Withiering Wikipedia

This post was first published in 2012, but with the advent of "fake news" and influence buying on places like Facebook, the crisis I discussed back then is still topical. And it's only gotten worse.

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I've made no secret of my disdain for Wikipedia, especially as an "anyone can edit" source. Now, no surprise: Wikipedia's got problems -- and it is thinking of solutions to make the problems worse.

A reader noted some articles with some rather telling and disturbing information indicating the following:

Wikipedia is short on writers -- and keeps losing them. Well, why is this a surprise? Even the most ardent volunteer will eventually wonder why they put up with having to edit and check the work of 13 year olds named Jason who clearly don't have any idea what the heck they're talking about. Or why they put up with vandalism. And why they ought to do it essentially anonymously.

That's an ever expanding cycle, too, because as more editors quit and/or as the number of articles and/or content increases, the more work there is to do, and the more thankless the job becomes. One source gives the figures:

The total number of active English Wikipedia editors making five edits or more a month is down from a peak of over 50,000 in the summer of 2007 to just 30,000 this year. In October 2005, Wikimedia elected 67 administrators, and a typical month around that time would see the number reach at least 40 or 50. Nowadays, that figure is in the single digits.

Part of the problem is something Wikipedia's founders forgot about -- to really do this right, you need to know what you're doing. As another of the sources states, referring to Andrew Lih, one of the editors:

In the early days of Wikipedia (Lih became an admin in October 2003), editors were promoted to admin-status almost as a perk: someone else would nominate you, others would affirm, and after about a week you'd have new privileges around the site. "If you proved you weren't a bozo," said Lih, the process was easy.

But the process has gotten more and more intense over the years. Applying to become an admin now involves answering questions about copyright law. You have to write essays about notability and explain how you would act in hypothetical situations. And other Wikipedia editors dig deep into your distant edit history, find any testy discussions you got in and grill you about them.

"It's a rejection of the commitment [Wikipedia editors] put into the project," said Lih. Adminships used to be conferred without much fanfare, but now, even if you seek the position, you're going to get a "gigantic amount of scrutiny."

Wikipedia's solution: Idiotically exacerbate the problem. They want to increase the number of editors from 85,000 to 200,000. Among the steps will be incorporating a "visual editor that makes editing easier," and changes that will make it easier to make editing changes from smaller screens (as on smartphones). So, pretty soon, you can be even less intelligent than before to figure out how to edit Wikipedia, and you can do it from more places.

Wikipedia has competition. A new website called Quora, designed by a couple of former Facebook workers, has combined the notion of Facebook and Wikipedia to create personalized "homepages" that allow the user to keep on track with topics of their interest. It also frames matters in a question and answer format, which makes it seem more personable.

I know enough about how the Internet affects the mind to know that these interactive features will trump Wikipedia's current services. People want this illusion of interaction that Quora provides. 

I'm not sure yet whether Quora will be any better than Wikipedia in terms of being an information resource. It does promise that it will deliver "content from people who share your interests and people who have first-hand knowledge -- like real doctors, economists, screenwriters, police officers, and military veterans." That would at least be a step up from 13 year olds named Jason, if it can be delivered.

In all of this, it would be premature to celebrate (as I would) the death of Wikipedia. In a sense it is like the church using entertainment to keep or attract new members: Things like the new editor at to Wikipedia what a Mercy Me concert is to a church. As long as they have new eye candy and tricks to promote, they'll survive. The question is whether they will get to it fast enough, and be able to outpace the competition.

Which, ironically, is exactly the problem with an "editable by anyone" encyclopedia.

Comments

Joe Hinman said…
Good article JP. We have guy named Jason in the cadre, but he's a bit older than 13. But I'm not. Reminds me of a day about 10 years ago i was on CADRE email group and Chris Price and BK were saying we have t go fix the links on the Resurrection page (or whatever) on Wiki the atheists are messing with it again. Latter I'm looking at as page about Bigfoot (one of my many eccentric hobbies) they were saying we have to go fix the Sasquatch page the anti-BF guys are messing with it.

Latter I look some it up about the Dallas Cowboys I see got to fix the page the Redskin fans are messing with it. Wiki is just a war f propaganda.

Tagging valid sources of news "fake news" because they explode one's propaganda is a major war on truth. Nothing could be more in opposition to the Gospel.
im-skeptical said…
I think you should rely on a wiki site that is more suited to your refined intellect. Try this one. No atheists allowed.
monarchshorestz said…
There are some informative things on Wikipedia.
J. P Holding said…
There's also some drinkable H2O in clogged toilets. I wouldn't trust Wiki for anything except summaries of the latest Dragonball episodes.

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