. What? I checked the website they claimed to be the source--some random arts organization website in the Midwest--and was horrified to see my entire article, word for word. The admins accused me of jeopardizing Wikipedia legally. They threatened to ban me. They refused to believe I had written it, and were oh-so-generous about offering to let me recreate the article without "stealing" from other sites.

The best part: when I ranted to my boyfriend about this he checked the website and discovered that they had stolen their other biographies from the NYT, the Guggenheim, etc. He commented on the Deletion Review Board... and we were both banned. Why? They said he was my sockpuppet because we're on the same IP address.

That was when I gave up on Wikipedia. I did, for the record, sort everything out, get the article restored, and unban us both--but still.

My personal peeves are the Original Research Police ("You failed to cite any published academic research on the lolcats phenomenon thus your analysis must be invalid.") and the Notability Gestapo, who rampantly delete articles they don't deem important.

Wikipedia could become a collection for all human knowledge. I'm inspired by that. But the obsessive, shortsighted attempt to create a "reputable" encyclopedia, both in style and content, undermines its own efforts.

#148 ::: me ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2007, 12:08 PM:

* non-notable: A subject you're not interested in.
* vandalism: An edit you didn't make.
* neutral point of view: Your point of view.
I'll add to that list:
* original research: anything you'd rather wasn't true and think there's no source for.

These are abuses of the terms, bar the first and the last. Those two are poorly defined later additions to the rules of WP. They beg the questions:
How is notability determined?
The answer seems to be "if someone has written of it". But a) anyone can do that b) other things are considered "not notable".
This suggests to me that it needs to be broken down into several criteria with different names.

What constitutes originality?

Frankly there's little new here. The death of Wikipedia has been predicted from the beginning. First it was impossible, then impractical, then overwhelmed by the overtly disruptive, then by biased editors and the covertly disruptive, then by excessive rules. Sounds like any institution to me. And like any public institution, it's as good as we make it. Give up on the notion of a collaboratively written encyclopedia, and you may as well give up on Democracy. Some have, of course, e.g. theocrats, Lippmanites, corporatists, WATB, anarchists and sundry others. But it's best not to, IMO.

If Wikipedia were displaced by a superior system, e.g. a distributed version where all participant's contributions are presented and somehow vie for selection, we should get closer to that goal, even if the project as it now exists became defunct.

I'd also note that educated people benefit from public ignorance in the short term. If you care only about you and yours (and your class), you should work hard against Wikipedia's objective. I'm sure many do.

#149 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2007, 12:17 PM:

me, WikiPedia is working against its own objective. This thread is just pointing out that the Emperor is naked.

Spreading ignorance and misinformation among the "masses" is even worse than cutting them off from all sources of information.

#150 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2007, 12:48 PM:

#148 me:

Wikipedia gets useful articles written/edited precisely because most of us with subject matter expertise don't want to keep our knowledge from the masses. The criticism here is overwhelmingly from people who say they've had a harder time than they should have just getting their knowledge into Wikipedia, and people who've noticed information valuable to them disappearing from Wikipedia.

Do you actually see some group of educated elites trying to destroy Wikipedia? Where? Most of the educated, technical people I know and interact with are very happy to share their knowledge, since it costs little to share, and since the global effect of decreasing the value of having the knowledge is negligible at the scale of a normal person's sharing of it. I'm always struck by the willingness of people running weblogs to share deep expertise--for readily-shared technical expertise, check out Marginal Revolution, Gene Expression, Effect Measure, Mixing Memory, John Hawks's site, Emergent Chaos, Overcoming Bias, and hundreds more like them for examples. Nobody's making these guys share their knowledge, they're not generally making any money for doing so on a blog, and yet they do it. Ask an intelligent question in the comments, and you'll often be referred to a paper that deals with the question, with a link to the PDF, from a researcher in the field in question (so you don't waste your time reading crackpots or outdated results). Hell, go to Wikipedia and notice the quality of the best technical articles, all donated by people who could have been spending that time working, writing papers to improve their job/tenure prospects, playing with their kids, etc. I see zero evidence of any big move toward trying to prevent the masses to get information on the net.

#151 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2007, 01:11 PM:

I'd also note that educated people benefit from public ignorance in the short term. If you care only about you and yours (and your class), you should work hard against Wikipedia's objective. I'm sure many do.

Erm, what albatross said: show me the money.

I don't think any one has a problem with wikipedia as a concept. What real-world experience is showing is that wikipedia's particular implementation, as reflected in its system of rules, methods of dispute resolution, and so on, has created a system that rewards the tenacious editor over the correct editor, rewards the bully editor over the informed editor, and rewards the editor willing to game the system, build allegiances, and operate as if wikipedia were some sort of SurvivorIsland, over the editor who just wants to fix an article they know something about.

SurvivorIsland may be great entertainment for folks who like that sort of thing, the games, the points, the allegiances, the immunity cards, the favoritisms, the backstabbing, and whatnot. But if your goal is an accurate and complete encyclopedia, then SurvivorIsland is not the system to base your project on.

I don't have a problem with the concept of wikipedia, of a shared base of information that anyone can contribute to. I have a problem with the reality that wikipedia has become some weird, twisted kind of "Second Life", where high school kids (or adults of that maturity level) have turned the place into a system based on simple mob rule.

All the while, folks like Jimmy Wales are focusing on collecting donations and going "problem? what problem?" while giving wikipedia jobs to his friends.

#153 ::: Raven ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2007, 01:56 PM:

Teresa, if the charges on that page, and also on Peter Parker's LJ page, are true, then legal action can probably be taken against the Wikimedia Foundation; it is probably in violation of Florida law and in violation of its own charter. On the other hand, it's, well, Florida.

#154 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2007, 02:33 PM:

Admittedly, I'm not well-versed in the specific problems, but I can't help but wonder how Wikipedia would have turned out if it had been an ISOC project, managed more like how IETF is run.

I suspect it would be plagued with an entirely different but ultimately just as frustrating set of problems, but I wonder...

#155 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2007, 02:58 PM:

Will BeBack's real name.

wow. there are some names on that page that set off alarms.

#156 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2007, 05:41 PM:

Wow. There's a lot of information on that page, and while I'm sure some of it's true, a lot of it looks like pure speculation dressed up as fact to me. For instance, I spot a suggestion that SlimVirgin lives in Canada. Right. Obviously that's why she edits throughout the day -- in GMT. A lot of the argument on the page is ad hominem; who cares if a particular administrator is a transexual, a vegan or whatever? Also some of the external links blatantly misrepresent what's behind them, presumably in the hope that nobody will click them.

That was a rather thorough hatchet job.

#157 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2007, 06:28 PM:


I must have sat in on too many committee meetings with specialists and researchers. This whole thread is very familiar and none of my experience has anything to do with wikipedia.

*walks away, humming "Everything Old is New Again"*

#158 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2007, 06:59 PM:

Jules, I don't think that page is intended to be read as completely factual. The contant cussing sort of flags that it isn't just about the facts. There are some names that ring bell, though, so I'm not the only one. If you want something a little more on the fact-based flow, you can try wikitruth. The admin who claimed to be a tenured professor at a university who turned out to be a dropout, is kind of funny.

#159 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2007, 07:15 PM:

The style of that EncyclopediaDramatica page is certainly reminiscent of certain Usenet net.kook cabals. It doesn't mean that none of their complaints are valid, and some of the factual bits might be right, but I'd be very leery of any identifications they came up with.

#160 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2007, 08:21 PM:

On the other hand, the ED's claim that the average age of admins is 17 is depressingly plausible.

#161 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2007, 09:21 PM:

They have an admin gallery, which is supposedly pictures of admins. I'm starting to wonder if its time for me to start telling kids to get off my lawn, cause half those pictures look like high school or middle school kids. Of course, they don't have verifiable sources for those photos, so maybe it's all original research...

#162 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2007, 10:38 PM:

They all look like people with nothing better to do.

#163 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2007, 10:47 PM:

Greg @ 158: Yes, that's the incident that both Anticorium's #1 and my #11 were ragging on.

#164 ::: Torie ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2007, 12:50 AM:

#161 - ARGH! The jerk that deleted my article and banned me looks like he can't be more than thirteen. Sigh.

#165 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2007, 02:54 AM:

Sigh...I think Wikipedia's going to end up being about as well-regarded as the National Enquirer. I had no idea of the extent of the corruption. One thing for sure: I don't intend to contribute any more.

#166 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2007, 03:51 AM:

Greg @ #161, Torie @ #164:

It is worth noting, of course, that these are not necessarily recent pictures. It may be that there are so many high-school-aged faces only because whoever assembled the gallery found yearbook photos and the like to be a convenient resource.

(And as for the picture captioned "Katefan0"...)

#167 ::: Dan MacQueen ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2007, 08:57 AM:

Paul A. @ 166: Perhaps the admins they can find pictures of, or the admins who ED users get annoyed with or decide to criticize, also tend to be the younger ones.

I'm surprised to see ED treated here as a reliable source: in my experience, a large section of it seems to be a place for serial trolls to semi-anonymously flame and defame their internet "enemies," and not always accurately either. Perhaps I'm just saying that because they have an article insulting me for some reason.

Matthew White's page always struck me as a more reasonable critique of Wikipedia: too bad he's not updating it anymore.

#168 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2007, 11:27 PM:

I'm late to this party, and am still burried under a stack of exams I need to grade, so forgive me if this is off topic as I haven't had time to do more than skim the comments (I will come back and read them, promise -- looks like a great thread), but I wanted to just jump on my pet peeve here, an entry that was deleted from Wikipedia that I just loved, namely, the entry on fictional expletives.

Actually, a *lot* of cool, quirky, fun lists -- the sort of lists that make Wikipedia so cool -- are getting deleted. I'm close to deciding that the only protection for such neatness is being low-profile enough to not get noticed by the Formality Vandals.

Longer rant on this topic here.

Okay, exams calling --

#169 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2007, 01:16 AM:

Okay, now having read the whole thread:

1) Damn, that's a great discussion. Hat's off to the collective group.

2) It strikes me that one problem that a lot of people (including me just above) are complaining about -- namely, the deletion of useful and/or fun articles -- is only tangentally related to lots of the other problems. Or maybe I should say related at a higher level: they have a similar cause -- a dysfunctional Wikipedia community -- but work out in different ways.

Which leads me to wonder if there might not be a quick fix -- or a different fix anyway -- for the deletion problem, apart from the other (genuine) issues discussed here. (It's late and maybe I'm just not thinking this through. I certainly don't have any ideas at the moment. But it seems reasonable...)

#170 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2007, 08:03 AM:

if there might not be a quick fix -- or a different fix anyway -- for the deletion problem

It occurred to me this morning that there is a long, and well documented, history of attempts to use various metrics to measure success and progress in software projects.

Line counting is the most common one.

What has been shown, over and over again, is that line counting, and various other measures, are almost always gamed by programmers once their performance review, and therefore raise, are a function of how many lines they wrote in the last 12 months.

And wikipedia's culture is built up around how many edits you have.

If your edit count is too low, you'll never get adminship. If your edit count is too low, your opinion is brushed aside and replaced by that of editors who have tens of thousands of edits. There are editors, and admins too, who have regular bursts of edit activity where they will perform hundreds/thousands of edits in hours. Not quality edits, mind you, just minor edits that rearrange word order, and so on.

And the thing is that wikipedia is prone to the same problems that comes with attempting to equate quality with quantity as any software type project has.

Of course, in a culture that rewards the people with the most edits with the most powerful positions, suggestions that the measure should be removed won't get very far. The people at the top of the heap won't want to give up their seats.

And it's these very same top-of-heap people who make the final call in whether an article is deleted or not, so I don't know if there's a way to fix the deletion problem without fixing the underlying heap problem.

#171 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2007, 12:09 PM:

Perhaps we need to introduce the idea of bugs and bug metrics into Wikipedia?

#172 ::: Alex von Thorn ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2007, 03:44 PM:

Wikipedia isn't doomed; it shows up very high in Google page-rank algorithms and people are going to refer to it. What it needs are reliable sources. People like Teresa who can speak with authority should post their comments on sites that allow authors to be cited; these can act as authoritative sources that Wikipedia editors can cite.

#173 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2007, 06:47 PM:

It was a long time ago (I went away for a weekend and have been catching up on ML for a week), and has nothing to do with anything, but Mary Aileen at #54 said Poor people (in the US) are much more likely to have access to a public library than to have web access. Or to be precise, if they do have web access, it's likely to be at their public library. Which is also where the encyclopedias are, in print or online.

In Providence over the past five or so years, there has been a concerted campaign by the directing board of the Providence Public Library to make it as difficult as possible for poor people to access the libraries. Not relevant to anything here, but goddamn it makes me angry and you made me think of it, so I'm mentioning it.

#174 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2007, 08:47 PM:

"Wikipedia isn't doomed..."

Neither is the National Enquirer.

"People like Teresa who can speak with authority should post their comments on sites that allow authors to be cited"

Publish somewhere else and then we can use you for cites as long as we feel like it? Ick! But even if we allow the ick to pass, who is supposed to pay for maintianing those cites into the indefinite future? And what is to say that those sites will have better integrity than Wikipedia?

#175 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2007, 08:54 PM:

I can see Wikipedia's point. If Teresa posts something based on her knowledge, expertise, etc. then it can be referenced by an anonymous editor, and a third party can see who made the claim. If she, acting as an anonymous editor on Wikipedia, made the same statement, a third party would have no way of knowing the source or measuring its credibility.

Of course, Wikipedia still suffers from the problem of Truth By Majority or the like. At least Usenet left everybody's words there for everybody else to see and judge.

#176 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2007, 09:19 PM:

ethan @ 173

a concerted campaign by the directing board of the Providence Public Library to make it as difficult as possible for poor people to access the libraries

There's at least one school which teaches public administration majors that public libraries are frills, because only students need libraries, and they can use the ones at school. It makes me want them to be haunted by Ben F. for oh, a couple of hundred years. At least. (Every place I've used a library, it seems to be least used by the higher-income groups.)

#177 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2007, 09:35 PM:

PJ Evans #176: Holy crap, that's evil. I'm not sure if it's more or less evil than a library's own board of directors being its own worst enemy, but it's evil.

#178 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2007, 09:57 PM:

ethan @ 177

I could tell you stories about the then-city manager where I was living in TX. He was one of those public admin people. (He managed to get the local fire department ticked at him, too, to the point where if there'd been a fire at his place, they'd likely have had a call on the other side of town. And I wouldn't have been surprised if they'd set it.) The library board tried some, and the Friends did their best with the annual book sale - they can get a few thousand dollars from it - but the city council bought his 'budget cutting' line for years. (He'd put stuff in just so he could take it out and claim it was a cut.)

#179 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2007, 10:30 PM:

I have friends living in Jackson County, Oregon -- their public libraries closed April 6. No money. Here in Contra Costa County, CA, I use three local public library branches all the time, and they are always chock full of people.

#180 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2007, 10:56 PM:

The thing about the libraries here is that they do have money, lots of it...and the Board wants to keep it all for their greedy-ass selves. They keep claiming to be in the middle of a budget crisis, to which their response is to not raise funds and decline, that's right, decline, city money and donations. At community meetings, if you ask them about it, they literally say nothing. As in, they look at you for a bit, then look at someone else, and say, "You had a question?"

I don't remember the specific numbers, but it's something like two out of the twenty or so Board members actually have library cards. That's also about as many as live in the city whose library they're running.

#181 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2007, 11:29 PM:

How painful, and boggling. My local library has the name "Carnegie" slapped on it, so I know at least part of its funding is from a private bequest; I also known from their literature that this isn't all their funding, and so they need to raise money other ways. But they have good hours (seven days a week!), excellent facilities, helpful staff, and they're part of a network of libraries across the city that can get me books from any branch within a few days.

If it weren't for the library, I'd get a lot less reading done, and I'm vaguely middle class with plenty of disposable income. Where do they expect people with less money to get their books? Or do they just not care?

#182 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2007, 04:23 AM:

ethan et alia,

You guys are scaring me.

The founders of my new employers (a search system marketed primarily to libraries) believe quite strongly that Google and the internet are dangerously susceptible to control by big corporate (who can afford to game the results and take down competing information), and that libraries are the last, best hope of an informed democracy. They've even written a book about it*.

Ironically, though I only half bought it when I first heard this line of thinking, this thread is persuading me of the value of their line of thinking.

* Which gave me a chance to talk about lulu, Atlantic Nights, and bookbinding** in my very wide-ranging second interview.

** They like polymaths and practical jokers.

#183 ::: Zarquon ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2007, 05:23 AM:

What Wikipedia needs is a global killfile.

#184 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2007, 08:19 AM:

abi @ 182... my new employers (a search system marketed primarily to libraries) believe Google and the internet are dangerously susceptible to control by big corporate (...) and that libraries are the last, best hope of an informed democracy.

It sounds like 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 ARE with us.

#185 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2007, 08:30 AM:

(152) The Encyclopedia Dramatica is a parody encyclopedia, but I suspect the citation of Will BeBack's actual name was real. I'm trying not to find too much significance in the fact that I now can't access that link, or that entry in the ED, or the ED itself. Wish I'd recorded his real name, ---------- [something], in the text of my link.

#186 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2007, 09:10 AM:

Coming from well outside the debate:

What people are describing do indeed seem to be largely structural problems, likely "created" by the surge Andrew at #80 describes. That is, the pre-existing structure strained and buckled under the influx -- this is reflected by what he describes as problems with "enculturating" the newcomers. Wikipedia is hardly the only forum to discover that an order-of-magnitude change of scale can seriously screw with their prior assumptions about "how people act"!

Many of the proposals sound pretty workable, but the key point is to go over the whole system in the light of what you've learned from the Wikipedia experience, and then build something that tries to answer the problems while keeping the good parts.

Indeed, a few people have tried launching their own "competition". Maybe those will work, maybe not... in any case, the attempts represent an evolutionary process! Eventually one of those will "work better" -- and much of the information from Wikipedia will "fly" over to the new space. in "Internet time". While the honchos at WP might be ticked off at that, it'll mostly be a good thing....

Oh, and I like being able to look up pop-culture things (bands, cartoons, movies) on the Web. if WP proper doesn't want to deal with such "vulgar stuff", perhaps it's time for someone to start a PopWiki....

#187 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2007, 10:26 AM:

Wish I'd recorded his real name, ---------- [something], in the text of my link.

It was something like -----------------------------, which I took to be a parody conjugation of "to -----". But there are people with strange names, so, who knows.

Odd that the site is completely down, though.

#188 ::: Jim T ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2007, 01:07 PM:


#189 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2007, 01:58 PM:

ED has been complaining for some time about their server's unreliability and soliciting funds for an upgrade.

Being mentioned here might have pushed them over the edge. Who knows?

#190 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2007, 03:29 PM:

ethan @ 180

A petition to require the board members have valid library cards or live in the area it serves? A letters-to-editors campaign pointing out that most of the library board doesn't live in the area the library serves, doesn't have cards from the library they claim to be running, and refuses to either spend money it says the library has or accept money from outside for library purposes?

Sometimes I think there are people here who really want most of us to be functionally illiterate and untravelled. And they don't understand that it won't make them happy. (I sometimes also suspect they may really be from some other universe.)

#191 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2007, 05:06 PM:

PJ Evans #190: All that and more has been done. It just makes the board dig their heels in even more.

abi #182: That line of reasoning sounds pretty sensible to me, really. And that book looks interesting (and so does your new job).

#192 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2007, 05:47 PM:

OK, I'm going to go edit a Wikipedia page.

I may be some time.

#193 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2007, 06:10 PM:

ethan, how did they get into those jobs (appointed, elected, inherited from someone)? if there's no way to get them out by showing them to the public as shortsighted mismanagers, what other (reasonably legal) recourse might be available? (I'm sure there are people who have considered the less legal options.)

#194 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2007, 08:08 PM:

P J Evans @ 193

(I'm sure there are people who have considered the less legal options.)

Library Ninjas?

#195 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2007, 08:21 PM:


Usually when someone fights that hard to stay in a tiny bureaucratic pocket like a library board it's for one of two reasons:

1) They're control freaks who need some sort of authority to feel right about the world, and aren't competent enough or ruthless enough to find it higher on the greasy pole. I call this the "PTA Effect". Anyone who's spent time in PTA meetings or neighborhood associations will know why.

2) They're tapping the till.

1) is hard to deal with, as long as they are clean from a political corruption standpoint. This is where my previous suggestion of ninjas may be your best bet.

In the case of 2), what you need is a wizard investigative reporter, and perhaps a forensic accountant. Follow the money, and publicize where it goes. When the fan finally clears out, at least some of them will be gone, and some decent people can run for the empty positions. Note: this isn't a quick fix. It can take years. We have a sheriff here in the Portland area who's been giving out overtime pay like candy to his friends for years, and it's public knowledge, and he still gets elected. But his margin keeps getting smaller; they'll* get him out yet.

* He's not in my county, so I don't get to vote against him.

#196 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2007, 12:45 AM:

I don't know if this helps. Here are Google search results for "encyclopedia dramatica" and "will beback" -- are any of the cached pages the one that was linked (they don't have the same name, but I can imagine reasons for that).

Here's the Wikipedia Knowledge Dump, where some of the deleted articles go. Not all, I guess. I suppose some of them get deleted from here, too.

I added a line to the H. Allen Smith entry in Wikipedia a while back. It's still there. I referred to a book! (Interestingly, the article mentions that he wrote Mr. Klein's Kampf, which I have, just after a book he wrote in 1939, then later says that Rhubarb was his first novel. Kampf reads like a novel to me, but the same claim is made in other places as well. Am I missing something?)

#197 ::: Individ-ewe-al ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2007, 05:15 AM:

I think part of the problem with Wikipedia is that people confuse the Wiki technology with the site itself. Thus, it is diminshed by the bad reputation of Encyclopedia Dramatica and similar prank projects. I know rather a lot of people who refuse to believe anything that Wikipedia says, precisely because someone made a childish attack on them in ED, and reverted their edit when they tried to deal with this. Therefore Wikipedia must be a bunch of moronic and pointless bullies too.

That confusion is certainly not the whole problem with Wikipedia! And here the good reputation of Wikipedia seems to be lending a measure of authority to a site no-one would waste 10 seconds on if it were hosted by, say, LiveJournal. (The reason it isn't is mainly that LJ won't put up with that sort of personally abusive stuff on their servers.) But the point of Wiki is that it's not much more difficult to set up and run than a blog. That low entry barrier is both a strength and a weakness.

#198 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2007, 06:34 AM:

Individ-ewe-al, I've never been confused by the existence of the Encyclopedia Dramatica, nor has its unreliability been hard to spot.

#199 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2007, 09:44 AM:

Dave Bell #192: I see you're channelling Captain Oates.

#200 ::: Todd Larason ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2007, 02:27 PM:

#185, re: ED reliability

The same page (or another version of the same page) made two specific claims about another sysop, Ed Poor, both of which I've since been able to verify through his own statements & edits, once I knew what to look for.

#5 etc.

My edit to [[Kibo]] has now survived a week; there was one response on the talk-page, essentially agreeing with Teresa's initial post.

As valid as the problems discussed above are (and I don't dispute that most or all of them are valid), I'm not ready to give up on WP.

From the it-could-be-worse dept, in the same week on Conservapedia:
- a statement from Rudy Giuliani was placed on the front page as an example of a 'liberal falsehood of the day'
- Richard Nixon was removed from the [[Deceit]] page because...well, because he was a Republican, I think.
- Jack Abramoff wasn't added to the [[Deceit]] page because he wasn't really a conservative(?), plus it's not like he committed fraud or something (my pointing out that 'fraud' is in fact one of the three crimes he pled guilty to has not been addressed)
- a user was banned after not responding 'correctly' to the challenge "Tea: Do you enjoy it? I like Oolong best of all! Now explain yourself."
- a user was warned that if he ever reported vandalism again, he'd be banned

#201 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2007, 02:00 PM:

They're going after James Nicoll now...

#202 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2007, 09:36 PM:

xckd weighs in.

#203 ::: Lis Riba ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2007, 03:43 PM:

For those who participated in the James Nicoll deletion discussion (regarding which, the ruling has been KEEP), you might be interested in piping up in a followup discussion to address Reliable source guidelines

#204 ::: Dave Langford ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2007, 03:54 PM:

This week's Private Eye (25 May to 7 June) has an item of Wikipedia interest:


IT'S hard to keep up with the helter-skelter career of Giovanni di Stefano, the self-styled lawyer who claims to have represented Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic, Ian Brady and Kenneth Noye.

The past fortnight has seen him busier than ever: issuing statements on behalf of his chum "Dutchy" Holland, who is in Belmarsh awaiting trial on abduction and firearms charges; complaining about political interference in the Eurovision song contest; revealing that Saddam was a fan of Dundee FC, where di Stefano was once a director; threatening legal action against Ashworth top-security hospital for refusing to let Ian Brady keep a book about the Moors Murders; and, er, releasing a CD by "Italian singer Just Carmen" which includes a cover-version of "Everyone's Gone to the Moon" by kind permission of di Stefano's mate Jonathan King, the convicted sex-offender.
Until recently, anyone wanting a guide to his exotic career could find an extensive article in Wikipedia, which mentioned everything from his fraud conviction in 1986 (when a judge branded him "one of nature's swindlers, without scruples or conscience") through his failed attempts to buy football clubs and the recurring doubts about whether he's really a lawyer at all. ("As far as we're concerned," the Law Society has said, "he has no legal qualifications whatsoever.")

Di Stefano didn't like this one little bit. Two years ago he started editing out anything he found embarrassing, sometimes twice a day, to the point where the page was "locked" for several months to prevent further tampering. When asked to stop deleting the contents he threatened Wikipedia contributors with legal action.

On 24 April this year, without warning, Wikipedia founder and director Jimmy "Jimbo" Wales personally deleted the entire page. Soon afterwards a new, cleaned-up version of the di Stefano entry was created - minus all the awkward facts.

I see this has already caused some stir on the relevant Wikipedia talk page.

#205 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2007, 11:58 PM:

I see that now this blog has been stigmatized as an "attack site", so that they are in essence demanding that comment #152 be deleted, or "they" will erase all the links to this blog in Wikipedia.

#206 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2007, 01:02 AM:

this blog has been stigmatized as an "attack site",

oh good grief. So, if BoingBoing linked to WikiTruth, then the knuckleheads at wikipedia would remove all references to BoingBoing?

Because if it isn't on Wikipedia, it doesn't exist...


#207 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2007, 01:36 AM:

Wikipedia: the National Enquirer for 21st century.

#208 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2007, 01:37 AM:

I see that now this blog has been stigmatized as an "attack site", so that they are in essence demanding that comment #152 be deleted, or "they" will erase all the links to this blog in Wikipedia.

Do you have a link for that, Charlie? Who made that threat? Where and when?

But it's an empty threat: Deleting links to this blog won't harm Making Light in the slightest or alter the truth of what's been said here. Deleting references sourced here from Wikipedia would make Wikipedia less authorative, less comprehensive, and less reliable.

#209 ::: Karen Funk Blocher ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2007, 03:04 AM:

The removals of the links were done by Will BeBack specifically, and have been reverted and argued against by other editors. Wikipedia does tend to take a strong stance about sites that are critical of specific Wikipedia editors, especially if they publish real names and other personal details. This is not a full-fledged Wikipolicy, apparently, as noted in one editor's essay on the subject. In this specific case, Will notes (on Jules' Talk page at least - I haven't read through everything because I find conflicts like this depressing) that repeated attacks on him here have "crossed the line". He calls for civility in resolving the issue.

I personally think Will is in the wrong here for trying to remove all links to the site on the basis of a few specific comment thread remarks, but I do see why he would be upset. Really, I think the basic conflict between TNH and WBB has always stemmed from disagreements about reliable sources, the same issues discussed in this very thread. It's a shame that it's become personal; by and large, in my experience, Will does try to keep things civil.

I've been avoiding commenting on the other issues raised here. In a choice between spending hours developing and stating a complex position, or abstaining entirely from the discussion, I currently lean toward the latter. But I did want to clarify the attack site issue a bit.

#210 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2007, 05:18 AM:

Reading the whole kerfuffle, I am struck by how much of this is down to a clash between two different models of web usage.

One of Will Beback's problems with ML, and this thread in particular*, is that it mentions his real name**. The fact that he's looking here for references to himself, though, is based on his ability to link the editor named TNH to Teresa Nielsen Hayden, and thence to this blog.

He, on the other hand, could have a site that alternates between high quality information on particle physics and steaming, fuming threads about her, or me†, or Winnie the Poo, but we don't know to link that site with a Wikipedia editor because of his anonymity. So TNH couldn't visit vengeance on it†† for things done on Wikipdedia.

It seems to me that these two usage models of the Web - one using it as an extension of a RL persona, the other seeking freedom through anonymity, are going to clash more and more in the near future‡.

I will also say that this thread makes me profoundly glad that, in the choice between joining Wikipedia and joining another site, I chose the other lot. Even if my experiences there were so bad‡‡ that I shied away from on-line communities entirely for a year or two after leaving them.

* apart from the pejorative terms, I mean
** or something labelled as his real name on a different, potentially unreliable site
† I'm going for ridiculous, unlikely examples here
†† Assuming arguendo that she would if she could
‡ Clearly, I have my own views on which one will prevail, having chosen to permit my on-line identities to link to my real-life identity.
‡‡ Among other things, they banned my own mother and deleted all of her work, regardless of quality or content.

#211 ::: loudon ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2007, 05:27 AM:

Cory: "I'm just saying that this is a good way to see the Wikipedia conflict resolution system -- the one that produced astonishingly great entries on controversial subjects like Israel/Palestine -- in full swing."

You lost me there. When any subject is controversial, the corresponding article on Wikipedia is absolutely awful. Axe-grinders with too much free time take over the articles, and they become an unreadable mess.

#212 ::: Jan Vaněk jr. ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2007, 07:09 AM:

[208]: I've added link to all relevant discussions (that I know of, I guess potential further ones can always be found in Beback and other participants' contributions) to Talk:John M. Ford # Making Light is not an attack site (as JMF's entry has sadly became something of a hostage / collateral damage in Beback's vendetta). More latter, perhaps - I think I'll go and get myself blocked meanwhile :-)

#213 ::: Karen Funk Blocher ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2007, 07:43 AM:

If you're compiling a full list, see also the Talk page for the article about TNH. One point being raised is that posting personal info about Wikipedia editors makes it easier for people to stalk or harass them. (This is more likely to happen to admins with a controversial history than with ordinary, low-profile editors.) The refutation is that the information (or at any rate the claim) is already out there in this case. I doubt that anyone is going to egg car windows or make nasty phone calls as a direct result of Making Light, nor is such behavior being advocated here.

#214 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2007, 09:01 AM:

Ah, gotcha. After years of low-level harassment of Teresa by this Will Beback character, she calls him on it. He objects, and to show how upset he is he vandalizes Wikipedia.

This is somehow supposed to convince the multitude assembled that he hasn't been engaged in low-level harassment for years.

#215 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2007, 09:48 AM:

re #208: A comprehensive list of links on this would be extremely long, as this has been bouncing around in its present form for months and traces back to a much older conflict. Since it is no longer shortly after midnight, I'll try to sketch this out, but be forewarned that really following this will require understanding how to trace material through Wikipedia.

The official starting point was an arbitration committee decision of last year concerning one MONGO (see here. The arbitration committee is the penultimate arena for disputes. It all started with an attempt by MONGO to get another user (Rootology) banned over the conflict over deletion of the article on Encyclopedia Dramatica. The matter ballooned from there, because it rubbed up against two other issues. The first is Daniel Brandt, who has made a project of revealing the identities of contentious Wikipeople. (It is he that revealed the real identity of Essjay, the "theologian" interviewed in the New Yorker.) The second is an ongoing battle between MONGO and his allies particularly over Middle Eastern politics articles. There is a group consisting of SlimVirgin, Jayjg, Crum375, MONGO, and maybe some others who some claim to be a cabal dedicated to owning various articles. Their opponents washed up on (or founded-- I'm not sure exactly which) Wikipedia Review; meanwhile Daniel Brandt started a determined program of "outing" members of the "cabal", including SlimVirgin. There are other twists, including the first of several attempts to break the link between Kelly Martin's user page and her blog, but if I'm going to finish this post the various plot twists are going to have to be skipped. At any rate, in the course of their deliberations, ArbCom made the following statements:

"Links to attack sites may be removed by any user; such removals are exempt from 3RR. Deliberately linking to an attack site may be grounds for blocking."

"A website that engages in the practice of publishing private information concerning the identities of Wikipedia participants will be regarded as an attack site whose pages should not be linked to from Wikipedia pages under any circumstances."

The Encyclopedia Dramatica article remained deleted; Rootology was banned; MONGO emerged vindicated; and Daniel Brandt's battle to get the article on him deleted rolled on. Things stayed at a simmer until someone using the name DennyColt took it upon himself to create a "policy" called Attack sites and then proceeded to erase a lot of links to Wikipedia Review based upon this "policy". He got a lot of attention, and the thing was dragged into the normal policy proposal process, where it rapidly developed into a standoff, punctuated by erasures of parts of the argument because they linked to the "attack sites" to cite evidence.(This earned it a place among the "lamest edit wars" list.) Since someone suggested a compromise version that could just as well be folded into the "no personal attacks" policy, the "attack sites" proposal was changed into a redirect, though not without several battles to prevent it from being labeled as a failed policy proposal.

It should be mentioned in passing that this got tied into the whole credentialing battle that arose out of the Essjay incident (remember Essjay?), because one of the links that was erased was in the "Expert retention" article.

Anyway, the same battles broke out again, and the proponents of the proposal simply refused to admit that they were not gaining support. So they turned to interrogating candidates for administratorship as to their position on the proposal.

In the midst of this, our buddy Will Beback started his campaign. It started with this change and ended, maybe, with this administrators noticeboard incident. Numerous people jumped on it, especially since these links were mostly citations in articles.

#216 ::: Eric ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2007, 10:33 AM:

PNH @ 34: The design of Wikipedia relies far too much on the sort of lengthily-repeated iterative processes that work fine for software but which wear human beings out. Wikipedia's tag line is "The online encyclopedia that anyone can edit." To be truthful, it should read "The online encyclopedia that anyone can edit if they're willing to engage in unending trial by combat against a cadre of creepy, unblinking ideologues who all seem to know and support one another."

Ouch. Prophesy?

Not all of Wikipedia is this bad. There are entire fields of endeavor where the dominant editors are delightful, and the awful power of Wikipedia bureaucracy is brought to bear only on the trolls.

Seeing the dark underbelly of Wikipedia is a depressing experience.

#217 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2007, 02:17 PM:

1. Jim Macdonald (214) got it right as far as I'm concerned.

2. This weekend I've been at ConQuest, a very pleasant science fiction convention in Kansas City. I'm a guest of the convention, so my online time is limited, and connectivity at this airport Hilton is not good.

(In fact, it's terrible. I couldn't post this comment after I drafted it. I'm posting it from a Starbucks in the airport.)

I didn't hear about this latest Wikipedia blowup until late last night. Along with the news came an unpleasant letter from Will BeBack, saying that my motives for talking about him at Making Light were obviously malicious, which is untrue, and I don't see how it can have been an honest error on his part. I gather he's labeled Making Light an "attack site" (which is loony), and on the basis of that characterization has deleted all Wikipedia links to Making Light, whatever their subject.

I think a more accurate description would be that I did something which displeased Will BeBack, and that his immediate response was not peaceable. I'm not keen to go on the warpath, but I've never responded well to being told "Hello, you're Belgium."

I would never have taken the slightest interest in Will BeBack if he hadn't been harassing me and Patrick on Wikipedia. When I looked into having that problem arbitrated, I discovered that WB's a high-ranking Wikipedian, so I concluded it was useless for me to protest his harassment. I also concluded that it was useless for me to try to have any substantial participation in the Wikipedia project.

I remained mildly curious about the identity of Will BeBack. A little while after I made the original post that started this thread, I casually googled on his pseudonym. It didn't take a lot of looking for me to find an old mention of his real name via Google cache. It had been discussed in Encyclopedia Dramatica: an irresponsible site, but the information itself sounded real enough. I linked to that page. Later in the thread I mentioned that the site had gone down, and a couple of commenters supplied the name.

That's all.

I see that a lot more mail on this subject has landed in my mail queue. I'll deal with it later today when I get home. (Did I make it clear how lousy the connectivity is in this hotel?) For now, I just have a few questions:

If Will BeBack's such a hotshot reference guy, why didn't he know that his real name was linked to his Wikipedia pseudonym via a page that can be found using Google cache?

Now that he knows, how does he propose to address the problem of his real name being findable there?

If he already knew his real name was available there, why hasn't he been conducting the same kind of campaign against Google cache that he's been conducting against me and mine?

If it's so all-fired important that no one should know who Will BeBack really is, and if he already knew his real name was linked to his pseudonym on a page that's accessible via Google cache, why hasn't he changed his pseudonym?

Finally, why was he harassing me in the first place, and why is he overreacting in this bizarre fashion now?

#218 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2007, 05:05 PM:

TNH @ 217

I think the answer to that last question is that he's either a troll in disguise or needs his mind to be taken in for rebalancing. (I'm feeling a little snarky because I've just spent about three hours installing and upgrading software, mostly on the new machine.)

#219 ::: Karen Funk Blocher ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2007, 06:31 PM:

Thanks for the response, Teresa. I think the answer to your question is that of course Will knows about previous references to his apparently real name, but doesn't want it spread further. Nor does he want it used in connection with criticism of him (and let's face it, a bit of name-calling) off-Wiki.

I honestly believe that this conflict started with honest disagreements between the two of you about how Wikipedia should function vis-a-vis referencing, editing by the article's subject, contractions and so on, and became personal only after he targeted pages of interest to you for the purpose of conforming to his interpretation of the rules. (Looking into related articles and user contributions when one finds a perceived problem is a common practice on Wikipedia.) He's clearly overreacted with this whole "attack site" issue, and yes, it's tantamount to vandalism, but I doubt that his original intent in your earlier brushes with him was a malicious one. I can certainly see how it would appear that way, though.

#220 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2007, 11:12 PM:

Karen, it didn't start as an honest disagreement about referencing.

I'm not just imagining the harassment. If there really were a rule saying that you mustn't use contractions in reference works, don't you think I'd have heard about it at least once during the years I worked as a reference editor?

Go ahead. Search Wikipedia for contractions. You'll find them all over the place. (Where you won't find that "rule" mentioned: the Wikipedia entry on contractions.)

And yes, fussing about contractions is trivial. That's one of the ways you can tell it's harassment.

If that doesn't move you, check out the over-the-top position Will BeBack took with Patrick in re science fiction, where WB said that no one who could conceivably stand to gain anything from information in Wikipedia entries is allowed to modify them. If this were actual Wikipedia policy, it would mean that almost no one who's involved in professional SF publishing would be allowed to contribute to SF-related entries. It would cripple the ability of experts to contribute to entries in a lot of fields. Thing is, it isn't Wikipedia policy. It's Will BeBack grossly exaggerating Wikipedia policy in order to harass Patrick.

How WB got that bug up his ass is anyone's guess. We have no idea. Just don't tell me this thing started as an honest disagreement.

#221 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2007, 11:24 PM:

At this point I'm tempted to make "Will Beback's real name is -----------------" my email, blog, and bulletin board sig.

#222 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2007, 12:05 AM:

Greg London, Jim T., Xopher, I apologize. I feel abjectly miserable about deleting material from your posts.

I didn't do it for Will BeBack's sake. He's been dishonest and a bully and a bad scholar, and I can't respect him. I expunged his name because Jimmy Wales wrote me a polite, reasonable note asking me to do so. Also, Jimmy Wales is a friend of Cory's, and Cory is a friend of mine.

For the record, I'd have blotted out Will BeBack's real name if he'd started by writing me a polite, reasonable note asking me to do so. Take WB's decision to instead indulge in bizarre and abusive behavior on Wikipedia as the measure of the man.

What I'd like in return is for Will BeBack to have nothing to do with any Wikipedia entries by or about me and mine. There are plenty of other Wikipedia administrators. If he'll agree to leave me alone, I trust that we can contentedly ignore each other's existence for the rest of our lives.

#223 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2007, 12:38 AM:

TNH @222: blotted out Will BeBack's real name


#224 ::: Random wiki editor ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2007, 12:51 AM:

This probably won't stop claims that Making Light is an "attack site", because there's still a link to the Encyclopedia Dramatica page, and some discussion of the material there.

#225 ::: Karen Funk Blocher ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2007, 02:31 AM:

Teresa, you may be right, but I'm not entirely convinced. I have seen the contractions issue crop up before, sufficiently often that I try to avoid them on WP and sometimes edit them out myself. I may or may not have seen it in the WP Manual of Style somewhere, and don't feel like hunting tonight. Still, I'm unlikely to convince you that someone whose behavior was clearly out of line last night was initially less malicious than wrongheaded, and I know far less than you do about the particulars. I therefore shall not argue futher.

Thanks for your reasonable response to Jimmy Wales' request. I haven't seen anything further on the Talk and Noticeboard pages, so the issue appears to be resolved for now. Your request that Will Beback recuse himself from the relevant pages is a good one, I think, and has already been suggested to him on the admin noticeboard. Whether it will happen remains to be seen.

#226 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2007, 02:32 AM:

I expunged his name

Oh. My. Gawd. The political backstabbing, system gaming, and cabalism that is wikipedia has spilled over to Making Light?

I feel sick.

Jimmy Wales is a friend of Cory's, and Cory is a friend of mine.

Well, that explains some things.

Aggravates me just a little more.

And explains some things.

What I'd like in return is for Will BeBack to have nothing to do with any Wikipedia entries by or about me and mine.

No wikipedai admin will EVER do anything that restricts their power. If they are required by wikipedia rules not to do something (for example, admins are not supposed to act as admins on a page they edit), then they simply get their buddies to do it for them.

Anyone who says otherwise is an admin or higher at Wikipedia.

In short, you have done the equivalent of wishing for a pony.

You don't seem to appreciate that the way wikipedia rules are currently designed, those who want power and find special priviledges to be rewarding, and are willing to wage a tireless war including building alliances and roving gangs of fellow editors to enforce their view of things to get it, end up getting it.

Wikipedia is all the worst aspects of Survivor Island combined with a really bad Soap Opera, taking place in an insane asylum.

And most of it comes down to really badly designed rules that exactly reward the editors and admins who are most able to game the system based on wearing down their oppostion.

And I'm just a little irate that that whole wad of crap spilled over to here.

Wikipedia's slogan should be "Resistance is futile" You will be assimalated or destroyed.

#227 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2007, 02:39 AM:

Using the name "Random Wikipedia Editor" is more than just anonymity. It does little or no harm in this case, but it is an identifier with no history, and it is purposefully so.

I happen to agree with what whoever-it-is says. Teresa being careful about Will Beback's RL identity, while polite, doesn't sound like anything to stop him. He's using rejected policy proposals as justification for his acts.

Saying "no" to Will Beback seems, from his actions, to be a futility.

Wikipedians, Will Beback is your problem. He's your mad dog.

#228 ::: Karen Funk Blocher ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2007, 02:43 AM:

I therefore shall not argue futher

...or further, either.

(Dratted typos. I swear they magically appear after proofreading!)

#229 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2007, 03:03 AM:

put admins up for reelection every two years, and prohibit other admins from voting.

Otherwise the alliances and favors start the day someone gets adminship.

make two different kinds of admins: (1) those who institute blocks and make subjective calls on rule breaking and prohibit them from editing any articles and (2) those who do janitor duty and let them edit articles.

As a random aside, does anyone know how much bandwidth wikipedia uses?

#230 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2007, 05:06 AM:

I wonder how many Wikipedians are going to come back from the long weekend and be shocked to discover an argument about abuse of admin privilege.

Sorry, but I could get very snarky. I think I'll go elseweb for a while.

#231 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2007, 05:06 AM:

I wonder how many Wikipedians are going to come back from the long weekend and be shocked to discover an argument about abuse of admin privilege.

Sorry, but I could get very snarky. I think I'll go elseweb for a while.

#232 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2007, 06:09 AM:


I think you did, on balance, the right thing in removing the information. We should respect anyone's desire for anonymity, even if they use that anonymity as a shield for rude (or worse) behaviour.

Was Will Beback's means of requesting anonymity appropriate? No; he clearly should have emailed you and asked for the removal instead of hunting through recent Wikipedia rulings for a(nother) stick to beat you with. But that fault doesn't dissolve his entitlement to privacy.

The whole matter does rather confirm my reasons for not getting involved in Wikipedia. Whatever else Will Beback does for the project, he does not, by his public behaviour, make it a place that people want to go edit. That harms the encyclopedia. If he cares, I hope he's ashamed.

#233 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2007, 08:03 AM:

#230: "I'm shocked, shocked to find that abuse of admin privilege is going on in here!"
"Your edit history, sir"
"Oh, thank you very much."

#234 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2007, 10:29 AM:

By Alan Braggins' hand "Yes, Minister," once again is proved to contain all wisdom about human behavior.

#235 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2007, 11:34 AM:

"You might say that, but I couldn't possibly comment."

#236 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2007, 12:01 PM:

(Now, that's "House of Cards").

#237 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2007, 12:42 PM:

To the broader issues: I think what is occurring on Wikipedia is a failure of naïve anarchism in net situations. I've watched it happen over and over again: both in individual Usenet groups and finally in Usenet as a whole, on mailing lists, on various BBSes, and now on Wikipedia. You build your system and set up your rules, and often enough believe that rules and simple interpretation will be enough. But sooner or later, the abusers figure out how to game the system and human moderation is required, or the cyberplace becomes so polluted as to be near-useless. This are (I hope someone else recognizes) exactly the failures of naïve libertarianism and anarchism; I believe there is a political lesson to be learned here, by those willing.

#238 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2007, 12:48 PM:

Greg, #226, "No wikipedia admin will EVER do anything that restricts their power."

There are probably some who do, perhaps even many. In history, people do reject power; George Washington comes to mind--had he so chosen, he could probably have been President for life. That said, it is probably the best practice to put some roadblocks in the way of power-hunger; that keeps the honest honest and slows the dishonet.

#239 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2007, 12:52 PM:

Teresa 222: I have no objection, especially given the circumstances.

JESR 234 ct Alan 233: I think Casablanca had it first in this case.

#240 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2007, 12:55 PM:

Xopher, I guess I'm fixated on the allusion.

#241 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2007, 01:04 PM:

#234: Casablanca, shirley?

The problem with Wikipedia? It's a project that's inherently fannish/geekish in nature that is run by people who are not, mistrust this and do their darnest to expunge it from Wikipedia.

Also, Jimbo Wales.

#242 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2007, 03:00 PM:

Random Wiki Editor (224): "This probably won't stop claims that Making Light is an 'attack site', because there's still a link to the Encyclopedia Dramatica page, and some discussion of the material there."

If you aren't joking, are you not ashamed of Wikipedia's policies and administrators? A link is not an attack. Neither is the very brief discussion you mention. The Encyclopedia Dramatica itself has been dissed in this thread. Where, then, is the attack? I literally have no idea where this wrongdoing might be supposed to be taking place.

If just linking to the semi-defunct Encyclopedia Dramatica is enough to get Making Light labeled an "attack site," and have all links to Making Light be deleted from Wikipedia, then the pertinent Wikipedia policies are so pointless, stupid, and arbitrary that there's no use in my even trying to make peace with them. I've done what I've been asked to do. I will not be made to jump through a pointless and indeterminate series of additional hoops for the idle amusement of Wikipedia's administrators.

If you see them, tell them for me that granting that much importance to troll sites like Encyclopedia Dramatica is not a good way to discourage their creation.

Karen (225), did you see the links in my last comment? Wikipedia itself uses contractions in its core documents. I applaud them for it. The "no contractions" rule is a marker for prose that isn't primarily written to be read. Avoiding contractions is supposed to make your writing sound more Serious and Formal. In the real world, it makes your writing sound more Turgid, and puts you on the road to Encyclopedia Style.

I'll allow its use in technical documentation, scientific journal articles, and instructional materials for ESL students. Outside of academic venues, though, the rule is chiefly popular because, like the supposed rules banning split infinitives, terminal prepositions, and the use of and, but, for, so, yet, or nor to begin a sentence, it can be mechanically applied by semi-literates. It cheers them to have occasion to correct their fellow English-speakers, even if what they're correcting is not an error.

(I'm curious. Does anyone here know when and how contractions came to be deprecated? Middle English and Early Modern English use them without embarrassment.)

Greg (226), Dave (227), there's nothing I can do except avoid further involvement. Fortunately, the rest of the world is large, absorbing, and a lot more fun.

Greg again (229), Wikipedia doesn't need more rules. They've already brewed enough trouble out of the ones they have. Can I make a counterproposal of two general rules?

1. You can't automate human judgement.

2. The rule set of any online environment will be interpreted (by some users, at least) as a game. The more hard and fast the rules, the more game-like the results.

A good example of this is the complicated set of eBay behaviors known as "sniping." These have grown up out of two simple site rules: when the clock runs out, the auction is over; and when the auction is over, the highest bidder wins, even if it's only by one cent. Other auction sites that have different rules governing the ends of auctions -- for instance, allowing a short additional period for renegotiating bids if the last few bids all fall within a certain range of each other -- don't generate the same kind of sniping behavior.

Abi (232), thanks. I'm a little uncomfortable with the idea of a general right to anonymity. I don't need to tell you that; you've seen me play "I know who you are" with trolls. BeBack's got a figleaf of justification for his anonymity. Really, though, I did it because I was asked.

#243 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2007, 03:31 PM:

Greg (226), Dave (227), there's nothing I can do except avoid further involvement. Fortunately, the rest of the world is large, absorbing, and a lot more fun.

I understand. I just find it depressing. Not to mention the foul feeling in my gut, which was the reason I left wikipedia long long ago, reappeared when their influence spilled over into here.

Greg again (229), Wikipedia doesn't need more rules. They've already brewed enough trouble out of the ones they have. Can I make a counterproposal of two general rules? You can't automate human judgement. The more hard and fast the rules, the more game-like the results.

I dunno. Maybe. Maybe not. Having seen well informed people with advanced degrees chased off of articles regarding their area of expertise by what appeared to be a mob of uninformed high school kids, I have to say that the current system isn't working.

And I don't think fewer rules will fix it. I think wikipedia is a large enough bureaucratic mess that it needs some rules, because (1) it's too big for personal oversight by someone like JW, and (2) JW hasn't exactly exhibited the best judgement in the world regarding things on WP.

Really, the idea that admins can't edit articles is one simple rule, but with a very important strategic move built into it: You cannot use adminship as a way to enforce your view on an article, because you cannot edit articles.

That is the key problem with WP right now. Getting adminship grants you special priviledge to force an article to look teh way you want.

If you want to edit, you can't be an admin.
If you want to be an admin, you can't edit.

It's like separating the role of street cop and judge. It's still possible to game the system, but the gaming I've seen is Alice acts as enforcer on the article that her friend Bob edits, and Bob acts as enforcer on the article that Alice edits.

separating the judge means that the quid pro quo is much more difficult to achieve.

Whatever. Unless something changes over there, I'm not going to stress myself out. Did that once. Got an ulcer. gave up.

#244 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2007, 04:24 PM:

Teresa @242
I'm a little uncomfortable with the idea of a general right to anonymity. I don't need to tell you that; you've seen me play "I know who you are" with trolls.

It isn't a well thought out position on my part, I admit. But I'm deeply uncomfortable with "outing" people, probably mostly because of the use against gays. It smacks of judgement by people who have no right to judge. One man's anonymous coward is another's brave whistleblower.

I've seen you do two flavours of "I know who you are" with trolls that I can see the practical point of.

  1. When someone like Mrk Yrk comes calling under some other name, it's useful to be able to tie whatever fictitious persona he's using to the name Mrk Yrk. The thing there is, we don't give a stuff what his RL identity is; his driver's license could say Gertrude McBride for all we care. We're looking there to tie a plethora of web personae together, rather than tie it to a specific person we can confront in real life. That's just basic sockpuppet detection.
  2. When middle school kids start using your comment threads as a chat client, and top it off by being obscene in the process. As I recall, you got in touch with the vice principal of one set of them. But that, I'd say, is education (it was probably very educational for them), and the rules are different.

I guess where I part company is a third branch of the road, where you identify a real person who really doesn't want to be identified. They may have a complete and coherent online identity, but keep it separate from the persona who buys the groceries and cuts the grass.

I'd judge such a person on his online persona, and react to him online based on it. But I don't necessarily think I'd need to know who he was in real life. I'd reckon the choice to link the online persona to the real life persona (as you and I, among others here, have done) is a personal choice. There are many who choose the other way, to avoid stalkers, or because they are free to be someone else without the ties of real life. On the internet, etc, etc, woof.

BeBack's got a figleaf of justification for his anonymity. Really, though, I did it because I was asked.

Indeed, and he should have asked you. We all have views on his character based on his actions. I guess my point is that those views are tied to his online persona, not to the flesh and blood man.

I don't give a toss what his "real" name is. If I knew him in real life, I'd either like him based on his RL actions, or not.

I don't know whether this comes out to being a "right" to anonymity. Indeed, I specifically avoided using the term in my comment. I just think it damages us, and the discourse as a whole, to out people against their will. Maybe it's necessary damage; I don't know.

#245 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2007, 04:53 PM:

abi, generally, someone's "real world" name doesn't make a difference. But there have been a number of cases of WP admins using pseudonyms as various sockpuppets*, or WP admins passing themselves off as professors. And only a real world name can sort that stuff out.

*Not that a particular admin is using a sock puppet to game the system, but how the hell does a user with no checkuser priviledges enforce the rules on an admin who does? Jimbo's rather lacksadaisical response to admins abusing pseudonyms isn't exactly building confidence that the system isn't being gamed by admins who have special priviledge.

If you doubt it, just ask someone that you want a "checkuser" done on an admin. See what sort of response you get.

#246 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2007, 08:15 PM:

I think that outing the anonymous is distasteful, but there is no right to such anonymity. Anonymity is somewhat like virginity: it has to be kept, and once given away, it is lost. And one of the persistent issues on Wikipedia is the sense that a lot of people, particularly some administrators, are using their anonymity to hide their biases and conflicts of interest. And then there's the Essjay incident. The implied premise that Wikipedia's quality is indifferent to who edits it cries out for testing, and such testing requires knowing who is editing it.

#247 ::: Karen Funk Blocher ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2007, 08:33 PM:

Teresa @ 242 -

No, I didn't take the time to check those links out, but I will. I think I'm also carrying some style baggage around from my University of Phoenix papers several years back.

Here's a quick tangent for you. I've also been taught, more than once, that even fiction, outside of dialogue and the like, should be one step more formal than the point of view character would use in reality; hence, contractions are discouraged. Obviously we're not talking about Huck Finn here, but even in a non-dialect, third person limited story, is that completely ridiculous or is there something to be said for the idea?

#248 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2007, 08:37 PM:

The implied premise that Wikipedia's quality is indifferent to who edits it

Ah, yes, Wikipedia editors are unbiased by fiat.

I forgot that bit of rubbish.

Here's another rule for wikipedia: before any sort of official dispute resolution can occur, all editors working on an article must sign up for which point of view they are sympthetic to. This would be the first step in the "new" dispute resolution system. If some number of editors start getting in a tizzy over an article, then everyone has to say which POV they support, and then each editor is only allowed to edit that POV.

If you're pro-choice, you can't edit the pro-life section of the abortion page. Each point of view gets represented by the editors who are sympathetic to that point of view. And no one can simply eliminate the opposing point of view because they don't like it.

And just to stop the rule-gamers, if you lie about which view you have and it can be shown, you're blocked for a month. All declarations of your sympathetic POV would be public on your talk or user page and would have a central location to track the edit history of that page. So, if you are editing the abortion page and get in a debate and declare that you're pro life, that goes on your "user bias" list. And then when you show up at the abortion clinic bombing article, people know where to go to find out what point of view you're pushing.

I've lost count of how many times someone came into an article and wanted it to look a certain way and deleted and minimized all the opposing views, rewrote and reinforced their point of view, and then claimed they were "unbiased", because "All wikipedia editors are unbiased".

You could double your crop yields with that kind of fertilizer.

#249 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2007, 10:43 PM:

Greg, you want the truth? I'm soggy and miserable about the whole thing. I hate it that I deleted bits from your and Xopher's and Jim T.'s comments.

#250 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2007, 12:14 AM:

Teresa, don't concern yourself with Wikipedia. As you said in your opening line, it's doomed.

We're seeing here, in some detail, how and why it's doomed.

Their major weapon: they don't link to you? Big whoop. Who gives a flip who they link to? It's their loss, not yours. I'm active in a lot of places on the web. I neither know nor care if any Wikipedia article links to any of them.

The tactics of creepy stalkers like Beback are dooming it all the faster. (If he's capable of introspection he might ask himself why someone like you would start wondering just who the heck he is.) They make guys like that admins then they wonder why actual experts aren't coming by their playground? I could give them a hint.

Good luck to them, and goodbye.

#251 ::: Karen Funk Blocher ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2007, 12:32 AM:

Aww. Now I wish I could think of something good to say to cheer you up. I'll work on it. First pass: it's clear from the comments that everyone here respects the way you've handled a difficult situation. Hang in there.

#252 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2007, 04:27 AM:


Shake the dust of the place off of your sandals. There are better places to spend your joy.

On us, for instance. The site is a little sour, a little low right now. I'd blame the weather, but no one is having the miserable, drippy timr of it that we are. I am informed, however, that we in Scotland inherit New York's weather when you're done with it.

So tell us about Wiscon. Finish your chapbook on moderating in time for me to bind it before I get busy again. Write that thing about the Left Hand of Darkness that you keep promising to. Start a parlour game in a new thread - I promise to participate.

The entire site could use a good laugh, you included. Lead, and we will follow.

#253 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2007, 08:27 AM:

Thank you, and you're right. Cory's got a good line for moments like this: don't let those people rent space in your head.

I'm not so very brave, you know. There are further letters in my mailbox that are almost certainly about this dust-up. I can't bear to look at them. Maybe their contents would cheer me up, but at the moment I'm short on hope.

(It isn't anything they said about to me. It's that they dissed and mischaracterized Making Light, and had me censor my readers; and they took down the link to Making Light from the entry on Mike Ford.)

(Maybe they've put the link back.)

A game would be good.

Abi, I didn't go to Wiscon. I went to the Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo, with Lisa Spangenberg and Macallister Stone, and had the best time imaginable. I got pictures, too.

#254 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2007, 08:34 AM:


The Wiscon thing just shows that I'm not cyberstalking you. Nor will I email you privately, because that would be intrusive, and you need a shell to curl up in.

The links are back in Wikipedia, particularly the ones to Mike's page.

And, though I don't usually blow my own trumpet, I wrote a silly sonnet in the local Open Thread, just in case it would make you laugh.

You're brave enough. No one is infinitely brave, or at least no one interesting.

#255 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2007, 09:37 AM:

"No one clever bes a box."

#256 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2007, 09:46 AM:

Teresa@249: I'm soggy and miserable about the whole thing.

Don't beat yourself up because someone else was an asshole. And I hope you didn't take my vent as anything directed towards you. I just got reminded just how much wikipedia is run by a power tripping mob, which was why I left, and had to vent.

#257 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2007, 09:46 AM:

If you're going to be obscure*, is there any chance you can be Googleably obscure?

* For pretty loose values of obscure...I am remarkably ill-read in many areas?

#258 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2007, 09:55 AM:

Sorry, Teresa, that came out as unreasonably self-centred and fussy of me.

#259 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2007, 11:02 AM:

abi, you're still right in general in your comments on the site in #252. I too can get down on myself or snarly, as so many here have lately, but what we need is some venue for a bit of irrational joy -- sensawunda, nature worship, "it's finally stopped raining at the French Open (and never mind that all the US men lost yesterday; Fed and Nadal are still around)", or whatever rings other people's chimes.

Whether it's a new Open Thread or some random little topic we can rapidly stray from, it might clear the air. (And no, Theresa, this *isn't* an implicit criticism of you -- you've had all too much on your plate lately, and I don't blame you for feeling it. I'd do the same.)

#260 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2007, 11:09 AM:

A cheering image for Teresa: tangelos are like flowers.

#261 ::: Dawno ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2007, 11:50 AM:

I can go weeks without using Wikipedia, I can't go half a day without checking the conversations on Making Light. I can't adequately express how much I appreciate Teresa and Patrick (and James and Avram, too - did I miss someone?) for providing a place where such thoughtful and intelligent conversation occurs. It grieves me that you are going through this, Teresa, so I wanted to pop in and thank you for everything you do here.

#262 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2007, 12:00 PM:

A slightly cheering thought for Teresa... I was glad to meet you at LAcon.

#263 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2007, 12:01 PM:

I want. I want to look at them, and then I want to eat them.

The door is open (thank you, Teresa). Have some fun.

#264 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2007, 12:22 PM:

Sorry, Abi. It's one of my favorite lines from Sandman, quoted from memory. I'll have to dig up the proper pages, panels, and character titles to give you its proper context.

Serge, it was great meeting you. Next time, if you're not otherwise engaged, would you like to stick around longer? Let me buy you a drink, at least?

Faren, those are gorgeous.

#265 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2007, 12:27 PM:

I'd be honored, Teresa. No NASFiC this year, but Denver in 2008, definitely.

#266 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2007, 01:10 PM:

How many REAL attack sites does Wikipedia link to?

Little Green Footballs, the Freepers, Aryan Nations, and then just go down the list clicking on the links of the List of Purported Hate Groups. They have links to most of the hate groups listed.

So. Should they delete links to REAL attack sites? (It would take a while to ferret them all out.) But no, they probably shouldn't. But in context, it's an interesting thought experiment.

#267 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2007, 01:39 PM:

Actually, I hate citrus and seem to be sniff-allergic to citrus oil. I would be just as happy if all the citrus in the world except that dedicated to making my morning POJ, which I dutifully drink for the sake of my health, could be sent to Tor and used to sop up Teresa's soggy misery, with any leftovers rerouted to abi in thanks for the sonnets. But since the third-level spells for Summon All Citrus and Redirect Citrus have unaccountably vanished from both my personal website and Embryoyo, and tangelos (which I desperately want to call tangeli) are in any case completely out of season (Simulate Forcing Houses being a seventh-level spell), I was forced to go with hypoallergenic digital images of ornamentally dried tangelo fragments in hopes that sufficient sogginess would recombine and revive them into edible tangelos if it didn't short out the computer first. I sort of pictured Teresa leaning damply on the screen, and as it started to get soggy, it would wrinkle and ripple and then small sparkly tangelos would begin to emerge, one by one, with little popping noises, and roll across her desk into her lap.

It's possible this was optimistic.

#268 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2007, 01:55 PM:

Teresa 249 Greg, you want the truth? I'm soggy and miserable about the whole thing. I hate it that I deleted bits from your and Xopher's and Jim T.'s comments.

I can't speak for the others, but had I known you received the request, I'd've asked you to delete it from my comment. I don't know if this helps or not.

#269 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2007, 02:10 PM:

Well, yes, it does help.

I don't know why this should seem so much harder than getting together with the housecarls and agreeing that it's a good day to die. Maybe it gets easier with practice.

#270 ::: Another Wikipedia admin ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2007, 02:41 PM:

Not "they". "He". One individual person. Beback, and no others.

This comment thread has so many misunderstandings, and misconceptions, and, and, and outright wrongheadedness that it's frustrating. I'm keeping a tight lid on the urge to post detailed rejoinders and rebuttals to each individual problem.

Briefly, then:

yes, by all means, correct errors you see. But for god's sake, provide an edit summary! Explain what you're doing and why! Otherwise how are we supposed to know that you're not some dimwitted chucklefuck who's screwing around with the data for the sake of screwing around with the data? We get loads of those every hour of every day.

Also: Greg London, for god's sake grow up.

#271 ::: Another Wikipedia admin ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2007, 02:53 PM:

Oh, and the problem is that #152 in this thread still contains a link an ED article version that explicitly calls Beback a sex offender. I think he'll keep being upset until that's removed (and while you're at it, #153 which talked about prosecuting him, and probably this response which mentions those).

Beback actually joined ED just to complain to them about that, and they finally conceded that it was false (and worse, 'not funny enough'), so they took it down.

#272 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2007, 03:04 PM:

Ah, yes, the morally superior Wikipedia Admin arrives to explain how wrong everyone is in their criticism of Wikipedia and Admins and so on.

And, hey, look, they're an anonymous coward hiding behind a pseudonym. Wow. That never happens over at wikipedia.

If they had admin priviledges here, they'd probably probably delete the whole thread at this point.

#273 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2007, 04:05 PM:

"No one clever bes a box."

It's Season of Mists, probably part 6. I thought it might have been "No one clever is boxes", but that gives me nothing either.

(Googling on Shivering Jemmy doesn't help either).

#274 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2007, 04:17 PM:

You're all reminding me that it's about time to uncrate the Sandmans for another read. Unfortunately, most of the movement in this household is into boxes, not out of them, at the present time.

#275 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2007, 05:49 PM:
I'm soggy and miserable about the whole thing. I hate it that I deleted bits from [Greg's] and Xopher's and Jim T.'s comments.

You're soggy and miserable because you have the conscience and conscientiousness which makes you the moderator that I use as a reference when asked what makes a world-class moderator.

(Damn, that's a long sentence to not have a comma.)

In other words, screw 'em.

#276 ::: Another Wikipedia admin ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2007, 06:16 PM:

Greg, what was your username on Wikipedia? I'd like to look into exactly what your experiences were.

#277 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2007, 07:23 PM:

Another 276: You know, in this context that sounds remarkably like a threat. No one who's read this thread can miss the implication.

You're being extremely rude, at least once in every post you've made here. Please stop it.

Or go away. That would work too.

#278 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2007, 07:30 PM:

Oh, and with your fake email address I'm surprised your name hasn't already become nthr Wkpd dmn.

#279 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2007, 07:52 PM:

276: You need to read this.

#280 ::: FungiFromYuggoth ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2007, 08:04 PM:

#279 - not this?

#281 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2007, 09:23 PM:

Fungi 280: Wow, Musical Linguist sure does have a cool name. Too bad s/he's a flaming sshl.

#282 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2007, 10:39 PM:

@276 an anonymous admin who had previously waltzed into the thread and announced (1) that this thread was full of "misunderstandings, and misconceptions, and, and, and outright wrongheadedness" and (2) told me to grow up, now asks me for information on my old WP identity, so he can "look into exactly what (my) experience was".

Hiding behind the security of anonyminity, this admin appeared out of nowhere to defend the righteousness of wikipedia, and engage in personal attacks against me, dismisses an entire thread of complaints, and acknowledges not one single issue with wikipedia.

But then suddenly this same defender of truth, justice, and the wikiway, has a change of heart and most sincerely wishes to know more about my experience so that he can go back to wikipedia and fight the evils that lurk there, right the wrongs, throw out the bad apples, and de-admin all the abusive admins at wikipedia.

Let me tell ya something, you gutless anonymous wonder, I don't buy for one second that you have my best interest at heart, or even in your top 100. You come in here all cocksure that wikipedia is without fault, that every single complaint here is simply "wrongheadedness", you insult me, and now you want to be my defense attorney because you've seen the light?

No. I don't think so.

#283 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2007, 05:48 AM:

I recall that Sandman line as "Nobody clever be's cardboard boxes." A couple of people online have that same phrasing as a sig quote -- unfortunately, I don't have a copy of the collection handy to check it.

#284 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2007, 06:24 AM:

Xopher @281
I was following this discussion pretty much live (lots of subvocalised "Go, Cory, GO!").

From one comment s/he made*, I think MusicalLinguist was stalked at some point. S/he may be overreacting, but I think there's a reasonable explanation.

* Can't find it again now. I don't understand Wikipedia's internal structures†
† Nor do I want to.

#285 ::: FungiFromYuggoth ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2007, 09:00 AM:

Xopher, on further review a richer source of "what's wrong with Wikipedia" drama is on discussion page (and archive).

It did make me wonder how much of Wikipedia's problem is Gong Show Syndrome - after dealing day in and day out with cranks who claim phantom expertise or cite nonexistent reference works, have they lost their ability to differentiate quality? If there are nine n/a/z/g/u/l/ cranks for every expert, the path of least resistance is to treat the expert as a crank even if it drives them away from Wikipedia.

(Speaking of quality, my hat's off to JulesH for keeping up the good fight long after I would have lost all my SAN. I can only imagine what the page would look like now without their vigilance...)

#286 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2007, 01:32 PM:

Xopher: Too bad s/he's a flaming sshl.

You noticed, did you?

abi: I was following this discussion pretty much live (lots of subvocalised "Go, Cory, GO!").

Cory? Which thread are we talking about?

Fungi: how much of Wikipedia's problem is Gong Show Syndrome

Not much. I point to the anonymous admin who came rolling in, told everyone how this entire thread is completely misunderstanding wikipedia and wrong, insults me, and then flips to "good cop" mode. That sort of moral superiority is almost by default something you can find in an admin to some degree. I've seen admins run off phd level experts from articles due to those admins inability to shut the f*ck up and back off and for once admit that someone with fewer edits and fewer wikipedia priviledges then them actually knows more than them.

#287 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2007, 09:44 PM:

This "Beback" character has yet to apologize to Teresa, and so far as I know he hasn't made any move to repair the damage he's done. This makes me think that he's unrepentant, which is an odd attitude for someone who wants the people he's abused to do favors for him.

If that anonymous admin wants to show good faith he or she could start by apologizing on "Beback"'s behalf.

#288 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2007, 10:23 PM:

adamsj @ 275

In other words, screw 'em.

That's cool. We already know they can't take a joke.

#289 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2007, 10:41 PM:

And now that I'm back home and have caught up on this thread, it's my turn to say nice things about Teresa.

Lady, you are one of the fairest-minded people I've encountered on the 'Net in more than 25 years of being a Packet Bum. You have absolutely nothing to feel the least bit bad about in anything you've said or done that I have seen. And I'm the guy, you may have noticed, who has a habit of sticking his foot in his mouth and pulling the trigger as a way of getting other people to calm down, even when they don't need to. You have no idea how glad I am that you have much better methods than that.

Here's the thing: the 'Net has always had the potential for being a place where people can socialize with their peers, but that potential only comes out when some hardy soul clears out the underbrush and maintains the place where they will meet. ML is, bar none, the best such place I've seen. This is something I'd given up a long time ago, thinking the sh*th**d level was just too high, and wasn't going down anywhere. I"m overjoyed you've proven me wrong.

Besides all that, ML has accumulated a boatload of really good, interesting, witty, and urbane people I've been delighted to get to know. They're here in large part because you're that type of person too.

Thanks for all you've done and all you are.


#290 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2007, 11:36 PM:

Bruce 289: Hear, hear.

#291 ::: Random wiki editor ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2007, 11:52 PM:

If anyone's still following this, you might be interested in this comment by David Gerard:

"According to the Arbitration Committee - and they have clarified this once already - the AC have not given licence for blanket removal of links to any site just because someone feels like deeming an 'attack site'. Any such rule that could possibly be applied to is self-evidently too stupid for words and demonstrably dangerous to have around on Wikipedia."

Gerard is a longtime admin and former member of the arbitration committee; he's pretty high up on the totem pole. Not all Wikipedia administrators share Beback's way of thinking; the attack sites "policy" is in fact one of the more controversial issues going on right now.

#292 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2007, 12:03 AM:

Random 291: No one thought everyone at Wikipedia was a flaming jackhole. Just that the flaming jackholes outpersist the non-jackholes—even if they're in the minority.

#293 ::: Random wiki editor ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2007, 12:07 AM:

"outpersist" is probably right. They're louder, more energetic, and have an influence disproportionate to their numbers.

#294 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2007, 12:19 AM:

And theres no way to stop them within WP's rules. It's a design flaw that brings down the whole structure.

#295 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2007, 03:12 AM:

I don't jump to the conclusion that anonymity is automatically bad (and I try to distinguish it from untraceability), but in the particular context of this thread it seems ill-advised to jump in with some hidden identity.

There's a couple of names I've used, long term, which aren't obviously connected to me, but there is a connection, and people do know its there. They have a history, even for the people who don't know the connection.

And I can be traced.

But these wikipedia Admins. Privacy is of value, yes, but some of them seem to get off on power, without anyone knowing who they are.

(It occurs to me that you could make a story out of that--Chandler suggested a scheme which involved the romance of empire in a totally non-hereditary system: what would you do if the Men in Black called and told you that you were a candidate for being the Hidden Empress of Terra?)

Anyway, building a social structure can be done in a more-or-less anonymous environment, if the labels don't change. But it takes a lot of time and effort, and maybe tools which I don't see around Wikipedia, and exercising power is so much more immediate payback.

And being the Hidden Empress means people don't grovel.

#296 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2007, 08:27 AM:

Anonymity can be a good, or at least non-toxic, thing among day-to-day posters. Anonymity is an invitation to abuse among admins. Some people can't resist open invitations.

Please notice how the comment linked here:

If anyone's still following this, you might be interested in this comment by David Gerard:
...has instant credibility because it has a real name associated with it.

The messenger, who posts anonymously (and under the email address has no credibility.

I'm still waiting for "Beback"'s apology to Teresa.

#297 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2007, 09:25 AM:

#276/291: a sense of great anticipation runs through the arena, as eyes focus upon the Empress's thumb with a few glances toward a large blood-stained door marked "DIS...".

Or, in simpler words - you're pissing people off and we regular readers know this behavior will be dealt with unless it changes, now. Identifying yourself would be a start.

#298 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2007, 09:29 AM:

Greg London @286:
I've chased down the links:

I saw Kathryn Cramer's comment in another thread, highlighting WBB's removal of links to ML right as it happened.

She linked to Teresa's Talk Page, and I followed the link. There I found a defence of ML by user:Doctorow. WBB replied pointing to Cory's Talk page. I jsut kept refreshing, watching the argument go back and forth.

The discussion spread from there to other Wikipedia pages, in patterns that people more interested in the project than I would probably recognise.

But Cory took point in the initial discussion, and I watched and cheered.

#299 ::: Sam Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2007, 09:55 AM:

From #283, I recall that Sandman line as "Nobody clever be's cardboard boxes." A couple of people online have that same phrasing as a sig quote -- unfortunately, I don't have a copy of the collection handy to check it.

Season of Mists, Ch. 6, p. 21.

Shivering Jemmy of the Shallow Brigade:
Hmmph. We is always more fun than the order people. Cardboard boxes! Nobody clever be's cardboard boxes.

Dream: So: I take it that I have incurred the wrath of Chaos, from now until the end of time. "From the Shivering Brigade to the Laughing Dancers."

Earlier (Dream's internal narrative) - "I watch the Lord of Order, his form that of Order manifest: an empty receptacle."

#300 ::: "Random" wiki editor ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2007, 11:17 AM:

James (296): what exactly do you mean by "has no credibility"? Do you think I reported Gerard's quote inaccurately?

#301 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2007, 11:29 AM:


No, the point is probably that you're using a fake e-mail addy, so we don't know whether you're real or someone's sockpuppet or what.

#302 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2007, 12:46 PM:

Over in part of our most recent plagiarism thread there's a discussion of some reasons why some of us feel anonymity can be justified in some circumstances. Not just that post and the three it references, but around that area it's a sub-topic in the thread.

#303 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2007, 01:36 PM:

epacris @ 302

I don't have a problem with the anonymity.
It's the underlying attitude I'm picking up: 'I'm new here, and I've come to give you the benefit of my expertise in this field. You aren't allowed to know anything about me, though, not even about my qualifications as an expert.'

#304 ::: Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2007, 02:09 PM:

James D. Macdonald @ 296

Anonymity is fine, as long as accountability exists. So I don't care if an admin uses a pseudonym as long as all that admin's business is done in that name. If the admin transgresses, that will be seen, and if action is needed, such as blocking or banning the admin for some period, tha action can be taken on that name, and accountability requirements are satisfied.

Sockpuppets break accountability; they're intended to. And entering a discussion under a name other than the one by which you are known as an actor in that discussion is using a sockpuppet. There's no honest reason I can think of to hide a common working name in a discussion; anonymity is automatic if the name is not connected with your True Name.

#305 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2007, 02:18 PM:

P J 303: More like "I'm here to explain everything to you group of inferior and ill-behaved losers. As for who I am, don't trouble your pathetic little minds."

Or were you speaking of "Random"? I got the above impression chiefly from "Another." "Random" has been pretty civil, and gave us the link to the good quote.

#306 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2007, 02:23 PM:

Xopher @ 305

'Another', I believe. I was being polite about what I was picking up; your version is a bit mroe accurate, I think.

#307 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2007, 02:58 PM:

Regarding sockpuppets (see comment #301), if someone is using an alias, how much does it really matter if they use one alias or 12? The point is that they have a real name and real-world connections that they don't want us to know about.

The whole claim that anonymity & pseudonymity is a right seems to me a Sock Puppet Lib movement.

Where it becomes particlarly fascinating is when said Sock Puppets try to enforce conflict of interest rules and then take action for the cause of Sock Puppet Lib in the name of this enforcement.

#308 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2007, 03:34 PM:

Kathryn Cramer @307:
if someone is using an alias, how much does it really matter if they use one alias or 12? The point is that they have a real name and real-world connections that they don't want us to know about.

The whole claim that anonymity & pseudonymity is a right seems to me a Sock Puppet Lib movement.

If we're only interacting with them online, it shouldn't matter if we don't know their real-world identity. What we need is a coherent, cohesive online identity, so that we can research their past and visit consequences on their future.

Anyone with a fresh, newborn ID, or an obviously entirely untraceable one is, until they grow a history, justifiably treated like a sockpuppet. But someone with a long, consistent and traceable history doesn't need a link to real life.

Of course, if they claim to be an expert in something because of a RL connection, I won't believe it without a RL name. But if the identity is constructed to stand alone, I say let it.

(Irony: At the present moment, I could not have firmer links between my online presence here and my real life identity, considering that my full name* is on the front page and all down the Recent Comments section. But that level of exposure is my choice, stated here, and I respect anyone who, for reasons of safety or privacy, chooses to do otherwise.)

* well, not the 3 middle names

#309 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2007, 03:38 PM:

Bruce @304, all @300+

You may be interested in Brad Templeton's technical essay on Unique Pseudonyms, that is, how to create "an infrastructure that allows people to generate secure (effectively anonymous) pseudonyms in a manner that each person can have at most one such ID."

Note that his essay is in response to issues of identity management systems, so parts are orthogonal to this discussion. But parts are relevant, especially in showing that pseudonymity doesn't automatically mean sockpuppets.

..."I propose this because many web sites and services which demand accounts really don’t care who you are or what your E-mail address is. In many cases they care about much simpler things — such as whether you are creating a raft of different accounts to appear as more than one person, or whether you will suffer negative consequences for negative actions. To solve these problems there is no need to provide personal information to use such systems."

#310 ::: Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2007, 05:24 PM:

Kathryn from Sunnyvale @ 309

Yes, thanks for the pointer, that's the direction I was going in. As an example that might be closer to home for the writers among us, there is no reason for me to know the True Name of B. Traven. As long as all books by that writer use the same byline, I can decide whether to read another one based on my previous experience with that pseudonym. Similarly, the only reasons for me to care about whether James Tiptree would out herself were 1) she was using more than one pseudonym, and trying to consolidate names without outing yourself can be difficult, and 2) it gave her a certain authority in making statements about a woman's life that a man named "James Tiptree" wouldn't have.

#311 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2007, 06:01 PM:

regarding #308

I contend that no one concealing his or her identity is in a moral position to exert authority concerning conflict of interest on people who are not pseudonymous.

(Comment, sure, but not exert authority.)

#312 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2007, 06:03 PM:

. . . except as a voter or as a lawfully appointed government offical or representative, such as a member of a jury.

#313 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2007, 06:23 PM:

Kathryn Cramer @311:
I contend that no one concealing his or her identity is in a moral position to exert authority concerning conflict of interest on people who are not pseudonymous.

The concern being that their own conflicts of interest are not auditable, yes?

There exists a risk, though, that even a named, tied person is engaged in a sockpuppet conflict of interest. I may be Abi Sutherland, but if my secret identity "1337_h4x0r" is doing something that creates a conflict of interest in my core identity, you'll not find it by examining me.

#314 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2007, 06:30 PM:

abi@298: WBB replied pointing to Cory's Talk page. I jsut kept refreshing, watching the argument go back and forth.




It really hasn't gotten any better since I left, and that was a couple years ago. It just warms my heart to hear an admin refer to any form of criticism of their behaviour as a violation of "No Personal Attacks". Brings back fond memories.

#315 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2007, 06:33 PM:

Bruce #310 - Do you mean that you don't like writers using multiple pennames? I'm kind of ambivalent on this subject, as I like Robin Hobb's writing, but am unexcited by Megan Lindholm, even though they're the same person.

On the other hand, I never really saw the point of the Stephen King/ Richard Bachman split, (except maybe that Stephen King was writing too many novels).

(Several other examples and thoughts have slipped out of my head while typing. I shouldn't try and drink and internet on the same evening.)

abi #308 - 3 middle names? Wow. You are either very lucky, or very unlucky.

#316 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2007, 06:38 PM:

Bruce: Anonymity is fine, as long as accountability exists. So I don't care if an admin uses a pseudonym as long as all that admin's business is done in that name.

Ah, last I heard, that isn't wikipedia's rule. Admins can have multiple accounts, as long as they don't use them to to sway votes, it's considered OK.

Never mind that screaming flaming biases and alliances with other admins can't be uncovered if you're working a sockpuppet.

Then of course, there's essjay or whatever his name was. He used a pseudonym so he could pass himself off as some expert, and when busted on his lie, Jimbo Wales said, "meh", at first. I think when the heat got turned up, JW decided to cut him loose. But the fact that JW didn't have a coronary the moment he found out is indicative of a deeper problem.

#317 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2007, 06:44 PM:

Second Life is an interesting case: they force nearly everyone to use an alias by making you choose a last name from a pull-down menu. You can, of course, go out of your way to out yourself on your user page. But a pseudonym is mandatory for most users.

Cory, a special case, they let use his real name. Last time I checked they were thinking about allowing people to pay extra to use a Real Name.

Though it made me really uncomfortable, I can see the underlying rationale. Making everyone pseudonymous removes the imbalance between people with Real Names and the pseudonymous people.

Also, in 2nd life, if you want to back up your stuff, you HAVE TO have a sock puppet, as I recall. You need to create a 2nd ID to give copies of things to, or some such.

Amazon's Real Name (tm) program is another interesting one to consider. They give you the opportunity to adopt the extra credibility given people who are online under their own names by certifying that the name you use in your reviews is the same on as on your credit card.

#318 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2007, 06:54 PM:

Regarding writers with multiple pen names, these days that tactic is used mostly to keep the distribution system from holding writers unfairly accountable for sales failures of past books or by people writing in more than one genre where sales figures of one type of book wil not be predictive of sales of the other type. The publisher usually knows who the writer really is. This is used as a corrective for the distribution system using computers stupidly in such a way as to asign too much accountability to the writer.

Robin Hobb aka Megan Lindholm is an example of the former; Ian Banks aka Ian M. Banks is an example of the latter.

With best-selling writers there is the continuing pressure to have the next book best-sell at least as well as the previous one. Multiple pen names can relive that pressure.

#319 ::: Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2007, 06:55 PM:

Kathryn from Sunnyvale @ 309

Yes, thanks for the pointer, that's the direction I was going in. As an example that might be closer to home for the writers among us, there is no reason for me to know the True Name of B. Traven. As long as all books by that writer use the same byline, I can decide whether to read another one based on my previous experience with that pseudonym. Similarly, the only reasons for me to care about whether James Tiptree would out herself were 1) she was using more than one pseudonym, and trying to consolidate names without outing yourself can be difficult, and 2) it gave her a certain authority in making statements about a woman's life that a man named "James Tiptree" wouldn't have.

#320 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2007, 06:56 PM:

. . . I mean relieve that pressure.

#321 ::: Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2007, 07:09 PM:

Neil Wilcox @ 315

do you mean that you don't like writers using multiple pennames?

No, it's not a question of dislike at all; I was saying that I can't reasonably have any issue with writers using pennames, except when they use several and there's a reason I might want to compare books by the two. I don't care about it that much, in any case.

The example of Tiptree was simply to show that if a writer wants to consolidate pennames, it's hard to do without allowing people to find out that they're all pseudonymous, and compromising their real name.

#322 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2007, 07:11 PM:

Tiptree's psychological relationship with pseudonymity was extremely complex.

#323 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2007, 07:35 PM:

Jim: I'm still waiting for "Beback"'s apology to Teresa.

That was sarcasm, right?

Being an admin means never having to say you're sorry.

#324 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2007, 07:42 PM:

I don't have a problem with an author using a pseudonym or multiple pseudonyms.

I have a problem with something like wikipedia where multiple pseudonyms can be used to distribute a person's editing bias to the point that even though the single person behind all the accounts is a flaming POV warrior, it's hard to nail them for it because they could use a dozen names to "dilute" their behaviour.

It wouldn't be so bad if you had to have only one account on wikipedia, even if it was a pseudonym. But multiple pseudonyms means absolutely zero transparency. all around a bad thing.

#325 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2007, 08:59 PM:

#242 by Teresa
(I'm curious. Does anyone here know when and how contractions came to be deprecated? Middle English and Early Modern English use them without embarrassment.)

I don't know for certain, but I can offer up speculation. It goes back to your comment on semi-literate instructors enforcing the rules they think they know, but really don't. I had a teacher in grade school tell my class that "ain't" wasn't a word (she got the dictionary out as proof) and shouldn't be used because it made you sound stupid. I have a sneaking suspicion that contractions are grouped with "ain't" because of the apostrophe.

I'd say mangling the language rules started with the industrial revolution and the jump in emigration from other countries in the 1800's. Think of it as the "signal degradation" you get when you make copies from a copy of a copy of a copy. The lines are there, but they're fuzzy.

Many of the school teachers in the 1800's started teaching school right after they graduated school themselves. In some cases, that was the equivalent of an 8th grade diploma. As far as I know, there were no standardized competency tests to judge the knowledge of the instructor. (There were, however, lots of morality tests.) In later years "Normal Schools" (a cross between high school and junior college) took over the task of educating public school teachers. This would have been in the 1910's-1950's based on a family history I edited for a friend. Again, I don't know if there were competency tests at that time. I'll have to ask.

I do know that teachers in the here and now (at least in my state of the USA) have to take two competency tests. They take one to enter the teaching college and one to graduate from it. Both tests are very general and seem to judge whether or not the teacher knows more than the students they'll be teaching. [1]

One of my staff at the day job was a college student getting her teaching degree. She was concerned about teaching 5th graders English when she wasn't too certain of the topic herself -- especially punctuation. (Having proofread some of her papers, I can tell you the only thing she had a firm grasp on was that a period came at the end of the sentence.) She wanted to take a refresher course. Her advisor and others (all the way up to the Dean, IIRC) told her "Teach them what you learned in grade school and high school. You had 12 years of English there and you made it through college here." The idea of teaching people how to teach English was alien. The assumption was "You're a native speaker, ferchrissake, you should know this. Don't be a wuss." Needless to say, she was a wee bit upset.

[1] I considered becoming a teacher for a while. Then I realized it was High School Part II with some crowd control lessons because you were sitting on the other side of The Desk. What irked me was no one ever acknowledged "we're teaching you how to keep a mob under control."

[2] Swans form a "bevy" not a "flock".

#326 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2007, 10:22 PM:

Swans, according to the nice list I just found on google, also form herds or wedges; bevy makes me jumpy, as swans are so very much unlike quail.

On the other hand, herds, in my conceptual reality, are collections of animals with four legs and hooves.

#327 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2007, 11:22 PM:

Kathryn Cramer @ 322

I definitely got that impression from her own commentary on some of her stories I've seen published. Is there another source for your statement? AFAIK her biography is still being written.

One of the reasons I used her as an example is that she has been one of my heroes practically from the first story I read. Before it became obvious that she was female (around the time Silverberg insisted she wasn't; his comments were actually the thing that finally convinced me) I was really impressed with how she could relate to women in her writing; after that I was impressed with how well she could relate to men*.

And I was saddened and deeply touched by the way she ended her life; I had several rather nasty interchanges with people who ragged on her on the usenet rec.sf newsgroup that day

* Just because a woman has to deal with the way men think in order to survive in this society doesn't mean she understands or cares about the interior landscape of a man; as a writer, though, I think she did. Of course, one of her great strengths as an sf writer was her ability to imagine the alien; maybe that's why she was good at writing about men.

#328 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2007, 04:57 AM:


AFAIK her biography is still being written
You mean a biography other than this one by Julie Phillips that got a lot of attention last year from everyone I know?

#329 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2007, 06:05 AM:

I'm reminded of my English teacher...

She never did explain just what all that stuff about verb tenses and such was: slang, jargon, pidgin, creole, dialect, or whatever. She didn't like my suggestion that she was using jargon.

I think that, in the end, I learnt more from Eric Partridge and Winston Churchill, whose boldly split infinitives up with which she would not put.

#330 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2007, 12:52 PM:

Dave Bell #329: Of course, what you meant to say was ...up with whose boldly split infinitives she would not put. See how much more elegant things are when one uses proper English, the way Jesus spoke it?

#331 ::: Howard Peirce ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2007, 01:35 PM:

I'm currently laboring under an editor who forbids contractions. What this means, of course, is that I first write my documents in English, and then go back and remove the contractions.

There's a widespread myth in technical writing that contractions cause problems for translators during localization. Sometimes it's asserted that contractions reduce comprehension for ESL readers. The anti-contraction crowd can't even keep their stories straight. Either way, it's hogwash.

I think that ultimately there's a warped esthetic out there that thinks stilted English conveys gravitas. It's much easier to look serious than to convey complicated processes clearly.

English without can't is like French without c'est or German without zum.

#332 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2007, 02:15 PM:

#311 ::: Kathryn Cramer contends:
I contend that no one concealing his or her identity is in a moral position to exert authority concerning conflict of interest on people who are not pseudonymous.

I'm curious - how do you determine that somebody is "concealing his or her identity" ? I'm reasonably sure that my posting as "Jim Goldstein" wouldn't raise any eyebrows at all, and most people would presume it was my Real Name (tm). Similarly, if I posted as "Fook Yu", despite this being a perfectly reasonable name, many would presume it was a pseudonym.

IMNSHO, the issue is accountability, not what the label used to provide the association and accountability happens to be.

. . . except as a voter or as a lawfully appointed government offical or representative, such as a member of a jury.

I'm deeply confused here. A voter in what context? There are contexts in which the votes that a voter casts are expected to be recorded and known - take congress as an example. Similarly, there are contexts in which establishing the right to vote requires that you be identified - while the content of your vote is not recorded. I can't think of too many systems where the voter isn't expected to have some sort of attached identifier, since those systems are very vulnerable to "vote early, vote often".

Likewise, shouldn't elected officials be associated with their positions? Are you referring to the traditional media quote of "an official in $department says" ?

A jury - all 12 members - isn't exactly anonymous either. The members of the jury are clearly identified. The votes that contribute to the judgement are theoretically anonymous, inasmuch as the person isn't associated with their vote... but it's a pretty small pool for statistical purposes.

At any rate - as people have said elsewhere in this thread - it's all about consistent patterns of behaviour associated with a given identifier, and appropriate background references, if needed, to provide validity for claims of authority.

#333 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2007, 03:07 PM:

David Goldfarb @328

Yeah, that one. You can see how few people I know; I had heard sometime back that the biography was in progress, and completely missed that it had come out already. Thank you, if you hadn't told me I might still be waiting next year.

And I just looked on Amazon, and the paperback edition ships in 10 days, so I ordered a copy. Thanks again!

#334 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2007, 03:20 PM:

Howard Peirce #331: I get peeved at people who can't write, not 'can't' but 'cannot', insisting instead on writing 'can not' even, or especially, where no particular emphasis is needed.

#335 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2007, 03:22 PM:

Howard Pierce @ 331

I'm currently holding up one end of a slowmotion train wreck of an email exchange with several Japanese engineers. I'm evaluating hardware and software they designed for use in the product I'm working on, but there weren't any requirements or specification documents. So I'm reverse engineering their designs and asking them in email, "Is this the way you expect it to work? How do I make it do X?"

And of course I don't speak Japanese, and the people at the other end don't speak English well, and the roundtrip time of any one question and answer is at least 24 hours because of the timezones, so I'm always unsure how to phrase my questions so they will be most likely to understand my meaning. I started with my normal style of email, which is somewhat colloquial, and quickly found this doesn't work well; there are too many ambiguities and hidden assumptions in that style. But AFAICT the contractions don't make a difference one way or the other. "Can't" is just a word like any other and it's not hard to understand in context if you haven't been taught it explicitly.

#336 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2007, 03:31 PM:

xeger @ 332

IMNSHO, the issue is accountability, not what the label used to provide the association and accountability happens to be.

I tried to make this point upthread, and derailed myself by using an analogy to writers' pseudonyms that clearly misled people about what I was saying. You are absolutely right; accountability is the issue, not whether or not a person's true identity is or can be known.

It's not even important whether a person has one or 20 identities; what's important is that all interactions involving one of those identities are separate from all the others, unless the person is willing to make the association of different identities with one person public.

#337 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2007, 03:59 PM:

Bruce Cohen #335: When I was trying to ask somebody in Germany something once, I wrote my email, and then ran it through Babelfish to German and then back to English, and then repeated the process a couple times until the meaning was retained best. I think the "translate to any language and back via machine" process would probably work for sending easily-translatable English to other countries, too.

#338 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2007, 04:17 PM:

Bruce @ 335

I remember my English lit teacher in high school talking about this kind of problem. (She collected earrings - I still remember a pair of segmented dangling fish - and sometimes had to correspond with Japanese dealers.)

#339 ::: Howard Peirce ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2007, 05:05 PM:

Fragano 334: I maintain that cannot, can't, and can not are three completely different words. You need all three, and you can't exchange one for another without changing the meaning of a phrase.

Bruce 335: A small tip: If you're not doing it already, address your Japanese colleagues using the -san* honorific. (E.g, "Hideo-san, I apologize for the misunderstanding....") If his next email begins "Bruce-san," "Mr. Cohen," or even "Mr. Bruce," you're on the way to better communication. I think -san lets Japanese speakers carve out a rhetorical space that's a little less fraught. It may sound a bit stereotypical, but this has worked for me in the past.

* Just remember that -san goes with the given name, not the family name. In Japanese, the surname comes first, but sometimes they switch when writing in English.

#340 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2007, 06:51 PM:

#332 I'm curious - how do you determine that somebody is "concealing his or her identity" ?

Oh, come on. I don't think I was all that unclear. Sure there is a gray area, but people like, say, WB, who want to virtually machine gun anyone who might reveal their True Name aren't in it.

And I'm not in the gray area, either. I am unapologetically here under my real name and have a completely transparent internet handle on WP: Pleasantville, after the place where I live, Pleasantville, NY.

It seems to me the Wikipedia admins who demand the right to conceal their identities abdicate much of their moral authority, especially in such areas as conflict of interest.

It's not like people in SF don't use pseudonyms and aliases. If someone I know wants to be known as "Wombat" that's OK by me. But our "Wombat" doesn't go around in a ski mask, nor does he attempt to, say, conceal his "personal information" from, say con committees of conventions he attends.

Hoods are for executioners. Wikipedia admins should voluntarily give them up.

#341 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2007, 07:03 PM:

Howard Peirce #339: I wouldn't disagree with you.

#342 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2007, 07:40 PM:

I, on the other hand, cannot agree. I really can't. Just can not.

Victoria @ 325: Normal schools go back to the middle of the 19th century in the US--both the universities where I taught Back When (Southern Illinois University-Carbondale and St. Cloud State in Minnesota) started out as normals in 1869.

#343 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2007, 07:40 PM:

Teresa, it's three days later, and I hope you have gotten over being soggy and miserable. Wikipedia's not worth it. Scroom. Making Light is one of the absolute best places to visit on the Net. What Bruce said. You sparkle.

#344 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2007, 08:32 PM:

Russell Letson #342: For what reason can you not agree?

#345 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2007, 09:45 PM:

Mostly to use the words to mean the same thing thrice with different emotional overtones. It's a joke, son. (Wish I could do voices on a keyboard.)

#346 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2007, 11:01 PM:

Howard Pierce @ 339

Thanks for the advice. I was aware of the use of the "-san" honorific and have been using it throughout the exchange. I think the problem we're having is simply that the Japanese engineers have been told to absolutely minimize the time they spend advising the US project, so they're not willing to spend time puzzling out our questions. They go with the first interpretation they come up with, right or wrong.

Madeline F @ 336

That's a thought. I'll try it, though I'm unsure if it will help since the questions are highly technical (in several senses: they involve hardware, software, music, and church organ jargon.)

#347 ::: Another Wikipedia admin ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2007, 11:03 PM:

Greg @ 282 - it wasn't a "sudden switch", it was over a few hours. I calm down; I don't hold anger very well. I apologize for any cognitive dissonance it may have caused in you.

Being an admin means dealing with dozens of angry people every day, most of whom want apologies for things that aren't our fault. Some of them *deserve* apologies, and we do our best to ensure that they get them, but we're only human and sometimes people let their hurt pride get in the way of doing the right thing.

Anyway, since you've already more-or-less stated that you've quit the project, what's wrong with letting me know what your username was, so I can find out what went wrong? "It was a couple of years ago" - that's an eternity in Internet time. We've gotten many hundreds of new administrators since then.

And no, I won't be desysopping anyone - I don't have that authority. People do get Involuntarily Desysopped (a phrase to chill the blood) from time to time, though, typically for grotesque abuse - perhaps the abuse you suffered was one such case?

Of course there are flaws with Wikipedia. I'd be the first to acknowledge that. For instance, when you said:

"multiple pseudonyms can be used to distribute a person's editing bias to the point that even though the single person behind all the accounts is a flaming POV warrior, it's hard to nail them for it because they could use a dozen names to "dilute" their behaviour."

...This is a problem, yes. It's not as bad as you make it out to be, though, because we've gotten fairly good at catching that sort of thing. Checkuser helps. People do escape sometimes, but once they resume their activities of pushing a particular viewpoint on a particular subset of articles, that's a red flag. (Or it could actually be multiple people who independently share an opinion. That does happen sometimes.

(I just realized that last parenthetical clause could, again, be interpreted as an attack against Greg London. Please believe me, this is not the case. I've read Making Light for nearly a year, and I know that you're capable of far better, Greg.)

As for anonymity, bear in mind that I could have signed myself as "George Ramstein", or as "Natalie Carenzo", two names which I made up just now. Would those have given me more credibility in this debate? As Xopher pointed out, they *look* like real names (and I do apologize, both for earlier perceived rudeness on my own part, and for Beback's behavior, which was both inexcusable and foolish).

The reason I didn't address each and every point as I came to it is that I wasn't sure if it had been addressed later on, and also I didn't want to write an enormous lengthy treatise that morning; plus I hardly thought Teresa wanted ML to be filled with my lengthy explanations of why the various lengthy criticisms of Wikipedia are flawed, at great length (also width and depth).

Yes, this is disorganized; it's an accurate reflection of my thought processes. If I have Teresa's approval, I'll rebut the various criticisms individually; otherwise, at the very least, keep in mind Hanlon's Razor.

#348 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2007, 02:43 AM:

"Anyway, since you've already more-or-less stated that you've quit the project, what's wrong with letting me know what your username was, so I can find out what went wrong?"

Because there's all kinds of things you can do to people, we don't know all of them, and we don't know what you are saying is true. Sorry--I've seen just about every kind of net.abuse imaginable; I've watched whole new crimes be created on the net, and seen horrors done that aren't crimes yet. You don't rate any trust, yet.

#349 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2007, 08:32 AM:

#347 As for anonymity, bear in mind that I could have signed myself as "George Ramstein", or as "Natalie Carenzo", two names which I made up just now. Would those have given me more credibility in this debate? As Xopher pointed out, they *look* like real names

I have long been of the position that this whole practice should become socially unacceptable.

The one person who convinced me of his true need for Internet pseudonymity turned out to be a pathological liar and career conman with dozens of aliases he represents as his real name in addition to dozens of Internet handles. In the long haul, the fashion for pseudoymity hands over control of the Internet social discourse to people like that who are actually good at creating fake personae.

There is, for example, an unfolding social disaster going on on the Internet dating sites.

In the long run, pseudonymity kills trust. YOU may be a trustworthy pseudonymous person, but real conmen will outnumber you because they can be many more people. And they are sociopaths, so they can tell amazing lies about themselves to make themselves more charismatic. Whereas honest people are limited by the truth.

#350 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2007, 09:32 AM:

Bruce@346: I think the problem we're having is simply that the Japanese engineers have been told to absolutely minimize the time they spend advising the US project, so they're not willing to spend time puzzling out our questions. They go with the first interpretation they come up with, right or wrong.

Another possibility to consider (paraphrasing from someone who has visited Japan (which I haven't) and is both brighter and more sociable than I am): "Do not ask a Japanese for directions; they consider it rude not to answer. Instead, ask them who could tell you how to get to X; they will either say "I can", or direct you to someone else -- who may also not know, but at least you won't head off in a random direction thinking it's the way to go." (I give his experience some credit, as he managed to find his way on foot to the grave of the 47 Ronin from some distance (downtown Tokyo?).)

#351 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2007, 11:13 AM:

Russell Letson #345: I could see it was a joke. Thus my response.

#352 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2007, 12:41 PM:

Aha. QED. Nov schmoz ka pop.

#353 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2007, 01:38 PM:

#340 ::: Kathryn Cramer mutters:

#332 I'm curious - how do you determine that somebody is "concealing his or her identity" ?

Oh, come on. I don't think I was all that unclear. Sure there is a gray area, but people like, say, WB, who want to virtually machine gun anyone who might reveal their True Name aren't in it.

I'm asking because it -is- unclear to me. You may "know it when you see it" - but your "it" differs from my "it". The corner of the Internet that I inhabit considers it to be shockingly bad manners to demand "True Names"[0], and worse manners to actually do things like post specific details of an entity.

Posting personal information also plays into the ongoing issues of identity theft, data loss and fishing - and while I support your right and desire to do so, I'm firmly of the opinion that your right to post personal data (including "True Names (tm)") starts and ends with your data.

And I'm not in the gray area, either. I am unapologetically here under my real name and have a completely transparent internet handle on WP: Pleasantville, after the place where I live, Pleasantville, NY.

I have to say that it wouldn't occur to me that Pleasantville was based on the place you live - but that's because I've always thought of "Pleasantville" as being similar to "Podunk" ... a place that's a reference, not an actual location.

It seems to me the Wikipedia admins who demand the right to conceal their identities abdicate much of their moral authority, especially in such areas as conflict of interest.

Why? I can agree that conflict of interest is an issue - but again, the question here isn't about using a pseudonym, but about accountability.

It's not like people in SF don't use pseudonyms and aliases. If someone I know wants to be known as "Wombat" that's OK by me. But our "Wombat" doesn't go around in a ski mask, nor does he attempt to, say, conceal his "personal information" from, say con committees of conventions he attends.

Why should your "Wombat" give his personal information to anybody? Shouldn't the criteria here be that "Wombat" is over a given age, has exchanged some form of currency for a badge, and is not committing a criminal act?

[0] ... and again - "True Name" is variable, IMNSHO. Just doing geneological research makes it abundantly clear that the "One True Name" is a very, very, very modern concept.

#354 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2007, 02:03 PM:

#349 ::: Kathryn Cramer wrote:
The one person who convinced me of his true need for Internet pseudonymity turned out to be a pathological liar and career conman with dozens of aliases he represents as his real name in addition to dozens of Internet handles. In the long haul, the fashion for pseudoymity hands over control of the Internet social discourse to people like that who are actually good at creating fake personae.

Hm. So - again - this seems to be coming back to accountability, not anonymity. The issue you're describing is "Bad people do bad things".

In the long run, pseudonymity kills trust. YOU may be a trustworthy pseudonymous person, but real conmen will outnumber you because they can be many more people. And they are sociopaths, so they can tell amazing lies about themselves to make themselves more charismatic. Whereas honest people are limited by the truth.

This is a whole raft of issues unhealthily glued together and slapped with an inappropriate label. The starting point for what you're saying here is, again, "Bad people do bad things". This is true. This is -also- something that's not going to be changed by trying to force everybody to use something that appears to be a "True Name"[0].

In fact, the issue you're raising is all about trust and betrayal of trust - problems that have been with us since the dawn of time, and aren't going to be solved by insisting on measures that only the "honest" people will be bound by in the first place[1].

[0] For the interested, "one entity forging multiple identities for the purpose of subverting a trust system" is known as the "sybil attack".
[1] This is also the same debate that's going on about the erosion of rights in the United States - airport checkpoints are an excellent example of a case where there's been a massive, negative impact to "honest" travellers, and not even the shadow of a corresponding impact to "sociopaths".

#355 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2007, 03:04 PM:

#347: As for anonymity, bear in mind that I could have signed myself as "George Ramstein", or as "Natalie Carenzo". Would those have given me more credibility in this debate?

Would you still have given your email address as ""? Because that's what combined with your "another admin" handle to make it clear you're a buffoon. Well, that and your continued "I have the most super awesome devastating defense of all this but I'm not gonna". Oh, and your wretched condescension to Teresa by continuing your selfish justifications when she's stated flat-out on this thread that she's hurting because she smudged the work of art and beauty that is this blog to do the right thing for your pack of sleazy ungrateful assholes.

You're just tacky. Anonymous or not. All you're doing here is hiding your older handle from the judgement justly due it.

Anyway, Teresa, like Lizzy L, I hope you're feeling better. I support what you did, and if you did it for people who are burrowing deeper and deeper into the muck, that just makes you even higher by comparison. "Do good to those who hate you" etc.

#356 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2007, 03:38 PM:

Again, while the usual run of folks may (though should not) be anonymous, admins cannot be, not without the risk of major abuse.

And where risk exists, it will happen.

#357 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: June 03, 2007, 03:48 PM:

I've posted a brief mention of this on the Steve Gilliard thread, but I think it needs to be added here too, and in fuller detail:

There is a hit against Steve, ongoing, at Wikipedia. An article on him was tagged as an "article for deletion" immediately after his death. At least one of the commenters in favor of the deletion is a political enemy of his. A Wikipedia editor who has been tagging comments against the deletion with snide "not one of us" remarks has a Wikipedia personal page that, to me, looks like that of a kook. And worst of all, the main argument by said editor is "failure to show a presence in 'multiple non-trivial published works' ". Yes, the Internet and political blogging are "trivial". Nice to know.

#358 ::: Another Wikipedia admin ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 04:27 PM:

After carefully reading the arguments in the deletion debate for the Gilliard article, I closed it with the comment "notability sufficiently demonstrated; keep". I've decided that, since I'm arguing on behalf of Wikipedia, I might as well reveal the name I use there.

My real name, I really don't want to talk about - several administrators have faced substantial harassment, both on- and offline, when their identities became known; some have been forced to leave the project altogether (others have just gotten fed up with the politics and bickering).

As for administrators who falsely create multiple identities, I would like to draw your attention to this announcement, stating that an administrator has been Involuntarily Desysopped and Banned Indefinitely for doing just that. Note that this is not the first time this has happened.


Look. We do our best. People screw with the database for multiple reasons - to score political points, or for free advertising, or because they're mentally ill, or for the sheer masturbatory thrill of vandalism... and we fix it as best we can. And sometimes these fixes will by weak minds be carried to excesses, which will themselves need fixing. Because we're human.

Is the project flawed? God, yes. Is it fatally flawed? I don't think so. Can it be saved? I hope so.

Is the overall concept worth it? Not the execution, not this flawed and fallible mishmash, but the concept? The Platonic ideal of the Free Encyclopedia, free both as in speech and as in beer, the People's Compendium of Knowledge, built by us all, with everything and everyone important or relevant or interesting, global, greppable, updated in realtime and beholden to no one?

Is that worth the effort?

To paraphrase Russ Albery, "by god, I KNOW what this project is for."

#359 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 07:47 PM:

Yes, the Internet and political blogging are "trivial". Nice to know.

*cough, cough*

There has been the implication throughout my adventures and misadventures with Wikipedia that, indeed, the Internet and political blogging are trivial. Except for WIkipedia, which is filled will dangerous crazies who might come after your Meatself if you let your guard slip.


But then the sububan moms I interact with in the Meatworld are conviced that our suburbs are filled with dangerous crazies and so instruct their children to run screaming the instant a stranger tries to talk to them.

Must Xtreme Paranoia loom so large in the 21st century?

#360 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 07:52 PM:

Kathryn @359,

But then the sububan moms I interact with in the Meatworld are conviced that our suburbs are filled with dangerous crazies and so instruct their children to run screaming the instant a stranger tries to talk to them.

Have you been reading my son's school materials in Edinburgh, Scotland? I've just excused him from doing his homework on the basis that it instructs him to do just that after any adult speaks to him, even to ask if he is lost.

I've blogged a huge old rant, and I'm still furious. Someone appears to be trying to build Margaret Thatcher's vision of "No such thing as society", one isolated child at a time.

Sorry. Off-topic for the thread. Just on-topic for my life.

#361 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2007, 08:56 PM:

Re #360: I forget exactly which incident, but there had been a story of searchers trying to find a child lost in the woods, complicated by the child hiding from the searchers because they were 'strangers'.

#362 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 04:56 AM:

Rob @360
I recall the same story. Googling around, it appears to be about Brennan Hawkins, though there are probably other instances. This article includes an interview with a tracker who says it's a growing problem.

My kids' school includes an exemption to the "don't talk to strangers" for teachers, police officers, the fire brigade, and ambulance workers. This is great, but how many of those will a kid see on a suburban - or even urban - street?

We're moving countries (and therefore cultures) in the next couple of months, so I will probably park this issue until we see what the Dutch system is. Their kids seem happy, and I've seen unattended children playing in the local play parks there, so the paranoia level isn't necessarily too high.

#363 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 07:33 AM:

The Gilliard article is no longer on the deletion list.

I'd like to think that it was because the Wikipedia admins were wise enough to make the right decision, but I don't. Markos Moulitsas of DailyKos had to threaten to demand his own entry pulled if the article was not reinstated. The bigger stick won.

At the start of this discussion I had thought that some of the complaints about Wikipedia were a bit much. Well, I have been enlightened. And, to our anonymous coward - you have a serious and structural troll problem in your organization that must be dealt with, now, if Wikipedia hopes to gain any credibility in the real world.

#364 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 08:45 AM:

Rob Rusick @ 361: I can't vouch for this firsthand, but I was told that when firefighters go to schools to talk about fire safety, one of the things they have to emphasize to the children is that when you're in a burning house and a stranger is yelling, "Is anybody here?" you need to answer them with "Yes, I'm over here!" instead of hiding.

Have we honest to gods made kids more afraid of strangers than of fire? I'd really like to think this story is exaggerated, and I'm terribly afraid it's not.

#365 ::: Another Wikipedia admin ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 01:08 PM:

Jon @363, we don't pull articles simply because the subject of the article demands it (this has made some people very angry, I should point out - there are as many people upset because of our inclusionism as because of our exclusionism).

And the reason the deletion debate for the Gilliard article was closed with a "keep" is that - after I found out about it via this very discussion thread - I went in, read the arguments, assessed the claims that were being made, and judged that the article should not be deleted. Me.

I had no idea, until two minutes ago, that Markos Moulitsas had made a fuss. I didn't even know who he was (I've heard of DailyKOS, but I don't read it). It had nothing to do with the Size Of His Stick, and everything to do with the quantity and validity of the claims made in the debate.

And the reason the article was listed for deletion "immediately after his death" is that the article was only created immediately after his death.

#366 ::: Seth Gordon ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 01:39 PM:

Is the overall concept worth it? Not the execution, not this flawed and fallible mishmash, but the concept? The Platonic ideal of the Free Encyclopedia, free both as in speech and as in beer, the People's Compendium of Knowledge, built by us all, with everything and everyone important or relevant or interesting, global, greppable, updated in realtime and beholden to no one?

No, it's not worth it.

There is no "the People", capitalized, with a single vision of what is relevant, interesting, and accurate. There are only people, lower case. Therefore the whole enterprise of creating a single reference site with objective canons of "neutrality" and "notability" is misguided from day one.

#367 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 04:07 PM:

Aconite #364:

More years ago than I really care to contemplate, I was four years old, and allowed to walk over to the next block (just a few blocks off downtown and the university) alone to put mail in the mailbox. When I was six, I walked six blocks each way to school, and very shortly after that was sent into stores on errands and alone to my piano lessons. By age 11, I was wandering around downtown on my own, buying science fiction from the mass market racks in the cigar store, meeting my friends for movies on Sat. afternoons, and generally being undismayed by whatever disreputable characters our pop 70K city had to offer.

I gather that absolutely none of this would be on these days. And if prohibitions against talking to strangers do not include exemptions for shop clerks and library ladies, then the kids' chance for any kind of independent lfe is severely stunted.

#368 ::: Another Wikipedia admin ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 07:54 PM:

There is no "the People", capitalized, with a single vision of what is relevant, interesting, and accurate. There are only people, lower case.

Well, yes. But it's the *Platonic ideal* that we're talking about. I'm recalling the Sam Vimes line about how the problem with democracy is that people like Nobby Nobbs get to vote (or edit Wikipedia).

#369 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 10:40 PM:

abi, funny you mention it. We were just talking last night with our son (5) about what to do if he gets lost from us someplace. He knows that the best thing is to talk to a mom with kids, or a dad with kids, or a police officer, or a cashier at the store.... He has recently memorized our home phone number and his mom's cell phone number and is very proud of himself. I'm glad that at least his preschool isn't facilitating this paranoia.

#370 ::: gaukler ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 11:28 PM:

A new wikipedia game:


#371 ::: Sam Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2007, 11:58 PM:

#368: [I]t's the *Platonic ideal* that we're talking about.

We've got a Platonic ideal Wikipedia already. It's over there *points* outside the cave. However, the Internet & the contents thereof don't make a very good projection screen. (The hundreds of people jumping up and down and waving 'Hello Mum!' placards don't help, either.)

It makes a pretty damn good pub quiz crib sheet, and it's an unrivalled source of trivia, but aspiring to be a universal source of knowledge does seem rather like aspiring to be the Emperor Napoleon.

(Thank you for letting us know your Wikipedia username, by the way. For disclosure purposes, I'm User:Eithin.)

#372 ::: Kimiko ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2007, 08:32 AM:

369, Clifton, joann, et al.
Bruce Schneier has a brief bit on how much more restricted and paranoid the lives of uk children are> See which quotes the beeb.

Matthew Skala has a rather pity comment on notability here.*

*A deletionist's work is never done.

#373 ::: Another Wikipedia admin ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2007, 09:25 AM:

aspiring to be a universal source of knowledge does seem rather like aspiring to be the Emperor Napoleon

A collective project's reach SHOULD exceed its collective grasp, or what's a collective heaven for?

#374 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2007, 07:28 AM:

#360 Have you been reading my son's school materials in Edinburgh, Scotland? I've just excused him from doing his homework on the basis that it instructs him to do just that after any adult speaks to him, even to ask if he is lost.

I have come to realize that one of the reasons it seems worth fighting the Internet good fight -- agaist boneheaded Wikipedian admins gone off the rails, or against private military contractors turned serial killer who use their PMC brand name to pick up chicks on MySpace, or whatever -- is that whatever Good Fights I might pick in my high-priced suburban Meatworld are for the most part already lost before I begin.

For every one of me thinking that it is nuts to tell kids to yell "Go Away" to any stranger that addresses them, there are 10 paranoid parents who want to make sure their children receive such instruction. For every one of me that complains that it is outrageous for 4th graders to get 2 - 3 hours of homework a night, there are 10 parents in there complaining that their 2nd graders aren't getting enough homework and that this will compromise their chance of getting into Harvard.

I have been trying to figure out what direction to go with my blog lately, and am toying with the idea that perhaps it should become more oreiented toward the intractable problems of my Meatword existence.

I've mostly stayed away from that. They closest I've usually been willing to come is complaining about stuff like the lack of childcare at science fiction conventions. Instead I ignore the real local problems.

I'm big into being out there on the internet under my own name, but I suppose that I avoid the Big Stuff having to do with my real life inorder to preserve my suburban anonymity.

As things stand now, its not so much that no one knows my name, but that no one cares. If they were given cause to care, the possibilities of a happy outcome seem remote, since my own values are so different than those around me: we part company on such basic issues as whether ought to be sidewalks so kids can walk places; whether the undeveloped park on the other side of the block should become a real park, etc.

As a new mom, I did my time trying to argue about things like that (in person) and discovered quite how much of an alien I am. As the parent of a new elementary school student, I went through a similar exercise, again learning how truly powerless I am here.

So one answer as to why Wikipedia fusses matter is that the real world sucks and that it is easier to feel like you are making a difference on the Internet than in real life.

Should I blog the idiocies of the people around me in real life? I mostly don't. The person I thought was really incompetent in one volunteer position may end us being the president of the PTA at my son's next school.

The unfortunate side effect off all this is that paying attenion to the people who have nothing better to do with their lives than spend 10-15 hours a day bullying people on Wikipedia gives these bullies a mistaken sense of their own importance in the world. No matter how obnoxious certain WP admins were to cut links to this blog on the basis of stupid and selfserving policies, the world does not shift on its axis of there are no longer links from Wikipedia to Making Light.

In the end, such people are just another kind of troll. Sad to sad, it is more satisfying to feed such trolls than take on the PTA or the school principal.

#375 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: July 16, 2007, 02:23 PM:

Let me drop Jim a note and ask him whether he zapped the original piece of spam. It's not like them to post an IP address but no links.

#376 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: July 25, 2007, 09:46 PM:

Teresa wrote: "If you don't, the main thing that keeps you from seeing their failings is a painted-on layer of that lofty, turgid, word-from-Olympus monstrosity, the "encyclopedia style.""

Despite the fetish for that style, it's ironic that Wikipedians would exclude an great article like T.E. Lawrence's Britannica article on guerrila warfare, which addressed his use of the tactics in Arabia from a first-person POV.

#377 ::: Stan Etang ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2012, 12:18 AM:

Wii Beback was indefinitely banned today on Wikipedia - mainly for being a jerk and harassing people and posting information on Wikipedia about their identities.

"This user has been banned indefinitely from editing Wikipedia by the Arbitration Committee."

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