I am a faithful Wikipedian and believe Wikipedia is one of the greatest achievements of the internet. But I have blogged lately about Wikipedia’s slowing growth, Wikipedians quitting the site, and a growing sense that Wikipedia is failing to accomplish its goals. I’m not nearly as pessimistic as many Wikipedians, but I think it’s worth reporting these attitudes to those people socialized enough to live healthy and productive lives outside of Wikipedia’s bizarre subculture.
Beware the Wiki Admin
The bulk of Wikipedia-angst appears directed towards the only Wikipedians with any perceived power: the Admins. Armed with the power to block users and delete pages, Wikipedia admins are increasingly accused of protectionist behavior, programatically driving away the Noobs. Entire websites are now devoted to exposing the perceived injustices of Wikipedia Admins.
Not to side with the management, but you have to consider a day in the life of a Wikipedia Admin. You live in a moldy room above your mother’s garage, you’re trying to reach a Level 49 Power Alliance Levelling Spot on World of Warcraft, and you’ve got to deal with a bunch of high schoolers trying to vandalize the Mr. Sulu article on your Wikipedia watchlist. Over time, you become exasperated, and tend to expect the worst from Noobies. I’ve seen plenty of Admin snarkiness on Wikipedia, but most of the time it is understandable.
I blogged about Wikipedia Co-Founder Larry Sanger’s Citizendium, an attempt to create a more authorative and protected Wikipedia. As I noted, I’m skeptical of anyone’s ability to challenge Wikipedia’s dominance at this point, and I think Sanger’s personal motives are openly questionable. Sanger’s articles will be protected from corruption by a feudal heirarchy of professional experts, “constables,” and lowly editors.
Meanwhile, Opencycle has emerged, promising greater Admin accountability and a culture that encourages editors to only worry about what matters, and not get caught up in petty edit wars. Opencycle has the best of intentions, but faces an uphill battle with 35 users and 66 articles.
Built on the belief that Wikipedia has a liberal bias, a Christian Wikipedia has entered the playing field with Conservapedia.com. Conservapedia takes a broad definition of liberal bias, including for instance, Wikipedia’s tacit belief in evolution.
Though I have seen compelling examples of liberal bias on Wikipedia, I find Conservapedia’s examples of bias on Wikipedia unconvincing. For instance, they take great umbrage with Wikipedia’s “anti-Christian” use of B.C.E. to indicate “Before the Common Era,” as opposed to B.C. which indicates “Before Christ.” Conservapedia writes, The dates are based on the birth of Jesus, so why pretend otherwise? Conservapedia is Christian-friendly and exposes the C.E. deception.
Well, if “C.E.” ammounts to liberal bias, then I’m Michael Moore. “Common Era” is used in the understanding that not everybody believes in Christ, and not everybody thinks we should use him to tell time. The purpose of an encyclopedia is objective credibility, and I don’t think this is Conservapedia’s goal at all. To their credit, they have amassed over 3,800 articles.
Let’s Work with Wikipedia
Wikipedia has 1.6 Million articles, and hundreds of thousands of editors. It amazes me that people imagine it is easier to start a new encyclopedia from scratch, rather than find solutions within Wikipedia. If Wikipedia is struggling, it may be because of the absence of a unifying leader like Jimmy Wales. It is amazingly inefficient to run a pure democracy. I believe squabbling Wikipedians are looking for guidance, inspiration, and direction. I imagine if Jimbo returned to Wikipedia, it would be like Steve Jobs’ return to Apple. Morale and creative inspiration would return to the site. Perhaps the MediaWiki Foundation needs to elect a clear leader to reunite Wikipedia.