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Wikipedia's frontiers 
The other way around
Back in 2006 R.I.P. Aaron Swartz, a fellow Wikipedian, attempted to challenge the results of research presented by Jimbo Wales at Stanford – part of his standard talk. Wales revealed that over 50 per cent of the total number of edits in Wikipedia were made by the shocking 0.7% of users; while 73.4 per cent of all contributions, came from just 2% of them ... 1,400 people in all. The remaining edits came from "people who [were] contributing … a minor change of a fact or a minor spelling fix." Skeptical yet curious, Swartz asked himself: "So did the Gang of 500 actually write Wikipedia?" He performed his own quantitative research, analyzing not the number of edits (pride and joy of long-established users); but rather, the actual letters per individual volunteer added into the current body of selected articles amounting to their actual content value. The results were even more shocking. Study by Swartz has shown that, while the "insiders account for the vast majority of the edits," it was the occasional contributors who provided nearly all of the content value there. Swartz has alluded to the possibility that "newbie masses" may be the real life-blood of Wikipedia, not the "experts".
Some time earlier Larry Sanger suggested that Wikipedia should stick to its core group of hard working insiders. Swartz proclaimed exactly the opposite: "Wikipedians must jettison their elitism" and embrace the newbie masses with respect. He quoted Seth Anthony confirming his revelations. "The average content-adder – as Anthony commented – has less than 200 edits: much less, in many cases."
So did the newbie masses actually write Wikipedia? The fact is ... we're not supposed to know who the logged-in content-adders are. We can only speculate about their motives as if they were actual flesh and blood ... which they aren't. For once, the level of intellectual aggression in Wikipedia due to the presence of anonymity is exceedingly high. Some of the most common and most disturbing forms of behaviour include angry, vengeful, overstimulated reactions to criticism, assaultive language and poor impulse control; good enough reasons to be wary. The attempts to prohibit trolling failed at the onset of Wikipedia likely because in an Internet world trolling is good for traffic, and traffic is the real life-blood of Wikipedia.
|Wikipedia size & users (live)
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|UTC time: 09:44 on 2014-Aug-30
The standard method of functioning; the Modus operandi of many entrenched "regulars" hasn't changed in years ... it has actually gotten worse. The utopian ideals of Wikipedia community constructed early on through options for instantaneous change, inadvertently solidified binary assumptions as well as the preexisting stereotypes, and – at the present time – often aggravate a combat mentality. By 2009 already, active accounts began to turn dormant by about 20,000 a month. In real life – wrote Danah Boyd of Surrey University – individual people constantly manipulate their own identities in order to perform functions incompatible by nature. They assume a party-time persona or the workplace persona or others, without being ‘inaccurate’ about their own true selves. "It is not uncommon for individuals to have multiple email addresses or phone numbers as a way of controlling access to them. Most people are not interested in consolidating all of their physical or virtual identities into one." In Wikipedia ... such behaviour is considered unacceptable.
The success of Wikipedia affects the mind with a sense of overwhelming grandeur. We are on the forefront of today's hottest web-based technologies. In his 2009 book The Wikipedia Revolution, Andrew Lih compared Wikipedia to an insect colony – commanded by stigmergy – built not by the will of anybody in particular and certainly not by consensus; but, by the participative instincts of humanity fuelled by Wikipedia's unlimited "undo's" coupled with article-histories revealing all "diffs" forever. Identifying the various types of database-providers cannot be reduced to simple dichotomies. Yet, the increasingly outdated policy/guidelines keep reducing all nuances of comparison into goodthink and crimethink, good old "insiders" and the evil-doers trying to stick it to the man. The multiple personalities of an online identity constitute one of the more remarkable shifts in online social norms. Wikipedia’s mopping crew has very few tools (and even fewer adequate ones) to address this phenomenon. Even though our sockpuppet policy permits the use of multiple accounts for various reasons; in practice, contributors are routinely penalized with no allegations of disruption. Free to vanish entirely, they are prohibited from trying to evade those who have harassed and smeared them in the past. No wonder, the number of registered accounts exceeds the number of active users at a ratio of 130 to 1 (insert). It is a symptom of an illness of anxiety almost impossible to compare with other similar projects.
Instead of an introduction
ince the spring of 2006 I've written a number of articles for Wikipedia (see below) getting the chance to find out what would happen to them and also, how articles I contributed to were treated. I made a few conclusions, most of them negative. During the summer of 2007 I expanded the article on Kraków
(my birthplace), with one hundred citations and two dozen new "daughter" articles (eight featured as DYKs
). I nominated it for a Featured Article, as part of a concentrated effort to promote the City. However, the hostility exhibited by – get this – Polish and other European reviewers with issues of self-importance was almost vitriolic. Users who were familiar with Kraków gave vent to unreasonable demands inspired by their overexposure to the subject while deliberately disregarding accepted standards of good writing. Moreover, the subsequent deterioration of the article was so rapid, that I was forced to wash my hands of it altogether. I decided, enough was enough. I firmly believe in the conclusions drawn from a one-time experience without the need for being repetitive about it.
There are similarities between the methodological framework of Wikipedia and that of an earlier chat-room craze from several years ago. Both "open source formats" rely entirely on input from users who are hidden from scrutiny and whose participation is moderated by admins empowered with the ability to block them. The question is whether this portal can ever live up to its premise, with such high level of hostility aimed at the exceedingly small group of writers supplying actual "content value".
The most damning part of open source format is that, by design, our goal-oriented community is forced to accept otherwise unacceptable revisionist viewpoints providing that they're verifiable. Partisan groups turn to Wikipedia to endorse their prejudices. Content disputes escalate. The socio-political coverage of countries, where adults do not easily access English Wikipedia, is left to young fanatics who perpetuate chauvinism. Controversial subjects are despoiled with opinionated agendas imposed by self-appointed wardens in contempt of policy guidelines. Scholarly literature is replaced with biased propaganda. Google books are intentionally obfuscated to avoid politically inconvenient facts. Many controversial articles contradict the opinions expressed in leading encyclopedias and quieten the viewpoints of rational thinkers. – Their quasi stability is maintained with one-liners, signed by the same unrelenting monikers. The worst disruptors cause disciplinary sanctions against the not-so-calm voices of reason who oppose them. It is particularly heart-rending to observe European cities being battered by geopolitical irredentism
, notable persons claimed and reclaimed, and the overwhelming majority of articles about the history of conflict inciting even more hatred. All this is done in the name of equality among anonymous editors some of whom would've never been allowed to contribute anything anywhere else outside of here. By the way, users with confrontational viewpoints are far more resilient than those editors who take interest in developing content. They get entertained by adverse reactions to their partisanship, and thrive on real-time Internet game playing with the peculiar quasi-encyclopedic twist.
The result is such that the interested parties are unable to withdraw without the sense of failure given that some countries and societies are under attack continuously. The illusion of the actual encyclopedia is the reason why concerned editors are forced to guard some articles permanently. Incidentally this is also why participating in the development of Wikipedia seems so addictive. There's the need to constantly guard ones own good name and check on every single edit related to it, from minute to minute.
There are corners of Wikipedia Main Space unbeknownst to the community of experienced editors physically unable to control the millions of constantly revised articles. Lower traffic entries stay vandalized for months. The quality of writing, away from public scrutiny is often atrocious, and the knowledge of formatting nonexistent. In the last few years Wikipedia has largely replaced the free webpage builders such as Geocities, Tripod and Angelfire; with editing access far more relaxed. Obscure articles are a travesty of special interest web tributes, which (in the old days at least) used to be fitted with Java applets for the uninformed. Some of these articles are so bad, that it is better to ignore them and turn away.
There is a positive side to Wikipedia as well. Even though vandalism, ignorance and bad faith edits resemble doodling in elementary-level textbooks, users who cause damage intentionally or otherwise, have to read what they change, and so they learn more, even if only by proxy. School children turn to Wikipedia in overwhelming numbers lured by search engine algorithms and self-empowering secrecy surrounding their age and aptitude. Students who choose to contribute, get a chance to work on improving their cognitive skills, regardless of the condition of affected articles.
- ^ a b Aaron Swartz (September 4, 2006). "Who Writes Wikipedia?". Raw Thought. Retrieved March 08, 2012.
- ^ Aaron Swartz (September 5, 2006). "False Outliers". Raw Thought. Retrieved March 08, 2012.
- ^ Jordan Frank (March 27, 2007). "Re-Emergent Collaboration? Wikipedia, the Sequel". Traction Software. Retrieved March 08, 2012. "Larry Sanger, Citizendium initiative"
- ^ Jordan Frank (September 25, 2006). "Best Practice and the Wikipedia Big Brain". Traction Software. Retrieved March 08, 2012. "Andrew McAfee compares Wikipedia to an ant colony"
- ^ Jack Schofield (2009). "Have you stopped editing Wikipedia? And if so, is it doomed?". Guardian News and Media. Retrieved March 13, 2012.
- ^ a b danah boyd, University of Surrey (2001). "Reflections on the Role of Identification in Online Communities". Sociable Media. MIT Media Lab. Retrieved March 12, 2012.
- ^ Eszter Hargittai, Northwestern University (2007). "Whose Space? Differences Among Users and Non-Users of Social Network Sites". Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), article 14. Retrieved March 12, 2012.
- ^ "Do you need anonymity over the internet?". Questions Opinions Debates. Retrieved March 09, 2012.
- ^ "An ongoing study by University of Minnesota researchers has revealed that only one-tenth of 1 percent of Wikipedia editors account for nearly half the content value of the free online encyclopedia, as measured by readership." Robyn White, Rhonda Zurn, Mark Cassutt, Report on Wikipedia Authorship and Vandalism, University of Minnesota , Minneapolis / St. Paul, November 5, 2007.
- ^ "The vast majority of Wikipedia contributors and editors are under the age of 25. Many of the administrators (senior editors) are in their teens. This has been established by a survey conducted in 2003 and in various recent interviews with Jimmy Wales." Sam Vaknin, Can Teenagers write an Encyclopedia?, September 26, 2007, by former United Press International Senior Business Correspondent.
^ "Search and Internet behavior data provide alarming insight into this powerful but volatile resource — alarming because one of the core groups of Wikipedia users are school children." Bill Tancer, Look Who's Using Wikipedia, Time Magazine in partnership with CNN, March 1, 2007, by general manager of global research at Hitwise.