User:A1candidate/The greatest flaws of Wikipedia

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The following essay is based on my own observations during an active period of editing Wikipedia from 2012 to 2013. If you have anything to add or wish to make some changes, feel free to leave a message here.

Prologue: Is something wrong with Wikipedia?[edit]

The 1 billionth edit took place on April 16, 2010, but is that cause for celebration?

On the surface, everything actually seems perfectly fine about this wonderful project. In fact, the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) has a special page boasting that has consistently ranked within the top 10 most visited sites on the Internet for years, and the encyclopedia is only behind Yahoo!, YouTube, Facebook, and, of course, the almighty Google.[1]

If that is not good enough, Wikipedia's report card confirms that the growth in the number of unique visitors and page views has shown no signs of slowing down. Despite its status as a freely editable work of reference, the reliability of Wikipedia does not appear to be in any way inferior to that of professionally written encyclopedias. So, what is wrong about this wonderful project?


The two charts Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) does not want you to see[edit]

While the number of worldwide internet users has steadily increased (left), the number of active editors of Wikipedia (right) is declining year over year.

Let's consider a hypothetical situation in a country, like, for example, the United States. It is home to the biggest economy in the world, it has the mightiest military in the universe, and because this nation is so advanced, everybody wants to live there and chase the American Dream. But on a closer look at the country, you realize that its citizens, those people who actually made the country what it is today, are leaving the country in droves...

Or consider a company, like, for example, General Electric. It started off as a humble manufacturer of lamps, grew into a giant conglomerate, and is today one of the most admired brands in the world. Except that people working there are leaving at an alarming rate...

The same applies for Wikipedia. The success story of Jimmy Wales et al is no less astounding than those of Larry Page, Mark Zuckerberg, or any other guy who became famous via the Internet. But unlike Google and Facebook, those people who created the content of Wikipedia are leaving much faster than new editors are joining. But why? Why are active editors leaving?

The greatest flaw of Wikipedia[edit]

If I could just summarize it in one section: Editing this encyclopedia is not worth the effort at all because it is, among other reasons, controlled by a small group of people who have been editing for many, many years. Despite what Wikipedia's policy may or may not say, this group of editors are the ones who make pretty much every major decision on the site.

I won't mention names, but I'll just say that these people tend to have an uncanny ability to recite every Wikipedia policy that has existed. They often use "We" instead of "I", they are high up in the hierarchy but not really at the top. (i.e. They don't own a physical stake in the Wikimedia Foundation but they are here long enough and have made major contributions to this encyclopedia with edit counts much higher than the average active editor)

To be clear, there are certainly lots of editors with a long history and a huge edit count who have been contributing relentlessly to this encyclopedia for almost a decade, but these editors are in the minority (By that, I mean a tiny fraction).

Other great flaws of Wikipedia[edit]

The unattainable ideal[edit]

Fiction: Wikipedia editors spend most of their time volunteering and sharing knowledge for a meaningful cause.

Fact: Truly active editors spend most of their time watching their wachlichsts, arguing on talk pages, wondering if a potential edit would be controversial, wondering why an edit that is not controversial has not been made, making reports and notifying admins, linking a page because someone did not do it, unlinking a page because someone overdid it...

Best Friends Forever[edit]

Fiction: Wikipedia's policy ensures that all major decisions regarding the site are based on consensus among its users.

Fact: No, major decisions and disputes regarding the site's policy are decided, in a subtle way, based on who has more allies.

Three-revert rule[edit]

Fiction: The three-revert rule ensures that editors do not engage in edit warring.

Fact: It simply ensures that both editors get reverted three times and whoever tries to change the status quo will be unsuccessful. It's like saying "You're allowed to stab each other 3 times but not more than that"; it's a sure way to start an ugly dispute. Removing this rule will probably lead to a) Edit wars don't even happen at all OR b) Even if it happens, all editors involved will realize that they can't keep reverting forever and will have to discuss it sooner or later. The only time it makes sense for an admin to get involved is when there is clear consensus on the talk page against a particular recurring edit from specific people.


Fiction: All content is treated fairly, without discrimination.

Fact: If you don't like something and you want it removed, you will almost always be able to find a policy to remove it, as long as your edit is a popular one. Wikipedia claims not be a democracy, but that is only partially true because Wikipedia is a popularity contest based not on votes but on subtle internet flaming disguised as a consensus decision-making process. To be clear, there are certainly decisions that were made based on mutual consensus, but these are few and far between.

How to personally attack someone without personally attacking someone[edit]

Fiction: Most active editors on Wikipedia assume good faith and aim to reach a consensus with each other

Fact: Well, it's the Internet. Do you really expect that? I can't personally attack you but I'll do it subtly since your statement clearly violates WP:OR, WP:NOR, WP:RS, WP:BURDEN, WP:FRINGE, WP:NPOV, WP:POLICY, WP:CONTENTFORKING, WP:REDUNDANTFORK, WP:SCOPE, WP:NOR, WP:MEDRS, WP:MOS, WP:STYLE, WP:DUE, WP:UNDUE stop treating this like your personal blog. And I'm hiding behind a computer screen so you can't figure out who I am anyway.

If Wikipedia is so flawed then why don't you leave?[edit]

Fiction: If Wikipedia is so flawed, the best thing to do is leave and never come back again

Fact: Wikipedia's strength lies in the ease in which outsiders can edit and be part of it. Its pervasiveness in our lives can never be overstated. You may decide to retire and close your account, but sooner or later, you'll have to click on a Wikipedia article to read up on something, and then you'll wonder why it doesn't say something which needs to be said, and you decide to...

Epilogue: Parting words[edit]

I will continue to edit articles on Wikipedia, especially non-controversial ones where few people know or care about, such as K-pop. But I'm also here to observe human behaviour behind the anonymity of the internet, and to see how Jimmy Wales et al will continue trying to get active editors to stay on the site.

Before you go, here's one last one:

100 years from now, nobody will care or remember about the things we did on Wikipedia. What's the point of all these struggles and arguments?

— A1candidate

See also[edit]


  1. ^ " is more popular than...". Retrieved 5 August 2013.