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December 15, 2005

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Andrew

"I think Wikipedia is a decent resource to turn to for drier subjects which leave little room for subjective opinionating, or for information on pop-culture ephemera like the "All Your Base" craze"

I agree; I'd also add that it's a neat way to find amusingly random bits of trivia... it's how I found this poem written in Classical Chinese using only the syllable "shi"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lion-Eating_Poet_in_the_Stone_Den

Wayne

Agreed as well. The so-called 'Wikipedia Edit Wars' started out as a quite an amusing spectacle in my eyes, quickly but became somewhat depressing after considering all the fighting and fabricating that occurs around said subjective matters.

Darren

I second that. I've been contributing to Wikipedia for about a year now, keeping mostly to non-mainstream areas such as air force and aircraft articles mainly because dealing with the numerous cranks on anything more accessible becomes a pain in the arse and a waste of time.

For example, there was some nutcase who insisted on adding some lines to the article on Apartheid which insinuated that the Jews played a far larger role in creating Apartheid than had really been the case. It was really a silly addition, easily refuted by most high school students, but on Wikipedia that seems to matter little. Instead, we were faced with having to constantly revert this guy's additions, which continued for a month before he got bored of his little game and moved off. That this could have happened at all highlights some serious deficiencies in Wikipedia's structure and policies.

Ultimately, problems like the one above have resulted in me contributing less and less to Wikipedia as time has gone by, to the point where my contributions are few and far between now, and I may decide to cease contributing entirely. Until they manage to create a proper system for ensuring that the contributions of knowledgeable contributors are given greater respect than the ramblings of idiots, I just don't see the point of spending much time contributing anything worthwhile.

dsquared

[That this could have happened at all highlights some serious deficiencies in Wikipedia's structure and policies]

I have three articles in Britannica (or at least I did have eight years ago) and as far as I can tell this is a difference of degree rather than kind ...

Abiola Lapite

Somehow I doubt your Britannica experience consisted of wrestling with anonymous GNAA trolls, axe-grinding vegans and eugenics partisans for days on end and for absolutely no reward.

dsquared

As I say, degree rather than kind. (btw, thanks for assuming that I was on the side of noble scholars rather than the side of trolls trying to fill Britannica with crap; as it happens you are right but I can see how many might have made the opposite assumption).

There was a surprisingly large amount of politics (the office kind and the political kind) in deciding what went in, and it was strictly beer money rather than anything you could live off. I'm guessing that Wikipedia is having the same kinds of problems that Britannica did, but having them worse because there is nobody whose job it is to bang heads together when contributors behave unreasonably - it's a problem of insufficient bureaucracy rather than excessive democracy.

I must say I've found Wikipedia to be surprisingly adequate for almost everything I've used it for, albeit that I suppose I've only rarely looked up anything like "Hitler's vegetarianism". The "Bell Curve" article is really quite dreadful, though.

Abiola Lapite

I chose the "Hitler's vegetarianism" article because it was the most egregiously biased item that came to mind whose bias would be most accessible to a general audience: here is something no notable biographer of the man has ever disputed, and which was attested to by pretty much all of his acquaintances who survived the war and spoke about their experiences, and yet it is treated as if it were as contentious an issue as the existence of the Higgs boson, simply because loads of vegetarian cranks don't want their dietary habits soiled by association with Adolf Hitler. Would these people stop regularly washing their hands if they learnt Hitler did the same?

I've seen this kind of thing go on far, far too often for my liking, not just with eugenicists and vegetarians, but also with all sorts of other bone-ignorant types with ideological biases of their own to promote, perhaps the strangest being one semi-illiterate Yoruba-suprematist nutcase I had the displeasure of engaging in an edit-war with, and whose tiresomely tireless efforts at axe-grinding drove me to quit contributing after some idiot Wikipedia moderator attempted to treat my own sourced claims and said nutjob's incoherent rants as if they were of comparable merit. Wikipedia's problem isn't an *insufficiency* of bureaucracy - as I pointed out, the issue was referred to a moderator - but a refusal to acknowledge that not every party to a dispute knows what the hell he's talking about, and those who do aren't going to willingly waste their lives humoring the ridiculous conceit that things are otherwise. Why the hell should I wage an online war with some anonymous lunatic who insists on claiming there are 100 million Yoruba in Nigeria when I have work to do, books to read and so much else of greater value I could be engaging in instead?

More than anything else, Wikipedia is badly in need of a feedback mechanism which provides a means for evaluating contributions and rewards those with a history of providing high quality material with more authority than anonymous fly-by-night editors, and yet which is not so broad-ranging that one can parlay a history of outstanding contributions into, say, ancient Aramaic into being able to override others' additions in algebraic geometry. Without any such mechanism, the fate of Wikipedia is destined in the long run to be like that of USENET, i.e. 99% rubbish put out by spammers and loons, and only 1% signal.

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