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Wikipedia's Participation Problem 372

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the too-lazy-to-edit dept.
holy_calamity writes "More people use Wikipedia than ever but the number of people contributing to the project has declined by a third since 2007, and it still has significant gaps in its quality and coverage. MIT Technology Review reports on the troubled efforts to make the site more welcoming to newcomers, which Jimmy Wales says must succeed if Wikipedia is to address its failings."
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Wikipedia's Participation Problem

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @01:34PM (#45214239)
    In my direct experience the majority of hardcore contributors and long-time editors are complete ideologues and giant assholes who are extraordinarily hostile to any outsiders or differing thought.
    • by rudy_wayne (414635) on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @01:47PM (#45214407)

      In my direct experience the majority of hardcore contributors and long-time editors are complete ideologues and giant assholes who are extraordinarily hostile to any outsiders or differing thought.

      That is the same experience I have had and I'll bet it's the same experience that many people have had.

      The battles on Wikipedia are well documented. Articles deleted, added back, deleted again. Back and forth in a never ending battle of arrogant assholes with giant egos. But the biggest problem is that the few people who have any power to actually do anything about it are completely clueless, as demonstrated out in TFA:

      the Wikimedia Foundation, the 187-person nonprofit that pays for the legal and technical infrastructure supporting Wikipedia, is staging a kind of rescue mission. The foundation can’t order the volunteer community to change the way it operates. But by tweaking Wikipedia’s website and software, it hopes to steer the encyclopedia onto a more sustainable path.

      . Because re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic will make a big difference.

      • by bob_super (3391281) on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @01:55PM (#45214551)

        "Because re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic will make a big difference."

        Which thoroughly pisses me off, considering that wikipedia is the biggest free and easily accessible repository of human knowledge (outside of the NSA).
        As imperfect as a tiny minority of articles are, their creators being only humans, it's still a monumental achievement.

        On a related note, they should share with Google a Nobel Peace Prize for the countless nasty arguments settled by a simple search.

        • I wouldn't call the NSA's repository "free and easily accessible"... unless you know their root password? Sharesies?

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward

          On a related note, they should share with Google a Nobel Peace Prize for the countless nasty arguments settled by a simple search.

          Don't forget all the arguments won with a quick edit followed by a "Let's check Wikipedia!"

          • by 1s44c (552956)

            "Let's check Wikipedia!" is often followed by "That's what Wikipedia says, anyone can edit Wikipedia!"

      • by mx+b (2078162) on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @02:02PM (#45214639)

        I have not tried to contribute to wikipedia yet (though I have thought about it, I have been unsure whether I want to try given the currently climate described), but it occurred to me: how does one become an editor?

        I am wondering, if current editors are appointed and have permanent control and this is causing problems, what if Wikipedia switched to something akin to slashdot's moderation (and metamoderation) tool? Let random people vote on if they think the change was warranted. They don't need to be experts on the topic, just answer yes or no as to whether the change was significant and properly documented with references. If so, then vote ok, and overrule the mods that may be blocking it. Is that not possible?

        • by Russ1642 (1087959) on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @02:06PM (#45214705)

          Switch them to Slashdot's system? Ha. You must want to take all of Wikipedia and flush it down the toilet. Good idea.

        • by databeast (19718)

          Everyone is an editor on wikipedia, many edits are entirely anonymous (IP address only).

          what you're talking about is an Admin.

        • by jbolden (176878) on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @02:33PM (#45215113) Homepage

          Editors are self appointed. You just get an account, find articles you are interested in you think you can help, and start.

          Wikipedia has in theory a bottom up system and in practice a top down one. The tension drives a lot of the problem. It is hard to describe if you have never contributed, but if you try you will within 6 months get bit hard.

          • by Moryath (553296) on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @02:55PM (#45215465)

            Precisely this.

            At one time, ages ago, getting admin privileges was easy. Make some good edits, prove you could contribute well, and you were basically in.

            Then came editcountitis, where people with less than X thousand edits (I think it's at what, 50,000 now?) were cast aside. Editcountitis created the current "revert monkey" culture and the fast-action tools so that people can automatically revert anything that happens without even reading the edit. Push button, issue revert. Most of these monkeys sit around slapping "revert" all day without reading; some of them actually just use a script to automatically click "revert" on their tool of choice in order to pad their edit counts.

            Then came, also, the cliques. Self-protecting groups formed, and the worst is the admins because once you are an admin, you are expected to ALWAYS back up the actions of another admin. You can't badmouth other admins - that's not the way the game is played - but you can be as ugly and mean-spirited to any normal user you want, and when they respond in kind you can either issue a block yourself or ask a supposedly "uninvolved" admin to be your proxy in return for Favors To Be Named Later. Because after all, "civility" only applies to those who don't have the Special Buttons.

            The way the game is played, if you are trying to influence an article on Wikipedia, is simple. You revert-monkey someone right to the point of 3RR. You never discuss anything on a talk page and if you've hit 3RR, you find someone to collude with to start reverting in tag-team, then you accuse the other side of either "breaking 3RR" or "not discussing." If you want to and have the backing of a friendly admin, you get them blocked and then issue gloating messages or just template the hell out of them to further infuriate them and bait them into responding "incivilly" to your harassment, at which point your friend the admin gets to escalate the blocks over and over again. Eventually, you'll run the new person off and you get to [[WP:OWN]] your article again, so long as you can keep new editors from ever sticking around long enough for them to actually work and discuss and change the consensus.

            The goal of wikipedia's admins is to drive off new editors, and anyone who tells you differently is likely a wikipedia admin.

            • by tlhIngan (30335) <(ten.frow) (ta) (todhsals)> on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @04:26PM (#45216807)

              At one time, ages ago, getting admin privileges was easy. Make some good edits, prove you could contribute well, and you were basically in.

              Then came editcountitis, where people with less than X thousand edits (I think it's at what, 50,000 now?) were cast aside. Editcountitis created the current "revert monkey" culture and the fast-action tools so that people can automatically revert anything that happens without even reading the edit. Push button, issue revert. Most of these monkeys sit around slapping "revert" all day without reading; some of them actually just use a script to automatically click "revert" on their tool of choice in order to pad their edit counts.

              Then came, also, the cliques. Self-protecting groups formed, and the worst is the admins because once you are an admin, you are expected to ALWAYS back up the actions of another admin. You can't badmouth other admins - that's not the way the game is played - but you can be as ugly and mean-spirited to any normal user you want, and when they respond in kind you can either issue a block yourself or ask a supposedly "uninvolved" admin to be your proxy in return for Favors To Be Named Later. Because after all, "civility" only applies to those who don't have the Special Buttons.

              The way the game is played, if you are trying to influence an article on Wikipedia, is simple. You revert-monkey someone right to the point of 3RR. You never discuss anything on a talk page and if you've hit 3RR, you find someone to collude with to start reverting in tag-team, then you accuse the other side of either "breaking 3RR" or "not discussing." If you want to and have the backing of a friendly admin, you get them blocked and then issue gloating messages or just template the hell out of them to further infuriate them and bait them into responding "incivilly" to your harassment, at which point your friend the admin gets to escalate the blocks over and over again. Eventually, you'll run the new person off and you get to [[WP:OWN]] your article again, so long as you can keep new editors from ever sticking around long enough for them to actually work and discuss and change the consensus.

              The goal of wikipedia's admins is to drive off new editors, and anyone who tells you differently is likely a wikipedia admin.

              I think the problem with Wikipedia is basically described by Animal House. Initially conceived as a criticism of communism, Wikipedia's editing system was also a form. Except there was no central bureau to control it all. That's the only difference.

              Basically, Wikipedia's goal is an encyclopedia where "Everyone is equal".

              But as we all know the full quote is "Everyone is equal, but some are more equal than others".

              And Wikipedia is a perfect modern day illustration of what happened in the early to mid 20th century - it starts out as everyone is equal, but soon, some become "more equal" and thus end up in control.

              So we basically had the 21st century exploration into communism - and the same results occur - you end up with a group of "elites" that end up controlling the entire site while the proles think they have power and control.

              And the unfortunate thing is, human nature will ensure that "some are more equal than others" because there will always been a human desire for power. (Or greed.).

              The only good thing is that it's only Wikipedia so as an experiment, its effect on the world are minimal.

              It's also why most successful FOSS projects are benevolent dictator style things because power abhors a vacuum. If no one is a leader, someone will become one either by mutual agreement or through forcefulness.

      • by IamTheRealMike (537420) <mike@plan99.net> on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @03:40PM (#45216143) Homepage

        187 people?! What the hell do they do all day?

        Anyway, I agree with the sentiment in this thread. The last time I tried to actually make a change to Wikipedia it was the most unbelievably retarded experience I've had for a long time. The fact that that community would try to kill something as basic as a WYSIWYG editor doesn't surprise me in the slightest.

        Basic summary of experience: The Wikipedia article on Bitcoin has a statement like, "Bitcoin has been criticised for being a ponzi scheme". The citations for this "fact" are, (1) an article in The Register which simply repeats the statement that "Bitcoin has been criticised for having the characteristics of a Ponzi scheme" and links to some random guys blog post which doesn't even make that claim, and (2) an article in Reuters which again says at the top merely that it's been "variously dismissed as a Ponzi scheme or lauded as the greatest invention since the internet".

        The problems here are numerous. Firstly, the citations don't actually back up the claim. Even though finding idiots on the internet who don't understand the definition of any given term is trivial, neither citation succeeds in actually doing so. Instead they merely assert that unspecific people believe that, which is circular. Secondly, one can actually check the dictionary definition of a Ponzi scheme and see that a free-floating asset class cannot meet that definition. So the claim fails basic logic.

        There have been raging arguments about this on the Talk page for over a year now, heck maybe over two years. Here's a quote from the current incarnation:

        While I agree with your analysis [that the statement is not supported by the citations], both sources are reliable; unless you can find a source that explicitly goes in-depth on how Bitcoin is not a Ponzi scheme, the cited passage is valid. We're unable to argue with reliable sources as that would be original research.

        This is the kind of "what the fuck" statement that just kills interest in editing Wikipedia dead. This guy, who is apparently quite knowledgeable about Wikipedia's policies, agrees that the statement is bogus yet says it cannot be removed due to Wikipedia policy - in flat and total contradiction of common sense.

        Previous rounds of this flamewar (that were since deleted) did in fact provide well reasoned arguments that the statement was false, some written specifically for Wikipedia. But it turned out that they were all invalidated by Wikipedia policy because variously, someones blog was not a valid source (whereas an article on the Register was), logic-based discussion on the Talk page was "original research", etc.

        When you see pages which are camped by idiots who constantly cite policy as a justification for ignoring basic common sense you quickly realise the entire project is doomed. Something like Wikipedia can only work if there's some kind of strong personality or driving force that actively shapes the community in a positive direction. A rudderless community rapidly devolves into absurd bureaucratic in-fighting of the kind that makes the civil service look proactive and lean. In that regard TFA is completely correct.

        • by tepples (727027)

          The Wikipedia article on Bitcoin has a statement like, "Bitcoin has been criticised for being a ponzi scheme". The citations for this "fact" are [...] (2) an article in Reuters [...] one can actually check the dictionary definition of a Ponzi scheme and see that a free-floating asset class cannot meet that definition.

          If the reliable sources are wrong, Wikipedia will be wrong. As Philip Roth demonstrated, to get a correction into Wikipedia, you first have to bring it to the attention of reliable sources. Write a letter to the editor of every newspaper that has carried the erroneous Reuters article, for example, to clarify for the record the difference between a Ponzi scheme and a free-floating asset class. Find some published [wikipedia.org] economists with blogs and get them to clarify the difference. Then you'll be able to cite these

    • by TWiTfan (2887093) on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @01:51PM (#45214483)

      Every time I've tried to contribute in my areas of expertise (and we're talking very modest and very non-controversial stuff), I've been met with a wall of pricks who basically stop anyone who isn't in the inner circle from making even the most benign contributions, additions, or edits. The editors there suffered from a clear case of what we in the old college frat used to call the "It's my party of no one else is invited" syndrome (in reference to newer fraternity brothers who wanted to make the frat as exclusive as possible, exactly one second after they got in). It didn't take me long to get tired of even trying.

      Now, that was a few years ago, admittedly. But it was enough to drive me away and make me vow never to return. Maybe things have changed since then, but I'm not really looking to find out.

      • It's really too bad, IMO, because I get a lot of value out of Wikipedia. Regardless, the in-fighting over article submissions is totally unacceptable and will lead to its demise eventually, if something isn't done about it.

        As an example, one of my good friends tried to submit a few articles to cover specific BBS "door games" from the 1980's -- only to have his articles flagged for removal as containing "irrelevant" information. (I can't remember the exact claim, but whoever moderates the submissions appare

    • by MarkvW (1037596) on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @01:53PM (#45214507)

      In my direct experience the majority of hardcore contributors and long-time editors are complete ideologues and giant assholes who are extraordinarily hostile to any outsiders or differing thought.

      Real experts don't want to go to the trouble of battling with presumptuous morons over the Internet.

      • by RenderSeven (938535) on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @01:58PM (#45214585)

        Real experts don't want to go to the trouble of battling with presumptuous morons over the Internet.

        The more you know, the less you say. And vice versa.

      • by Sir_Sri (199544)

        We don't mind sometimes, but when you are asked to work 8-10 hours a day then raise a family there isn't a whole lot of time for dealing with people who think we should get rid of the Internet, or that gold is the only real money.

      • My problem with contributing to Wikipedia is that I just don't see many opportunities to do so. I've had an account there for years with barely any edits on it. Why? because I'll obviously edit something if it's within my area of expertise and I know it's wrong or could be improved, but why would I be using wikipedia to look up something that I already know about? I don't have time to look through a bunch of wikipedia articles to find issues with them.
        • It doesn't take that long to go through a Wikipedia article to see if there's something you could add there. For the motivation...well, it's just fun to help out and add your piece of information to the pool of knowledge. It's stays there for everyone to be utilized for free, at least that gives me a good feeling.
          • by HiThere (15173) <charleshixsn@earthlin k . n et> on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @07:39PM (#45218845)

            The specialists I heard of (in this case mathematics) say that their articles and edits are rejected without acceptable explanations, so they've stopped trying. Others have reported the same experience in different fields, but those I only know of from the internet.

            That doesn't sound to me like they want to improve the system...though some have said it's a great source for Pokemon.

            Whatever. I once contributed an article, but it's gone, and I'm not likely to waste time trying to restore it.

    • by quax (19371)

      Yes, I concur, same experience here. Submitted a biographical stub once on an Australian media personality and theoretical physicist who published in several high profile journals.

      He had the same name us some UK rugby athlete and it bothered me that Wikipedia seemed to value athletes over accomplished scientists.

      Article got deleted for lack of notability. Guess what, I am not going to write another Wikipedia entry.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @01:35PM (#45214257)

    Their main contribution is to drive people who don't think like they do off.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      When the deletionists started dominating the process my enthusiasm for contributing anything dropped off greatly. Whether I'm contributing on my own or watching as formerly useful material contributed by other people disappears because it supposedly isn't "noteworthy" enough, it doesn't exactly inspire people to participate.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @01:36PM (#45214265)
    Technical solutions to a social problem do not address the primary issues. They need to be willing to admit that it is not a welcoming place for non-combative contributors.
    • by TWiTfan (2887093)

      it is not a welcoming place for any contributors.

      FTFY

    • by Skater (41976) on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @02:27PM (#45215009) Homepage Journal
      I've noticed many articles have paragraphs written as though it was someone who hasn't quite mastered the concept of a topic sentence and supporting sentences. Ever see the Simpsons where Bart gives a speech about Libya? "The exports of Libya are numerous in amount. One thing they export is corn, or as the Indians call it, 'maize'. Another famous Indian was 'Crazy Horse'. In conclusion, Libya is a land of contrast. Thank you." That's how some paragraphs in Wikipedia read. I want to fix them, but I don't have a lot of extra time to work on it; these are not fixed with a few seconds of editing like a typo (which I sometimes will correct if I have a moment); they require time and effort to correct. But I'd really hate to spend my time fixing the problem, only to have it reverted.
  • by Mister_Stoopid (1222674) on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @01:37PM (#45214281)
    ... but then my motivation to ever help Wikipedia in any way whatsoever was deleted due to "lack of notability".
    • After going through similar situations several times I stopped trying to edit. I put pointers on talk pages once in a while, but even that is unpleasant.

      The first time Jimmy Wales did his "let me put my big ugly face on every page and beg for money" campaign, that linked to a talk page. I put on that page that I would NEVER give Wikipedia any donations until they had their community under control. It's never gotten even close to being under control. It's one of the most unfriendly community of users I'v

    • by Daetrin (576516) on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @01:54PM (#45214539)
      This. Too many times i've tried to look up something on wikipedia, either because it's a subject i care about or a subject i want to find out about, and discover there _was_ a page on it, but it was deleted for lack of notability. In the second case it's annoying because it's entirely defeating the purpose of a reference work, trying to look up things i don't already know about. If it was more notable i probably would have heard of whatever it was before and wouldn't need to look it up. In the first case, it just feels like a snub.

      Then there's the bit where they keep deleting lists of things inside articles, particularly lists of trivia. Trivia lists are one of the quickest and most rewarding things to skim through. (This is why every site on the internet these days frequently posts articles in the form of lists. They get a lot of hits.)

      Which is why for any kind of fictional thing i often head to TVTropes before checking out Wikipedia. It's sometimes less informative but it's usually more fun, and i don't get the feeling there's a band of people running around deleting the stuff i'm interested in.
  • Why I don't edit (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @01:37PM (#45214291)
    I contributed to wikipedia a couple of times years ago. My edits were quickly reverted. I haven't tried to edit since. I'm guessing many other people had this experience.
    • Re:Why I don't edit (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Russ1642 (1087959) on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @01:56PM (#45214571)

      I converted a paragraph that looked like it had been run through Google translate a few times into actual English. It was reverted. The people that claim Wikipedia entries as their own are generally some of the dumbest people on the internet. The YouTube commenters are the ones in charge.

      • by dpidcoe (2606549)
        Yep. My last (and only) time trying to edit wikipedia was years ago in an article about hot air balloons. I noticed that "aluminum" and "aluminium" were used interchangeably throughout the article, so I did some research into what the accepted spelling was (apparently it was split 50-50 at the time). Ultimately I settled on the spelling wikipedia used for their entry on aluminum (aluminium redirected to it). I copied the article into notepad, did a find->replace on aluminium, reloaded the page to make su
    • by TWiTfan (2887093)

      It wouldn't surprise me to learn that more quality editors have been driven away at this point than actually allowed to contribute.

  • by Princeofcups (150855) <john@princeofcups.com> on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @01:37PM (#45214295) Homepage

    Is there anything to that statistic beyond the slowing of new content since it's a mature product? That's a good thing, right?

    • Re: (Score:3, Flamebait)

      by disposable60 (735022)

      But it's not a mature product. It's a lazy adolescent product only updated by fanbois and axe-grinders (to too large an extent).

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by multisync (218450)

      Is there anything to that statistic beyond the slowing of new content since it's a mature product?

      That was my question. According to this [slashdot.org] article from 2012, Wikipedia is essentially complete, at least as far as major topics are concerned.

      From the earlier article:

      With the exciting work over, editors are losing interest. In the spring of 2012, 3,300 editors contributed more than 100 edits per month each â" that's a 31 percent drop from spring of 2007, when that number was 4,800.

      So, not only is this artic

  • Its simple really (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bazmail (764941) on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @01:38PM (#45214307)
    Fire the fat butt-hurt dweller mods who over-moderate and reject articles for stupid subjective reasons. Unreasonable rejection is what turns people off.
    • Re:Its simple really (Score:4, Interesting)

      by QuietLagoon (813062) on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @01:43PM (#45214361)

      Unreasonable rejection is what turns people off.

      Unless and until WikiPedia resolves the problem with moderators, participation will continue to decline.

      .
      No one wants to deal with the Nurse Ratched moderators who seem to hover over certain topics, punishing those who want to contribute.

    • by bob_super (3391281) on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @01:46PM (#45214405)

      Yep, I tried to edit an article to remove The Annoying Caps On Each Word And RANDOM Capitalized Word that were only in two sentences in the middle.
      Not a single word changed, just removing annoying formatting.

      I'm pretty sure the caps are still there. They were a few months later.
      Reject trivial obvious edits, and people won't even try substantive ones.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      This. Many Times This.

      After dozens of edits as well as additional content on topics of expertise while including the (dreaded) required citations being reverted with prejudice labeled "off topic" I've given up on Wikipedia. How dare I touch someone's pet project with informative additions!

      To this day I avoid Wikipedia and remind my children Wikipedia is not a reliable primary source of information. Always use multiple sources even when browsing for simple trivia facts.

    • by girlintraining (1395911) on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @01:57PM (#45214577)

      Fire the fat butt-hurt dweller mods who over-moderate and reject articles for stupid subjective reasons. Unreasonable rejection is what turns people off.

      Wikipedia deleted hundreds of pagan articles for lack fo relevance/popularity. There was a huge uproar in the community, but it fell on deaf ears; Many pagan religious leaders' bios were deleted of Wikipedia and the discussion pages were locked so only select and pre-approved people could comment on them -- meaning there was no way to indicate to the bigots that this wasn't just some random stub page on something nobody knew anything about, but was actually reference material used by thousands.

      Ever since then, I've secretly hoped for Jimmy to get run over by a bus and wikipedia to explode in a firey ball of zero donations as people realize that the current crop of editors is enforcing their own dogmatic views on others under the guise of some 'community standards'... standards they themselves only sometimes adhere to.

  • by raydobbs (99133) on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @01:43PM (#45214359) Homepage Journal

    Honestly? They need to fix their 'data fiefdom' problem. Whenever you attempt to edit something, your changes are usually encroaching on someone's 'turf' and they will revert your changes (even if your right). You can certainly go back and reverse their change cancellation, but they will come back and cancel out your cancellation of their change and so forth - after a few times, since your new; they will just vote to block you and all of your hard work goes into the pages of 'unaccepted revisions' (which is just shy of the great bit-bucket in the sky).

  • Good (Score:5, Interesting)

    by onyxruby (118189) <onyxruby@[ ]cast.net ['com' in gap]> on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @01:47PM (#45214411)

    Wikipedia was run by people that equated quantity with quality. It was routine to see someone heralded as authoritative because they had made tens of thousand or more edits. In reality the only thing that shows is that someone is obsessive compulsive, doesn't have a job or has a job where they don't have to work. The result was large numbers of articles that were complete and utter crap, a few that were well qualified and the constant question of was the last edit done by a PhD that's an expert in the field or a bored teenager?

    It's long overdue for quantity to step to the wayside so that quality can step up to the plate. When wikipedia can stop ranking editors by quantity and start ranking editors by quality the entire site will gain credibility. The concept that just anyone can know what their talking and edit something accordingly leads to idiots that cite wikipedia over the CDC or a thousand other examples I can think of.

    Wikipedia still suffers from tremendous a vocal minority on certain political subjects that are locked and to prevent any viewpoint other than the vocal minority that won the right to represent their view on the given subject. Wikipedia has made improvements, but it has a hell of a long way to go before it can be anything other than a starting point for the curious and gullible.

  • by GrahamCox (741991) on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @01:48PM (#45214425) Homepage
    ...and I'll come back.
  • by bellers (254327) on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @01:51PM (#45214481) Homepage

    The wikipedia community has made itself utterly insular and there's way too much protectionism-via-automation.

    Make an edit on an article someone thinks is 'theirs' ? Auto reverted via a bot. Complain about it? vote to block.

    The constant barrage of Wikipedia-specific jargon and acronyms, all on its own, is enough to turn off most people.

    Wikipedia's culture has very much evolved away from everyman's resource to a rarefied and specialized discipline that requires as much specific knowledge as most jobs.

  • No Big Mystery (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sqrt(2) (786011) on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @01:52PM (#45214499) Journal

    Pick almost almost any random article, something not too obscure. Look for some cumbersome or inelegant prose and clean it up. Don't even change anything factual, just make the article objectively clearer. This isn't even very hard to do, since many articles are written by technical-types who aren't very proficient at communicating. You see this sort of thing with engineers especially; the kind of people who resented having to take English classes.

    Now wait about five minutes. Your edit will automatically be reverted by a bot squatting on the article. And after a few seconds you'll receive an automated message, usually beginning with an insincere and condescending, "Welcome to Wikipedia! I've automatically reverted your edit because...".

    You can try to start an edit war, but the entrenched editors of most articles have more seniority than you, they're "experts", and it's really not worth the hassle just to make small changes. So you end up with a lot of articles which seem like they have been written by people with Aspergers, or a tenuous grasp of English. I can't speak to the editing climate in other languages.

    I don't have a comprehensive solution to this problem, but it probably has something to do with getting rid of the automated bots which protect pages. That'd be a decent start.

    • by khallow (566160)
      I looked at the last ten edits I did, the earliest stretching back about seven months. None had been altered. None. I don't tend to make extensive changes and most of my editing was in physics or military history articles, but I don't have the experience of my edits being promptly reversed by either a bot or determined human.
  • by mythosaz (572040) on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @01:53PM (#45214521)

    I said it yesterday and I'll say it today, Wikipedia is an MMORPG that allows griefing of new players and has no safe zones.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Wikipedia_is_an_MMORPG [wikipedia.org]

    Anyone who is a higher level than you can kill-steal you whenever they want, retroactively.

  • Wikipedia has developed a cabal of powerful admins that play Wikipedia ten hours a day instead of completing their degrees. Until their power is curtailed participation will continue to decline.

  • Let me help (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    You want to address your failings?

    Fuck you for making it so difficult to edit Wikipedia successfully. Even to use the talk pages, you have to work with some obscure mark-up language which most people have no intention of ever learning. If you don't, any contribution you make will be deleted for "vandalism".

    And double fuck-you for playing favorites with various editors and admins. If you perm-banned the top 1000 most frequent contributors, the quality of wiki would go through the roof.

  • Jimmy Wales is also upset that one of his party guests peed in his swimming pool.

    He's trying to use a spoon and a net net to remove the contamination, but somehow that just isn't working.

  • by Kagato (116051) on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @01:58PM (#45214591)

    I asked Jimmy directly about this in a pretty even handed way when he did the Slashdot interview questions back in August. He responded:

    " Things have mostly stabilized. It's still not a crisis, but I still consider it to be important. One of the most exciting developments is the visual editor, which I hope will bring in a whole new class of editors who were turned off by the complexities of wikitext."

    More or less he dismissed the premise that there was a problem in the first place, and any issues that are left could be handled with a better editor UI. Now, I do think the Wikimedia editor needs work, but Jimmy is kidding himself. Maybe he'll get a new rush of editors when they release the new UI, but I'm not convinced they'll stay.

    • More or less he dismissed the premise that there was a problem in the first place, and any issues that are left could be handled with a better editor UI. Now, I do think the Wikimedia editor needs work, but Jimmy is kidding himself. Maybe he'll get a new rush of editors when they release the new UI, but I'm not convinced they'll stay.

      And there you have Wikipedia's number one problem. The people who originally created it don't give two shits about it any more.

      So now you have management by committee and that committee is made up entirely of asshats.

    • More or less he dismissed the premise that there was a problem in the first place, and any issues that are left could be handled with a better editor UI. Now, I do think the Wikimedia editor needs work, but Jimmy is kidding himself. Maybe he'll get a new rush of editors when they release the new UI, but I'm not convinced they'll stay.

      I pose that his priority is a successful web site. That does not mean accurate well-written articles. It means getting articles that people want to read. Veracity is tertiary, not even secondary.

  • by BradMajors (995624) on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @02:00PM (#45214617)

    Wikipedia does not need more editors. It needs editors with more expertise in their subjects.

  • by Animats (122034) on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @02:02PM (#45214641) Homepage

    Of course Wikipedia editing is declining. The articles that matter were done years ago. Most new articles are on very minor subjects.

    Print encyclopedias were like that as well. Writing the original Encyclopedia Brittanica was a huge job, but ongoing maintenance required only a modest staff.

    Some of the decline comes from Wikia, which is a hosting services for obsessed fans. Many of the people obsessed with popular-culture trivia content are adding it to Wikia, which monetizes it with ads. Wikia doesn't have a notability requirement, so fans can add as much trivia as they like.

  • by augustz (18082) on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @02:09PM (#45214741) Homepage

    I love wikipedia (and have contributed both $ and time).

    There seems to have been a move on Wikipedia away from actual contributing, and towards criticizing others. This drives new folks away.

    It's far too easy to slap all the labels on articles. The rate of tagging for problems seems way above the rate of fixing.

    Do these sound familiar? "This article may require cleanup to meet Wikipedia's quality standards. No cleanup reason has been specified." "This article may require copy editing for grammar, style, cohesion, tone, or spelling." "This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed." "This article may need a more detailed summary" "This article may have too many section headers dividing up its content."

    Perhaps they could just put a global message up. "This Wikipedia may have items that require editing. If you find such an entry, please fix it yourself."

    Before long we are going to have just heavy fisted editors, and the PR flaks paid enough to deal with them and warp the articles.

    Most regular people don't have the time to battle it out, but I thank everyone who tries! And I love the "welcome to wikipedia" people, keep up the good work.

  • by IndustrialComplex (975015) on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @02:49PM (#45215349)

    I couldn't even reach the point where I was even affected by the overzealous editors. I quit long before that, and I'm sure a lot of potential editors never even got that far. It's not newbie friendly, and if you want new users, you need to have newbies.

    1. The markup language. It's not as trivial to use as it should be. When I first started editing wikipedia, I figured I would start small with typo corrections, cleaning up wording, etc. It's a good thing that was my goal, because trying to figure out the process of editing and getting it looking right was a task in itself. If I were a regular person who noticed an error, or wanted to add a paragraph, by the time I figured out the markup language I'd have forgotten about the correction and probably lost interest.

    2. Bots. Why is everything I change automatically reverted in a few minutes. I then have to figure out some weird protocol for defending my change on some specialized discussion page which I need to know the special rules for in order to comment and... you know what, it was just a typo, I don't care anymore

    3. Deletion. Diskspace is cheap, if someone wants to devote their life to creating a series of articles on the twist and turns of the 3' wide stream behind his house, that's fine by me. But what the real problem is: Why should I risk learning the language, crafting a decent article with sources, putting it up and doing all that work... only to find out it's been deleted? No thanks, I'd rather go do something productive.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @02:52PM (#45215411)

    I see a lot of complaints here that boil down to "Subject matter experts try to contribute knowledge, dorky editors revert them over some stupid policy I don't understand the purpose of." From there it just devolves into poo-flinging. Most of you are missing the major policy points that require those reversions, and the truly deep (and perhaps, unsolvable?) problems which are the reasons for those policies. The WP policy stuff is really doing the best it can do, and you're caught up in blaming the "lesser of two evils" results of the process.

    The *real* problem for WP can be broken down like this: The WP guys really do genuinely want to build an archive of all human knowledge, freely available to all humans, while minimizing bias and falsehood. They want it to be crowdsourced, too. The obvious problem is that lots of the crowd will contribute false or biased things, and those things have to be filtered out somehow. The primary mechanism of filtration isn't "assign brilliant people in every field to fact-check submissions based on their own expertise", because frankly that would only lead to more bias and more problems. So instead of futilely trying to judge objective truth in that matter, they redefine the objective to a more-attainable version of the truth: we want what's commonly accepted as the truth, not what objectively really is the truth.

    The reason for this distinction is it can be enforced easily: all contributions of knowledge have to be backed up by external, 3rd party, editorially-verifiable sources. Then at least the version of truth that passes WP muster can be said to have passed societal muster in general before it arrived on WP, which diverts a large part of the truthiness problem. This leads to a pair of lesser problems, both of which deserve attention, but are very difficult to solve:

    1) WP doesn't accept original work from subject matter experts. Even if you *are* the world's leading authority on Quantum Chromodynamics, it's not good enough for you to create an account in your name and start adding random facts from your head to an article about QCD Coloring. Even you, the SME, needs to actually referenced a published book or peer-reviewed journal article for each factoid you add to an article. Obviously, this pisses off SMEs that know what they're talking about; it's annoying to be required to find what is probably an objectively less-qualified source than yourself to back up your claims. Unfortunately, it's the only way to prevent false SMEs: people with an inflated view of their expertise and/or a clear fringe bias. It's also the only way that a committee of non-SME editors can validate the process.

    2) Perhaps worse is the problem of self-referential loops with the 3rd-party sourcing. A number of issues come together to create the problem, and a typical example goes like this: A well-meaning person edits an article on Palm Trees in Florida, and adds some hearsay non-sense they heard from their neighbor about a new type of pest imported from Cuba that's attacking the trees and how they might all be gone within 10 years due to this pest. Because very few editors or bots are actively watching the Palm Trees in Florida article, this bullshit goes undetected for a while. Let's say two weeks later, someone gets around to reverting the edit for lack of a verifiable source. However, in the intervening two weeks, a well-meaning reporter for a local news station in Florida happens on the article, sees this shocking fact about Palm Trees dying to pestilence, and writes a local new story about it.

    She doesn't cite Wikipedia because, well, that would seem unprofessional. So when the original submitter sees the reversion, the submitter goes googling for evidence to back up the claims and get un-reverted. She stumbles on the local news story and brings it back to the edit war as a verifiable source. The editors pretty much have to accept it, and a new and totally invalid factoid has erroneously become a part of human knowledge.

    The problems here are man

    • I think the first problem using the QCD example is irrelevent, as if you are a expert, you will have published extensively on the subject. Therefore be better placed than anybody to cite good references. All good reviews articles or books should have 3rd party sourcing. It is a standard part of all factual writing.

  • by guanxi (216397) on Wednesday October 23, 2013 @03:02PM (#45215575)

    The main problem I've encountered is that the article content is determined by whoever has more time for endless debates and edit wars.

    One solution is to limit each user's number of edits per article per day. For example, if each editor can only edit each article once per day, or 3 times per week, it would stop a lot of edit wars and eliminate the problem of editors who think they "own" articles. More debate would be moved to the Talk pages.

    There would be some drawbacks: For example, editors doing major revisions or fixing their own errors or starting new articles would be overly restricted, but there are workarounds for that. Also, a group of editors would still dominate an article, because collectively they would have many more edits than the newcomer.

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