January 3, 2009

"Wikipedia's bureaucracy is distinctly, fearsomely awful."

"The site, which dictates the online reputation of countless living people and companies, itself operates by rules that are completely incomprehensible, determined by a self-appointed group of volunteer editors who can seldom stop arguing over obscurities to explain their ways to outsiders."

Wow. Jimmy Wales, ousted? By "Sue Gardner, a Gothy, spider-tattooed Canadian pop-culture expert who now runs the site"? Bizarre!

UPDATE: I get email that seems to be from Jimmy Wales:
Valleywag routinely prints absolutely false stories. There is absolutely no truth to this story - or most of the things in it.

The truth is that my reappointment to the board, quite routine and unanimous, was publicly announced a week ago. Sue Gardner and I have an excellent working relationship, like, really really excellent.

It's a little alarming that anyone reads it at all. I would file a libel suit agianst them, except, well, you're a law professor so you know the difficulties of that.
People send fake email too. What do I know? The address looks Wikipediaish, and yet when I Google it, I get nothing. When I Google my own email addresses, something always comes up. I don't want the real Jimmy Wales emailing me about absolutely fake email addresses.... and not threatening lawsuits... etc.etc...

UPDATE 2: Jimmy Wales emails: "Please don't quote me." Well, that's rich! Why email me other than to seek a correction? In blogging, we don't take things down. We just continue the flow. This isn't Wikipedia.... The hell!

30 comments:

Pastafarian said...

Wikipedia is horrible. There are a couple of very industry-specific nichey topics that I'm qualified to write about, and the entries were really inadequate; I submitted additions, and they were deleted for no good reason. Submissions that were pure spam, from our competitors, were left standing.

What sort of competitors does Wikipedia have? Did that "knol" project from Google ever get off the ground?

Meade said...

Pastafarian: Did you forget to have sex with Jimmy Wales, who is obviously the son of Kevin Costner and Tony Blair? That might be where you went wrong.

Bruce Hayden said...

Piece of trivia - general counsel for the foundation that runs Wikipedia is Mike Godwin, of Godwin's Law fame.

I love Wikipedia as it is a great place to start research on varied subjects, which I have to routinely do for work. I hadn't talked to Mike for a couple years, and contacted him a couple months ago for some reason or another. When I found out what he was doing, I complained about the politics, etc. of Wikipedia and that anything political gets quickly politicized. His response was that it is a great initial resource, but shouldn't be depended upon for anything beyond that. I agreed with him completely.

So, a number of times a week, I do a Google search on something, and the first entry is a Wikipedia entry for it. After reading the Wikipedia entry, I have a decent understanding of the subject, and use the Google search to narrow down my search and answer my questions in more detail.

I do this for work, because I am essentially paid to come up to speed on technical subjects as quickly as possible. And this Google/ Wikipedia approach is the fasted I have found.

blake said...

Wiki is in the too good to be true category. Or was.

Lawgiver said...

They need to hire some philosophers.

Palladian said...

Most people who bash Wikipedia don't understand how it works.

campy said...

It should be regulated by the government.

Original George said...

Your Wiki entry, Professor.

So...you were a teen in Wayne, New Jersey, were you?

Pastafarian said...

Meade -- I would have, but I was afraid that Kathy Griffin might come and slap the dick out of my mouth. (As an aside, I once took a photo of my wife with Kathy Griffin -- they're both 5' 2" tall).

Bruce -- tens of millions of people use this very handy tool as an initial reference, and that's what makes its proper, fair editing so important.

Palladian -- you're right, I don't know how it works. I only know this: There's one topic (and probably only one) that I'm qualified to write authoritatively about -- a particular product. I run one of only two manufacturing facilities in the US that makes this particular product. I wrote a completely non-spammy and carefully written addition to the already existing and woefully inadequate entry on this topic, and all of my additions were deleted -- but the spam put in there by our competitor remained. Pure bullshit. I wasted my time.

Campy -- no, it should die the same death that any producer of a shoddy product should die. That's why I asked if there were any viable competitors yet.

MadisonMan said...

Coming next season on CBS: Survivor: Wikipedia!

Ann Althouse said...

"So...you were a teen in Wayne, New Jersey, were you?"

Yeah. What? Not encyclopediaish enough? Ha ha.

Ann Althouse said...

I feel weird that I'm wearing a tank top in the encyclopedia....

HelenParr said...

Perhaps you could wear socks in the footnotes.

m00se said...

I'll have to agree with Bruce Hayden. It's a good place to *start* your research.

Back in the day, you could write a paper citing the Encyclopedia Brittanica as your sole source. Of course that was in high school.

Today, people that depend on a single internet source (Wikipedia say) are, at a minimum, guilty of profound laziness. At the most, they are guilty of profound stupidity.

The most attractive feature of the internet is it's ease of use - this too is it's prinicpal weakness. People have to actually filter what they read on the web in order to distill down the truth from the crap.

However, I am a cynic and generally think that people are trying to pull one over on me, so take this all with a grain of salt...

Simon said...

Bruce Hayden said...
"I complained about the politics, etc. of Wikipedia and that anything political gets quickly politicized."

I think that's right. Wikipedia is entirely adequate as an entry-level resource into uncontroversial subjects, but it's structurally incapable of handling controversial topics (or, worse yet, controversial events while they're in motion).

jaed said...

The real problem with Wikipedia is that it rewards obsessive possessiveness.

The theory is that people make corrections or additions where they can, and thus each article gradually approaches completeness and accuracy. In practice, it's common (just read some discussion sections) for one or more people to glom onto a particular article and decide that it belongs to them. From then on, trying to correct or improve the article is a fool's errand.

This is particularly bad, of course, when the self-appointed article owner is insane - and Wikipedia does not appear to incorporate any design features to make this less likely. It's not so good even when the "owner" is relatively knowledgeable and non-crazy, since it effectively prevents the process of convergence on accuracy.

It also drives out naive newbies who believe the Wikipedia narrative about how we're all writing this together, only to have their careful contributions zeroed out instantly by whoever is squatting the article.

Wikipedia also has some bizarre rules about sourcing (a first-person account? Not a credible source. The NYT editorial page? A credible source!), and some serious political biases in the inner circle that don't help respect for neutrality. Combined with the "founder effect" that tends to drive out those who don't conform to what they perceive as the group political consensus, this tends to make Wikipedia useless for issues that pertain to partisan controversies. In general, Wikipedia is far more useful for topics where the writers are trying to inform than for topics where they're trying to persuade.

But the real problem is structural: devote enough of your attention to guarding an article and you can prevent improvements to it. This means that as time increases, the percentage of articles that are effectively locked up by one obsessive approaches 100, and thus the percentage of articles that are actually edited under the Wikipedia collaborative model approaches zero.

From Inwood said...

The comments here are all thoughtful & dead on.

Read anything about Global Warming in one of the Wiki articles & it's Chicken-Little time, for instance.

But the same criticisms apply to Encyclopedias in print, which too are politicized on contentious topics & which are quickly out of date on so many topics.

And so with textbooks.

Even dictionaries have slouched into accepting then current usage as acceptable usage.

And, unfortunately, the NYT is the first version of History for many.

And speaking of HS, as M00se has, I hope your HS teacher warned you back then that there was a bigger world of info out there than the Ency Brit. & the HS textbook.

Craig Landon said...

Treat Wikipedia articles (unless mathematically based) as the whispered confidences of a long ago lover subjected to your subsequent maturity.

knox said...

That photo of her at the article is ridiculous. "I'm a pop-culture expert, so can you please try to somehow make me look thoughtful and deep?"

Coming next season on CBS: Survivor: Wikipedia!

LOL

bearbee said...

Incompetence and infighting are endemic to nonprofits, of course

Congress is non-profit.

amba said...

I work as a fact checker and copy editor, and I pretty much avoid Wikipedia like the plague. It is utterly inconsistent; some entries are quite thorough and responsible, others are flat-out wrong, and unless you know a field really well you cannot always tell which are which.

rcocean said...

I pretty much agree. For non-controversial, technical subjects Wikipedia is pretty good.

But if its political in anyway, watch out. This applies to especially to history where certain events/people are distorted to achieve a political or personal agenda.

The source cite rule doesn't help since you can find a book (or magazine article) that will support any kind of historical craziness - such as Lincoln was gay or Eisenhower a communist.

Original George said...

I am James "Jimmy" Wales, and I also want to add that Sue's spider-tattoos are way cool. If you look at the photo of her on Wiki, that big black thing around her neck and below? That's all one tattoo.

I wish you a wikilicious New Year.

heywoot said...

No, I am Jimmy Wales. No, I mean, I am Spartacus.

Wiki, rhymes with Mickey.

thoughtfulconservative said...

Ann, you could probably upload one of your own, as long as it belongs to you.

Of course, that might mean having to register, if you're not already.

Dean

thoughtfulconservative said...

As far as my use of Wikipedia, it parallels what others have written. I use it as a jumping off place or link to it on a post to give folks some background. There are usually more sources at the end of an article where one can branch out.

Dean

Kirk Parker said...

HelenParr wins Best Comment! :-)

1970_baby said...

Jimmy Wales is HAWT! Wish he'd email me...

Sigivald said...

Wikipedia also has some bizarre rules about sourcing (a first-person account? Not a credible source. The NYT editorial page? A credible source!), and some serious political biases in the inner circle that don't help respect for neutrality.

Ding!

I increasingly feel that every Wikipedia page should have "citation needed" after nearly every statement. Not so much because they're all likely to be wrong, but because random people have added them to some statements in some articles, but not others - making them basically worthless.

(And why exactly is it that Wikipedia wants content removed for not being "encyclopedic", anyway? The only reasons print encyclopedias limit themselves are that they're in print and thus can only, practically, be a given size, and because they have to pay editors to edit things.

Wikipedia lacks both of those excuses for excluding content. My inevitable conclusion is that it's posturing - they're not self-confident enough to include things that aren't "like a real encyclopedia".)

As others have said, a good initial resource, especially on technical topics.

But a deeply dysfunctional culture with far too much personal power given to random people over random topics - or rather, too much in contrast with their ideal of being "a real encyclopedia" worthy of respect as such.

C. R. Jones said...

It's part of our plan to takeover America now that your finances are weakened. Next it will be the Banking Sector and Loonie's will trade at a premium to US greenback's. Hooray for Revenge of the Canadian Nerds.