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Why do people contribute to Wikipedia?

By Andreas Kolbe


The other day, a contributor to question-and-answer site Quora asked: “Why did people create huge, comprehensive websites like Wikipedia for free?”

Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, a frequent and well-loved commenter on Quora (as well as an investor in the site), left a short reply that had no difficulty establishing itself as the most popular answer: “Because it’s awesome.” It was an astute piece of cheerleading from Wales – and it worked. His one-liner received over 1,800 upvotes.

Wikipedia is funded by donations from the public (nearly $50 million in the last accounting year, an almost ten-fold increase over takings five years ago), and much of its PR work relies on feel-good messages. Wales has made a living from supplying them. It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement: Wales makes a good income from his speaking fees – typically over $70,000 per event, according to the New York Times – and Wikipedia benefits from the publicity he generates.

However, Wales’ throwaway answer masks a far more complex reality.

Wikipedia’s Google footprint

In January 2004, the English Wikipedia had just 277 contributors making more than 100 edits a month. One year later, it was 801; by January 2006, it was 3,051, eventually peaking at almost 4,800 in March 2007. What happened?

By 2005, people noticed that Wikipedia had begun to dominate Google search results, with many searches featuring a Wikipedia article among the top Google hits (see e.g. Wikipedia Ruling in Google Search Results? from 2006, and Google offers to help Wikipedia from 2005).

The fact that anyone researching a subject online would be directed to Wikipedia made Wikipedia articles an obvious vehicle to influence public opinion. The site became an attractive outlet to anyone who had a stake in how a particular issue was viewed by the general public – all the more so since it could be edited anonymously.

Reputation laundering

Wikipedia, fervently committed to protecting the identity of its contributors, provided a convenient mechanism for reputation laundering. As Wikipedia articles are not signed, they are associated with the Wikipedia name and brand rather than the contributors themselves. (There is an article history tool which makes individual contributions visible, but given that Wikipedia editors generally use pseudonyms and divulging or speculating on the real identity of a pseudonymous editor is a ban-worthy offence in Wikipedia, the provenance of any edit is usually untraceable for the average reader.)

An article in Wikipedia would seem to be part of an encyclopedia, which uninitiated readers would assume to be under some sort of professional editorial control. As such, statements in a Wikipedia article would be more easily accepted as the truth than anything published in a fringe publication, or hosted on a partisan website with known affiliations. Wikipedia was the new place to clean your reputation, and present your goods unstained to a global audience, as if established and reliable fact.

As a result, the site began to attract armies of social and political entrepreneurs whose primary interest lay not in building an educational reference site, but in the promotion of particular causes. As early adopters made easy gains, more people were drawn to Wikipedia, keen to prevent others from furthering causes they were opposed to.

When activists joined Wikipedia en masse, sometimes coordinating their activities on forums and mailing lists off-site (see Wiki-war in the Middle East; Eastern European mailing list arbitration case), Wikipedia became the scene of major ideological battles between editors and factions of editors, many of them holding extreme opinions and desiring to use Wikipedia as a megaphone (for a poignant current example, see How pro-fascist ideologues are rewriting Croatia’s history).

Arbitration cases

Wikipedia’s archive of arbitration cases gives an indication of the types of topics that were most heavily contested – topics like climate change, pseudoscience, Israel/Palestine, Gibraltar, Scientology, Sathya Sai Baba, neuro-linguistic programming, pedophilia, and various ethnic conflicts (see for example Wikipedia’s arbitration case index for 2005 and 2006; for comparison, see the index for 2004). Most if not all of these topic areas have been the subject of further arbitration cases over the years, and the pattern established then has continued to this day: Wikipedia is edited by partisans with strong opinions, and controversial topics attract disproportionately more edits and editors on Wikipedia than topics where the facts are not in dispute. Controversial topic areas also experience a proliferation of content: activists have long known that the best way to publicise a scandal that reflects poorly on an ideological opponent is to create a standalone Wikipedia article about it, which will be guaranteed to hit the top of Google searches within hours.

While the influx of activists around 2005 and 2006 led to a lot of dubious Wikipedia content, it was essentially welcomed by the Wikimedia Foundation, which measures its success in traffic – number of articles, number of edits, number of editors, number of page views – rather than article quality. Bitter and committed ideological fighting on Wikipedia, with articles changing to and fro constantly and incessant talk page arguments running to hundreds of thousands of words, did wonders for those metrics.

Wikipedia as a free Yellow Pages


Paid Wikipedia editing, the issue highlighted by many media outlets in recent months (see e.g. The battle to destroy Wikipedia’s biggest sockpuppet armyIs Wikipedia for Sale?Are plastic surgeons nip/tucking ads into high-profile Wikipedia articles?Is Wikipedia’s front page for sale?Corruption in Wikiland? Paid PR scandal erupts at WikipediaWales: Let’s ban Gibraltar-crazy Wikipedians for 5 years), also made its first appearance at that time: it was the first time that having a favourable Wikipedia article was worth someone’s money.

Today, almost any Wikipedia article on a company will be found on closer inspection to have been written at least in part by employees or PR agents of said company. (This applies even to articles on the Wikimedia Foundation itself and its business partners.)

Interested readers may want to review the contributions history of Wikipedia articles in such categories as Law firms established in the 20th century or Management consulting firms. They will find that most of these entries were quite obviously written by the companies’ employees or their agents – pseudonymous accounts that do little or nothing else in Wikipedia than work on articles related to the relevant business and its principals.

Once one company has a Wikipedia article, it is only natural that its competitors want to have a Wikipedia article too. A Wikipedia article just makes a business seem more important. A multi-million-dollar industry of paid editors and consultants has arisen to cater to this new need.

The English Wikipedia’s lax notability guidelines support such efforts: any business that has attracted a modest amount of press coverage qualifies for an entry in Wikipedia. Given that reviewing thousands of business entries is very boring to volunteers who are there for other reasons, Wikipedia has over the past ten years or so become an electronic version of the Yellow Pages – except that unlike a Yellow Pages ad, your entry in Wikipedia is free. You just have to write it yourself.

A proposed amendment to Wikipedia’s Terms of Use

To their credit, the Wikimedia Foundation seems to have realised that this development has gone too far, especially in the wake of last autumn’s Wiki-PR scandal, first brought to light by a piece of investigative journalism in The Daily Dot, and the more recent firing of one of their own employees found to have created articles on behalf of paying clients. There is currently a vigorously discussed proposal to amend Wikimedia sites’ Terms of Use, to require paid editors to disclose their employer or client. However, this proposal, championed by the Foundation’s Legal Department, only asks for disclosure to other Wikipedians, rather than any form of disclosure to the reading public. Unrelated to this, there is also an initiative by Wikipedians to ask the US Federal Trade Commission for comment on how the Commission’s disclosure and endorsement rules apply to Wikipedia editing. In 2012, a German court judgment ruled that companies’ editing their own articles without explicit disclosure to the reader was in violation of the European Union’s Unfair Commercial Practices Directive. It has had no observable effect on the prevalence of paid editing in Wikipedia.

An obvious way to mitigate the problem would be to raise the bar for notability, as some other language versions of Wikipedia have done: the German Wikipedia, for example, only accepts articles about businesses that are of significant public interest. However, if the English Wikipedia were to follow suit, this would reduce both its article count (currently at 4.5 million) and its editor count considerably – and since “more is better”, it’s a solution that seems unlikely to be adopted in the near future.

Wikipedia biographies

Things are much the same for Wikipedia biographies: the threshold for inclusion is low, and a good number of Wikipedia’s roughly 650,000 biographies of living people are written or at least edited by their subjects. Given their Google ranking, Wikipedia biographies tend to generate an amount of traffic that is similar or superior to the subject’s own website, which means that no self-promoter can afford to be without one.

Sometimes, too, Wikipedia’s biographies are written or edited by people who dislike the biography subject for personal or ideological reasons: this is when Wikipedia crosses the line into defamation (see e.g. Revenge, ego and the corruption of WikipediaWikipedia’s shameThe tale of Mr Hari and Dr RoseMayfair art dealer Mark Weiss in disgrace after admitting poison pen campaign against rival Philip MouldAny political filth or personal libel can be hurled at the innocentDetractors are trying to distort my Wikipedia profile: Payal Rohatgi).

Not so awesome!

Surely that’s not all?

There are of course other motivations for contributing: Wikipedia is a highly visible website, and anyone can participate in the knowledge that what they write will reach a huge audience – or at any rate a much larger audience than they would reach if they wrote on their blog, or personal website. Apart from the obvious propaganda value that has already been discussed above, there is an equally obvious ego gratification involved in having authored or part-authored the Internet’s most widely accessed reference text on a given topic. This option appeals most strongly to amateurs and fans – people who love a topic but lack the standing or qualifications required to publish their work through conventional channels such as an academic journal or book. Sometimes their work is excellent, and this is where the best parts of Wikipedia lie; frequently, of course, they overestimate their ability considerably or are outright cranks, with less felicitous results. But when it works, Wikipedians can and do justly take pride in a well-written article that makes an important topic accessible to a wide audience.

Wikipedia is also a community, and as in any similar online community there are important ways to measure and vie for social status – the number of edits an editor has made, the number of “Featured Articles”, “A-Class Articles” or “Good Articles” they have written, or whether an editor has been awarded “administrator” status. These metrics generate their own psychological dynamic that keeps people involved.

Wikipedia often contains faulty information and orthographical errors: a magnet for people who have an obsessive-compulsive need to correct people “who are wrong” on the Internet, famously satirised in an xkcd cartoon. Then there are vandals and those who fight them. To vandals, Wikipedia is just a source of amusement; to vandal fighters, undoing vandals’ edits is a means to feel useful, and another way to acquire social status within the Wikipedia community.

Self-indulgence or service of an educational mission?

Occasionally, real-world experts contribute to Wikipedia out of a sense of social responsibility: they see content that is substandard, and given Wikipedia’s reach would like to improve the content so that the public is not misinformed. But most genuine experts find editing Wikipedia a less than agreeable experience. They have to argue with ignoramuses and extremists, and whatever corrections they make may be undone by another editor who has far more time to spend on Wikipedia than they do. I know a number of professors who tried and gave up, resigning themselves to the fact that bringing Wikipedia content in their subject area up to scratch was more than they could do in their spare time.

None of this is what the Wikimedia Foundation will tell the public when describing its volunteer community. The official picture is one of a dedicated community imbued with enthusiasm for the idea of free knowledge, the idea of providing a free education to the disadvantaged. And there are no doubt Wikipedians who are motivated by just such ideals. But it is hardly the centre of gravity of Wikipedians’ collective efforts.

Looking at the list of Wikipedia articles that have won the site’s highest quality award, “Featured Article” status, we find all of 9 articles on mathematics – none of them on topics that would benefit the proverbial girl in Africa – versus 158 on video games. We find 12 articles in the entire field of language and linguistics, versus 81 articles on hurricanes. And we find that Wikipedia has 19 “Featured Articles” on highways and Interstates in Michigan, versus just 12 on all of philosophy and psychology combined.

Whatever Wikipedia as a community is doing, it is more of a vehicle for contributors’ self-indulgence than it is a concerted endeavour to bring free knowledge to the world.


Image credit: Flickr/Mikeedesign, Flickr/aisletwentytwo ~ licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

58 comments to Why do people contribute to Wikipedia?

  • Whatever Wikipedia as a community is doing, it is more of a vehicle for contributors’ self-indulgence than it is a concerted endeavour to bring free knowledge to the world.


  • neved

    You forgot to mention three other reasons:

    1. Wikipedia is a perfect place to experience a pleasure of sick, anonymous bullying.
    2. Wikipedia is addictive.
    3. Many users contribute to Wikipedia with the only goal: to get power over others. Many admins and arbitrators create no content, yet they don’t leave because they love their power.

  • Adam Cuerden

    Wikipedia is a just a hive for pedophiles and perverts, then you have David Gerard who treats it like his fiefdom. Enough said.

  • Kiefer.Wolfowitz

    Of the nine mathematics-articles listed as having featured-article status, three would be useful to a high school student. In high-schools, African girls number in the millions:

    Euclidean algorithm,
    Logarithm, and


    • John Lilburne

      Perhaps but going by experience they won’t have been written with the high school kid in mind. Rather they will have been written to massage the ego of some post-grad student.

      For example this is what the article on PI looks like for HS students:

    • HRIP7

      Fair enough, Kiefer. But, (1) three articles are not an awful lot, and (2), echoing Lilburne’s point, the way these articles are written does not seem to be addressed to a high-school kid at all, don’t you think?

      It is really worthwhile to compare the Britannica articles on the Euclidean algorithm and logarithms to the Wikipedia offering:



      While the ads on the Britannica pages are a bit off-putting, the texts are a model of clarity and concision. I found them much easier to follow than the ones in Wikipedia, and am certain this would apply to an even greater degree in the case of a high-school student.

      I am not saying that I always like Britannica’s treatment of a topic better than Wikipedia’s. Yesterday, I was comparing the Britannica and Wikipedia articles on the Aral Sea, and I had to admit I found the Wikipedia article marginally more satisfying (partly because it had more interesting and high-quality media). But if you are talking maths for high-school students and general readers, Britannica still has Wikipedia licked.

      For more on this general topic, see also our previous blog post, written by a maths professor, examining the Wikipedia article on polynomials: http://wikipediocracy.com/2013/10/20/elementary-mathematics-on-wikipedia-2/

      • Kiefer.Wolfowitz

        Encyclopedias are written for the educated reading public, and so they are pitched at a higher level than a high-school text. A good encyclopedia should be accessible to a good graduate of an academic high-school.

        Euclidean domains are important in commutative ring theory, for example, and have many applications, e.g., to polynomials with coefficients in a field. I could not read all of Encyclopedia Britannica article to see if it mentioned Euclidean domains. There was no mention of continued fractions in the first-half of EB’s article on Pi. Most mathematicians would agree that a link would be appropriate.

        I remember reading about the Bavarian Illuminati and Game Theory in the Encyclopedia Britannica, as a junior high student, the former because of summer-camp counselors having read the Illuminatus novel and the latter because it was cool. (EB’s article on game theory was written by H. W. Kuhn, if my memory is correct.) The game theory article was tough for me to understand, because I’d never studied matrices or economics, but I got some ideas of the most important buzzwords.

        One of the last sins of Mortimer Adler was to bifurcate EB into micro- and macro-pedias, and I suspect that EB is only a shadow of its former erudite but uplifting self.

        • lilburne

          See there you have it in a nutshell, it isn’t about mathematicians or their under or post grad students, it is about the general reader. What the stupid turd polishers on wikipedia have done is convert what should be a simple article on PI, that a hundred million high school student would benefit from, into an incomprehensible page of squiggles only relative few can comprehend. Worse yet the OCD/ADHD twits have made the page so dense that most curious HS students looking up PI are going to be left with the impression that maths is really not for them. Those responsible for doing this ought to be punched in the fucking mouth.

        • HRIP7

          Kiefer, I think you’ve unconsciously equated “encyclopedias” to “Wikipedia”, because it sounds like you’re arguing that Britannica isn’t written in the style of an encyclopedia, whereas Wikipedia is. :)

          The Britannica style is the typical style of a good encyclopedia. Their articles on the Euclidean algorithm and logarithms explain these concepts in a way that is clearer, more accessible and didactically more useful to Wikipedia’s supposed target audience than the equivalent Wikipedia offerings. Rather than trying to show off how much they know (they don’t have to …), the Britannica writers communicate exactly the knowledge required to understand these concepts, which is what the general reader consulting an encyclopedia needs.

          For comparison, here are the first paragraphs of the Wikipedia article:


          In mathematics, the Euclidean algorithm[a], or Euclid’s algorithm, is a method for computing the greatest common divisor (GCD) of two (usually positive) integers, also known as the greatest common factor (GCF) or highest common factor (HCF). It is named after the Greek mathematician Euclid, who described it in Books VII and X of his Elements.[1]

          The GCD of two positive integers is the largest integer that divides both of them without leaving a remainder (the GCD of two integers in general is defined in a more subtle way).

          In its simplest form, Euclid’s algorithm starts with a pair of positive integers, and forms a new pair that consists of the smaller number and the difference between the larger and smaller numbers. The process repeats until the numbers in the pair are equal. That number then is the greatest common divisor of the original pair of integers.

          The main principle is that the GCD does not change if the smaller number is subtracted from the larger number. For example, the GCD of 252 and 105 is exactly the GCD of 147 (= 252 − 105) and 105. Since the larger of the two numbers is reduced, repeating this process gives successively smaller numbers, so this repetition will necessarily stop sooner or later — when the numbers are equal (if the process is attempted once more, one of the numbers will become 0).


          Here are the first two paragraphs of the Britannica article:


          Euclidean algorithm, procedure for finding the greatest common divisor (GCD) of two numbers, described by the Greek mathematician Euclid in his Elements (c. 300 bc). The method is computationally efficient and, with minor modifications, is still used by computers.

          The algorithm involves successively dividing and calculating remainders; it is best illustrated by example. For instance, to find the GCD of 56 and 12, first divide 56 by 12 and note that the quotient is 4 and the remainder is 8. This can be expressed as 56 = 4 × 12 + 8. Now take the divisor (12), divide it by the remainder (8), and write the result as 12 = 1 × 8 + 4. Continuing in this manner, take the previous divisor (8), divide it by the previous remainder (4), and write the result as 8 = 2 × 4 + 0. Since the remainder is now 0, the process has finished and the last nonzero remainder, in this case 4, is the GCD.


          Reading the Britannica article, you come away with the feeling of having learnt something, and that it’s really quite easy. You feel more capable. Reading the Wikipedia article, you come away with the feeling that you’ll never be able to understand it all. That’s not a success for an educational mission, whether it’s addressed to the general non-specialist reader, or the emblematic Wikipedia-reading girl in Africa.

          • Kiefer.Wolfowitz

            In the USA, the Euclidean algorithm is likely taught in elementary school. In US high schools, the Euclidean algorithm for real polynomials is taught in 11th or 12th grade in “College Algebra” or “Pre-Calculus”.

            It is reasonable that WP’s article reviews elementary and high-school material before providing an overview of college-level material.

            I don’t have access to the old EB, which was aimed at the educated reading public, good graduates of good academic high-schools (as I have suggested).

            An encyclopedia for children (including adolescents) has a different purpose.

          • HRIP7

            We seem to be talking past each other. I understand that you are saying that in your opinion Britannica has slipped and is less outstanding than it used to be; I am saying that based on the above excerpts, it is doing a better job explaining these concepts today. These positions aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.

            Part of the reason is that Britannica sticks to the topic and does not go off at distracting, dead-end tangents like “(the GCD of two integers in general is defined in a more subtle way)”. There are several such tangents in the Wikipedia text above, apparently born out of a desire to be hypercorrect, that make the explanation harder to absorb.

            Again, the downside of giving unnecessary information was lucidly explained in Adrian Riskin’s above-linked critique of Wikipedia’s polynomials article. (“A good mathematics teacher should tell the truth and nothing but the truth, but never ever ever the whole truth.”)

  • Any sane person should look carefully at the fact that Jimmy Wales’ pithy “Because it’s awesome” gets the #1 amount of Quora upvotes (over 1800, versus the next-most answer with 196 upvotes). Thus, investor Wales’ stupid answer becomes the “best” answer to a complex question on Quora — showing what a failure Quora is for investor Jimmy Wales and his buddy on the Quora staff, Marc Bodnick.

  • HRIP7

    Coincidentally, there is currently a fascinating discussion on Jimmy Wales’ talk page on much the same topic as is discussed in this blog post – paid editing, conflict-of-interest editing, the quality of paid edits, the proposed terms-of-use amendment, and what keeps people coming back to Wikipedia.

    The comments by Risker, a prominent Wikipedia administrator and former arbitrator who is opposed to the terms of use change, are worth reading. While I tend to disagree with her on the advisability of the terms-of-use amendment, she makes some very, very good points indeed. It’s rare to see a clueful Wikipedia insider describe the site’s problems with such refreshing honesty.

    Permalink to current status of the discussion:


  • Tim Davenport

    While his answer is both flippant and vacuous, Jimmy Wales’ “Because it’s awesome” actually probably does summarize why most contributors stop by to add something to Wikipedia. It’s massive, it’s ubiquitous, it’s helpful in daily life — and chipping in a little to make the entity incrementally bigger and incrementally better has an unmistakable appeal to the casual passer-by.

    Now, why do a small subset of these people get SERIOUSLY INVOLVED with Wikipedia? That’s much more complex and no inane quip will explain that. I’m sure there are almost as many reasons as there are Wikipedians. For myself, I’m convinced that it’s a highly effective use of my writing time — and a handy way to record information for future consultation. There are repulsive aspects of The Project, to be sure, but these are outweighed by its benefits in my opinion.

  • anon.

    Congrats with a new excellent article …so much better than this: http://jellis.org/work/group2005/papers/forteBruckmanIncentivesGroup.pdf

  • Ed

    @Anon – the Forte and Bruckman paper was actually not bad, but the research was in 2004-5 before the Wikipedia model had fully consolidated. In those days, many adminstrators (the people with advanced privileges who police the site) were also ‘content creators’. In the years following that, the roles of policing and content creation gradually separated (for good reason – there would be risk of conflict of interest otherwise). The incentive to have adminstrative powers and hence status in the community is an obvious incentive. We explore this issue in more detail in chapter 9 of our book.

  • Arild Nordby

    “Whatever Wikipedia as a community is doing, it is more of a vehicle for contributors’ self-indulgence than it is a concerted endeavour to bring free knowledge to the world.”

    Yawn. Self-indulgence is probably a far more dominant motive in every researcher’s drives, than some altruistic motive. Researchers become researchers because they find it fun to research.

    The principal difference between professional researchers and Wikipedia researchers lies in a statistically significant distinction in degree of competence, not in a differwent motivation cluster.

    • Arild, on Wikipedia there is a rule against “no original research”. So, to compare heavy-duty Wikipedia editors with “researchers” is not exactly fair. Wikipedia editors are really more of “compilers” than “researchers”. I suggest you politely take back your yawn.

      • Tim Davenport

        Oh, no, I disagree there, Greg.

        No Original Research doesn’t mean No Research. It’s shorthand jargon for the following: “No Expositions of Novel Scientific or Historical Theories.”

        There is research behind every article on WP; that which is not plagiarized is “original.”

        Now, obviously, there are limitations as to what sort of sourcing is kosher on WP versus high level academic research. For historians, archival documents score bonus points in academia; on Wikipedia they’re apt to be tossed by a rule monger if they get found out. There are obviously reasons for this and not all bad. So there is a very real fetter on the ability to do “original research” on WP — unevenly enforced, per usual — but it is still a place where reading and compiling and analyzing and thinking and interpretation are done.

        Another proviso: serious material on WP is a fraction of the whole. I realize that.


        • Perig Gouanvic

          On Wikipedia, interpretations that are accepted as non-OR (original research) are those which please Wikipedia’s oligarchs (and/or its swarms of bees).

  • Arild Nordby

    Sure it’s fair. Fun is the motivational prime drive. In both cases. Whether or not you do compiling or innovative research.

    • Arild Nordby

      to combat what I write, gregory, you really should argue for that professional researchers (generally a lot more competent than Wikipedians) are principally driven by “high”-flying motives, rather than by the sense of beauty or fun in discovering patterns.

      I think it is perfectly acceptable to devote much of one’s time, either professionally, or non-professionally, to the search for individual happiness.

      • Arild Nordby

        Furthermore, THIS particular website, whose articles are very valuable, would benefit A LOT, if you smashed down on comments insinuating that most Wikipedians are pedophiles or psychotics. You let such poison to stand, which actually first and foremost harms the credibility of the website itself.

        Self-indulgence, and peacock behaviour are NOT pathological per se, and that many people find more fun in editing on Wikipedia, rather than be passively entertained by television should not count against them.

        • HRIP7

          Adam Cuerden is a longstanding Wikimedian (he became an administrator on Wikimedia Commons in 2008) who made his comment above under his own name. As far as I know, he is not a regular member of this site, and does not speak for it, but he is as entitled to express his opinion as anyone else.

          While Wikimedia projects have had significant and documented problems with pedophile activism for years, his post was clearly hyperbolic. I would not endorse it as a fair and reasoned assessment of that community.

        • Acham

          Are you arguing that detailing impaling people and death by sawing is self-indulgent editing fun? Mr. Cuerden’s comments may not have been far off afterall:


          • Arildnordby

            Do prove my penchant for pedophilia for having written on impalement and death by sawing.

            And sure, I find it MORE self-indulgent fun to plummet into dusty old books than watching, for example, CSI on television.

  • Ed

    @Arild: there is far more to academic motivation than self-indulgence. If you can’t write something that won’t pass the peer-review test – which includes criteria such as ‘significant and important contribution to the subject’ – then you don’t cut the mustard. Scholarly work is not marked on whether the scholar had fun or not, and so has little to
    “you really should argue for that professional researchers (generally a lot more competent than Wikipedians) are principally driven by “high”-flying motives”. Scholars are driven IMO by the deep need for status within their peer group. That in itself is hardly a high-flying motive. But the criteria for getting that status are stringent and objective. The sort of rubbish you find on Wikipedia would not satisfy those criteria.
    It’s doubly harmful. The fact that the rubbish is there puts off serious contributors from helping the project. So the effect of adding rubbish is to get more rubbish.

    • Tim Davenport

      Interesting observation about the “deep need for status within their peer group.” That’s very astute, actually.

      But doing research about something one cares about is also fun. Don’t discount that completely.


      • Ed

        “Most academics I know can rank-order everyone in the room at a professional conference with the speed and precision of a courtier at Versailles”.

    • Arild Nordby

      As for the need for recognition of a peer group, Ed, you are of course right that this is important. Don’t you think that holds true for policemen, teachers, politicians, bartenders (i.e, just about EVERY human being) as well? Or, do you think The Wikipedian is some sort of Eternal Misfit that doesn’t hold a job, doesn’t have friends or family??

      As it happens, I have extremely good grades within my particular specialty (B.A. in fluid mechanics), and I happen to know that both with Maths and in F.M., it is delight of discoveries (through darned hard work) that remains a motor for professionals. Besides, obviously, as with every other human being on the planet, the desire to achieve recognition within one’s own professional peer groups.

      Essentially, the perspective you ought to have on Wikipedians in general is to liken them to 19th century gentlemen dilettantes with ample time on their hands to pursue their own interests, rather than go about thinking of them as Eternal Misfits.

      As for “the harm” of Wikipedia, Wikipedia is just text. Apart from the very real problem of a site for slandering real, living persons, the main harm of Wikipedia occurs because people have not been educated in how to regard the site, rather than the site itself.

      If people remain so dumb that they regard Wikipedia as a vetted encyclopedia, that’s their problem, not Wikipedia’s

      • HRIP7

        The Wikimedia Foundation’s PR messages frequently point to the Wikimedia community’s capability and expertise, and to that magic of crowdsourcing that takes all these disparate contributions from all comers and miraculously turns them into neutral and accurate encyclopedia articles bringing the sum of human knowledge to the world.

        What you’re saying sounds an awful lot like “It’s not Wikipedia’s problem if people are so stupid as to believe the Wikipedia marketing spiel.”

        • Arild Nordby

          Do you believe Coca-Cola’s advertising ads that drinking Coca-Cola contributes to people’s general spirit of friendship and Christmas jollities???

          If not, I don’t see how Wikimedia’s silly and untrue advertising campaigns should enrage you so much.

          • HRIP7

            Coca-Cola does not make misleading claims as to the ingredients of its soft drink. I have no problem with it if the Wikimedia Foundation claims that reading or contributing to Wikipedia can be fun. It can, just as drinking coke can.

            There is also the matter that the Wikimedia Foundation is a tax-exempt charity, which means it should serve the public in a way that Coca-Cola is not required to, because they pay taxes. You posited above that Wikipedia does harm; if so, the charity running it has a moral duty to minimise it.

          • Arild Nordby

            No, a “charity” is not generally “charitable”, whether it poses like an NGO like Amnesty International or Wikipedia.

            Power, influence, and UNDUE WEIGHT are intrinsic motives to every such organization, and the Wikimedia Foundation is NO EXCEPTION. But, neither is it particularly worse (and one of the principal values of THIS website, is to expose Wikimedia’s perfectly natural pretensions to be something else).

            What Jimmy Wales says in public about Wikipedia is to be regarded as pretentious BLAH-BLAH, and as nothing else

          • HRIP7

            Well, we seem to have some common ground. :)

  • Ed

    Arild: “Don’t you think that holds true for policemen, teachers, politicians, bartenders”

    No, because to earn status in academia, you have to make a ‘significant and important contribution to the subject’, as I said. Academics make important contributions to a subject area, policemen arrest people, teachers teach, politicians serve the people, bartenders serve drinks. Wikipedians by contrast merely serve themselves.

    “Wikipedia is just text”. No it’s not just text. Why do you say that?

    • Arild Nordby

      Basically, your personal craving to pathologize Wikipedians is in itself a pathology. Think about your malevolent blatherings for once, will you?

        • Arild Nordby

          Correct, Ed. Oh, dear. Be ashamed of your own stupidity, ansd wallowing in malevolent prejudices

          DO remember that Wikipedians are NOT sick, evil pedophiles, just because you in your sick mind, you want them to be that.

          • Radiant Orchid

            Some Wikipedians are pedophiles. Some are murderers. Some are rapists. Some are teachers. Some are doctors. Some are stay-at-home parents. Some are artists. Some are composers.

            It would be wrong to say that WP is “just a hive for pedophiles and perverts”, but it would be equally wrong not to recognize that some of your fellow editors are “pedophiles and perverts”. The ones that spend their time working on math articles will probably never be known as such. The ones who spend their time pushing their point of view on their particular proclivities will soon become obvious. I’m sure you understand why the ability to use Wikipedia to promote certain views would attract such people.

          • Arild Nordby

            Unfortunately, Radiant Orchid, while it is obviously true that any website that are largely uncontrolled, and where many can pose credibly as “helpful” to a visiting youngster, such as WP, most definitely will attract predators, it remains as wrong to label Wikipedians as pedophiles (which are several times insinuated in the comments on THIS site) as to label kindergarten workers/teachers/boy scouts as pedophiles.

            Those are ALSO highly attractive places for such individuals to wiggle themselves into.

            What IS, however, very good about THIS site, is that it takes a strong stand against the libertarian reluctance displayed in several cases on WP to take firm action against clearly suspect persons.

  • Ed

    I said that to “earn status in academia, you have to make a significant and important contribution to the subject”

    Arild Nordby replies:
    >>Correct, Ed. Oh, dear. Be ashamed of your own stupidity, ansd wallowing in malevolent prejudices DO remember that Wikipedians are NOT sick, evil pedophiles, just because you in your sick mind, you want them to be that.<<

  • It is interesting to me that Arild Nordby’s primary topical areas of interest on Wikipedia include the following:

    Christman Genipperteinga
    Franz Schmidt
    Hanging, on inverted hanging and hanging by the ribs
    Premature Burial, on Holy Roman Empire
    Suffocation in ash
    Disembowelment, on Texcoco culture and Germany section
    Death by boiling, on Scotland and Holy Roman Empire
    Sawney Bean
    Peter Niers
    Death by sawing Crucifixion, major addition on Japan, plus Burma section Execution by elephant, added Ibn Battuta evidence
    Crushing (execution) on peine de forte
    Poena cullei, completely rewritten
    Blowing from a gun
    Dismemberment (added several historical examples)
    Flaying, Assyrian tradition
    Hand of Glory
    Death by burning (Organized into section, added Persian evidence)
    Bamboo torture
    Vestal Virgins, on live burial
    Breaking Wheel

    If this is the same Arild Nordby who seems by day to be a run-of-the-mill safety and health manager at a Norwegian energy company, it would seem that if anyone is wallowing in malevolence in his spare time, it might be Mr. Nordby.

    • Tim Davenport

      We’ve all got our hobbies and interests, eh?

      I chose to look up [[Poena cullei]], not having a clue what that was. That’s actually very good encyclopedia work.

      I write about Communists and sometimes………………. Republicans. It doesn’t make me either.


    • Arild Nordby

      Are you trying to say something, Gregory?

      Well, I can tell you something (although it won’t break through your walls of malevolent,poisonous bigotry):

      1. I wouldn’t bother to write on anything in which I B.A’d in (reason? Lots of good textbooks already existing)

      2. I wouldn’t bother to write anything of Roman history or Early Middle Ages history which is a passion (reason? Same as the above)

      3. And, that reason holds for just about for any other topics than those that could be called arcana, that no one professional could justify spend the time he got salary for

      4. Furthermore, I would still want topics to write about in my spare time that had ample of sources behind him.

      5. In that sense, old execution methods fits very nicely, they are sufficiently arcane and yet with loads of reliable material to draw upon.

      But, don’t let that disturb your shitty, stinking little mind, Gregory, fantasizing about all those pedophiles and psychopaths you slaver over “must” exist at Wikipedia.

  • Vejvančický

    To me editing is fun and relax, I meet the world and cultures and help to shape the knowledge with openness and willingness to learn, in accordance with few simple rules (often more with my common sense). I don’t care too much about the social environment of that site, I focus on content. It is much more complicated and diverse than doing crosswords or sudoku, but I would compare myself – editing Wikipedia – to someone doing a crossword puzzle, with the aim to find the most informative, truthful, neutral and interesting solution … and to help others, of course. Looks that I’m pretty naive :D

    • What sheltered corner are you working in? In my experience, a conscientious Wikipedian doesn’t go looking for trouble, it comes looking for him. You can lie down and let the gangs rule or you can stick to your guns. If you lie down, you are complicit in the crap that goes on there, if you stick to your guns, they’ll get you in the end.

      • Vejvančický

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User_talk:Vejvan%C4%8Dick%C3%BD. 6 years of work at Special:NewPages, WP:AfD, CAT:CSD etc. etc. I don’t lie down – I always say what I think, my work is transparent and open. I don’t wish to comment on everything simply because often I’m not interested but it doesn’t make me an accomplice in wrongdoing as you try to suggest. I don’t care about any gangs, as I know that the world is not just black and white. I focus on content. Read above.

        • Thanks for the reply. I visited your page and it looks impressive. However, I know how Wikipedia works. If you are not having trouble with a gang, it is because you are in one. You probably are not even aware of it. There are no formal structures there. It is all about ‘consensus’ i.e. some anonymous group of like-minded individual enforcing their will on others. You agree with them or you get out.

          • Vejvančický

            Sounds scary. So, you think I’m an unsuspecting puppet doing what some higher power (let’s say the ‘gang’) want :) But don’t you confuse gangs with rules? Rules are the formal structures and I follow the most basic and simplified set of them. It is impossible to create project like Wikipedia without some respect to rules or to ‘consensus’, so yes, in that sense I’m in a gang. The rules and consensus both have its limits and gaps and variable room for manipulation, of course. You still work with humans and humans are erring, especially when (!)socializing. Manipulation in Wikipedia’s social hierarchy is inevitable and I can accept that, to some extent. I’m ‘addicted’ to searching and classification of information and Wikipedia (+ Internet) is a perfect matrix for this kind of work, far better than paper files of my childhood. So I don’t care too much about gangs, I learn, I search and classify, and I’m satisfied more with the activity than with the results or ends, like a crossword lover. What bothers me far more is the fact that I contribute to the ‘digital dementia’ of our time … and I say this as a person connected to the old ‘paper world’, which demanded far more intelligence and participation from an individual than Internet.

          • Yes Wikipedia is scary. Proof? Most Wikipedians opt for anonymity. Either they are afraid or they have something to hide. I always have faith in a place’s rules when I see everyone hiding their real identities. Reminds me of the Ukraine.

          • Vejvančický

            Well my name is Antonín Vejvančický. I believe that I’m the only person in the world of that name, after my dad died. Easily googleable – it’s always me. I use my real name (surname) since my first edit in March, 2008, despite multiple warnings by colleagues Wikipedians. The person on the photo on my talk is me, during a birthday celebration of my girlfriend. That’s all. Nice to meet you, Ross.

  • In some ways the more significant question is – why don’t more people contribute to Wikipedia? It’s everywhere on the www, it accepts just about any kind of content, it is well packaged and it has various strategies to welcome newcomers. I think one reason for the lack of contributors is this – an exaggerated respect for Wikipedia as an encyclopaedia. People mistrust their ability to contribute to encyclopaedias in general and they assume WP is one of those. If only they knew the truth! Wikipedia would implode like an oversized star.

  • Drew

    I’m glad that we have these Wikipedia watchdog groups. I’m puzzled that there are no articles about William Connolley, the guy who subverted over 5,400 Wikipedia articles on climate change.

    If that is old news, what about Susan Gerbic’s group Guerilla Skepticism on Wikipedia. That group has steamrolled through all the paranormalist articles, pushing their materialist propaganda and warping the Wikipedia pages of anyone who tries to get in their way (e.g. Rupert Sheldrake)

  • [...] Kolbe, “Why do people contribute to Wikipedia?” (Wikipediocracy, March 2014). Kolbe offers a more interesting and detailed answer to this [...]

  • [...] Basically, #Wikipedia is your reputation-laundered propaganda machine. wikipediocracy.com/2014/03/02… [...]

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