Rory Cellan-Jones

Wikipedia on the wane?

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 25 Nov 09, 14:11 GMT

Will the online encyclopaedia that has become the first destination for millions of web users searching information end up withering away, as its worker bees lose interest in keeping it nourished? That's the question raised by a study of Wikipedia editors carried out by a Spanish academic for the Wall Street Journal. It shows that editors are giving up on Wikipedia far faster than new ones are joining, with a net loss of 49,000 editors in the first three months of 2009.

So why are so many of the people who used to compete fiercely to perfect entries on everything from astrophysics to Abba walking away from the project. One theory is that the whole project has simply lost its early innocence, and that's caused editors to drift away. It was incredibly easy in the early years to plunge in and write a new entry - or more likely edit an existing one. That allowed Wikipedia to grow very rapidly into an extremely broad-ranging source of information, and one that was mostly reliable, despite the carping of academics, rivals and many in the mainstream media.

But gradually the utopian idea of a worldwide community of unpaid enthusiasts creating an invaluable resource, making the world's information available freely to anyone with an internet connection, has had to confront a nasty reality - the web is an argumentative place where a few noisy and sometimes malicious folks can spoil things for everyone.

Rory Cellan-Jones's wikipedia pageRepeated vandalism of controversial entries - and here I must confess I once tinkered with my own entry to make a journalistic point - has led the Wikimedia Foundation gradually to introduce more and more rules about the way articles are edited. It's clear some early enthusiasts have been put off by the increasing bureaucracy surrounding the project. Just look at the comments on this issue which I've gathered this morning from some "Wikipedians":

"Can't be bothered dealing with the officious self-appointed ruling elite of Wikipedia"
"I find the bureaucracy of Wikipedia really offputting. Little things like their policy on phonetic transcription are suffocating!"
"i stopped editing Wiki when every edit seemed to be hit a wall. it's just become too hard work to stay within the rules."
"combination of idiots constantly changing and disagreeing and how everything you write being screened.."
"The Deletionists took our encyclopedia away."

Mind you, some also questioned the source of these statistics and how they'd been interpreted (a very Wikipedian response!) and others made the very good point that with so much of the world's knowledge already included in the online encyclopaedia there was little to inspire new editors.

This morning I spoke to Michael Peel, who chairs Wikimedia UK, and he admitted there was a problem with communicating the rules to new volunteers:

"One thing we're finding is that people are scared off because they get a standard message (when they try to edit an entry) which is not written as well as it could be."

He said the Wikimedia Foundation was in the middle of a big project to make the site more user-friendly for both readers and editors.

Michael, who is a postgraduate astronomy student and contributes to articles on that subject and on the history of Manchester, says there is still plenty of work to be done:

"It's nowhere near what it could be. In my opinion, it could be a lot bigger, a lot more reliable and a lot better referenced, but that kind of job doesn't appeal to the passer-by."

Even if it does become more difficult to get people interested in contributing to Wikipedia, there's no doubt that user numbers just keep on growing. Wikipedia itself reckons between 28% and 37% of the UK internet population are regular users, with similar figures across much of Europe, North America and Asia - though only 1% of Chinese surfers apparently use Wikipedia.

So this is a project that is suffering plenty of growing pains - but with a Wikipedia entry coming top of Google's search results for just about any topic you can imagine, the online encyclopaedia is certainly not on the wane.


  • Comment number 1.

    All it would need is for Britannica to up its marketing online and to offer itself for free using advertising, and Wiki will become obsolete. The biggest problem about wikipedia is the lack of professional recognition which it will not be able to receive while any Tom, Dick or Harry can create the content.

  • Comment number 2.

    There are three main problems currently with Wikipedia that means that it is possibly sliding out of fashion:

    1. Vandalism and Accuracy. Despite several attempts by senior editors, there is a continuing problem with maintaining the sort of editorial standards one would expect with an established editorially managed encyclopaedia. For instance, within an hour of the appointment of Baroness Catherine Ashton to the EU, her entry was completely wrecked. Also, some of the writing is definitely below par and the accuracy debatable. This is not to say it is a bad encyclopaedia, but by its design it will be prone to these problems.

    2. Software design. Mediawiki is a very clever bit of software, but from the users point of view it is a minefield. If you are a writer, then you want the medium you use to be familiar to you - you certainly do NOT want to have to learn an entire new syntax. At its most complicated you would want it to be as close to using a word processor as possible. My mother, a highly educated person in her 80s, would love to contribute to sections about Burma where she was born and brought up in the 1930s. However, just one look at what she would have to do changed her mind. I wonder how many potential wonderful contributors they lose because the interface is a major barrier.

    3. Academic Arrogance. Wikipedia is trying to be an encyclopaedia written for and by the common man, and yet it stinks of academic arrogance. When there was a objection to an album cover that portrayed a very young nude female, the discussion on the page was a complete mess of puerile nonsense about how academics should be allowed to do as they liked and if the rest of the world was insulted or offended, it was their lookout. It didn't seem to strike any of them that it is perfectly possible to discuss an issue without actually having to put the offending picture up.

    This sounds all a bit heavy as I have a lot of respect for Wikipedia as an ideal.

    But like a lot of ideals it maybe being derailed by reality!

  • Comment number 3.

    I'm guessing that 49,000 editors are merely people who made a contribution.

    The problem of the so-called "deletionists" is totally out of control on Wikipedia. These are, so far as I can tell, completely self-appointed topic police who go from one article to another deleting pretty much anything they don't like.

    Now, certainly, if they were making these decisions in topics where they actually had some particular domain expertise or knowledge, I'd say, fine. But that doesn't appear to be what's going on. To me, it just looks like a plain ol' power trip for idiots who know basically nothing about anything except Wikipedia's rules which are getting to be about as labyrinthine as the Inland Revenue code.

    Bottom line, Wikipedia is falling over of its own weight.

  • Comment number 4.

    Wikipedia always used to proudly market itself as a free encyclopaedia by the people and for the people. Therefore I can't understand why it has suddenly begun to undermine this mission in its pursuit of academic integrity. I would guess that the majority of people who visit Wikipedia do so because they want to find out more about a subject that interests them, not because they require academically-approved material to back up an essay, for example. The fact remains that the academic community will never accredit Wikipedia with being anything other than a bit of fun and a source of mildly interesting (and free!) material, and so Wikipedia really is cutting off its nose to spite its face by putting off the man on the street. I have no doubt that most people take any information (particularly opinions) in Wikipedia with a pinch of salt, so why the moderators are being so annally-retentive about editing, formatting and referencing really is beyond me.

  • Comment number 5.

    Matt Heyes above mentioned accreditation, which reminds me of a comment by a scientific relation. He said that though there was worthy information on Wikipedia, it was impossible to use it because of having to cite it.

    Since the articles are not static, and can be edited at any time by anybody, if you try to cite it in research, your source material may change at any moment! That is hopeless in academic writing, for obvious reasons.

    So, researchers tend to use it as a halfway house, tracing back to the source information that Wikipedia used.

    Unfortunately, that also means that it tends to be treated with caution by researchers, which does nothing for its credibility.

  • Comment number 6.

    Wikipedia is losing editors beause simply it has become too much hard work. Most of us who have knowledge of subjects can spare an hour or two to write an article, we can not spend days composing references from verifiable other sources out there online in order to satisfy the rules of wikipedia regarding uncited work.

    This is the change in emphasis in Wikipedia and it has come about because people criticised it as being 99% wrong when in fact it was always pretty clost to 99% correct in the first place.

  • Comment number 7.

    Err, Gurubear, although articles are not static, on every page to the left of the article there's a link to "permanent link" - click that and you'll get a URL that you can cite which will always point to a particular version of the page.

  • Comment number 8.

    I don't think that the situation is anywhere near as bad as some people are making it out to be.

    I've been editing Wikipedia since 2004, and I'm enjoying it as much as ever. Reversion and semiprotection work pretty well at keeping vandalism away from vandal-prone articles once it's noted. People who use editing as an ego-boosting tool fairly quickly either get banned or stomp away.

    It's entirely possible to do good work on Wikipedia. For example, this week I rewrote two articles, fixed a handful of typing errors, flagged up an article as being in need of rewriting (though I'll probably end up editing it myself!), and so on. Nothing glamorous, but all well worth doing.

  • Comment number 9.

    Remarking upon the above: first the Britannica software is far less user friendly than Wikipedia's software. And in reply to Gurubear above, it actually is possible to link to a stable version of any article in Wikipedia. The way to do so is non-obvious, though. This is one of the ways that the interface could and should be streamlined.

  • Comment number 10.

    In recent weeks almost every useful, interesting entry I've read on Wikipedia has had a notice saying it's up for deletion, usually accompanied by a pedantic, bureaucratic argument on it’s talk page about why the subject is not worthy or notable enough to have an entry of it’s own. Yes, there’s too much vandalism and things that really aren’t worthwhile on there, but they’ve taken things too far in the other direction and seem to be deleting everything in sight.

    I’ve recently come across a site called Deletionpedia which automatically archives pages as they’re deleted from Wikipedia. On there you can see that, yes, the vast majority of deleted entries were just people either self-publicising or trying to promote their own small businesses, some were entries on inconsequential internet memes that are forgotten within a week, and a handful are hoax entries, but with a few clicks on “Random Page” it’s easy to find entries which seem to have been harshly removed.

  • Comment number 11.

    I think that the 'problem' is that the wikipedia's quality is ever increasing; this makes it progressively harder for people's edits to achieve a good enough standard to be included.

    It's a great problem to have though! And I don't think that people who *read* the wikipedia would want it any other way (provided it remains readable and accessible, which is clearly the point of an encyclopedia, after all).

  • Comment number 12.

    Very much agree with reasonstobecheerful's comments but the problem is not only in deletionists, there is a problem with editors who edit to an agenda. There is a policy about "Fringe viewpoints" which is being used and abused to make hit pieces out of articles about people who hold views that do not conform to the "scientific consensus" (irrespective of whether that notion is nonsense or not) it even has a notice board (type in WP:FTN in the wiki-search bar) which the articles about those "kooks" and "kooky science" are supposedly fairly treated. Tag teams work to ensure their viewpoint and the hit-piece-writing remains and the single editor who aims to ensure the Neutral Point of View (which the project once so highly valued) is maintained gives up after hitting their heads against the walls too many times.

  • Comment number 13.

    arwelp wrote:

    Err, Gurubear, although articles are not static, on every page to the left of the article there's a link to "permanent link" - click that and you'll get a URL that you can cite which will always point to a particular version of the page.


    Yes I know this - the trouble is if you are trying to quote an authoritative source, listing one that may have 20 different versions, some possibly even contradicting the quote you are citing, is no good. You can hardly say "so-and-so said in 2003 .... however this has been variously disputed in the 55 edits to the article since!" The reader may have little faith in the writers sources, or at least be pretty confused; you are not going to get your argument across in that way.

    This is bad enough when an essay or book you are citing goes into a revision, but is thankfully pretty rare. However, with a wiki the chances of this happening are far greater, and there may well have been no over site editorially to the change.

  • Comment number 14.

    OneHumanMind wrote:

    "... Tag teams work to ensure their viewpoint and the hit-piece-writing remains and the single editor who aims to ensure the Neutral Point of View (which the project once so highly valued) is maintained gives up after hitting their heads against the walls too many times."

    This is an interesting point and affects whether users see something like Wikipedia as authoritative.

    National Geographic have a reputation for being very thorough about articles they publish. The level of test includes bringing in outside experts to peer review articles as well as internal examination. This was why when they famously published the article about the bird/dino hybrid from China, they were so angry and desperate when that particular fossil turned out to be a fake.

    The editors were enormously concerned that it undermined the whole credibility of their organ.

    Wikipedia seems to want to be a bit of everything - it wants to be seen as credible, and yet it is nervous about removing content of any sort unless is actually breaks a law somewhere. I am not convinced that you can be Britannica, Fortean Times and the National Enquirer all at the same time! (B52 on the Moon anyone?)

  • Comment number 15.

    Oh, sorry, one further point about OneHumanMind's tag-teams: you see the same behaviour on the Have Your Say service on this site where groups with multiple logins will hi-jack a conversation.

    Interestingly, it often seems to be right and far right affiliated groups on Have Your Say (just my impression.) Is there a similar sort of trend on Wikipedia, where one type of group seems most active in messing up articles?

  • Comment number 16.

    Gurubear wrote: "My mother, a highly educated person in her 80s, would love to contribute to sections about Burma where she was born and brought up in the 1930s. However, just one look at what she would have to do changed her mind. I wonder how many potential wonderful contributors they lose because the interface is a major barrier."

    I do sympathise with your mother - it's not easy to learn new things. But I'd like to encourage her.

    Much of what I do on Wikipedia is editing material that other people have contributed, rather than starting new articles. I'm more than happy to take raw, unformatted text and work it into more shapely material. I think that this is also true of most Wikipedia editors, and that we'd be delighted to help your mother contribute her knowledge!

    To put it simply: don't worry about all the apparent complexity of the interface. Click where you want to type; type what you want to say; hit the Save button. Everything else is bells and whistles, and you can leave all that to more experienced Wikipedians. We will come and tidy it up for you!

    If you think that your text is just too raw to put straight into an article, add it to the article's Talk page (follow the 'Discuss this article' link) instead with a request for someone to incorporate it.

    Please contribute what you can, and don't let the deficiencies put you off.

  • Comment number 17.

    I used to be a very active editor on Wikipedia. over 10,000 edits over a few years with many single handedly written "Good" articles. However my contibutions are less frequent nowadays. I still edit now and then, probably averaging 5 edits per day over the course of a week. The problem now is the bureaucracy, it drains you. The time spent on organising people and pages is incredible. Some people really seem to want to play manager than simply add content.

    You enter into AFDs when people are mindlessly !voting to delete by quoting sentences from policies out of context. They say it's not a vote and the strength of the discussion will sway the result, but you try to engage in discussion with people who are simply snapping "delete!" and you get accused of attacking anyone who disagrees with you.

    The problem is that people have lost sight of what Wikipedia was. There's too much effort in trying to make it into a "proper" encyclopedia. Wikipedia is a project that could document a huge amount of information, yet they keep coming up with new ways to restrict what is covered. It's surprising how many of the pages which get the most views are also pages that get AFDed often. The Bureaucrats have different ideas of what Wikipedia should be than the readers.

  • Comment number 18.

    Following some of the recent scandals I spent some time perusing the discussions on the WMF list servers. It would be hard to find a more self righteous bunch than that lot. All criticism of policy is immediately dismissed by the residents. Anyway off to have a laugh at the outrage the research and this article will have provoked there, I hope its as funny as the recent fanbois defense of allowing children to edit the wikipedia porn pages.

  • Comment number 19.

    Criticisms against Wikipedia often fall into 3 categories:

    1. Arguments on why Wikipedia shouldn't work in theory, but which completely ignores evidence of how well it actually works in practice ("anyone can edit it, it must be unreliable!"). Wikipedia isn't some hypothetical idea being planned, it's been done - let's judge it on the results, not on guesswork.

    2. Snappy headlines that sound bad, but when you think about it, it's unclear why it's bad. This story falls into this category - Wikipedia isn't a company, so it's not like this is downsizing employees. Nor is it a company that is losing paying customers. The 49,000 number is meaningless, as we don't know who these people are - are they core editors who once did lots of useful work, and have now left? Or are they people who made a few edits then got bored? Are they perhaps people whose edits were (perhaps unintentionally) destructive? Whilst Wikipedia needs editors to write it, that doesn't mean it needs hundreds of thousands, and more isn't necessarily better (too many cooks...)

    An obvious point is that Wikipedia received lots of media attention in 2007-2008, so it would be expected to see a surge of activity, including in people who edit, but this would naturally die away as these people lost interest. Put it this way - Wikipedia got to where it is (a Top 10 website), without these extra 49,000 editors, so I'm sure it's a long way from dying yet.

    3. People who disagree with the way something is done on Wikipedia, and disguise this as criticism. This could range from people who tried to edit, but the consensus was against them, to people who have an axe to grind about some broader issue. This comments page is full of such criticisms! For example, Gurubear, because he believes that Wikipedia should have censored an offensive picture, or Walwyn, who presumably has a problem with Wikipedia covering adult topics. You'll note that rather than argue their case, they instead start out with the assumption that they are right, and Wikipedia is wrong, and then criticise Wikipedia because of it!

    Sometimes it's a case of damned if they do, damned if they don't, in that criticisms are made in completely opposing directions ("Wikipedia is bad because people can add unreferenced rubbish and it doesn't get reverted" versus "I tried to add something without a reference and it got reverted, boo hoo, Wikipedia is bad"; or "Wikipedia is bad because too many articles are deleted" versus "Wikipedia is bad because there articles on topics I think are trivial").

    By all means, have your say on the issue, but please don't pretend that you alone are right, and the difference of opinion makes Wikipedia flawed.

  • Comment number 20.

    Gurubear: I presume you are referring to the case where Wikipedia had been hosting a 30 year old album cover image, which the IWF recently decided to censor in the UK due to claims of it being "child porn".

    It was absolutely right to keep the image. The image is not illegal, and it would be unworkable to remove something everytime someone somewhere in the world was offended by an image! I disagree that it's possible to discuss issues such as whether the image is controversial, without seeing the image (and anyhow, the "but you don't really need the image" line is a tired pro-censorship argument, that could justify censorship of almost everything).

    Furthermore, this decision was reached as a result of fundamental Wikipedia policies. If you disagree, perhaps you should start your own Wiki if you think you can do better. Good luck when Muslims start complaining about depictions of Mohammed, or China demands the removal of certain political articles it wants censored...

    By all means argue your case (though it's really off-topic for this page), but please don't label people as being "arrogant" for disagreeing with you. If anything, you are the one who is arrogant - you think that a website should change its policies, and remove something just because you are offended. The rest of the world was not offended - you and some people were, but I and many others were not. Indeed, I would be offended if they had have removed the image.

    The overwhelming uproar was not against Wikipedia, it was against the IWF, and the unaccountable censorship we have in this country (note also that the image was available on Amazon, but that page wasn't blocked). Also note that the IWF's actions caused technical problems affecting anyone from the UK editing any Wikipedia page.

    But now, a year later, here you come along hoping people forget the details, make the assumption that your view was right after all, and use it as a criticism against Wikipedia...

    Personally I think that the fact that Wikipedia doesn't have to bow down to media uproars and Government censorship from other countries is a very good thing - something that sadly many companies are not willing to do.

    Walwyn: Can we drop the ad hominems? On the contrary, policy is extensively discussed, often to immense lengths! The only place I see automatic dismissal without discussion is, well, on this page. As for "recent fanbois defense of allowing children to edit the wikipedia porn pages", please do explain? (Do you have a reliable source? - I mean, I do love that people criticise Wikipedia for unreliability, yet we're meant to believe gossip from random blog comments...)

    Perhaps you could also explain how an editor is mean to not "allow" children to edit a page. It's the Internet - random individuals aren't able to control what other people can do on it. Yes, Wikipedia covers adult topics - there are disclaimers on every page about this ( ). It's the right decision, otherwise there would be far more than porn that would be disallowed (e.g., topics about sexual education or body parts), and there'd just be endless debates on what is suitable for a child to see or not. If you want a free encyclopedia for your child, then try , and stop expecting other people to have to parent your child.

  • Comment number 21.

    Regarding Gurubear and tag teams: another editor's reponse on the historic page revisions issue because, as a newly registered user, my comment was delayed for review before it went live. During the interim a different person posted a similar observation.

    If this is what was meant by "tag teaming", then this discussion is a microcosm of what often occurs at Wikipedia: one individual holds a very strong point of view, and in that person's eyes any convergence of opposing opinion looks like sockpuppetry, offsite coordination, etc.

    Those things do occasionally happen, but the explanation is usually much simpler. I have made over 55,000 edits to Wikipedia, yet seldom feel the urge to comment at the BBC website. This probably has something to do with living in California.

    From Chicken Little's perspective, it looks like conspiracy when three other hens say the sky isn't falling.

  • Comment number 22.

    Wiki lacks editors who welcome new users. Experienced editors tend to think welcoming potential vandals is beneath them, however, in my opinion I believe feeling like one is cared for prevents some future conflicts and provides patience. Also, I find templating new users unless indefinitely identified as a vandal confuses most... message such as "Please stop your unconstructive editing as you did here ( link ) or you could be blocked" does not help anyone.

  • Comment number 23.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 24.

    VivereMusica wrote:

    Wiki lacks editors who welcome new users. Experienced editors tend to think welcoming potential vandals is beneath them, however, in my opinion I believe feeling like one is cared for prevents some future conflicts and provides patience. Also, I find templating new users unless indefinitely identified as a vandal confuses most... message such as "Please stop your unconstructive editing as you did here ( link ) or you could be blocked" does not help anyone.


    This sort of thing is common in most things where people get into a clique. You see it even in things like MMOs where experienced players will be rude and cruel to "noobs," completely forgetting that just the previous year they were new themselves. And we get it more from middle age players than young ones who are often far more helpful and welcoming.

  • Comment number 25.

    Wow, talk about ivory tower isolation! Has it occurred to no one on this blog that we're still in the belly of the severest recession (if it's hit you, read: depression) since the 1930s? Losing a job, working more hours, or getting paid less for one's labor, all have an impact on people's sense of well-being, willingness to extend themselves, to share, or even to risk anonymous disapproval? Life can be depressing enough without that.

    So Wiki's editor pool is down for a while? Talk to the soup kitchens, the homeless and battered women's shelters, the community organizations of all sorts. Demand is higher than ever and resources are stripped down to the bone. It's not like doing without an insight into obscure Berber rituals is ever going to compete with being hungry or fearful of losing your income or home––even if you're an online Berber!

    But Wiki is still the biggest, best and cheapest educational resource on the planet other than the Web itself. No commercial encyclopedia can compete for depth. Hang in there. Wiki will soon be growing again. Meanwhile, work on the problems cited here, like making it easier for people to contribute their bit without too much fuss, and maybe getting more aggressive about policing the repeat vandals, whether witless adolescents or grown-up hotheads.

  • Comment number 26.

    I tend to agree with this comment from your article...

    "Can't be bothered dealing with the officious self-appointed ruling elite of Wikipedia"

    I used to do a little bit keeping an article on my area of work up to date. Went there one day to find it had been 'rated' by some one from a wikipedia quality assessment group. I asked them what they knew about the topic - answer: nothing.

    If I send an article to a research journal it is 'peer reviewed' ie by someone who knows their stuff. Personally I like the old democratic wikipedia and I like peer review. I wasn't willing to put up with review by really ignorant people who aren't peers.

    I guess I'm one of the 49,000 because I now have a policy of using but not contributing to wikipedia.

  • Comment number 27.

    1 Have new idea
    2 Watch it grow and become popular
    3 Watch people ruin it
    4 Watch it die

    Welcome to the internet....

  • Comment number 28.

    #27 -Aidy-

    You have amused me no end with that comment, and you are absolutely right. Thank you.

  • Comment number 29.

    I've made my first and so far the only contribution to the wikipedia back in September 21 (see the "UOP LLC" entry for that) as an anomymous person (because didn't want to bother myself with registration and any complications). Since that everything has gone very well. Nobody deleted my contribution or altered it in any erroneous way. I am also not an expert for that entry either in encyclopedic or academic sense. So I am "not a peer editor" just one who has once upon his worklife happened to work in a closely releated field (automation for oil industry but not in the field of oil industry iself) and wanted to include a quite important fact into that entry ("UOP LLC"). It was also supported by nothing else than the overview page of the related company, the URL to which has also been updated by me.
    These all have explicitly been mentioned in my accompanying message to that update as "there is a more detailed overview at + that overview stresses Ipatieff's contributions very-very heavily + internal reference to the catalysis page".
    May be that such a careful update and justification has prevented my contribution to be deleted or altered in an inappropriate way?
    I don't know the answer but tend to think that if all contributions were explaining the reasons for them so carefully then there would be much less deliberate treatment of the contribs. (Note that vaste majority of contribs have no explanations whatsoever).
    Just my 2 cents ...

  • Comment number 30.

    Gurubear: "What a load of absolute rubbish you spurt!"

    Well, I think that just says it all for Gurubear's argument. Come back when you can actually construct a reasoned argument, instead of just making assertions, and insulting anyone who disagrees.

    Imagine if I'd said "What a load of absolute rubbish you spurt!" to you? It's what I thought, but I took the time to explain my views, rather than waste space on this blog.

    If that's how you discussed things if ever you tried editing Wikipedia, no wonder you didn't get on. It's a massive group project, which requires cooperation, not playground insults.

    jon112uk: "Went there one day to find it had been 'rated' by some one from a wikipedia quality assessment group."

    To be honest I wouldn't worry to much - AFAIK, that's sort of thing's done by various "projects", which are groups of people trying to keep tabs on articles of a related topic. AFAIK there's no official consequences of such a ratings. The important ones are the "Good article" and "Featured articles" - and to get these, it needs to be discussed by a range of people. And anyone can join in that discussion, so there is no elitism. Remember that no one sees the rating you are talking about on the main article page, so I don't see that this affects the quality of Wikipedia.

    -Aidy-: Ah, but perhaps the people leaving are the people who were ruining it ... Good riddance!

    Sandor Nacsa: Indeed - there are a lot of "I made a comment and it got reverted, wah!", but suspiciously these people never link to the article in question. Chances are, it was right to revert the edit (this falls into my category 3 type criticism above - the person assumes they are right and Wikipedia is wrong, and then presents a one-sided description of what happened as a criticism of Wikipedia as a whole).

    Many here make the mistake of thinking there's a them-and-us situation. But anyone can edit it, and as soon as you edit it, you're part of the "Wikipedia" that people is criticising - indeed, for all we know, the "annoying" people reverting one's changes could elsewhere be complaining about Wikipedia, "because people make stupid edits".

  • Comment number 31.

    30. At 11:25am on 26 Nov 2009, _mdwh_ wrote:
    jon112uk: "Went there one day to find it had been 'rated' by some one from a wikipedia quality assessment group."
    To be honest I wouldn't worry to much - AFAIK, that's sort of thing's done by various "projects", which are groups of people trying to keep tabs on articles of a related topic. AFAIK there's no official consequences of such a ratings.

    Yep, that's exactly what happened.

    Sure, there are no concrete consequences ... but why should I want to participate where someone who (a) has zero subject knowledge (b) is rude, 'rates' my contribution??

    I had no problem at all when a flag popped up one day saying they now wanted people to start adding references (good). I had no problem when people with or without specialist knowledge made constructive comments, contributions, edits - that was the whole point of it all.

    But it seems to have changed from the early years. No way am I interested in having people making unconstructive 'ratings' if they have no intention of making a positive contribution.

    Nowadays I use, but don't contribute.

    For me the comment in Rory's article summed it up....

    "Can't be bothered dealing with the officious self-appointed ruling elite of Wikipedia"

  • Comment number 32.

    Viveremusica commented that:

    "Wiki lacks editors who welcome new users. Experienced editors tend to think welcoming potential vandals is beneath them"

    That doesn't match my experience. I was welcomed when I made my first edit, and I've tried to welcome new people as I encounter them. Welcoming "newbies" is, in fact, such a usual practice that there's a large set of templated welcomes for welcomers to use: see the "Wikipedia:Welcome templates" page to see them all.

    and also commented:

    "Also, I find templating new users unless indefinitely identified as a vandal confuses most... message such as "Please stop your unconstructive editing as you did here ( link ) or you could be blocked" does not help anyone."

    That wouldn't be the first warning that someone would receive, unless they'd done something blatantly awful. The standard "first warning" template actually says:

    "Welcome to Wikipedia. Although everyone is welcome to contribute to Wikipedia, at least one of your recent edits did not appear to be constructive and has been reverted. Please use the sandbox for any test edits you would like to make, and read the welcome page to learn more about contributing constructively to this encyclopedia. Thank you."

    Yes, people do receive increasingly pointed messages if they don't improve their behaviour, and yes, that eventually does include threatening a ban (and, in the last resort, implementing it), but WP has a policy (see the "Wikipedia:Please do not bite the newcomers" page) on NOT being harsh with new editors.

  • Comment number 33.

    [As for "recent fanbois defense of allowing children to edit the wikipedia porn pages", please do explain? (Do you have a reliable source?]

    Is foundation-l on a reliable source for things that go happen on wikipedia?

    Now that discussion quickly reverted to how it was the parents responsibility, etc. Which is what always happens on wikipedia. It is always some other guys responsibility, or we aren't obliged to do this, or its user generated content we aren't liable. Duck and dive, duck and dive.

    Whether there is a absolute legal duty to do or not do something, is besides the point. The organization has abrogated its ethics to some weird libertarian world view.

  • Comment number 34.

    It all began with an illusion: that knowledge is 'democratic': ACCESS to knowledge is democratic, but not knowledge. Wikipedia was and still is a hugely irresponsible project, like all utopian projects, giving the illusion to a lot of people (most of them young) that the training in any field is right there, at a click of a button. Despite all anarchist dreams, you cannot pose as specialist in political science, ecology, classical music, rock music, literature, just because you receive every moment 'updated' information from all over the world. It looks like the an incarnation of the two Flaubert's intellectual monsters, wanting to give to the world their 'Dictionnaire des idees recues', 'Dictionary of ready-made ideas'.
    Maybe few people realise the real danger represented by this kind of initiative: devaluating the only sure inheritance to be passed over generations - cultural inheritance. The only counterbalance to this huge danger could be in the near future an electronic alternative, a real library, easily accesible for everyone by electronic means. The Europeana library was only a publicity stunt, bureaucratically conceived and with no results. Books, real books have to be made accessible on line as soon as possible. If the politicians and the donors all over the world realised the real danger posed by cultural mobs like Wikipedia, they would find the money. And this is not an utopia. They just have to found real projects.
    As far as copyrights would be concerned, such projects (if they were intended) could find money to pay to publishing houses (by the wau, the publishing houses themselves never seemed to have anything to do with encouraging their would-be readers...). I do not want to think about the hysterical campaigns of Mrs. Rowlings, for instance: people like her have to remain untouched, because they belong to the supermarket literature, like the two Browns (Sandra and Dan)and some other dozens.
    But young people have to have quick access to susidised electronic books, especially of humanities, genuine literature, whatever these youngster's formation requires.
    Their cultural formation has nothing to do with places like Wikipedia. Wikipedia belongs to THE MOB. The other people will help THE PUBLIC of the near future, regardless its composition.

  • Comment number 35.

    It's rather off-topic, but in answer to johnbarnaby09's comment, there are already thousands of books, freely-available books, including the "humanities and genuine literature" of which he writes, available on the net.

    The Project Gutenberg site is the one that comes quickest to my mind, but there are other collections; take a look at for a partial list of resources.

  • Comment number 36.

    Wikipedia doesn't specifically make allow children to view/edit porn pages. Their parents do by not preventing them. Parents have more power of children than a website. Don't suggest that websites do the job of parenting because it is technically impossible. Parents and people need to understand that the best method of stopping a child from getting on a site they shouldn't be on is by preventing them themselves. There is absolutely no sure way of doing it using technology. This is not a social/ethical issue, it's a technical one. It cannot be done. Unless we have a perfect identification system which the government shared with every website, there's no way of authenticating a user's age.

    Also, if the children are able to sneak around and look at pornography then I'm sure they'll have no problem with pinching their parents' ID if it came down to that.

    If you have a solution for controlling what people of a certain age see online then please post it here, because nobody has ever achieved it using a technological solution.

  • Comment number 37.

    [There is absolutely no sure way of doing it using technology.]

    It shouldn't be too hard to make at least some attempt to ensure that the editor sorting and categorizing the CBT photos is of legal age.

  • Comment number 38.

    Walwyn wrote:

    It shouldn't be too hard to make at least some attempt to ensure that the editor sorting and categorizing the CBT photos is of legal age.

    You could attempt something easily, but nothing would ensure anything. How would you accurately get the age of the person viewing the page?

  • Comment number 39.

    The gentleman signing 'Grey_animal' indicated some sites where books can be accessed. I think he did not understood my message in its entirety. It was about the huge danger represented by initiatives like Wikipedia, who denaturate the very idea of instruction. Nobody can interdict Wikipedia, but areally serious alternatives have to appear very quickly. Projects like Gutenberg offer access mainly to old books, negligently edited, not to recent critical editions of classics. There is a huge need of access to recent books in humanities, sciences, literature everywhere in the world. The apostles of globalisation making public carrers should think about that.
    Alternative projects to this planetary shame named Wikipedia should be made by professional librarians (and they are easy to be found and hired - in many countries they are underpaid), by libraries, by specialists of every field (even a BSc or a MA would be one-thousand times better than any anonymous 'contributor' to Wikipedia), by IT specialists.
    AND THE KEY IS THE FREE ACCESS TO RECENT BOOKS. This has nothing to do with 'Pirate Party'-type deliriums. The free aceess to humanities can be susidised even with the help of laws similar to the already-existing sponsorship laws. Electronic libraries with free aceess comprise cataloguing, organising collections, databases a.s.o. In such libraries, topics like the late Michael Jackson's destiny or the recent life as God knows who ever actress or model would fall, probably into the 'Anthropology' or 'Sociology' cathegory. As far as the best-selling authors are concerned, they could be left aside without any remorse. In such libraries, air should be more breathable without them.

    These are feasible projects, and some libraries started them (but with the limitations imposed by funding). The political and juridical aspects for starting them are much easier than they seem, if they do not fail into bureaucracy, as it happened with the huge scandal named Europeana. For public money this is a good way of spending a tiny part of it; as far as donors ar concerned, I think they already beginned such things.

    Wikipedia will continue to exist in this form or another, as long as half- or quarter-trained people will exist. But the alternative toit has to be found very, very soon.

    P.S. A friend of mine told me today that Wikipedia reminded him of one of Murphy's laws, stating that our planet's general IQ had a cosntant value and our planet's population was in rapid growth. Of course, I was indignant at his revolting statement

  • Comment number 40.

    @ johnbarnaby09

    I think Grey_animal's misunderstanding of your previous post may be linked to the way you're making your point. Perhaps if you state simply and clearly in plain English what your problem with Wikipedia is, and what you think should be done with books specifically, then we may be able to discuss it.

  • Comment number 41.

    Just a thought that came after reading through the above comments. (Some good points made BTW.)

    Put two people into a room and at some point they will find something to disagree with and argue about.
    Put three people into a room and at some point they will find something to disagree with and argue about; and two of them will begin to take sides with one another; though with shifting loyalties, obvious and not so obvious agendas, differences of emphasis and always the chance that betrayal might ensue.

    The above has been the basis of many a dramatists' work since time immemorial.

    Increase the number of people involved and the chances that they will find something to disagree with and argue about multiply, as will the taking of sides, shifting of loyalties, obvious and not so obvious agendas, differences of emphasis and always the chance that betrayals might ensue.

    Much depends upon the attitude and responses of contributors. Just as in a family we all respond to argument and conflict in different ways, so too with Wikipeadia.

    As for the 'mad, bad and dangerous to know' that try to subvert Wikipedia so as with society and how it attempts (not always successfully) to deal with freethinkers, the envious and jealous, opportunists, self promoters, pranksters, deluded, fraudsters, outright criminals and sociopaths.

    I'm not uncritical of Wikipeadia, but I'd rather it was there than not; and it is free. After Wikipedia I delve into a library.

    My main criticism of Wikipedia is that for many people it isn't the just start point of a finding out about something, but often the end point too.

  • Comment number 42.

    SheffTim said: "My main criticism of Wikipedia is that for many people it isn't the just start point of a finding out about something, but often the end point too."

    That's a good point, but it is a criticism of the users, not of the resource; the "one-stop" approach to research is a problem that I used to encounter in some of my students' work, long before Wikipedia was thought of. Those people who use Wikipedia lazily would, I think, be just as lazy with any other information resource.

    Any good encyclopaedia article, including Wikipedia articles, makes reference to and cites multiple sources, where they are available. Most, if not all, articles simply cannot contain all the information that exists about a topic; they must distil and condense the facts into a concise, usable form. The convenience of Wikipedia is that most usually those sources are either directly available online from the article, or similarly locatable through an online catalogue. Any other source should at least be given a bibliographic reference in a standard format.

    I own three editions of the Encylopaedia Britannica (two on paper, one on CD-ROM), as well as several other encylopaedias, and I do still make use of them, but I find Wikipedia to be superior in ease of use and, very often, in content.

  • Comment number 43.

    I write as an occasional user of rather than contributor to Wikipedia. As far as content is concerned it appears the dilemma it has is credibility versus public editing.

    Anybody familiar with resources created by the general public on the internet will be aware that accuracy is not a prime concern of certain highly active groups. For example, any discussion of Israel and Palestine is likely to be hijacked by people whose sole interest is in crowding out viewpoints expressed by their opponents in favour of their own, usually highly selective, views. In my view this is even more damaging than the juvenile vandalism from which Wikipedia also suffers.

    Therefore, whilst Wikipedia permits general and public editing it cannot reasonably hope to command trust except, perhaps, upon the most trivial of matters.

    Could it make its content more trustworthy? I think that is possible only by limiting contributions to a manageable level and having them peer reviewed. That would cost a large sum of money and likely drive off the amateur enthusiasts, which would completely alter Wikipedia's character. However, if it doesn't it runs the risk that people will use something they are aware they can't really trust to be accurate less and less as time goes by.

  • Comment number 44.

    I'd agree with others here about over deletionists.

    Many editors do seem to be rather sad people on a power trip. In their everyday lives they are nobodies, so the power to delete in wikipedia gives them a good feeling.

    I attempted to add some controversial quotes from a well known property pundit, backed up with links to newspaper articles in Guardian and Times. Time and time again the deletionists turned up and argued various reasons for deletion - that the articles were biased, irrelevant, not sufficiently important etc. All this when the name of the person's children was considered important and relevant, but apparently their views and controversial statements were not. So instead the article remained pretty much like the type of biography you'd have got from their agent's PR office. I can understand wanting to minimize such material if the article is very long, but this was on an article of just a few lines.

    I tried to argue that when people turn up to wikipedia they generally aren't looking for the names of the person's children (though that of course is relevant information for the article so should not be deleted). But most people are looking for background information about the person - their views, quotes, opinions as stated in the press etc - with links to other authoritative news articles. But the deletionists consider all of this irrelevant. They don't seem to understand what is supposed to make wikipedia different from eg who's who.

  • Comment number 45.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 46.

    I think it is a shame to see so many missconceptions about wikipedia. It is true that you don't have to be an academic to post on wikipedia; however, you do have to correctly reference anything you post.
    The media like to sensationalise the short comings of the site, the above article being a good example (simply cherry picking info out of its context, info that has since been shown as largly inaccurate), but the fact is that only a vinishing minority of its work has ever been unsound. Stupid things, like the Bruce Springstien hoax. Yet things like this have led to bans on any references to the site amongst the professional services, and no doubt in other areas as well.

    We are lucky to have things like wikipedia. We must not let our cinicism, and people looking to make headlines, lead us to reject wiki.

  • Comment number 47.

    I agree that the missconceptions about wikipedia have led to a level of cinicism. It is extremely obvious that people who edit Wiki's are obviously all intelligent.

    In relation to Joss's post from above, the problems which have plagued Wikipedia from it's inception are still continuing. I agree that by editing directly in MediaWiki is a stumbling block for a lot of people - especially those who have had no history in any form of coding previously.

    I'll also agree that there is a significant amount of academic arrogance that is on the site, however I would not class this as a problem. Okay, I will admit that there have been a number of images and articles which have been in questionable taste, however these have all contributed to debate. In debate there is a significant amount of learning that is achieved, and what would be the purpose of any encyclopaedia if not for learning?

    Vandalism and accuracy is an intriguing one from my perspective, predominantly because we are talking about two very different things. Vandalism is when people go onto Wikipedia and blank content, add in extremely ignorant misinformation this is vandalism, and it takes a team of dedicated individuals to sit and watch all the changes that hit Wikipedia a significant amount of time and effort to go through and weed things out.

    Accuracy on the other hand is a very hazy ideal in many respects. If we were to mention the value of pi being 3.14 and so on, then we would have now real issues with accuracy. However there are individuals who believe that pi is actually equal to exactly 3, and have completely rational arguments to support that, assuming that you support the basis for their claims. Now this on a mathematical constant, something on which there is no reason why there should be any difference on opinion as to what the value of pi is.

    So what do we do when it comes to the accuracy of a page relating to Jehovah's Witnesses. I am expressing no opinion on the topic, however I read through this and found that it deviated from a neutral point of view, and so out of curiosity I went to read what was posted on the discussion page in relation to this. There are in excess of 50 talk pages on this one article, and there are also a number of articles that relate to the same topic but from different perspectives that have been entitled in such a way that they are supposedly not conflicting.

    It is this concept of accuracy that has been a staple for the parody site Uncyclopedia - The content-free encyclopedia since it's inception. In fact these two points mentioned above were some of the influences behind Intelligent Mathematics, an article that was recently featured in Uncyclopedia.

    Which would suggest that if we were to have a group of individuals who had been disenfranchised by Wikipedia, and had experience at editing in the MediaWiki format, that the numbers of contributors to Uncyclopedia, being a parody site, would have increased. At this stage, the numbers of contributing editors of Uncyclopedia have also fallen substantially from what they were in 2005. This suggests that the reason for the decline in numbers may also be another extremely simple but very human explanation; The novelty has worn away.

  • Comment number 48.

    *First, I strongly disagree that Wikipedia is considered unreliable. There is a huge myth that professionals do not regard it. I know, because I live around academics at a major university, and wikipedia is regarded highly. Many academics do not consider wikipedia a valid reference, however. In fact, much of Wikipedia is written by academics. The first article I contributed to on "Tin", I ended up interacting with someone from the Max Planck Institute. I would argue that in many cases, articles on Wikipedia far exceed what one can do through institutions, which are steeped in politics, such as with history. People are intelligent enough to go through an article and judge whether something is inaccurate, and if they want, they can add something to point it out in the article, which you can never do in an institutional encyclopedia, despite often blatant inequities and inaccuracies. It also throws light to some degree on the legitimacy of "professionals" in the first place. It ultimately doesn't matter what people think about wikipedia, because it is succeeding, and will always succeed over institutional encyclopedias.

    *I agree that many deletionists really compromise wikipedia. I have a friend that got put off when she put up a picture, and it was taken down. I have done the same about an image that is particularly hard to judge as following the rules, and the person never really discussed it with me to resolve the issue. Sometimes you have to be persistent, and keep putting it up. Personally, I think that when people put up an image, they should first mark it for deletion, providing reasons that point to a guide that people can go through without having to sift through wikipedia legalese. Also, when people make a good post, and there are flaws in it, people should ultimately have to collaborate to fix the flaws rather than delete the whole entry. I suppose it takes understanding from the user, but a better set of guides on the part of wikipedia.

  • Comment number 49.

    Biographies on Cherie Nutting and Bachir Attar of The Master Musicians of Jajouka.

    For years these two bios were continuously vandalized and the information was inaccurate and incomplete.I continually asked for help with this from the Wik team.I am not very good on the internet and explained this.I was told by a man named Joe Daley to make the corrections myself as they were busy volunteers.I had trouble entering from my email and so did so with Bachir Attar's name and I told the Wik team about this.Suddenly I was erased for deleting the false statement that Bachir Attar drank Vodka, which someone kept placing in his resume and I added some completely accurate and authorized information on our resumes.I was deleted for "lying".I was able to support the info with letters and contracts and publications yet I am still deleted after wasting many weeks of time trying to rectify this.I really think that the Wik team does not know what it is doing and I do hope that a better "Who's Who" will come about with workers who investigate their sources properly.All statements made for both biographies were easily verified if one tried to do so.Cherie Nutting


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