User:GoneAwayNowAndRetired/Wikipedia is broken and failing
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- Wikipedia governance is functionally broken and is failing.
How is Wikipedia failing at this?
The content is still getting created. Articles are still being written, but overall the number of active editors has been flat, and growing flatter as a trend, as seen here and here. However, there are a growing number of problems.
What is broken?
Wikipedia, by its model and design, is toothless and leaderless. Jimbo Wales, Wikipedia’s co-founder, is not our leader on this English Wikipedia encyclopedia. He is a former figurehead, and has an honorary seat on the Wikimedia Board of Trustees, but has no actual authority on this project more than any other Administrator of a thousand do. His role largely is advisory, as a talking head to promote the idea of a Wiki-type project (including his for-profit Wikia.com corporation), and to solicit funding with our annual fund-raising program. Anyone who tells you otherwise, himself included, is simply incorrect. He has his power by the gratis of the community—the editors of Wikipedia—and nothing more. He is not the legal owner of anything in Wikipedia and has not been in some time; he has an extremely limited ‘box’ of authority, which is ill-defined, but can do nothing major. Perhaps years ago, he could, but not today.
The next closest thing we have to leadership is the Arbitration Committee, as the only major elected body on this website. However, many users are adamant that this group live in a very small, very narrowly defined realm of reactive judging of ‘disputes’ between users, of a behavioral variety. Is one or more users misbehaving? Then it falls under the purview of the Arbitration Committee. Anything else? No – and many users are adamant about this.
Wikipedia pretends it is an ochlocracy, or mob rule, but it is not. It's a slothful riot of selfish one-man mobs, or occasionally small cabals of like-minded sloths. Each moves their own way, and has the ability to completely block the flow of traffic, due to the fact that no one is in a position of rightful authority to tell them when to cross the proverbial street.
Consensus is a joke
The ideal of a ‘consensus’ of users determining a course of action on this website was previously the nominal way in which we decided things. It used to work—until the scope and scale of the site grew wildly with the number of its users, and when many users realized that by simply digging in their heels intractably, that they could take control of this deeply flawed system to gain whatever they wanted for political, social, personal, or other reasons. The other major problem with ‘consensus’ is that many, many users adamantly refuse in many cases to set a bar of what ‘is’ consensus.
A typical conversation may go like this:
User 1: “How many people need to agree for us to have consensus?”
User 2: “As many as it takes.”
User 1: “How many is that?”
User 2: “As many as it takes.”
This is a model of ineffectual anarchy. It feeds people’s egos that all opinions and positions are of equal value, when they simply are not, and never will be. All users who are willing to commit to a fixed username to build a legitimate history and contribute do have an equal standing to sound off and be heard fairly, with uniform application of policy and rules to each and every one of them—anything less is simply wrong—but the ideas which lie behind consensus of giving each user a “piece” of the solution is simply, fundamentally, and unequivocally stupid. People lose in the real world, and lose all the time. Someone is right, and someone is wrong. The current usage of a consensus system is a waste of time since it conveys to many the idea that any solution that doesn’t consider the needs of all users isn’t that great.
Bullshit, I say. People are wrong, at times, and should be told they are wrong, and if they dislike the so-called “consensus”, too bad. Move along, you lost. The problem, however, is that they can dig their heels in, and derail anything and everything. This is fueled by further nonsense like our mantras of
- Ignore All Rules (all the rules on Wikipedia are fake, didn’t you know?)
- Voting Is Evil (CONSENSUS AND DISCUSSION are our Gods, regardless of their being deaf, dumb, and blind Gods)
- Consensus Can Change (in other words, even if you lost once, you can go back to the Well of Argumentation again… and again… and again… and again…)
The neat cumulative end result of all of this is that, if someone puts their mind to it, they can filibuster anything and everything they dislike forever and a day. This leaves Wikipedia, in any area of positive forward growth and governance, an ineffectual wasteland. Do these ideas I listed in points 1-3 work perfectly for the matters of creating content on the website? I think so. Do they work for anything else? Only a blind man could truly believe so.
As mentioned, this is having an increasingly nasty overall effect on Wikipedia. Positive forward changes get all but impossible to happen. Even the creation of a simple Advisory Council, with literally no powers nor authority, is met with massive scorn, and is attempted to be torn down before it even begins work. The mood and disposition of the website’s users has grown increasingly nasty over the years—it was a much more gracious and welcoming place, when I began using it in 2005—and today, it’s a constant war over the smallest details. Our mistreatment of WP:BLP subjects, articles about living people, gets us constant negative press coverage. Morale of our users is at an all-time low.
How do you fix this?
You need a binding leadership that is not self-appointed, like Jimmy Wales. You need a group or two raised up from the community of users that has what some might call “Binding Authority” to close the endless loop of noise that is the community itself. Any successful organization or corporation—any—has ultimate leadership that can close the door on any and all discussions. Our website, in its shortsightedness, is setup to not have any such thing. We don’t need ineffectual non-leadership. We need a solid leadership that can close doors to move forward.
I’d proposed something of the sort at Wikipedia Committees, to have final arbitration “groups” that is wholly elected and promoted 100% by the user base of this website, which could act as final decision makers not just on behavioral issues, like the present Arbitration Committee, but also on matters of content and policy/’legal’ disputes, as a triumvirate. Each would be mutually exclusive from each other’s realms, and with functionally equal power in their own way, and would allow for people to move past all the nonsense to concentrate on the only real reason we’re supposed to be here: to make an encyclopedia. The idea was likely so alien that people either ignored it, or shot it down.
Consensus system change: just vote
As simple and as stupid as it sounds, once a situation gets intractable, this is the only real way forward. Once a debate or dispute reaches that point where everyone is just repeating the same talking points again, you need to put a communal foot down. How do you do this, however, when our flawed structure allows—and even encourages!—any fool to repeatedly go back to the well, again and again? Simple, binding votes. How simple?
“How many people in favor of Bob’s view? How many in favor of John’s view?”
“Bob, you’ve lost. We’re not revisiting this for so many months.”
Do you have any idea how much time and aggravation this would save? Of course, this will never happen, since it would immediately de-power a great many people that have “control” over various articles, article families, or aspects of the Wikipedia project. Which is, ultimately, the worst thing, is that there are sad people who can and do everything in their power to derail any effort to equalize aspects of the governance of this website.
Perhaps a purge is looming; perhaps anarchy is looming
Perhaps, in the end, all the people presently ‘in power’, or misguidedly thinking that they are, will simply need to be removed if they remain or become an increased impediment to the success of Wikipedia. They can be, of course, to create a new model.
Perhaps what we need is the Wikipedia equivalent of a Protestant Reformation. Or, failing that, we can simply fire those who think they're in power today, and muscle through change that can put firm leadership in place. The alternative is to sit, and wait, for the site to spiral more out of control every year.
Ultimately, it's not about control
Its about the ability to simply close a door:
Too much of this website is like this door; we need to empower groups in regards to both content and policy to some degree to close this door from swinging. If that is antithetical to how we used to do things, or how the founders of this website envisioned things, that's a shame.
They don't own Wikipedia, anymore. We do.