- See also: In defense of Inclusionism
- 1 The singularity is not near: slowing growth of Wikipedia
- 2 The Rise and Decline of an Open Collaboration System: How Wikipedia’s Reaction to Popularity Is Causing Its Decline
- 3 New York Review of Books: The Charms of Wikipedia
- 4 The Economist:The battle for Wikipedia's soul
- 5 The Guardian: How I fell in love with Wikipedia
- 6 The Guardian: Inside, Wikipedia is more like a sweatshop than Santa's workshop
- 7 Telegraph: Wikipedia: an online encyclopedia torn apart
- 8 Washington Post:I'm Being Wiki-Whacked
- 9 Mzoli's Meats
- 10 Andrew Lih Blog: Two Million English Wikipedia articles! Celebrate?
- 11 PC PRO: Dick Pountain observes the sometimes brave, sometimes brutal world of Web 2.0 self-censorship
- 12 Los Angeles Times: Wikipedia wars erupt
- 13 InfoWorld: Wikipedia breeds 'unwitting trust' says IT professor
- 14 The Age: Delete generation rips encyclopedia apart
- 15 Salon.com:More on Wikability The arguments for a notability guideline don't hold up
- 16 Why Wikipedia's Policy to Blacklist Blogs is Outdated and Wrong
- 17 Wikipedia approaches its limits
- 18 powerhousemuseum.com
- 19 Wikipedia should delete the deletionists
- 20 Wall street Journal: Volunteers Log Off as Wikipedia Ages
The singularity is not near: slowing growth of Wikipedia
The rate of reverts-per-edits (or new contributions rejected) and the number of pages protected has kept increasing.
The greater resistance towards new content has made it more costly for editors, especially occasional editors, to make contribution. We argue that this may have contributed, with other factors, to the slowdown in the growth of Wikipedia.
The Rise and Decline of an Open Collaboration System: How Wikipedia’s Reaction to Popularity Is Causing Its Decline
University of Minnesota research finds the restrictiveness of the encyclopedia’s primary quality control mechanism against contributions made by newcomers and the algorithmic tools commonly used to reject contributions as key causes of the decrease in newcomer retention. The community’s formal mechanisms to create uniform entries are also shown to have fortified its entries against changes—especially when those changes are proposed by newer editors. As a result, Wikipedia is having greater difficulty in retaining new volunteer editors.
"Wikipedia has changed from the encyclopedia that anyone can edit to the encyclopedia that anyone who understands the norms, socializes himself or herself, dodges the impersonal wall of semi-automated rejection, and still wants to voluntarily contribute his or her time and energy can edit"
New York Review of Books: The Charms of Wikipedia
The Charms of Wikipedia March 20, 2008 Nicholson Baker New York Review of Books.
Still, a lot of good work—verifiable, informative, brain-leapingly strange—is being cast out of this paperless, infinitely expandable accordion folder by people who have a narrow, almost grade-schoolish notion of what sort of curiosity an online encyclopedia will be able to satisfy in the years to come.
Anybody can "pull the trigger" on an article (as Broughton phrases it)—you just insert a double-bracketed software template. It's harder to improve something that's already written, or to write something altogether new, especially now that so many of the World Book–sanctioned encyclopedic fruits are long plucked. There are some people on Wikipedia now who are just bullies, who take pleasure in wrecking and mocking peoples' work—even to the point of laughing at nonstandard "Engrish." They poke articles full of warnings and citation-needed notes and deletion prods till the topics go away.
In the fall of 2006, groups of editors went around getting rid of articles on webcomic artists—some of the most original and articulate people on the Net. They would tag an article as nonnotable and then crowd in to vote it down. One openly called it the "web-comic articles purge of 2006." A victim, Trev-Mun, author of a comic called Ragnarok Wisdom, wrote: "I got the impression that they enjoyed this kind of thing as a kid enjoys kicking down others' sand castles." Another artist, Howard Tayler, said: "'Notability purges' are being executed throughout Wikipedia by empire-building, wannabe tin-pot dictators masquerading as humble editors." Rob Balder, author of a webcomic called PartiallyClips, likened the organized deleters to book burners, and he said: "Your words are polite...but your actions are obscene. Every word in every valid article you've destroyed should be converted to profanity and screamed in your face."
As the deletions and ill-will spread in 2007—deletions not just of webcomics but of companies, urban places, Web sites, lists, people, categories, and ideas—all deemed to be trivial, "NN" (nonnotable), "stubby," undersourced, or otherwise unencyclopedic—Andrew Lih, one of the most thoughtful observers of Wikipedia's history, told a Canadian reporter: "The preference now is for excising, deleting, restricting information rather than letting it sit there and grow." In September 2007, Jimbo Wales, Wikipedia's panjandrum—himself an inclusionist who believes that if people want an article about every Pokemon character...
The Economist:The battle for Wikipedia's soul
The battle for Wikipedia's soul The Economist March 6th 2008:
- Two conflicting visions are at the heart of a bitter struggle inside Wikipedia between “inclusionists”, who believe that applying strict editorial criteria will dampen contributors' enthusiasm for the project, and “deletionists” who argue that Wikipedia should be more cautious and selective about its entries...The behaviour of Wikipedia's self-appointed deletionist guardians, who excise anything that does not meet their standards, justifying their actions with a blizzard of acronyms, is now known as “wiki-lawyering”.
- [N]ovices can quickly get lost in Wikipedia's Kafkaesque bureaucracy. According to one estimate from 2006, entries about governance and editorial policies are one of the fastest-growing areas of the site and represent around one-quarter of its content...The proliferation of rules, and the fact that select Wikipedians have learnt how to handle them to win arguments, now represents a danger...inclusionists worry that this deters people from contributing to Wikipedia, and that the welcoming environment of Wikipedia's early days is giving way to hostility and infighting.
- There is already some evidence that the growth rate of Wikipedia's article-base is slowing. Unofficial data from October 2007 suggests that users' activity on the site is falling, when measured by the number of times an article is edited and the number of edits per month. The official figures have not been gathered and made public for almost a year, perhaps because they reveal some unpleasant truths about Wikipedia's health.
The Guardian: How I fell in love with Wikipedia
Baker, Nicholson How I fell in love with Wikipedia, The Guardian, April 10 2008 :
- [Wikipedia was like a giant community leaf-raking project in which everyone was called a groundsman. Some brought very fancy professional metal rakes, or even back-mounted leaf-blowing systems, and some were just kids thrashing away with the sides of their feet or stuffing handfuls in the pockets of their sweatshirts, but all the leaves they brought to the pile were appreciated.
- And the pile grew and everyone jumped up and down in it, having a wonderful time. And it grew some more, and it became the biggest leaf pile anyone had ever seen, a world wonder.
- And then self-promoted leaf-pile guards appeared, doubters and deprecators who would look askance at your proffered handful and shake their heads, saying that your leaves were too crumpled or too slimy or too common, throwing them to the side. And that was too bad. The people who guarded the leaf pile this way were called "deletionists"...There are some people on Wikipedia now who are just bullies, who take pleasure in wrecking and mocking people's work...They poke articles full of warnings and "citation-needed" notes and deletion prods till the topics go away.
- As the deletions and ill-will spread in 2007 - deletions ...of companies, places, websites, lists, people, categories and ideas, all deemed to be trivial, "NN" (non-notable), "stubby", undersourced, or otherwise unencyclopedic, Andrew Lih, one of the most thoughtful observers of Wikipedia's history, told a Canadian reporter: "The preference now is for excising, deleting, restricting information rather than letting it sit there and grow."
- There is even, as of January, an article about "Deletionism and inclusionism in Wikipedia" - it, too, survived an early attempt to purge it.
- I have a secret hope. Someone recently proposed a Wikimorgue - a bin of broken dreams where all rejects could still be read, as long as they weren't libellous or otherwise illegal. Like other middens, it would have much to tell us over time. We could call it the Deletopedia.
The Guardian: Inside, Wikipedia is more like a sweatshop than Santa's workshop
Finkelstein, Seth Inside, Wikipedia is more like a sweatshop than Santa's workshop The Guardian, Thursday December 6 2007:
- The combination of feuds and relentless focus on negatives associated with Wikipedia creates an obsession by some devoted Wikipedians about the evils visited upon them...[a] toxic mix of paranoia, fear of infiltrators and a social system where status can be acquired by fighting off threats (real or imagined)...looking beyond the rosy marketing picture reveals little but bureaucracy implemented poorly - including fiefdoms, cliques and sycophancy to the charismatic leader.
Telegraph: Wikipedia: an online encyclopedia torn apart
Douglas, Ian, Wikipedia: an online encyclopedia torn apart The Telegraph, 18 October 2007
- "The rise of the deletionists is threatening the hitherto peaceful growth of the world's most popular information source. It's on the discussion pages of articles nominated for deletion that anger creeps in. Policy documents are referred to only by abbreviations...the favourite of the deletionists WP:NOTE (notability)...The notability debate has spread across the discussions like a rash."
Andrew Lih was a well-known deletionist until recently when he became embroiled in the row over the entry for Pownce, a messaging and bookmarking website from Kevin Rose, the founder of the popular site Digg.com. The entry for Pownce, which had been written up in Business Week, was deleted as advertising until Lih resurrected it. He wrote about the row on his blog and has become a de facto spokesman for the inclusionists, and says he feels like an old hand.
"The old timers remember the early days when we used to say 'ignore all rules' and 'assume good faith', but people tend not to emphasise that now. The third or fourth generation of Wikipedians has only heard Jimmy Wales talk about the problems.
"So now, mixed in with the euphoria and positive energy it's a lot of cutting, fighting, referencing, cutting back while leaving the good stuff in. New priorities are arriving. Newer folks feel like they're wielding a machete, not planting new trees.
Washington Post:I'm Being Wiki-Whacked
Noah, Timothy I'm Being Wiki-Whacked Washington Post, February 25, 2007
"Wikipedia's notability policy resembles U.S. immigration policy before 9/11: stringent rules, spotty enforcement. To be notable, a Wikipedia topic must be "the subject of multiple non-trivial published works from sources that are reliable and independent of the subject and of each other." Although I have written or been quoted in such works, I can't say I've ever been the subject of any. And wouldn't you know, some notability cop cruised past my bio and pulled me over."
"Why does Wikipedia have a "notability" standard at all?"
"We know why other encyclopedias need to limit the topics they cover. If they're on paper, they're confined by space. If they're on the Web, they're confined by staff size. But Wikipedia commands what is, for all practical purposes, infinite space and infinite manpower. The drawback to Wikipedia's ongoing collaboration with readers is that entries are vulnerable to error, clumsy writing and sabotage. The advantage is that Wikipedia can draw on the collective interests and knowledge of its hundreds of thousands of daily visitors to cover, well, anything. To limit that scope based on notions of importance and notability seems self-defeating. If Wikipedia publishes a bio of my cleaning lady, that won't make it any harder to field experts to write and edit Wikipedia's bio of Albert Einstein. So why not let her in?"
"Wikipedia already maintains rules concerning verifiability and privacy. Why does it need separate rules governing "notability"?"
"When people go to this much trouble to maintain a distinction rendered irrelevant by technological change, the search for an explanation usually leads to Thorstein Veblen's 1899 book, "The Theory of the Leisure Class." This extended sociological essay argues that the pursuit of status based on outmoded social codes takes precedence over, and frequently undermines, the rational pursuit of wealth and, more broadly, common sense. Hierarchical distinctions among people and things remain in force not because they retain practical value, but because they have become pleasurable in themselves. Wikipedia's stubborn enforcement of its notability standard suggests that Veblen was right. We limit entry to the club not because we need to, but because we want to."
Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, created a stub entitled Mzoli's Meats. It was one sentence: "Mzoli's Meats is a butcher shop and restaurant located in Guguletu township near Cape Town, South Africa", with a link to a blog.
It was deleted in 22 minutes in a unilateral action by Chad Horohoe, a 19-year-old Wikipedia administrator who goes by the name ^demon.
The two weeks of furious debate that followed was summarised by user Kelly Martin, who said: "The Wikipedia that Jimbo [Wales] originally created takes short stubs like the one he created and turns them into articles; stubs should only be deleted when there is no reasonable hope that they will ever cease to be stubs. Unfortunately, in the past few years Wikipedia has changed; it now takes short stubs and throws them in the trash can, and excoriates those who have the temerity to create them. This stub is being saved only because it was created by Jimbo." --Douglas, Ian, Wikipedia: an online encyclopedia torn apart The Telegraph, 18 October 2007
In September 2007, Jimbo Wales, Wikipedia's panjandrum—himself an inclusionist who believes that if people want an article about every Pokemon character, then hey, let it happen—posted a one-sentence stub about Mzoli's, a restaurant on the outskirts of Cape Town, South Africa. It was quickly put up for deletion. Others saved it, and after a thunderstorm of vandalism (e.g., the page was replaced with "I hate Wikipedia, its a far-left propaganda instrument, some far-left gangs control it"), Mzoli's is now a model piece, spiky with press citations. There's even, as of January, an article about "Deletionism and inclusionism in Wikipedia"—it too survived an early attempt to purge it. -- The Charms of Wikipedia March 20, 2008 Nicholson Baker New York Review of Books.
Andrew Lih Blog: Two Million English Wikipedia articles! Celebrate?
This weekend (September 2007), the English Language Wikipedia surpassed two million articles with the creation of El Hormiguero, an article about a Spanish-language television show.
Wikipedia’s volunteer culture has shifted dramatically from being rouge and revolutionary, to remaining staid and conventional, both in content and in policy.
Instead of two million articles being a time to celebrate, El Hormiguero shows the challenges Wikipedia faces. If you’ve seen my recent blog posts or my Wikimania 2007 presentation, you can probably guess what happened to our dear article. Yes, it was promptly listed on Articles for Deletion by User:Alkivar within 24 hours of creation
PC PRO: Dick Pountain observes the sometimes brave, sometimes brutal world of Web 2.0 self-censorship
Dick Pountain (August 2008). "The sometimes brave, sometimes brutal world of Web 2.0 self-censorship". PC Pro (166): 11.
PC Pro Dick Pountain  For an example of the dark side running out of control, though, check out Wikipedia. The US novelist Nicholson Baker recently confessed in the New York Review of Books (NYRB) his addiction to editing Wikipedia articles..In the NYRB article Baker explains how Wikipedia continually struggles to repel vandalisation...but as a result is now ruled by bands of vigilantes who delete all new material without mercy or insight. This is such a strong claim that it needed checking, so I decided to attempt an edit myself. A couple of weeks ago I attended the annual Orwell Prize Awards Ceremony for political writing which is sponsored by The Political Quarterly, a venerable UK magazine for which I write occasional book reviews. Sure enough Wikipedia has an entry for Orwell Awards, but its link for The Political Quarterly was just a stub, so I tried to add a proper entry for the magazine.
I wrote a roughly 100-word potted history of this 75-year-old periodical, mentioning that early contributors included Leon Trotsky and Benito Mussolini. Sure enough, within five minutes I received a message to the effect that this entry has no content, is only about my friends (some friends!), lacks citations or corroboration and has been put up for "express deletion".
I was permitted an appeal, but it was disposed of in about two minutes and then the piece was gone. The executioner's online name is provided; following that up merely revealed that he runs a blog about baseball. So Baker's concerns would appear to be merited...It seems Wikipedia has completed the journey by arriving at an online equivalent of the midnight door-knock and the book bonfire...
- Full article
Posted on 10 Jun 2008 at 16:44
Dick Pountain observes the sometimes brave, sometimes brutal world of Web 2.0 self-censorship.
Back in issue 147 I suggested that the way the internet was developing showed parallels with a larger human history - that Web 2.0 sites like Facebook and Flickr represent the move from scattered bands of nomadic herdsmen and subsistence farmers into walled cities. During the almost two years that have passed since that column I've had more time to observe the process, and I'm more convinced than ever that the analogy works. These sites are almost like experimental laboratories, where you can watch the gradual emergence of different kinds of ethical behaviour. The membership of most Web 2.0 sites is international, anonymous and freely chosen, and the broad mix of people involved have to grope their way toward decent ways of relating to one another without much guidance from any central authority.
Perhaps a laboratory is not the most appropriate metaphor after all: sometimes I'm more reminded of William Golding's Lord of the Flies, where a bunch of bright kids stranded on a desert island have to organise themselves without the adults.
I still use Flickr most, and the behaviour there is strikingly ethical. If someone had suggested ten years ago that you could create a website where anyone in the world can post their photographs, you'd have cynically prophesied that within months it would be totally colonised by the worldwide porno biz. This didn't happen, and hasn't required a heavy censor's hand either. There is a No Censorship on Flickr campaign but it's neither high profile nor overly acrimonious. Most groups just state No Porn in their rules, and self-police by removing offending pics.
What interests me more is the way certain very human traits, like a tendency to form in-groups and to search for esteem, are flowering on Flickr. A sizable fraction of the millions of Flickr groups now either accept pictures by invitation only, or else give awards in the shape of fancy icons (sometimes animated, sometimes mimicking medals and other real-world awards). The motives are clear and reasonable in both cases: invitation-only guarantees relevancy by excluding pictures too far from the group topic, while awards typically come with an obligation to comment or award two, three or however many other photographs, giving everyone involved more views and comments. Such simple rules work well enough to keep Flickr both popular and excellent, but you can tell that a minority of users chafe under any rules at all, while another minority would love to impose more draconian ones. On some sites like Digg, votes from other users can cause your contribution to be removed, and a similar Delete Me movement developed on Flickr a few years ago but never caught on.
For an example of the dark side running out of control, though, check out Wikipedia. The US novelist Nicholson Baker recently confessed in the New York Review of Books (NYRB) his addiction to editing Wikipedia articles. Baker's is an oddball sensibility, equally capable of three pages to describe a clock ticking or inspired filth like "Vox" and "The Fermata" which soars high above the butcher-shop porn of the internet. His Wiki edits tended toward bovine hormones and fungal diseases of ivy. In the NYRB article Baker explains how Wikipedia continually struggles to repel vandalisation by the retarded frat-boy BRAAAAAP! brigades, but as a result is now ruled by bands of vigilantes who delete all new material without mercy or insight. This is such a strong claim that it needed checking, so I decided to attempt an edit myself. A couple of weeks ago I attended the annual Orwell Prize Awards Ceremony for political writing which is sponsored by The Political Quarterly, a venerable UK magazine for which I write occasional book reviews. Sure enough Wikipedia has an entry for Orwell Awards, but its link for The Political Quarterly was just a stub, so I tried to add a proper entry for the magazine.
I wrote a roughly 100-word potted history of this 75-year-old periodical, mentioning that early contributors included Leon Trotsky and Benito Mussolini. Sure enough, within five minutes I received a message to the effect that this entry has no content, is only about my friends (some friends!), lacks citations or corroboration and has been put up for "express deletion".
I was permitted an appeal, but it was disposed of in about two minutes and then the piece was gone. The executioner's online name is provided; following that up merely revealed that he runs a blog about baseball. So Baker's concerns would appear to be merited: "There are some people on Wikipedia now who are just bullies, who take pleasure in wrecking and mocking people's work - even to the point of laughing at non-standard 'Engrish'. They poke articles full of warnings and citation-needed notes and deletion prods till the topics go away." It seems Wikipedia has completed the journey by arriving at an online equivalent of the midnight door-knock and the book bonfire...
Los Angeles Times: Wikipedia wars erupt
At the heart of the include-exclude issue is the idea of notability, which a Wikipedia policy page defines as "worthy of notice." The problem is that deciding what counts as notable -- and who gets to decide it -- is a hopelessly slippery pursuit...if even a small number of useful articles are being deleted in the name of keeping Wikipedia clean, isn't that like allowing a few innocent men to hang in favor of a lower crime rate? "Wikipedia's community has become so rushed, so immediatist, that it is not willing to allow embryonic articles even a tiny modicum of time to incubate"
InfoWorld: Wikipedia breeds 'unwitting trust' says IT professor
Wikipedia topics are selected for inclusion on the basis of their notability, which is subjective and fosters discrimination and elitism, "the very things the Wikipedia is against." "Unlike academic journals and other legitimate reference sources, the Wikipedia has created new and anonymous elite 'editors' and administrators"
The Age: Delete generation rips encyclopedia apart
From the articles explaining the principles on Meta-Wiki, a website discussing how to manage Wikipedia, it is clear that both groups find the other a little ridiculous. It's on the discussion pages of articles nominated for deletion that anger creeps in. Policy documents are referred to only by abbreviations. There's WP:NEO (avoid neologisms), WP:NOR (no original research), WP:NOT (what Wikipedia is not, including a dictionary, a crystal ball and a democracy) and the favourite of the deletionists WP:NOTE (notability).
Mzoli's Meats was deleted in 22 minutes...The two weeks of furious debate that followed was summarised [as the following]: "The Wikipedia that Jimbo (Wales) originally created takes short stubs like the one he created and turns them into articles; stubs should only be deleted when there is no reasonable hope that they will ever cease to be stubs. Unfortunately, in the past few years Wikipedia has changed; it now takes short stubs and throws them in the trash can, and excoriates those who have the temerity to create them. This stub is being saved only because it was created by Jimbo."..."The old timers remember the early days when we used to say 'ignore all rules' and 'assume good faith', but people tend not to emphasise that now,"
Salon.com:More on Wikability The arguments for a notability guideline don't hold up
Disptues these arguments:
- "Wikipedia does not command infinite Web space. Servers cost money."
- "Banning the notability guideline is an invitation to sock puppetry."
- "Facts about nonfamous people are difficult to verify."
- "Wikipedia articles about non-notables get policed less."
- "How many George Bushes?"
- "Wikipedia would turn into MySpace."
Why Wikipedia's Policy to Blacklist Blogs is Outdated and Wrong
Read Write Web February 13, 2009.
- It's also deeply ironic that Wikipedia - a poster child of the Web 2.0 revolution, the read/write user participation Web - fails to recognize the validity of "self-published" media. Wikipedia is by its own definition a "self-published" work, created and edited by thousands of amateur volunteers.
- In our specific case there's a further irony: the world's most famous newspaper, The New York Times, syndicates ReadWriteWeb on the Technology section of its website. In other words, 'old media' recognizes the validity of blog content. Yet Wikipedia, supposedly as 'new media' as it gets, does not.
Wikipedia approaches its limits
The online encyclopedia is about to hit 3m articles in English – but growth is stalling as 'inclusionists' and 'deletionists' fight for control.
Bobbie Johnson guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 12 August 2009.
Yet again, Wikipedia is about to break new ground. The website that has become one of the biggest open repositories of knowledge is due – within the next week or so – to hit the mark of 3m articles in English.
It's all a very long way from January 2001, when Wikipedia launched. Its first million articles took five years to put together, but the second was achieved by 2007. It was not just the number of articles that grew, but also the number of people involved in creating them. During Wikipedia's first burst of activity between 2004 and 2007, the number of active users on the site rocketed from just a few thousand to more than 300,000.
However, statistics released by the site's analytics team suggest Wikipedia's explosive growth is all but finished. The quickening pace that helped the site reach the 2m article milestone just 17 months after breaking the 1m barrier suddenly evaporated: adding the next million has taken nearly two years. While the encyclopedia is still growing overall, the number of articles being added has reduced from an average of 2,200 a day in July 2007 to around 1,300 today.
Elsewhere, the number of active Wikipedians (those contributing to the site in some way) now comes in at just under 500,000. That is a 61% increase in the past two years; hardly shabby, but nowhere near the increases seen in the past. At the same time, however, the base of highly active editors (who contribute new words to the project and marshall the billions of pieces of information the site contains) has remained more or less static.
From the numbers, it looks as though Wikipedia is stagnating. Why?
One of those who has spent his time studying what happens on Wikipedia is Ed H Chi, a scientist who works at the Palo Alto Research Center (Parc) in California. His team, the Augmented Social Cognition group, wanted to understand what was happening on the website in order to build better collaborative software.
"For a long time, the understood model for all kinds of large knowledge systems on the web was that they grow exponentially," he says. "The accepted explanation was that the rich get richer – things that receive a lot of attention end up getting a lot more attention."
Wikipedia fitted that model perfectly in its early days. However, when Chi and his colleagues looked at the recent data, they realised this approach did not fit any more. But with a site as complex and sprawling as Wikipedia, simply crunching the numbers proved a major task in itself.
First they spent a significant amount of time downloading a carbon copy of Wikipedia: every article, every edit and every piece of information ever to cross the site's servers. Even when compressed, the files stretched to an enormous 8 terabytes – the equivalent of more than 1,200 DVDs stuffed with information. Decompressing in preparation for analysis took almost a week. But when the group fed the data into their 60-machine computing cluster, they got some surprising results.
Chi's team discovered that the way the site operated had changed significantly from the early days, when it ran an open-door policy that allowed in anyone with the time and energy to dedicate to the project. Today, they discovered, a stable group of high-level editors has become increasingly responsible for controlling the encyclopedia, while casual contributors and editors are falling away. Wikipedia – often touted as the bastion of open knowledge online – has become, in Chi's words, "a more exclusive place".
One of the measures the Parc team looked at was how often a user's edit succeeds in sticking. "We found that if you were an elite editor, the chance of your edit being reverted was something in the order of 1% – and that's been very consistent over time from around 2003 or 2004," he says.
Meanwhile, for those who did not invest vast amounts of time in editing, the experience was very different. "For editors that make between two and nine edits a month, the percentage of their edits being reverted had gone from 5% in 2004 all the way up to about 15% by October 2008. And the 'onesies' – people who only make one edit a month – their edits are now being reverted at a 25% rate," Chi explains.
In other words, a change by a casual editor is more likely than ever to be overturned, while changes by the elite are rarely questioned. "To power users it feels like Wikipedia operates in the way it always has – but for the newcomers or the occasional users, they feel like the resistance in the community has definitely changed."
While Chi points out that this does not necessarily imply causation, he suggests it is concrete evidence to back up what many people have been saying: that it is increasingly difficult to enjoy contributing to Wikipedia unless you are part of the site's inner core of editors.
Include me out
One person who typifies that feeling is Aaron Swartz, a 22-year-old programmer who lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Something of a wunderkind in the software development world, Swartz used to spend a lot of time working on Wikipedia – in 2006 he even stood for election to the Wikimedia Foundation, the organisation behind the site (his bid failed). These days, however, he rarely checks in.
"I used to be one of the top editors …now I contribute things here and there where I see something wrong." The reason, he explains, is that the site feels more insular and exclusive than in the past. "In general, the biggest problem I have with the editors is their attitude," he says. "They say: 'We're not going to explain how we make decisions, we basically talk amongst ourselves.'
"There's no place on Wikipedia that says: 'Want to become a Wikipedia editor? Here's how you do it.' Instead, you basically have to really become part of that community and pick it up through osmosis and have the tradition passed down to you."
Swartz's experience certainly correlates with the figures unearthed by Parc, even if his attitude is not shared by everyone.
Given the history of the online world – where escalating growth can continue for years – it seems unlikely that this gradual slowdown was inevitable. Instead, it could be the end result of a battle between two competing factions of Wikipedia editors.
On one side stand the deletionists, whose motto is "Wikipedia is not a junkyard"; on the other, the inclusionists, who argue that "Wikipedia is not paper".
Deletionists argue for a tightly controlled and well-written encyclopedia that provides valuable information on topics of widespread interest. Why should editors waste time on articles about fly-by-night celebrities or wilfully obscure topics? Inclusionists, on the other hand, believe that the more articles the site has, the better: if they are poorly referenced or badly written, they can be improved – and any article is better than nothing. After all, they say, there is no limit to the size of the site, and no limit to the information that people may want.
Less is more?
The two groups had been vying for control from early on in the site's life, but the numbers suggest that the deletionists may have won. The increasing difficulty of making a successful edit; the exclusion of casual users; slower growth – all are hallmarks of the deletionist approach.
Swartz, an avowed inclusionist, says the deletionists have won – but says he understands their motivation. "When Wikipedia is in the news, it's always because someone found this inaccuracy, or somebody's suing Wikipedia … It's always about how Wikipedia screwed up. So of course what they're going to be worried about is not how to make Wikipedia grow and have more content, it's about how we keep Wikipedia out of trouble and how we stop people from messing it up."
Still, there remain unanswered questions. Could its growth ever halt completely? How big will the site be when the editors decide that the sum of human knowledge is catalogued? Could a new website take Wikipedia's place by toeing an inclusionist line?
Parc's research doesn't give any answers, but Chi has identified one model that Wikipedia's growth pattern matches. "In my experience, the only thing we've seen these growth patterns [in] before is in population growth studies – where there's some sort of resource constraint that results in this model." The site, he suggests, is becoming like a community where resources have started to run out. "As you run out of food, people start competing for that food, and that results in a slowdown in population growth and means that the stronger, more well-adapted part of the population starts to have more power."
An excellent summary of the long range harm is found in a statement posted today by Seb Chan of the Powerhouse Museum about why his institution decided to collaborate with Flickr instead of Wikimedia Commons:
- Whilst Wikipedia and Wikimedia are, in themselves, exciting projects, their structure, design and combative social norms do not currently make them the friendly or the protected space that museums tend to be comfortable operating in.
Wikipedia should delete the deletionists
Shane Richmond July 7, 2009 Telegraph.
Steven Wells, a former writer for the NME whose work was legendary among readers of a certain age, died last week. As well as writing about music, Wells wrote books, directed videos, appeared on TV and radio and contributed to the Guardian and the Philadelphia Weekly. Following his death, his Wikipedia entry was marked for deletion on grounds of notability, sparking an argument between ‘deletionists’ and ‘inclusionists’.
It should be pointed out that the deletionists were not saying that Wells was not a notable figure, merely that the Wikipedia entry did not provide evidence of his notability. The proposed deletion brought in numerous people who added to the entry and it has now been reprieved. In a way, this shows that the system works. However, I wonder why Wikipedians want to delete things at all.
The deletionists argue that they are trying to clear Wikipedia of trivia and junk so that it contains only “actually useful stuff”. The problem is that “useful” is subjective and changes all the time. If I’m lost in London, an A-Z would be useful and a cookery book would be useless. But if I want to cook something, it’s the other way round.
Deletionists are trapped with an outdated metaphor. They want to make a “quality encyclopaedia”. The notion of quality, like usefulness, is relative. Relevance is a much better measure. The concept of an encyclopaedia comes from the print age. Limited space meant limited entries, so the notion of ‘notability’ helps when choosing what goes in. Limitations on how often a new edition could be printed meant that accuracy was all important. You don’t want your encyclopaedia to be filled with mistakes.
Online there are no space limitations so notability is less important and corrections can be – and are – made very quickly, which means accuracy is always a work in progress.
The question Wikipedians should ask when looking at a page is “would this help someone searching for information on this subject”. Nothing else matters. If the entry isn’t notable, who cares? The point is, would someone find it useful? If an entry hasn’t been properly verified, flag it as such: “This page is improperly verified and the information here should be treated with caution. Please help verify it if you can.”
Other than spoofs and vandalism, Wikipedia should allow people to create entries on anything that someone else might find useful. The site has the chance to evolve into a vast repository of human knowledge, greater than a mere encyclopaedia. Holding on to the old model prevents that. It’s time Wikipedia deleted the deletionists.
Wall street Journal: Volunteers Log Off as Wikipedia Ages
NOVEMBER 27, 2009
By JULIA ANGWIN and GEOFFREY A. FOWLER
Wikipedia.org is the fifth-most-popular Web site in the world, with roughly 325 million monthly visitors. But unprecedented numbers of the millions of online volunteers who write, edit and police it are quitting.
That could have significant implications for the brand of democratization that Wikipedia helped to unleash over the Internet -- the empowerment of the amateur.
Volunteers have been departing the project that bills itself as "the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit" faster than new ones have been joining, and the net losses have accelerated over the past year. In the first three months of 2009, the English-language Wikipedia suffered a net loss of more than 49,000 editors, compared to a net loss of 4,900 during the same period a year earlier, according to Spanish researcher Felipe Ortega, who analyzed Wikipedia's data on the editing histories of its more than three million active contributors in 10 languages.
Eight years after Wikipedia began with a goal to provide everyone in the world free access to "the sum of all human knowledge," the declines in participation have raised questions about the encyclopedia's ability to continue expanding its breadth and improving its accuracy. Errors and deliberate insertions of false information by vandals have undermined its reliability.
Executives at the Wikimedia Foundation, which finances and oversees the nonprofit venture, acknowledge the declines, but believe they can continue to build a useful encyclopedia with a smaller pool of contributors. "We need sufficient people to do the work that needs to be done," says Sue Gardner, executive director of the foundation. "But the purpose of the project is not participation."
Indeed, Wikipedia remains enormously popular among users, with the number of Web visitors growing 20% in the 12 months ending in September, according to comScore Media Metrix.
Wikipedia contributors have been debating widely what is behind the declines in volunteers. One factor is that many topics already have been written about. Another is the plethora of rules Wikipedia has adopted to bring order to its unruly universe -- particularly to reduce infighting among contributors about write-ups of controversial subjects and polarizing figures.
"Wikipedia is becoming a more hostile environment," contends Mr. Ortega, a project manager at Libresoft, a research group at the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid. "Many people are getting burnt out when they have to debate about the contents of certain articles again and again."
Wikipedia's struggles raise questions about the evolution of "crowdsourcing," one of the Internet era's most cherished principles. Crowdsourcing posits that there is wisdom in aggregating independent contributions from multitudes of Web users. It has been promoted as a new and better way for large numbers of individuals to collaborate on tasks, without the rules and hierarchies of traditional organizations.
But as it matures, Wikipedia, one of the world's largest crowdsourcing initiatives, is becoming less freewheeling and more like the organizations it set out to replace. Today, its rules are spelled out across hundreds of Web pages. Increasingly, newcomers who try to edit are informed that they have unwittingly broken a rule -- and find their edits deleted, according to a study by researchers at Xerox Corp.
"People generally have this idea that the wisdom of crowds is a pixie dust that you sprinkle on a system and magical things happen," says Aniket Kittur, an assistant professor of human-computer interaction at Carnegie Mellon University who has studied Wikipedia and other large online community projects. "Yet the more people you throw at a problem, the more difficulty you are going to have with coordinating those people. It's too many cooks in the kitchen."
Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, who is chairman emeritus of the foundation, acknowledges participation has been declining. But he says it still isn't clear to him what the "right" number of volunteer "Wikipedians" should be. "If people think Wikipedia is done," he says, meaning that with three million articles it is hard to find new things to write about, "that's substantial. But if the community has become more hostile to newbies, that's a correctable problem."
Mr. Wales says his top priority is to improve the accuracy of Wikipedia's articles. He's pushing a new feature that would require top editors to approve all edits before they are displayed on the site. The idea is to prevent the kind of vandalism that in January declared Sen. Edward Kennedy's death months before his actual passing.
Mr. Wales, a onetime options trader in Chicago, founded Wikipedia in 2001 amid frustration that his effort to create an online encyclopedia was hampered by the slow pace of copy-editing and getting feedback from experts. He saw Wikipedia as a side project -- a radical experiment with software that allows multiple people to edit the same Web page. The term "wiki" comes from the Hawaiian word for fast.
The collaborative software fostered a unique form of online governance. One of Wikipedia's principles is that decisions should be made by consensus-building. One of the few unbreakable rules is that articles must be written from a neutral point of view. Another is that anyone should be able to edit most articles. One policy serves as a coda: "Ignore all rules."
The Wikimedia Foundation employs a staff of 34, mostly in San Francisco, to run the site's computers, guide its planning and serve as its public face. In its fiscal year ended in June, it reported expenses of $5.6 million. It funds its operations mostly through donations. Earlier this month, it launched a campaign to raise $7.5 million from users.
Wikipedia's popularity has strained its consensus-building culture to the breaking point. Wikipedia is now a constant target for vandals who spray virtual graffiti throughout the site -- everything from political views presented as facts to jokes about their friends -- and spammers who try to insert marketing messages into articles.
In 2005, journalist John Seigenthaler Sr. wrote about his own Wikipedia write-up, which unjustly accused him of murder. The resulting bad press was a wake-up call. Wikipedians began getting more aggressive about patrolling for vandals and blocking suspicious edits, according to Andrew Lih, a professor at the University of Southern California and a regular Wikipedia contributor. [crowd pleasers]
That helped transform the site into a more hierarchical society where volunteers had to negotiate a thicket of new rules. Wikipedia rolled out new antivandalism features, including "semiprotection," which prevents newcomers from editing certain controversial articles.
"It was easier when I joined in 2004," says Kat Walsh, a longtime contributor who serves on Wikimedia's board of trustees. "Everything was a little less complicated.... It's harder and harder for new people to adjust."
In 2008, Wikipedia's editors deleted one in four contributions from infrequent contributors, up sharply from one in 10 in 2005, according to data compiled by social-computing researcher Ed Chi of Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center.
Nina Paley, a New York cartoonist who calls herself an "information radical," had no luck when she tried to post her syndicated comic strips from the '90s. She does not copyright their artwork but instead makes money on ancillary products and services, making her perfect for Wikipedia's free-content culture.
It took her a few days to decipher Wikipedia's software."I figured out how to do it with this really weird, ugly code," she says. "I went to bed feeling so proud of myself, and I woke up and found it had been deleted because it was 'out of scope.'"
A Wikipedia editor had decided that Ms. Paley's comics didn't meet the criteria for educational art. Another editor weighed in with questions about whether she had copyright permission for the photo of herself that she uploaded. She did.
Ultimately, it was decided that Ms. Paley's comics were suitable for the site. Samuel Klein, a veteran Wikipedian who serves on the board of trustees, intervened and restored her contributions. Mr. Klein says experiences like Ms. Paley's happen too often. Mr. Klein says that the Wikipedia community needs to rein in so-called deletionists -- editors who shoot first and ask questions later.
The Wikimedia Foundation says it is seeking to increase participation, but that growing the overall number of participants isn't its main focus.
"The early days were a gold rush," says Ms. Gardner, the foundation's executive director. "They attracted lots and lots of people, because a new person could write about anything." The encyclopedia isn't finished, she says, but the "easy work" of contributing is done.
To attract new recruits to help with the remaining work, Ms. Gardner has hired an outreach team, held seminars to train editors in overlooked categories, and launched task forces to seek ways to increase participation in markets such as India. The foundation also invested $890,000 in a new design for the site, slated to go live in the next few months, that aims to make editing easier for contributors who aren't computer-savvy.
She says increasing contributor diversity is her top goal. A survey the foundation conducted last year determined that the average age of an editor is 26.8 years, and that 87% of them are men.
Much of the task of making Wikipedia more welcoming to newcomers falls to Frank Schulenburg, the foundation's head of public outreach. An academic, he began contributing to articles about French philosophers on the German Wikipedia in 2005.
"The community has created its own language, and that is certainly a barrier to new participants," he says.
One of Mr. Schulenburg's first projects, called the "bookshelf," is an effort to gather the basic rules for contributing to Wikipedia in one place for newcomers. He hopes the new multimedia bookshelf will be the Wikipedia community's equivalent of a high-school civics textbook.
In Germany, to recruit more academics, Mr. Schulenburg had devised an educational program called Wikipedia Academy. In July, he conducted the first such program in the U.S., for scientists and administrators at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. His goal was to entice the scientists to contribute.
Wikipedia already attracts lots of academics, but science isn't its strength. By its own internal grading standards, the article on Louis Pasteur, one of the founders of microbiology, for example, is lower in quality than its article on James T. Kirk, the fictional "Star Trek" captain.
For the July event, Mr. Schulenburg got about 100 scientists and NIH staffers to spend the day listening to arguments about why they should bother contributing to Wikipedia, despite the fact that it doesn't pay, won't help them get a grant or even win them applause from their peers.
His audience was skeptical about the lack of credentials among Wikipedia editors. "One of my concerns is not knowing who the editor is," said Lakshmi Grama, a communications official from the National Cancer Institute.
Several participants started contributing to Wikipedia right after the event. The NIH says it is considering whether to adopt formal policies to encourage its staff to contribute while at work.
Each year, Wikipedians from around the world gather at a conference they call Wikimania. At this year's meeting in Buenos Aires in August, participants at one session debated the implications of the demographic shifts.
"The number one headline I have been seeing for five years is that Wikipedia is dying," said Mathias Schindler, a board member of Wikimedia Germany. He argued that Wikipedia needed to focus less on the total number of articles and more on "smarter metrics" such as article quality.
He said he disagreed with dire views about the project's future. "I don't expect to see Wikipedia follow the rule of any curve or any projection."
Dick Pountain's main pc pro page
- dickpountain.co.uk:  Here are the first 94 of my Idealog columns for PC Pro, starting from July 1994 and ending in May 2002. The rest of the columns up to date are available on the PC Pro website, by searching for "Idealog".