Good, Bad and Ugly on the WIkipedia

June 12, 2010

My first encounter with some of the idiosyncrasies of editing the WIkipedia remains memorable; being told that you obviously don’t understand your own work seemed bizarre at the time, but I was a Wikipedia Virgin (to use the title of that post). My purity is long gone now, with 13,618 edits on 1,390 pages since August 2006, and I’ve found more bazaar examples since, and learnt a lot about human complex systems in practice. Interestingly that was my main reason for getting involved in the first place.

The Wikipedia is a complex adaptive system and the evolution and modification of constraints provides a perfect experimental area. That aside it matters, the WIkipedia is the first port of call on most Goggle searches so accurate content is key. Its also addictive and you make some good friends!

Despite the frustrations experience tells me that in general right wins out in Wikipedia but there are times when it gets downright frustrating. Right finally won out, at least for the moment on British issues when two disruptive editors were proved sock puppets but it took a year! Thats the Good of the title. In comparison two currently unresolved issues show the dangers that are inherent in a system where some editors are better at playing the game that others.

For my example of the Ugly, we have a small group of single purpose editors who are focused on arguing that science demonstrates that non-whites are of inferior intelligence across a narrow range of articles. One editor has stood up to them (and summarises the issue well here), but has been subject to all manner of attacks using the control mechanisms of Wikipedia. That one is finally with Arbcom for resolution so hopefully it will be resolved.

In contrast we have a pretty outstanding content editor who is very poor at playing the game and has fallen foul of some key editors in consequence. I posted my concern about this case some time ago. Current attempts to get him readmitted are resulting in a split between those editors (the good guys) who feel that high quality content is worth putting up with some behaviour issues, and those (the misguided but mostly well intentioned) who regard any breech of the rules as grounds for exclusion. That’s the Bad.

This worries me as qualified editors willing to put in the time are few and far between and the Wikipedia should stand or fall by its content. OK the community needs to moderate behaviour, but it should be a rigorous critical environment and one that foes not mimic the behavioral models of a victorian nursery. Jimmy Wales, if he is remotely interested, would rise considerably in my opinion if he weighed in on this last case. He was at least part responsible for it escalating it in the first place.

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