Why Wikipedia?

You could consider this post a sequel of sorts to my first. I’m quickly moving along to the next big question that more and more people are asking me: Why Wikipedia? Well, I’ve sworn not to say what I said in the introduction of my first post ever again, but if you guessed that had something to do with it, you’re right on. Yet, strangely enough, the biggest incentive to get involved in Wikipedia has become the biggest disincentive to continue. Many Wikipediocrats discouraged me from the beginning; now many Wikipedians have joined their call!

In my first post, I likened Wikipediocracy to a rowdy saloon in the Wild West. I broke it out as a two-dimensional caricature that might lend a mildly interesting narrative to the otherwise familiar story of Wikipediocracy. Then my friend tim, who is one of those prized “very active editors” on Wikpedia and a (highly prized by me) polite voice of moderation on Wikipediocracy, added a whole nother dimension to it. And it blew. my. mind. He liked the Wikipedia project to the town church, and some of the more political Wikipedians to occasionally catty, sometimes self-righteous, and always gossipy members of the congregation. That really got me thinking. This would be a much more profound, tho perhaps less colorful, analogy than a trite description of the town saloon full of all those disreputable types.

As we once again take ourselves back to these tougher times, we notice that religion counts for a lot more here. Most of the townsfolk in our community are true believers, and they do what good deeds they can through the church that rises from the very center of the town. They come to worship here, usually setting aside a good part of their weekends so they can really focus on being among the best of the faithful. When the collection plate came around, they drop a few coins in it. But they don’t have time to stand in the churchyard gossiping after service; they prefer to spend their only day off reading through the good book to learn how they might make their good deeds even better.

The thing is, most of these townsfolk keep quiet and reverent in the pews during service. They keep their heads down in humility as they walk down the street. During the week, they are spending their time behind an aging, albeit reliable plow trying to pull nourishment out of the reluctant earth to feed others in their community and beyond. They have no time city-slicker politics. And they sure as hell aren’t going to spend their precious time talking trash in the rowdy saloon. Most importantly, these townsfolk tend not to speak unless spoken to first.

Now, most of the people reading this can probably imagine where they fit in to this growing- and some might say, well overgrown- analogy. It’s a bit harder for me, tho. I’m new in town. And the first thing I did was set my soapbox down, stepped up right in front of city hall, and started yelling. I’d like to say folks pay attention to me because I have something worth listening to, but I realize that most of them are just curious about the guy who has taken up tenancy in the mayor’s mansion. Maybe I could fill the role of the itinerant revivalist preacher, banging on the good book, screaming verses of the lord’s prayer like “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” at the top of my voice, and calling everyone to question the establishment behind their faith. But I’m probably more similar to a snake oil salesman- as one Wikipediocrat has already suggested- selling a miracle cure for all of the community’s various ailments. I can say this: if there’s anything I would prescribe to this particular community as a miracle cure, it would be empathy. And I’m not selling it, I’m giving it away. Let’s take a quick gander how that scene might play out. Just a second, gotta set my soapbox down here. All right, stepping up. . . and. . .

Come one, and come all!!! Gather round!! The end to all your ailments is here! It is simple, and it costs you nothing! I call it Empathy. Guaranteed to work for men, women, and almost anything in between, or your money back!! All’s you have to do is rub some on your ego where it hurts; step out of the saloon, open the doors to the church, or put down your gavels to see what is beyond that courthouse; shake the hand of a stranger on the sidewalk; and see what they have to say!! For best results, think about where they’re coming from, and where they’re trying to go! Then share some of your Empathy with them!!


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8 thoughts on “Why Wikipedia?

  1. Tim Davenport /// Carrite /// Randy from Boise says:

    We’ve been discussing how to find the “ordinary citizens” who aren’t either front-and-center in church on Sunday or whooping it up in the saloon. It occurs to me that we shouldn’t have to hunt-and-peck to find these names — that since the WMF counts “very active editors” every month with some sort of an automated program, it shouldn’t be even a one day problem for them to generate the names of these people every month.

    Once one has a series of these lists of names, it is simple simon building a 5000 name database or whatever and from there doing either editorial behavioral analysis or directly asking survey questions.

    Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) should be doing this, unquestionably.

    Another way to find these people, it occurs to me, is by going name-by-name down the “List of Wikipedians by number of edits list,” which is public information found here:


    That’s much more efficient than hunting for these folks at random, which is what I suggested earlier.

    Like I say, WMF should be able to generate these lists every month with very little trouble, if they aren’t doing it already.



    • Abd says:

      Edit count is a measure of contribution, yes, but is highly unreliable. Some editors use semi-automated tools and can amass insanely high edit counts, doing things of relatively low value, relatively mindless. Basically sitting at their computer while the add-on pulls up proposed edits, clicking Save, up to 10 or so times a minute, for hour after hour. Other people might, while this editor accumulates a thousand edits, make one that creates a spectacular article. To really do what has been suggested, you will need to spend many hours. You will find editors who have done nothing but improve the project. However, they often have zero experience with the difficult areas, and take them into those areas and ask their opinion, you may well get the original kind of knee-jerk responses that created the mess that passes for dispute resolution. The Wikipedia problem is precisely that the masses that create the project are *not represented* in the governance structure. They don’t really know what is going on, because they don’t see it. Wikipedia works for them, and they easily imagine that if everyone else were like them, it would work for everyone else, too.

      It is sad to see what happens when one of these editors runs across one of the vicious, who violates policy, but who is connected and gets away with it. The editor expects that policy will, of course, be followed. Indeed, they demand it. And discover the reality, that they have been living in a fantasy. They often become unglued, and are easily blocked and banned.

      One of the things I did, before I became personally involved in a hot topic (cold fusion), was to intervene when I saw editors being abused. I was good at it. I was often able to advise the editor how to avoid trouble. I was able to negotiate consensus between editors who were about to shout each other off the project. And I was banned from doing this (intervening in any dispute where I was not a primary party) by ArbCom, in a remedy that was based on no public evidence, never used for anyone else before or since. It was really, “Get this guy out of here.”


      • wllm says:

        I think you’re touching on a fascinating social phenomenon that occurs where there is contention within a group with a large majority that is relatively uninterested in the issue itself. I have a hypothesis about why this happens in an intelligent, reasoning population.

        If members of this majority are asked to help resolve the dispute, most will side with authority without learning about the issue because they are less likely to create consequences for themselves and they believe they will still value peace more than the issue at hand, even after learning more about it. They seem to make the classic mistake in dispute resolution that the other party thinks and behaves as they themselves would. So, they might try to attain peace by further sidelining the minority with the assumption that this minority will get discouraged and stop challenging the powers that be if they are in an even smaller minority. None of this behavior is particularly unreasonable or malevolent; nevertheless, it leads to more conflict, not less.

        And that’s because many people with the minority opinion feel like they are being told to shut up. This isn’t unwarranted, because they probably are being asked to do so by many in the population in so many words or- even more counterproductively- actions such as blocking or banning. And these are people who do care about the issue at hand, so it should not be surprising that they are not likely to react in the same manner that those in the “silent majority” would react with. In fact, in my experience, the more you ask people who care about something to shut up about it, the louder they get and the more willing they are to create more conflict, even if they are now in an even smaller minority (though, through the illusion of more people caring about the issue who actually don’t).

        That is to be avoided at all costs. If it seems bad now, imagine what it would be like if 1,000 people were rallied to actively antagonize someone like Greg. I’ve found that the best way to resolve the dispute is through a ton of hard, but very rewarding and worthwhile work. People on every side of the issue should reach out to individuals in the silent majority. It helps to talk about stuff you have in common with them that has nothing to do with the issue first. Because, if you don’t value them beyond another vote for your cause, they won’t value you enough to give you what you’re after. That is to say, this relationship shouldn’t be about any issue; the issue can simply be an excuse to do what you should have been doing from the beginning. This also is likely to change the perspective of the individual from the minority for the better. This person is likely to see more perspectives that aren’t strictly antagonistic to their own delivered from people who they haven’t come to consider their “enemy.” Moreover, everyone will start seeing the perspective relative to the larger picture of the community and its needs.

        In the end, this MO promotes exactly what is needed to resolve the conflict among all individuals that make up the community: willingness to compromise and, above all, empathy.



        • Abd says:

          Thanks, Wllm. Yes, Wikipedia dysfunction is actually normal social process, as can be expected in any organization not set up to move beyond that. The problem is that the Wikipedia project set up certain ideals and expectations, but the community was terminally naive as to how to actually accomplish them; yet it got close enough, and pretends, even more, to actually realize the ideals, that it engaged many.

          I am suggesting you realize that you are not the first person to see what you are describing. I don’t want to discourage you from finding out for yourself. However, more than anything else, the Wikipedia community is allergic to *description* of what actually happens, if those descriptions don’t match what they believe.

          Few will actually look at evidence, and those that do are, too often, so steeped in belief that they can’t see the evidence, they cherry-pick.

          The problem of Wikipedia is actually the general problem of human government. It’s not surprising that the project would fail so badly. (And it is also not surprising that it has been as successful as it has been.) To realize the stated goals of Wikipedia, something new is required. And Wikipedia is allergic to anything actually new, other than what it thinks is new, i.e., the adhocratic system set up.

          As I’ve written on Wikipediocracy, there are two ways out of the impasse: one is for someone with power to lead the community out of it, by setting up workable and efficient decision-making process, and the other is for an independent organization to use Wikipedia content as input to such a process set up outside of Wikipedia. In fact, no matter which of these approaches is taken, the advice part of the decision-making process cannot be under the control of Wikipedia administration, not the way that administration is structured. It’s the problem, not the solution.


          • wllm says:

            Yeap. Your suggestion is sound, but I’ve already realized that. In fact, there is quite a lot that I expect to describe going forward that other people have already said. I don’t say it because I believe it’s the first time it’s been said; I say it because it just might be the first time some of the people reading this blog have read it and considered it for themselves. And I truly hope that they take their own ideas, whether they are new or not, and write them down where they feel most comfortable making them known.

            You touch on the hypocrisy. The direct effect of hypocrisy, in my experience, is dwarfed by the impact on the people who witness it. For example, Greg Kohs’ being banned from an “open” WikiConference USA had little direct, measurable effect on Greg. Emotionally, I’m sure it felt incredibly unjust and annoying, but I think he’s even said he recovered all but $5.80 in expenses. Yet, the impact on the people who have seen this play out is profound. It is incredibly discouraging for someone who prides themselves in being part of an “open” community to see it shut it doors to critics. And now we’re seeing the community react in a way that has far greater significance that the conference itself had. I believe that this is less destructive as it is instructive. I hope conference organizers are going to think twice before excluding anyone who doesn’t present a real threat from a Wikipedia conference in the future.

            “Adhocratic” That’s a new one to me. 🙂

            I haven’t been around long enough to get in to any prescriptions for the ailments of WP- if I ever will, given that all of us are hoping there will be leadership to guide this process- but the problems here seem universal; one doesn’t need a lot of experience with Wikipedia itself to recognize hypocrisy, for example. As many people who should know have told me, there is a large silent minority that has just been focussed on building an encyclopedia instead of online politics. Unfortunately, we’re seeing that lifeblood drain away from the project now. Maybe it’s time that silent majority started speaking up. The first thing we can do to help them make their voices heard is let them know we’re listening.

            Thanks Abd, as always.


  2. wllm says:

    Yeah, I found this list a couple days ago. There are a few problems with it. Apparently it includes some bot accounts. Also, it include all namespaces, including talk pages. Finally, I think these are cumulative edits, so it may include some editors that are no longer very active.

    I went through the first 250, and I didn’t see any familiar names; probably no too surprising, given what you’ve said and the fact that I’m a n00b. I’m going through it now to get an idea of the best way to reach out to the peeps here that look like they might be able to give me some insight.

    I also have to clean up my talk page some before I invite people there.



    • Tim Davenport /// Carrite /// Randy from Boise says:

      The good part of that list is that there are 10,000 names. You can rest assured that 75% or more of the “Very Active Editors” every month are included there. It only just occurred to me a couple days ago that it would be a breathtakingly simple software engineering task for WMF to generate these lists of names every month since they are already counting how many accounts fulfill various contribution criteria.

      Not only should this be done every month, not only should these lists be amassed on a database, the publication of these lists might serve as a spur to increased contributions by casual editors. I just acted this way myself last month when I saw I was going to have fewer than 100 edits to mainspace… I buckled down and wrote content for a couple days just to make sure I got over that mark. (I’ve had other things going on in my life, new GF and all that…)

      And that burst of activity has actually carried over into the current month. Wikipedia is for the better for it. So: publicizing these lists so that active Wikipedians know if they are or are not “very active Wikipedians” in a given month might indeed be a spur to additional volunteer contribution of work — which is priority #1 and justifiably so at WMF.

      For your own purposes: once you know who the very active Wikipedians in June 2014 are, for example, it’s a totally simple matter to sift out the bot accounts, the administrators, and the names of The Usual Suspects from ANI/Jimbotalk, etc. on the one hand and Wikipediocracy on the other, to find the “silent majority.”



  3. […] I’m going to take my own advice from the last past and wake up; get up off the barstool it looks like I was perched on all night; wipe the slobber I […]


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