Sunday, 16 February 2014

On what will kill Wikipedia

I think that the principle of Wikipedia, collaborative editing of articles that anyone can contribute to, is great. In practice though, it's fatally flawed. Here's why...

I've only ever edited a couple of Wikipedia articles. They had been neglected as most of the reference links were broken and the content was hopelessly out of date. No one had made any meaningful changes in a long time. Knowing something about the subjects in question, I got them bang up to date with everything properly referenced. Over the last couple of years, I've made a few updates to keep things current and so have other people; collaboration works! Although a bit obscure, the subjects of these articles have occasionally appeared in the mainstream media, and as is well known, the lazy journos first (and often only) port of call for research is Wikipedia, so accuracy and currency of the articles is important. A classic example of when it goes wrong being this.

Unfortunately, the articles got the attention of some rather more dedicated editors than me. On one occasion, someone added "x is a dick" to one of them. That's one of the downsides of allowing anyone to edit but those sort of changes can easily be reverted. Someone with admin rights decided that the page should be locked down because of this and so all changes required his/her approval before they were published. Mine and anybody else's were swiftly rejected for spurious reasons. In the meantime, the admin reverted the article back to an out of date version...

The other article is now useless. It fell victim to a Wikipedia policy pedant who appears to edit for a full time "job". When I say full time, I mean they spend 18 hours plus a day deleting content that does not conform to the letter of this huge list of policies and guidelines. Because of the actions of the Pedant-in-Chief, the content of the article no longer contains the reason for the subject's notability and so the whole thing might as well be deleted. I tried to engage with the editor and got a cryptic comment back citing some obscure policy and basically telling me to fuck off, so I gave up.

The biggest problem with Wikipedia is that the casual editor like me cannot compete with those who spend their entire lives on it. We simply cannot and do not want to have to invest huge amounts of time in reading, understanding, and applying hundreds of different rules in order to be able to post content. We also don't want to spend time trying to improve an article just for someone to come along and delete all of your changes and more. If that happens then I suspect that like me, subject matter experts will just give up and walk away. That then leaves the editor community comprising of the bureaucrats, the pedants, and those who like to play attrition warfare and you end up with a site full of articles that are dated or just wrong. But that's OK because all the rules have been followed, a perfect embodiment of "the operation was a success but the patient died".

2 comments:

  1. I Know what you mean.

    I tried editing a piece on the Royal Military police that sais "Military police do not do "gate duty."

    ONE exception, Chichester, which was the training center at the time, the RMP DO do "gate duty." I have spent many long and boring hours doing it myself.

    The edit was refused.

    Wiki is O.K, but, as with any research method, do not rely on one single source.

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