Quotes from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Special:Undelete&target=User%3AHillman×tamp=20060724210709 for the purpose of explaining the note on the top of my user page. The user who wrote this has now entirely left Wikipedia, and requested the deletion of the previous location of this material due to harrassment. Please let me know if any of this is objectionable.
I believe that Wikipedia should be:
- a free on-line general encyclopedia which aims to offer timely, accurate, and unbiased information on all topics of knowledge, in sufficiently many languages as to reach, ideally, all citizens of planet Earth,
- a utopian social experiment in voluntary collaborative authorship, predicated upon the central premise of the "open source" movement: large numbers of individuals will be willing and even eager to do good work for something other than money,
- a website constructed to facilitate this experiment, by providing
- a suitable technical infrastructure, embodied in the wikicode used to prepare and serve up content,
- a suitable political and social infrastructure, whose evolution is wisely guided by a good helmsman to ensure that it continues foster our mission.
If one accepts my proposed Wikipedia mission statement, then I believe it follows that editing the Wikipedia is a privilege, not a right. I believe that editing the Wikipedia constitutes voluntarily providing a service to our readers, rather than exploiting a soapbox for the expression of controversial views in order to further some personal hidden agenda. If one accepts this mission, then I believe that all disputes concerning the detail procedures for fostering it should ultimately reduce to the question: which option best serves our readers?
And if one accepts this mission, then I believe that one must also be willing to accept a marked bias toward mainstream knowledge and belief. Such a bias seems ineluctable, but not inappropriate, since mainstream belief is inherently the most stable and plausible, compared to the alternatives.
I believe that the most valuable service offered by expert editors to the readers of a general encyclopedia is not the mere compilation of facts, but rather the judicious choice of what information to present and how to present it. Unfiltered information tends to be overwhelming in quantity, and ultimately of little value to the recipient. For this reason, I hold that the value of an encyclopedia resides not in the compilation of raw facts (for that there is Google), but in presenting information which has been expertly evaluated, categorized, refined, screened, sorted, summarized and weighted by importance and prominence in mainstream belief.
The real mission of Wikipedia?
Unfortunately, however, after a year as a highly active Wikipedian, I have come to believe that the mission which motivated my own contributions here has been replaced by a contradictory vision. Increasingly, like it or loathe it, Wikipedia has become something very different from an encyclopedia. I believe that Wikipedia has become:
- an anarchic forum where amateur pseudo-journalists can post more or less anonymous essays (or all too often, semi-coherent rants) concerning controversial topical political and social issues,
- a playground for vandals, hoaxers, guerilla marketeers, undercover political operatives, and disgruntled fanatics, who come here to push idiosyncratic (often dubious and sometimes hateful) points of view, and who are eager to serve up slanted information, misinformation, and disinformation,
- a social club for anons (this might seem to be a contradiction in terms, but such venerable phenomena as the masquerade ball demonstrate that it is not).
A failure of leadership?
During my entire year as a Wikipedian, it seems to me that the WikiMedia leadership has refused to face the key choice which confronts the Wikipedia community:
Is the goal of Wikipedia building a better Britannica or building a better blog?
Let me stress that I do not see anything inherently wrong in the proposition that one Thing Which Our Desperate World Needs Now is a free-speech forum encouraging the securely anonymous
- expression of sociopolitical commmentary
- civil discussion of ideas
which might be seen as unpatriotic or even illegal in the countries in which the various contributors happen to reside. Indeed, I might be interested to contributing to such a forum myself. (And I might get my chance; see the next section.)
My point is that the goal of constructing a better Britannica is quite different from the goal of constructing a better blog, or from the goal of constructing a forum to foster the growth of what has been called "citizen journalism". The Wikimedia Foundation has long since recognized the latter distinction and has split off wikinews.org from wikipedia.org, but they have failed to similarly split off wikispeech.org, with consequences which I believe have proven fatal to the goal of building a better Britannica.
I believe that the failure of the WikiMedia Foundation to
- split up wikipedia.org and wikispeech.org,
- enunciate clear, concise and unambigious mission statements for each site (respectively, in essence, building a better Britannica versus building a better blog),
- promptly formulate separate policies appropriate to the furtherance of these separate missions
constitutes a fatal dereliction of duty which guarantees that neither of these missions will succeed.
Some might say "give them time", but I feel that they have had more than enough time to recognize and respond to these fatal internal inconsistencies. I contend that the time scale in which any modern media project must succeed or fail is measured in years, not eternities.
The WikiMedia Foundation Advisory Board has had almost a year since the Siegenthaler defamation scandal broke, but they have not even been able to acknowledge the profound incompability of their policy of encouraging edits by IP anons with the goal of building a better Britannica!
More generally, I feel that in the Digital Age, when a highly experimental and rapidly evolving project exhibits both an inability to regularly and explictly recognize what one has learned so far and a failure to promptly adapt to a sea-changed state, it is sure to fail.
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Please do not misunderstand
I do not see anything inherently wrong with the fact that many Wikipedians use Wikipedia primarily as a social club, so long as it does not disrupt the primary goal of the experiment. Indeed, I have often enjoyed the social aspects of WP, and I feel that these aspects have played an essential role in recruiting new editors and retaining active contributors (at least, for a time).
I don't use the phrase utopian in a pejorative manner. I believe that utopian social experiments are a pure expression of the desire to make the world a better place, and I hate to see them fail. To tell the truth, I believe utopian social experiments have historically been doomed to fail, and some might say that in this case, I never had any business being here at all. I would reply that I should be free to choose to contribute my time to a noble failure, not because I desire to fail but because I desire to act with nobility.
What is wrong with Wikipedia?
Well, I've been trying to explain that, and I and other critics have lots more to say:
Alternatively, you can read on for more details about my experience as a Wikipedian.
A brief account of my former activity at Wikipedia
I first came to WP as a reader in May 2005, and was impressed by the high quality of some of the articles I found in the mathematics categories. I quickly became intrigued with the possibility of contributing to a utopian social experiment in collaborative authorship which has, to the amazement of many cynical onlookers, achieved some impressive results (in addition to suffering from the chaos one would naturally expect).
After some cautious initial exploration (don't misunderstand; I was never an "anon" editor), in August 2005, I and some others began working to establish a new Wikiproject, WikiProject GTR, which we hoped would enable Wikipedia to make a contribution to the World Year of Physics (2005), a celebration of the annus mirabilis of Albert Einstein. Thereafter, most of my time at WP was devoted to trying to develop this project. My most productive time at WP was October and November 2005, during which time I created numerous articles on various topics in Category:General relativity. Unfortunately, while I put a good deal of thought into this project, it never really got off the ground, for two reasons:
- it failed to attract a sufficient number of members,
- the absurd inefficiency of cruft control at Wikipedia prevented the members from finding the time and energy to write planned new articles or to improve old ones in furtherance of the goals of our WikiProject.
In fact, the project never even formally acquired the status of a true WikiProject at all (since the guidelines suggest that a core membership of at least a dozen is required, and we never had more than four).
Unfortunately for my hopes to devote myself to creating high quality content at Wikipedia, general relativity happens to attract an inordinate number of cranks, some of whom wish to present their "theories" at WP (or even worse, to misleadingly portray these theories in the WP as "mainstream science"). Even worse, because general relativity forms an important part of the background for modern cosmology, this beautiful topic has been drawn into extra-scientific disputes involving socio-political movements related to Creationism. After November 2005, I found that almost all my time at WP was being consumed by trying to prevent these alternative points of view from disrupting our attempts to provide, in Wikipedia articles, a clear, comprehensive, unbiased and up to date description of general relativity and its current place in science.
At various times, I was a member of several related WikiProjects, including
- WikiProject Mathematics
- WikiProject Physics
- WikiProject Pseudoscience (as of June 2006, this appeared to practically defunct, which was part of the problem; a tiny handful of users were trying to control bad edits by dozens of problem users coming from literally thousands of IP addies),
but in each case I soon found that I didn't have the time to keep up my formal membership, due to the incredible inefficiently of cruft control which was preventing me from even participating in such laudable community projects as these. In addition, I intermittently followed with interest the activity of some other projects and proposals, such as
By March 2006 I had reluctantly come to the conclusion that for a variety of reasons, the Wikipedia is unlikely to ever get any closer to the lofty goal I imagined (see above) than it is now, which I would characterize as tantalizing but very distant. By the end of June 2006 I was forced to admit that it was time for me to leave.
My recent activity
I have now abandoned my attempts
- to create high quality Wikipedia articles on beautiful but highly technical subjects which I happen to know a lot about,
- to protect my work and that of other volunteer editors of good faith and sound judgement from disruption by cranky edits, vandalism, edit creep, and other quality control problems I hope to describe elsewhere.
- to occasionaly participate in AfD discussions, new page patrol, and vandalism reversion as unpleasant tasks required of any good citizen at Wikipedia.
As of late June 2006, my WP activity is limited trying to
- gather and analyze evidence in specific incidents of suspected patterns of bad edits to further support (or contradict!) my arguments here,
- gather and analyze some hard statistics supporting (or contradicting!) the contentions outlined above,
- gathering my thoughts in order to explain as clearly as possible why I believe the balance has shifted from demanding that scholars contribute good work to Wikipedia to demanding that scholars should attempt to educate the public about the dangers of using Wikipedia as an information resource (some of these dangers are manifest; others are far more subtle and are likely to be clearly recognized and accurately assessed only by those with extensive experience editing Wikipedia articles).
- archive some permanent links to approved versions of articles containing some of my more elaborate contributions to WP,
- migrate some of this material to another venue, better protected from vandalism and other disruption.
I hope to continue my volunteer pedagogical efforts elsewhere.
I had hoped to continue to participate in WP in some way (but certainly not as an anon editor!--- see above), but as of June 2006 do not plan to pursue further my last desperate attempts to implore the Wikimedia Board to consider the kind of drastic changes which I believe would have been necessary to save the project. This is because I believe the critical window of opportunity (which more or less coincided with the latter half of my time as a Wikipedian) has now been shut, and that the original stated goal of the Wikipedia, to provide a free on-line universal encyclopedia presenting accurate, unbiased and timely information in all areas of knowledge has now been irremediably proven to be unachievable. Since I invested considerable volunteer effort in trying to further this goal (which I still strongly believe is a noble one), it is painful to admit that Wikipedia has failed, but I believe it would be dishonest to omit to state this conclusion.
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