This is an essay. It reflects the opinions of the author that are, unfortunately, not shared by the vast majority of Wikipedia editors.
Problems in Wikipedia
I confess to being ambivalent about Wikipedia. On one hand, I believe that there is a lot of potential in having an easily accessible encyclopedia that can be continuously updated as opposed to very expensive paper encyclopedias filled with articles that are updated only every few years if ever. However, there are significant flaws in the execution of this ideal that make me wonder whether Wikipedia is worth my time.
My main concern with Wikipedia is that approximately 0.2% of all articles meet or exceed the criteria for good articles. To me, this situation is completely unacceptable and should not be tolerated. However, nobody seems to mind and nobody seems willing to do anything to rectify the situation. In my mind, there are two related causes of this problem: low standards and a focus on editors over users.
I have taught several courses at the college level, mostly involving writing in psychology. I have learned that most students would rather do mediocre work if they can get away with doing so. If I refuse to accept good work, then they can and will do well. I will not bore readers with the reasons why other than to say that reasons range from simple laziness to time pressures to self-fulfilling prophecy.
One major problem with Wikipedia is that the standards are so low. notability standards simply require a couple of mentions in media sources. Standards requiring citing reliable sources are rarely enforced. The vast majority of commenters at articles for deletion do not believe that an article should be deleted simply because it is bad. A large number of articles are only a few sentences long.
I have a draft essay where I discuss my concerns about notability standards. However, it is a draft that I will revise heavily when I get around to it.
The main reason why Wikipedia has low standards is that it is run by editors, not users. Therefore, it exists to provide a place for editors to express themselves rather than a place where users can get good information. Most editors would rather do mediocre work. Since they run the show, they ensure that standards are mostly low and/or not enforced.
Ironically, the only people who make the pretense of caring about users are newbies, and the only time they raise the issue is when someone is trying to enforce a standard. They quickly learn that editors do not take users into account when making decisions. In an articles for deletion discussion, someone who says that an article on Minor Character in a Minor Star Trek Novel is interesting is shot down with WP:ILIKEIT. A person who describes List of Songs with 13 Letters in the Title, None of Which Are E as useful is sent to WP:USEFUL. An author trying to defend an article on Obscure Local Band from speedy deletion claims that the article is necessary because people will want to go to Wikipedia to learn more about Obscure Local Band and finds the article deleted soon afterward.
I admit that most users who claim that the article on Minor Character in a Minor Star Trek Novel is interesting really mean “It is interesting to me and five other people with the same narrow interests.” Users who find List of Songs with 13 Letters in the Title, None of Which Are E useful mean “Useful to one person on the planet who is studying letter frequencies.” A person saying that fans would want to learn more about Obscure Local Band really means that she or he simply wants to promote Obscure Local Band using Wikipedia instead of or along with MySpace. However, it is telling that experienced editors never take users’ needs into account.
This problem extends beyond page creation. Vandals are coddled. I have seen instances in which the response to blatant vandalism is to give a level 1 warning that actually thanks the vandal for vandalizing. Vandals should never be thanked. If anti-vandal patrollers follow guidelines, a vandal vandalize four times without being blocked even if patrollers follow every instance with the next higher warning level.
When I get around to it, I will expand on my thoughts above. However, there are obvious solutions.
Raise and enforce standards
Many standards need to be strengthened and others need to be enforced more strictly. If a page is unsourced or sourced only with blogs, forum posts, MySpace pages, YouTube pages, or Web pages created or maintained by either the author, subject, or someone connected to the subject; then the page should be deleted regardless of the topic. Being a bad page should be grounds for deletion, assuming that there is no decent version to revert to. Failing to achieve good article status within a reasonable period of time (e.g., two years) should be grounds at least to suspect that a topic is unworthy of Wikipedia.
Focus on users
I do not know exactly who uses Wikipedia and why, so I am not sure exactly what needs to be done for them. However, the following steps should help most users:
- Vandalism must be curtailed. Any savvy user should see through blatant vandalism. However, I would not want a student to say that Socrates was born in 570 BC simply because a vandal changed the date.
- All material must be fully sourced. As long as there is vandalism on Wikipedia, it will be very difficult for people to trust its pages completely. However, if an article is fully sourced, then Wikipedia can serve as something like a search engine that allows users to find the sources they need.
- Articles on important topics must be complete. This means that the articles are either incomplete or on topics so unimportant that they can be described in only a few sentences. Articles in the former category need to be expanded and articles in the latter category need to be deleted or merged.