Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Wikipedia, Please Control Your Bureaucracy

This post presents two notes I have posted at Wikipedia. The general concept is that Wikipedia's editors have gone overboard. This is visible to the end user in the form of obtrusive stickers pasted onto the tops of articles, and it is apparent to contributors whose work is summarily deleted. The first note, posted July 16, 2010, is as follows:

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With some frequency, I am seeing messages, like this one from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_tools_to_create_Live_USB_systems:

"This article's use of external links may not follow Wikipedia's policies or guidelines. Please improve this article by removing excessive and inappropriate external links or by converting links into footnote references."

The article in question is entitled, "List of tools to create Live USB systems." It is a list. Various items in the list are hyperlinked directly to other articles.

I love footnotes. But in this case, footnotes would add an unnecessary intervening step. They would also confuse the presentation and diminish the user's experience. If the creator had followed the wishes of the benighted editor who added this remark, then for every link that I wanted to follow, I would have had to jump to the bottom of the page to find the link that I would intend to open in a separate tab. Then back up to the list; then back down to the footnotes; etc.

I send you this remark because these pseudo-editorial remarks have infected a remarkable number of Wikipedia pages. As I have become more consciously aware of them, I have also found them more distracting. Sometimes such remarks linger for years, without anyone other than the original "editor" finding it especially important to administer the prescribed medication to a healthy page.

In lieu of a system in which self-appointed overseers apparently have free rein to mark up wiki pages with their notions of purity, I suggest that such editorial remarks themselves be submitted as tentative or proposed, visible not in full text but in the form of an icon or other indicator (e.g., "Editor Requests Improvements"), to which likeminded individuals can turn if they wish to get lost in the arcana together -- without, that is, screwing up the ordinary user's experience.

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The second note, posted yesterday, reads thus:

I have a law degree from my youth, and am now completing a Ph.D. I have published books and articles. This, one would think, is the sort of person who probably has something to contribute to Wikipedia. Let me tell you how that is working out.

I have spent a half-hour, just now, trying to figure out where to get an answer to a simple question about Wikipedia editors' deletions of newcomers' contributions. I don't have that answer yet. I'm out of time. So, even if there were no other considerations, I would not be making a contribution today after all.

I started in the vicinity of this page, looking for some way to file a complaint or grievance. I couldn't figure it out. Yes, I'm tired and only waking up. If Wikipedia would prefer that I come back in the peak of my day to spend an uncertain amount of key time on this very minor part of my life, well, I suppose that's possible. But it's not likely.

Aside from running out of time, the other reason I won't make the contribution that I was going to make is that, on at least two prior occasions, I have submitted new pages. I have added information where there was none. Those hours of work were wiped out, in each case, by one so-called editor who felt the content was unworthy. I objected, but nobody responded. Twice is enough. I won't be doing that again.

What I wanted, this morning, was some kind of assurance that today's contribution would be vetted by more than one idiot before it could be eliminated. I also wanted to know that there would be a streamlined and intelligent process for getting it back, should said idiots err. I don't have that assurance. So, as I say, no contribution from me.

The general problem seems to be that Wikipedia's editorial energies are misdirected. In search of answers, I went to the main Wikipedia webpage. There, I saw the same sprawl as on the dispute resolution page. While there is an abundance of people willing to put fault-finding stickers front and center on newcomers' contributions, ironically, there seems to be nobody willing and able to provide editorial discipline on the main page about Wikipedia itself or, as I say, on the dispute resolution page.

I'm glad we have all these people willing to find fault with other people's contributions. The volunteer spirit lives. But these marvelous energies seem misdirected. Why would anyone want to post a contribution, only to come back and see that some putative representative of Wikipedia has given it an F?

I suggest Wikipedia review its editorial system. I expect this will take months, if not years. I don't have time for, or interest in, this sort of frustration, so I plan to refrain from contributing to Wikipedia during 2011. I have a note to myself to revisit this question next January.

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Postscript: two other brief objections to editorial complexity at Wikipedia.



I see there are no other comments. I just want to echo your sentiment about the Wikipedia bureaucracy, though I experienced the same issues some five years ago when I was briefly an active Wikipedia editor.

At that time, it was still possible to create new articles sometimes without automatically being deleted, or to make edits as a new user without some idiot coming along and reverting immediately for no reason.

But the bureaucracy was already being created. Overbearing admins often annoyed new users and sometimes acted in ridiculous ways. Discussion about articles was already more important than content in many cases. After a few weeks of making lots of edits and making great improvements to dozens of articles, I quit.

I realized even then that the Wikipedia bureaucracy was only bound to get worse, and I was interested in creating good content, not arguing or fighting a bunch of bullies and "Wikilawyers."

The sad thing is that, aside from all the unnecessary flags and tags that float around articles these days, end users are generally unaware of how much the content is shaped by a relatively small group of people, who often have no more qualifications than a lot of time on their hands and a willingness to learn and exploit a ridiculous bureaucracy to have their own power.

To them, the actual content and quality of the encyclopedia takes on secondary importance. Or, worse, you occasionally encounter abusive editors and even admins who trade on their active participation in administrative tasks in order to strong-arm their opinion into matters of actual fact in articles. That, to me, is fundamentally disturbing, and I've seen it happen on more than one occasion.

When I see an egregious error or omission on Wikipedia these days, I leave an anonymous comment on the talk page for an article. Even for those efforts, I'm often harassed by other editors for no apparent reason. I've been accused of having all sorts of ulterior motives, and I've had to take a couple disputes to admins to get editors to stop taking abusive actions against anonymous users... all because I occasionally point out some errors in fact or omission in articles. That's what happens when you don't go along with the accepted Wikipedia version of reality, whether or not it matches actual reality.

Wikipedia is the mob's version of truth as disseminated and edited by a bureaucracy. Don't waste your time on it.


Wow. Sounds like a mess. Sorry for your frustration. My experience is superficial compared to yours, but it's nice to see that someone else feels the same way about how complicated Wikipedia seems to be.


Update: they still don't get it. I have largely avoided adding to Wikipedia during the past year and a half. It is just too frustrating to do all that work and then have somebody delete it for some bureaucratic reason.

I tried again this morning. I quickly received a notice that an external link I has posted was impermissible because it pointed to a post on my own blog. The blog post contains material that I spent more than a week researching and writing. That material is not available anywhere else, and it's not going to be: it's under my copyright. The resulting document, described in that post, constitutes unique research: as far as I can tell, it has never been done before.

The person who claimed to be speaking on behalf of Wikipedia this morning stated that the governing principle was WP:ELNO-11. The concept appears to be that you cannot link to your own research unless you are significant enough to have your own Wikipedia page. Wikipedia seems to be against the addition of new knowledge without an elite pedigree.

And as I found in my last try, a year and a half earlier, you aren't significant enough to have your own page just because you've published a book and a half-dozen articles. (The attempt in that case was to set up a simple Ray Woodcock disambiguation page, like the ones that do exist for many other names, common or not.)

I saw an indication, the other day, that on some level the number of Wikipedia editors is declining. No surprise. My attempts to add simple content -- in this case, a mere link -- have mostly failed. As I asked a year and a half ago, why make the effort?


Actually, let me add, here, what I have posted on Wikipedia's talk page. It presently appears on a Wikipedia talk page, linked to in the previous comment (above), but I guess someone could remove it from there. My reply to the person who objected to that link is as follows:

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I have examined the rule. The blog post in question provides original research directly related to the content of the article. But I think you are right: the rule generally indicates that Wikipedia does not want its readers to have access to that sort of research, at least not if it comes from an ordinary person like me.

As I read the rule and its accompanying verbiage, apparently a link to the blog post could survive if I were to take additional time to interweave the link into the text as a reference. Wikipedia seems to accept long lists of references, but not long lists of external links, at the ends of articles. There may be some recherche reason for this preference. To the casual contributor, however, it could seem mildly absurd. The list of links is actually easier to read than the list of references.

I am not going to try to interweave the link to my research into the text of the article. There are two reasons. First, it would require additional time, and time is short right now. Writing up this response will more than use up the time that I intended to devote to this effort to contribute to Wikipedia. Someone else is welcome to do that.

Second, experience indicates that efforts to contribute to Wikipedia are not generally appreciated. That is, I could find that my attempt to interweave the link into the text as a reference would run afoul of yet another rule. No doubt Wikipedia's editors have mastered those rules. I have not, and I will not. If Wikipedia wants its readers to have access to my research, it can figure out its own way of achieving that. The editors seem especially positioned to provide that service.

I took a year and a half off before making this effort. There have probably been fifty times, maybe more, when I could have contributed something useful during that period. But I was pretty disgusted, last time I tried, after doing all that work, to see some Wikipedia editor delete it.

The situation, I think, is that Wikipedia has changed. I've been online since before its creation. It formerly sought knowledge. Now it seems to be actively deterring people from contributing information. My frustration has apparently been due to my failure to recognize this change.

I would not have thought this was the case. I thought Wikipedia was still eager to grow. But that is not the tenor of the materials that I have encountered during the process of reading the rule you have cited. For example, there was something to the effect that the person who wishes to add an external link faces a significant burden of defending it. In other words, Wikipedia mostly wants external links provided by people who have a marketing motivation. That's too bad, but I guess that's the way it is.


I have transitioned from this old Blogger blog to a new WordPress blog. There, I have posted a new entry continuing this log of dealings with Wikipedia.