April 13, 2006
Jason Scott, of textfiles.com and BBS: The Documentary, presented a talk on the failure of Wikipedia at Notacon 3 this weekend. I highly recommend listening to his talk. It's fascinating-- full of insights into what makes Wikipedia work so well, but specifically highlighting some of the social problems they've run into as they grow.
Although my experiences with Wikipedia have been almost uniformly positive, I was taken aback when I noticed that there appears to be a Wikipedia entry for every single comic book character ever created. Surely Superman and Batman are worthy of inclusion in Wikipedia-- but what about Monica Rambeau and Jubilee?
Jason's talk provides a name for this conundrum: inclusionists versus deletionists.
The inclusionist versus deletionist debate [within Wikipedia] is as firm and strong as the abortion debate, gun control debate, or the death penalty debate.
Inclusionism says, Wikipedia, because it is a virtual encyclopedia, is capable of carrying the sum of human knowledge-- coincidentally, the theme of Wikipedia. Because of the fact that you can sort things, and you can work things out, you're able to actually keep the sum of all human knowledge on a place, keep it changed, and use the power of the computer. F**k yeah!
The deletionists take the attitude [that] Wikipedia is not a junkyard. An area for the cruft of all aspects of humanity that ever existed, turning into an untenable, Katamari Damacy-like ball of s**t that rolls through the internet. We should clean up stuff that is not important, not interesting, and we should just get that s**t out of there. Who cares about what the names of every character in Serenity is? Who cares? So the idea is, delete that.
Although I tend to side with the deletionists, there's no rational way to decide what's "notable". So the inclusionists-- and the ever-spiraling increase of storage, bandwidth, and CPU power-- will win by default. I'm not sure this is a bad thing. The long tail of micro-content doesn't need to appear in any massive table of contents; it's only a few search keywords away.
Posted by Jeff Atwood
The big problem with inclusionism is that the deambiguation pages become more and more cluttered. Really, that's the only *major* problem you get from having the data (unless you look for it, it isn't going to be found). The mission of the Wikipedia itself makes it fairly clear that inclusionism is going to prevail.
What I find odd about the deletionist attitude is that the the "junk" pages take up negligable bandwidth, storage space and administrative resources (if you exclude the arguments between the two groups that is). If one is going to worry about deleting everything that isn't "interesting", why not worry about all the "junk" pages on the Internet proper? Perhaps go on a quest to rid the Internet of all myspaces pages as a start? Perhaps a good book burning is in order as well, with all the romance novels making great kindling?
Deletionism is just a form of censorship. An elitist form perhaps, but nothing more. If the mission of the Wikipedia is to index knowledge, why should elitists get to decide *what* knowledge? The criteria should be instead the *quality* of the knowledge being presented.
Maybe one guy thinks comics shouldn't be indexed because they are cultural trash, while the next thinks information about video games should likewise be discarded. The third thinks all TV related information is irrelevant. If everyone who thinks information should be deleted is allowed to act, only the common denominator pages of every culture, viewpoint and interest will be left.
Which probably isn't very much.
Deletionism is just a form of censorship. An elitist form perhaps, but nothing more.
Just to play Devil's Advocate: what is preventing us, ultimately, from having a Wikipedia entry for every man, woman, and child on planet earth? Or every street in every city?
I am definitely not a deletionist, but there has to be a line, right?
The problem with being a Deletionist is that, like it or not, the internet *is* a giant Katamari Damacy-like ball of stuff.
With a creationist viewpoint taken to its logical extreme, at what point does Wikipedia stop being Wikipedia and start being.. well, the entire internet? Should the one authoritative page on *any* topic BE Wikipedia? That's one a-spicy meat-a ball! And probably far too much power for any one site.
Example. One thing that particularly aggravates me is the way movies have their own pages in Wikipedia. I prefer movies to stay on imdb.com, and I view the Wikipedia movie entries as very weak subsets of what I could *already* find on IMDB.
But I think you need to consider the unique nature of Wikipedia - it is an online, dynamic site. There is opportunity to filter and rank the information based on page visits, external links, etc. So I think you can have your cake and eat it too: inclusionists can put whatever they want on the site (including a boring entry about yours truly) and deletionists can use Google or some other ranking system to find the signal within the noise. You could even put a proxy-like site in front of Wikipedia that only returns pages that have a certain rank or visit count. Deletionists can use that as their entry point.
There is opportunity to filter and rank the information based on page visits, external links, etc
But we already HAVE a system like this. It's called "The Internet". So Wikipedia either A) becomes the internet-- the source of all knowledge, or B) subsumes all content on the internet.
I'm not sure people understand how quickly Wikipedia could grow, like a virus, to dominate the #1 spot in search rankings for every keyword imaginable. I've read, repeatedly, that an absurdly high percentage of searchers only click on the first returned search result.
Think about what this means!
In any case, this Jimbo* dream of an editorless world seems wholly unsustainible to me. It LOOKED like it worked until they outgrew this paradigm.
* aside: why would you, as a grown man, willingly choose to let people call you "Jimbo"? MY NAME IS JEFF, BUT MY FRIENDS CALL ME SLAPPY!!!1!
Jason Scott's 5 Wikipedia predictions for 2007:
1. Wikipedia will no longer allow anonymous edits of any kind.
2. Wikipedia will have to split off "user space" from "Encyclopedia space".
3. Jimbo Wales will be either ousted or have his power curtailed relative to Wikipedia.
4. Wikipedia will make it almost impossible to edit entries on living people (or any entity that can sue).
5. Wikipedia will add advertising (banner ads, text ads, or pop-ups).
Maybe I'm a little too cynical, but I think a lot of teenagers in need of purpose and direction have decided to camp out on Wikipedia, Google some topic, then simply rewrite whatever information they can find on it. Nothing like the illusion of helping - by performing glorified copy and pasting, we build knowledge that nobody could possibly find with one of those darn search engine things.
And then you get an illusion of the "perfect truth" as a sort of bonus. So when, in the future, you "wikisearch" those specifications for a rocket (or whatever you like), go ahead and make it, everything goes pear shaped, your rocket explodes and the chicken soup gains sentinence and starts slathering all over your kitchen on world conquest, who's to blame?
Surely not the guy who pressed "edit page" and changed some numbers without researching them! No, Wikipedia has angry users battering each other over the real way of pronouncing the name of an alien on Star Wars, a strange "if you can find some random web-link that agrees with this fact it is true" system and an awful lot of things prefixed with "wiki". Lots of monkeys, lots of typewriters. What COULD go wrong?
These are the ingredients for a perfect utopia of information! BOW TO THE NEW INTERNET!
In all seriousness though, Wikipedia has had some success. I admit I use it for a brief overview of a subject I'm not accquainted with jus to get a 'feel', but I wouldn't touch it with a bargepole if I wanted to be SURE of something.
Sorry for the double post, SLAPPY!!1, but in paragraph two, "(or whatever you like)" should read "or chicken soup, for that matter". That remark didn't just come out of nowhere, y'know.
But we already HAVE a system like this. It's called "The Internet". So Wikipedia either A) becomes the internet-- the source of all knowledge, or B) subsumes all content on the internet.
I think that's a huge oversimplification of what the internet is. Will retail web sites be part of Wikipedia? Will historical archives of news groups be entries in Wikipedia? Will every photo on Flickr become an entry in Wikipedia?
I just don't see how you can make a leap from Wikipedia having a liberal policy about including articles to subsuming all content on the internat. That's crazy talk!
My point in my previous post was that technology can be used to support both an inclusionist view of Wikipedia _and_ a deletionist one. They don't have to be exclusive. And my suggestion about ranking goes beyond a Google search - only Wikipedia can gather statistics about what pages people visit, what order, links they follow off pages, etc. They can build a more intelligent ranking (and thus filtering) system based on actual usage - not on external links back into the site. They can serve up a complete view of the site _and_ a most-popular/viewed version at the same time.
Its like having the complete Britannica encyclopedia and the two-volume condensed version all in one.
I like to think of Wikis as small world-wide-webs and as such they are full of good and bad information -- in my opinion mosty good but I guess it depends on the tolerance level of the reader :)
The question of where does the web ends and Wikipedia is an interesting one but then again I think of Wikis as sets that union and intercet with the WWW...just like encyclopedias overlap and complement with each other.
Dude! Monica Rambeau was in the last Black Panther, saving New Orleans from honky vampire throwbacks with T'challa, Luke Cage, and Blade. Plus some voodoo guy.
Also, she's in Warren Ellis' NEXTwave, which is basically just Ellis' transcribed morning grumblings with underwear pervert illustrations to go with. Very situationist, but instead of trite Marxist critiques you get the old-man-noises of a broken-headed English pubhound.
So yeah, she deserves her own damn Wikipedia page. At the very least.
There is a difference. Wikipedia at least has pretensions to being an encyclopedia, and it succeeds surprisingly often. The core idea behind it is the antibody theory - if one nitwit puts crud up there, then a non-idiot will remove the crud. Assuming more non-idiots than nitwits, you end up with a mostly factual system.
It is not quite so easy to fix the 'internet as a whole', because I cannot edit your site, and you cannot edit mine, at least in the general case.
So, while I agree that IMDB is a better store for the facts it contains, there are facts that do not have a dedicated database on them. For those, the wiki model might just be the best way we have found yet to self organize.
In general, I am more on the inclusionist side, as long as the pages stay real and stay relevant. I do not care whether there is a page about Sailor Moon, nor about the high school I went to. I do care that there is a very good page on military unit sizes, roman legion practices, and the various Claudian emperors. Other people will have different priorities, of course, and thus we will find all of the above reasonably well updated. Pages with a single entry, and that kinda flawed _do_ need to be deleted in my opinion, because what makes Wikipedia work is the group effort and the group correction.
Put another way, as long as it represents a community consensus on knowledge, then it has some degree of utility. When it represents an unedited junk pit, then we start to get ambiguities and problems.
I tend to err on the inclusionist side purely because I use wp as a first stop for finding out anything. If someone mentions a comic book character, and I don't know who the hell they are, I want to be able to wp them and find out who they are. I personaly wouldn't care most of the time alot of detail, only what comics they had been in. But the point is, I'd like that information to be there should I need it.
Interesting speech. But "the Great Failure of Wikipedia" is so much hyperbole. Has wikipedia has its problems and growing pains? Sure. Has it fallen short of the grand visions Jimbo laid out for it? Undoubtably. And if the stars were easily obtained, we would not reach for them.
What one cannot ignore is that wikipedia has also enjoyed outrageous success in some ways. Wikipedia's high PageRank, its reputation as a generally accurate, well-edited, and informative source is not for nothing. Is it a 100% accurate? No, but nothing is. Is wikipedia close enough to 100% for most practical purposes, I think the answer is an obvious yes.
Wikipedia, because it is an endeavour of men, cannot avoid politics. This is true. But the presence of politics is not an indication of failure, it's just an indication of humanity at work. Sure, wikipedia has had its embarassments. But there's a huge difference between "failing" and "being a failure". The United States has failed many times; read our the history of our nation and you'll find countless ways that we've failed to live up to the lofty goals our Founders had for us. Are we a failed state? I think not. The American Experiment is incontrovertibly nowhere close to being thrown onto the scrap-heap of history.
So it is with Wikipedia. Wikipedia is first, an innovative idea; secondly, a decent real-world implementation of that idea; but above all, it's a research project -- a project with kinks to work out and things to improve upon. The inclusionist / exclusionist debate is one such kink. I think eventually the wikipedia nation will come to the consensus that there's no way to objectively basis to determine what's "notable" and "not notable", that it's better to err on the side of too much information than too little, and this founding principle will be modified -- just like the idea of "protected pages" modifies the principle of "an encyclopedia anyone can edit", just like the Civil War put a stake through the heart of the idea of states with broad rights and near-total soverignty working under a weak federal government.
I still don't think people appreciate that Wikipedia is growing exponentially. Today, it's a fraction of the size it will be in a year. It's already a force to be reckoned with right now. Imagine the monster it's going to become, with pagerank hovering near 10 and a near-monopoly on a huge swath of search keywords.
And as that pagerank and search dominance goes up, so do the stakes for gaming the system.
Wikipedia isn't a bad thing. On the contrary. I worry that it is too much of a good thing.
Also, Coda Hale, you should apply for a job at Vertigo Software:
Here's the link to the transcribed talk, if you don't want to listen to the audio:
I still recommend the audio if you have time. The delivery is excellent.
It's a particularly sappy and particularly naive way of looking at the world, but it's worked (wonder of wonders) so far
I would argue that it has worked so far because there wasn't much money at stake. Now that wikipedia has grown so much -- with such a strong pagerank across so many keywords -- it becomes a question of who gets paid, and how much?
Money tends to poison processes like that.
I know of very few pieces of software that have the wiki ethic of "anonymous you have the power to change anything at any time."
I agree. I think it's a foregone conclusion that Wikpedia will completely disallow anonymous edits.
"I think it's a foregone conclusion that Wikpedia will completely disallow anonymous edits."
I'm not sure what this means. On the internet, everybody is anonymous.
True, signing up for an account is an extra hoop to jump through, and there is SOME control ... but realistically it doesn't change much. Wikipedia will still be the public encyclopedia anyone (with an email address) can edit.
It's not gonna be the massive sea change everyone thinks it will be.
First of all, I'd like to say I reference Wikipedia all the time for various bits of information. The fact that I choose Wikipedia as my source for such information is, at least to me, proof that it is a success.
As for the addition/deletion argument, I say add, add, add and never stop adding. It's all about growth -- moving forward. The whole reason we're all here able to have an argument about a website and the culture surrounding it is because mankind is constantly moving forward; innovating, advancing, learning, adding.
I know it's the extremely liberal position, and I can understand other viewpoints, but I am completely against censorship. I love when people push the envelope and rage against the machine. Let people add obscure comic book characters.
All knowledge is good knowledge. Keep adding, keep learning, keep growing.
I think the main question to answer is who gets to play "interesting" nazi and will that person of body of people have the same general thoughts on what is interesting as every single person who accesses Wikipedia. I don't think that is achievable because what is interesting to me is not neccessarily interesting to my wife or the guy making my latte at Starbucks.
blockquoteBut we already HAVE a system like this. It's called "The Internet"./blockquote
Unfortunately, you and I can't edit "The Internet," like we can Wikipedia. That's a deal-breaker for your analogy. Wikipedia is more public than "The Internet."
Anyway, this all seems to be a namespace problem. Perhaps what we could all agree on is that static disambiguation pages suck. Let's figure out a better, contextual filtering system.
"And as that pagerank and search dominance goes up, so do the stakes for gaming the system."
Wait, are we concerend about esoteric pages in the backwaters of the wiki, or are we really concerned with the Wikipedia's influence itself. It sure seems like the discussion has drifted from "why allow all that junk".
First, I don't buy the argument that specialized knowledge belongs *only* in specialized databases. Of course there should be specialized databases, but one of the things I have learned about the Internet is that any resource that I grow to rely on vanishes one day or becomes a sold out malware installation point with popups of doom. (My favorite board game site, BoardGameGeek look in imminate peril of going over the edge these days).
I can't say whether the Wiki or IMDB will go away first, but redundency on the Internet? A benefit, not a curse.
The second argument about pagerank and all that does indicate that the Wiki may become more "locked down" over time than it already is. Unless we are arguing that the Wiki shouldn't have influence for what it has achieved.
Frankly, I'm not seeing the harm behind more a more locked down policy either as the point behind "everyone contributes" was to create the critical content. The content is there, leaving, for the most part, niche articles to contribute. The established articles should become more and more like a traditional encyclopedia as they need fewer and fewer edits over time.
I wonder how many people here would find the Wikipedia "Marvel Zombies" entry relevant at all?
"Unfortunately, you and I can't edit 'The Internet,' like we can Wikipedia."
Does anyone remember a little app called "Third Voice"? It allowed users to place comments more or less directly on websites for all users of their app:
Today you can more or less "edit the Internet" with tools like GreaseMonkey and BlogEverywhere.
It's unsurprising to me that [[as of 2007]], Jason Scott's predictions haven't come true. Nor has Jeff's prediction that Wikipedia would require e-mail verification to edit, thus becoming a "walled garden" of the sort Jeff now dislikes:
WP's culture is very much anti-walled-garden and anti-elitist; it should have been obvious to anyone in 2006 (or even earlier, say 2003) that WP would resist AOLization, the subscription model, paid advertising, non-anonymity, and the rest, very forcefully.
Wikipedia will never, and should never, be regarded as a solid source. Therefore, trying to make it like an encyclopedia to rival britannica is ridiculous. Wikipedia should simply be a receptacle for human knowledge. Call me a bleeding-heart inclusionist- almost no articles should be deleted.
I was always under the misconception that Wikipedia was a place to find episode summaries and "strange" knowledge that you couldn't find in a regular encyclopedic source. This image I had was shot down pretty hard in the past few weeks. I've started looking for places to put the info that wikipedia is wholesale deleting. I've found a few interesting sites, like wetpaint.com and fancruft.net that embrace fandom info, but it still makes me a little sad that I used to enjoy having all of the questions I had answered with one little search box that I could contribute to. Fancruft is close, having saved 10's of 1000's of articles from wikipedia and billing itself as a comprehensive wiki for sci-fi / fantasy... but I would have liked to see Wikipedia reach its potential.
Carlos, I totally agree. To use Jeff's own example of comic books, I rarely need to find out detailed information on Spider-Man (I know most of it), and it's relatively easy to locate on official websites. When I encounter Doctor Bong, I need to look *him* up for the story to make sense. In some ways, the pages that will never be deleted, like "Superman" and "Batman" are *less* useful than "Jubilee" and "Monica Rambeau".
I have always leaned staunchly toward the inclusionist side of this debate until I read this article, because the "Katamari Damacy" argument for deletionism seems strong.
However, you'll never find Jubilee documented in Britannica, because it'd be a waste of paper and printing resources - so why not allow us to document obscure comic book characters on the web? That's the only place where the availability of resources makes sense to do so.
The thing that disturbs me the most about the "deletionism" is the eagerness to prune articles documenting internet subcultures and esoterica - because the web is the only place on which those things ever have a hope of being documented! The prominent example that springs to my mind is the push to get rid of articles covering web comics - not that they're a bastion of world culture or anything, but come on, let them have a few kilobytes of Wikipedia. If you're worried about clutter, provide a stronger organization system.
I think you have to take in aspects of both inclusionism and deletionism, and mix them in with a good helping of common sense and logic. Exercising something like that may be alot harder than just saying it.
what is preventing us, ultimately, from having a Wikipedia entry for every man, woman, and child on planet earth?
I’m not too familiar with Wikipedia’s rules and guidelines, but I think the “no original research” and citations rule would suffice. If someone’s not mentioned elsewhere on the internet, you couldn’t write an article about them without the article being original research.
Hi, Jason Scott, the guy who did the speech. Just wanted to mention someone did a transcript which I posted a href="http://www.cow.net/transcript.txt"here/a.
A few people are speculating what I was trying to say and draw conclusions based on the title/discussion, ostensibly because they don't want to sit through a 45 minute audio file. While the transcript loses a ton of my emphasis, tone and humor, it's better than nothing.
I'm firmly on the side of the inclusionists, of the "Association of Wikipedians Who Dislike Making Broad Judgements About the Worthiness of a General Category of Article, and Who Are in Favor of the Deletion of Some Particularly Bad Articles, but That Doesn't Mean They Are Deletionist" stripe.
THe core of Wikipedia is "I trust people and I trust process, despite knowing both are often broken." It's a particularly sappy and particularly naive way of looking at the world, but it's worked (wonder of wonders) so far.
There's also something about the unlimited freedom to edit that scares people. When they see an error on Wikipedia, I hear "Someone should fix that!" The Wikipedia answer is "you should fix that." The assumption that you have the responsibilty to fix things, that there's no "owner," that this is actually your problem to fix... scary! What if this got into the wrong hands! I'd rather stricter seperation of author and reader, thanks! Disable those edit buttons, that's not appropriate for me.
Seems this ethic invades most client pieces of software. I know of very few pieces of software that have the wiki ethic of "anonymous you have the power to change anything at any time."
Editing anonymously is held up by a number of contributors to Wikipedia as a flag of pride, where they show they can both maintain quality, continue openness, and function without locking people down into "accounts". The fact it will go away will disappoint/drive away significant people.
On the Internet, a sizeable percentage are NOT anonymous, actually. They make no attempts to be so and are trackable down to the person.
My predictions sort of came true, but also didn't. I should have expected things would move in a more nuanced fashion.
Wikipedia now treats anonymous edits very shoddily; sometimes stuff goes through with no problems, but if you edit anonymously and someone with an account undoes your work, you will lose. Try it sometime. Jimbo has gone on record more than once and said "I won't discuss your issue until you get an account. Anonymous accounts are a slave class, allowed to do heavy lifting but suspicious and dismissed at many juncture points.
Wikipedia started heavy cut-down of user pages over the past few years; there was a userbox war (many userboxes were deleted, but they came back), and people constantly go through each other's user pages and play "Homeowners Association". It is very hard to have more than a two-page (user and discussion) userspace on Wikipedia, where before it was implicitly allowed.
Wales has had his power utterly curtailed. He's no longer head guy of the board, he is shut down by his own board a lot (his call for "credentials" after the Essjay scandal was tossed on its ear by his own board), and he's now actively given the finger when he wanders in and tries to "Jimbo" a discussion. But he's not been kicked out entirely, and many people still perceive him as the voice and face of Wikipedia.
It is SO HARD to edit entries on living people on Wikipedia. I stand by this one 100%. You have to cite anything and everything, and woe be to you if you write something non-positive on someone. It is a nasty, uphill battle and often comes out with the entry being the poorer for it.
Wikipedia has gotten payment for being used in a Cisco commerical, and sells copies of itself to Answers.com and other entities for their (advertising) use. So they found a way to do it without hurting the main cow. That said, things are looking more and more like the board will go for some sort of advertising in the future.
So yes, my black and white predictions? Totally off. I should have expected that the outcomes would be "the same but different" and I take full responsibility for not calling that.