Hello. Came across this encyclopedia and realising how it works decided to join in. An interesting thought that anyone who wants to look something up in an encyclopedia probably does already know something about it.
More passing of time
I just checked this page some four years after the next section below was written, wondering if it needed updating. On the whole my comments on wikipedia still seem relevant. I just looked at a few things on wikipedia and read some messages, then also noticed I hadnt edited anything for a year. I suppose that reflects my being busy elsewhere, but it also reflects on wikipedia. The last time I was here I entered into potentially a huge fight over a featured article. It happened that I had been researching the subject, and looking at the article here could see some shortcomings. But, of course, a featured article is certified as perfect. Editors will fight tooth and nail to prevent it being vandalised...which frequently equates to any change at all. It is ironic that had I posted my list of criticisms the day before it was accepted FA, editors would have been running round to accomodate them. The day after, total rejection.
This is not an isolated incident. No wikipedia editor should fall into the trap of believing a FA is correct. They arent. There is always something more. Base it upon two reputable sources, and then a third will come along and contradict the first two. Then some damned interfering academic will discover something else, even with events that happened 100 years ago. Something is always turning up in someone's attic which changes preconceptions.
So all this can be dispiriting for an editor seeking to improve wikipedia. Instead of just doing it, what you need is an ongoing guerilla war to make your case. Well, that can be fun in the right circumstances, but it is hardly an effective use of resources. Maybe its inevitable. As an article improves, the balance of probability shifts away from any new edit improving it towards making it worse. A greater expertise is needed to refine the article, and judgement about the merits of an edit by anyone uninvolved become harder and harder. But wikipedia even more than before needs to guard against believing it is complete.
The passing of time
An extraordinary thing, I have been editing here for three years now. Perhaps time for a rewrite of this page, and a historical review. It is hard to say how wikipedia has changed in that time, because my understanding of it has changed also. If I have to define something, I would say it has become more bureaucratic. Wiki remains run by a small number of people with ideas. When those ideas fail to be heeded by the majority of editors, well, they just write in more detail. Instruction creep rules.
Ok, it is bigger and better. Some of that is window dresssing. There are people rushing around refining style rather than content. There are people rewriting articles repeatedly with hardly a change of the essential information. But it does improve in scope and accuracy.
This page now looks rather old fashioned. None of those boxes people seems to like. Well, they were not so fashionable when I started writing this, though what a fight to establish them. But it could be argued they exemplify the stylistic change upon wiki with info boxes everywhere. Wiki is becoming more automatic with a pronouced house style.
There seems to be a delusion creeping into wiki that one day it will be 'finished'. This seems to me unlikely. Leaving aside the queston of the sum of human knowledge, the continual rewriting of pages to accord with changing standards should keep people busy forever.
I have written enough about this that it ought to have a section here. People are obsessed with referencing. I suppose I am the result of early influences, because I recall reading, I think Asimov describing the Encyclopedia Galactica or perhaps the imperial university, the idiocy of writing analysis based upon other's analysis, based upon analysis.... with never a thought to the original material. This seems to be mirrored on wikipedia. I would state bluntly it is not possible to write a useful reference source without expert knowledge. Obviously, you can copy one, but given the existence of copyright laws forbidding this, wikipedia cannot grow that way. Hopefully it also strives to be better than the sources of its information, and for that experts have to intervene to select the material presented here.
The sort of expert I mean is not the top world expert in that field. The expert I mean is more of a librarian. Specifically he is an experienced wiki editor. People here confuse the question of whether someone is a competent expert on the topic being written about with whether he is a competent wiki editor. Content and accuracy of wikipedia articles is not guaranteed by having expert advice from that field, or reams of references on every tiny point, but by an experienced wiki editor arranging and selecting material. This is not a new concept, it applies in every other encyclopedia. People seem to be forgetting that the guarantee of quality on wikipedia is an internal matter of how good we are at organising it. It is a major trap to believe that reams of references guarantee quality.
Since I have made some comments on political pages I felt I should say something about my own standpoint. I have never belonged to any political party, never stood for elected office, nor in any way been employed as an advisor or lobbyist. On the other hand, I have voted in every election for which I have been eligible. I have written from time to time in my own right to governments about issues of the day. I doubt they pay much attention to such letters, but I feel perhaps they weigh the piles of paper on either side of the debate. I am a confirmed tactical voter. My normal inclination is to vote Liberal Democrat, mostly because in the very remote chance that they might win, at least it would be a change. I have also voted Labour and Conservative. More seriously, I consider electing anyone into the house of commons who is not tied to one of the main parties is highly desirable. I would be very pleased to see the house of Lords reformed to election by some form of proportional representation. The recent labour changes from entry by accident of birth to entry mainly by government appointment do not seem to me to be an improvement. At least no one can be certain that the heir to a title will turn out to support a particular party.
I have been here long enough now to start to get some idea of how this place works. It is quite extraordinary. There are a huge number of articles, and generally a tiny number of people concerning themselves about any one. Well, all and good. Little spats going on all the time as people argue about articles. I have watched as real tussles break out, but even what some people here consider the hardest and most intractable cases, still manage to produce articles which creep forward with improvements. A real dogfight can be the making of an article, it would seem.
What concerns me more is the really very small number of people who ever get concerned in any single decision. And some of them are quite serious. Three people having a debate between them can suddenly create a turn in ‘policy’, which is used to drastically change wiki. Consensus is then imposed on many more than ever took part in the deciding of that consensus. The highest number of people who become concerned with even the deepest issue seems to be around 100. Perhaps because there seems to be an inordinate demand for haste. Frequently people seem to want to make a decision before a significant number of people have time to notice that something is happening. There seems to be a small number of editors who see it as their business to make the rules for all those who are actually writing the encyclopedia behind their backs.
My Pet Hate…
NOR and cite sources. I have read enough wiki articles, and seen a few reviews by outsiders to notice that what wiki lacks is OPINION. A traditional encyclopedia would contain opinions where that was appropriate to the subject. Arts, literature, fashion, areas where subjective views are expected, are not dealt with well on wiki. It is far too easy for someone who hates a particular subject to come along and trash a perfectly good article on a subject where there is no real right answer, by claiming NOR and deleting the lot. This is a failing. Any article is better than no article. References are nice, alternative sources which someone can consult to get a different opinion are very nice. But these policies are used to police wiki and maintain order, rather than to nudge editors in the right direction. They are a stick which can be used to make articles worse as well as better.
So why do people write for wiki? Presumably most do it for fun, though I am sure a minority are paid to do it, with one bias or another. Hopefully all these cancel out and something good results. I hope though, that wiki editors do not think they are writing simply for themselves, but consider their wider audience. It may have become clear that I think it bad wiki strives excessively for precision. I think it would be far better if we strove for good, friendly writing style and articles easily understandable by everyone. Which is not to say they should be elementary. They should contain the most sophisticated ideas known. Just that they need to be expressed in such a way as to make them understandable by all. Did anyone ever tell you that the solution to a puzzle is obvious, just so long as you ask the question in just the right way?
My wish list?
That someone will sort out a rating system so that we can tell the public how good we think a particular article is. People using wiki need to understand that articles can be very variable in quality, and we ought to have a means of telling them if we think the article they are reading is a good one, or not. (and no, I think FA and GA have serious shortcomings. I have in mind mass peer review, by readers and ordinary editors)
Work in progress
/Deathly Hallows (though if anyone has read this far, the page is just a scratchpad and I just noted it here so I don't forget its existence)