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Is this normal?
After reading the title, you may think that I am being pessimistic, thinking that Wikipedia will have its downfall. Well, I am not. I just think Wikipedia is bound to become hostile and messy and remain so for quite some time. Read on, and you will find that I am quite optimistic about the future of our dear encyclopedia.
The current hostility and messiness of Wikipedia
As many editors have observed, Wikipedia is starting to lose its friendliness and is getting chaotic. POV pushers appear, trolls and vandals flourish, disputes gets more and more heated and helpful editors leave Wikipedia. Vandalism and advertising are becoming increasingly prominent. Junk articles and low quality articles are flooding Wikipedia. Systemic bias gets more and more apparent.
You could go on and on and rant about how Wikipedia is degrading into a pile of garbage. But it isn't. We'll talk about that later, but I am going to digress and talk about something else: human beings.
Wikipedia is made of human beings and grows like one
Wikipedia is made of more than a million human beings. It acts like one. In fact, you could think of it as an enormous human being with the intelligence, skills, knowledge, energy and time of a million human beings added together. However, it has the maturity of just one human.
Wikipedia acts like a human, so we could be certain that it also grows like a human. As we know, a human grows through four (or five) stages:
- Infancy (0~3 year old). This stage is characterized by the ability to soak in knowledge and information like a sponge soaking in water. However, the knowledge and information are rudimentary and are not well organized
- Childhood. (4~11). This stage is characterized by the organization of the knowledge and information the child receives. The child still learns at an amazing speed, but it is now filtered.
- Adolescence. (12~21)This stage is characterized by a period of angst when the person gets very rebellious and queasy. This is caused by an emotional and intellectual “revolution”.
- Adulthood. (22~onwards)This could be further divided into early adulthood and late adulthood. In the early adulthood, the person has passed adolescence, and becomes “stable” and more mature but it still grows steadily in knowledge. In late adulthood, the person gains true wisdom.
Note that even though teenagers are very rebellious against parents, have a hard time controlling their emotion and do all sorts of “wrong” things, they are in no way less mature. The chaotic adolescence is a cleansing process and a must for becoming an adult. Without it, we will always be a child.
So what does this have to do with Wikipedia?
Well, if Wikipedia grows like a person, it should also go through those periods:
- Infancy (year 2001). This period is characterized by an explosion of new articles. However, they are not very organized.
- Childhood (year 2002~2004). This period is characterized by the organization and polishing of articles. New articles still flourish, but they are of much higher quality
- Adolescence (year 2005~?2012?). The latter date is an estimation. This period is and will be characterized by the word “Chaos”. Vandals flourish. Articles degrade. The environment becomes hostile. Editors feel bad and leave. POV pushers and trolls multiplies. But this is actually good. I really mean good. I will explain later.
- Adulthood (year ?2013?~??3965??). OK, the latter date is just a joke. But adulthood will last LOOOOONG. From this times on, the articles won't change very quickly. Most of the work would be updating the articles, polishing them, fighting vandals, maintenance, the likes. Wikipedia would be pretty darn stable.
We are currently in the adolescence period. Many people think that Wikipedia is getting worse and messy. And it is.
This period is caused by expanding too quickly, with a lot of new people joining and the inability to control as too much information and people is coming in. But this period is important, because as I've said before, it is a cleansing process. Or, simply put, it is an emotional (I mean inter-human interaction) and knowledge “revolution”. It is the old clashing with the new.
Why is it a cleansing process? Because after this turmoil, only the faithful Wikipedians stay, and the ones that do also gets stronger. And after this turmoil, only the policies that work, the articles that are right and the new things that are good will stay. When a new force replaces the old, it is bound to create turmoil. After the turmoil, the new force will take over the old. Wikipedia will be cleaned. It will step into adulthood.
And then, we can truly call Wikipedia an encyclopedia.