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Prologue: recently on the Wikipediocracy Forum,  one of our esteemed founding members, Mr. dogbiscuit,  wrote the following:

I think many people here sit back and think why am I doing this, as a grown man, brain the size of a planet and so on.

The answer in the end always comes down to the fundamental of the disgust we feel that Wikipedia is a wasted opportunity and the world is being openly lied to and those lies work.

There is the lie that Wikipedia’s system produces a sum greater than its parts, that it can invent knowledge out of ignorance; the lie that there is a thoughtful, caring community; the lie that Wikipedia is helping foster knowledge rather than insidiously destroying it. Jimbo is the enabler for that, and by now we cannot do anything but believe that he knowingly accepts the situation on Wikipedia and has no interest in solving Wikipedia’s problems, preferring instead to feather his own nest through the ill-perceived reputation of the project.

Jimbo is only one part of the corruption that is the WMF and Wikipedia community, but he chooses to be the figurehead for the status quo rather than the radical reformer.

So anyone with any honesty and decency struggles to walk away and let the lunatics not only take over the asylum, which they most surely have, but let them out into open society and be treated as world leaders (even if only of a tin-pot dictatorship).

Jimbo gets to go on the world stage and spout his nonsense purely off the back of the supposed success of Wikipedia.

How can you walk away when you understand what is going on here?

The following was written in response to dogbiscuit:



By Tim Davenport /// “Carrite” (Wikipedia username) /// “Randy from Boise” (Wikipediocracy username)

This is a very thoughtful expression of the motivation of many of the core people at Wikipediocracy, as you are. I’ll try to reply in the same vein as a Wikipedian who still believes and always will believe in the project — looking at it with a realist’s eyes and a reformer’s heart. Apologies for the length.



There are things in life that can be changed and things in life that can not be changed. The internet is here to stay. Old forms of knowledge storage and transmission are vanishing and new forms replacing them. This is an economic and social phenomenon bigger than any human and bigger than the human will to alter. It is as inevitable as the waxing and waning of the tide. It is not fruitful to blame anyone or anything for this new world; it simply is.

Whatever one thinks of Wikipedia or the group of people behind Wikipedia, it is a fundamental part of the new information world. I state this as an axiomatic premise, validated every time anyone uses their smart phone. The content of Wikipedia matters — the world depends upon it. It needs to be as accurate as possible, as free of overt bias as possible, as coherently written as possible, as visually appealing as possible, as free of vandalism as possible. It doesn’t need a million active writers, or a 51% female contingent of writers, or to have writers who perfectly reflect all the national, cultural, social, and demographic variables of the earth — it needs to be good. This is the main mission.

Since it is so important to humanity in the new information age, Wikipedia is not going to go away. Neither will the people behind it ever have trouble raising money. Anyone who believes otherwise is dreaming. Profits are already being generated from the content by those commercial entities in a position to actually replace that content (Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.). They are thoroughly disincentivized. There is no alternative to Wikipedia, nor will there be for the foreseeable future. It follows that the task is to repair and perfect Wikipedia rather than to pine for its replacement.

Anyone who has studied the history of governments or commercial institutions well knows that large institutions are inherently bureaucratic and that bureaucracies tend to grow over time. Paid staffs expand, layers of specialized functionaries appear and become irreplaceable, the documents of internal regulation proliferate. Compensation of the managerial elite balloons. Wikipedia is not immune to the phenomenon of bureaucratization; indeed, it is a bureaucratic infant. It is foolish to imagine that such a tendency can be halted, even if its decision-makers were consciously committed to stopping it. Bureaucratic degeneration is an inevitable part of life, to be understood and accepted as natural, even as its excesses are fought.

Some things can be changed, some things can not be changed. We must always bear that in mind and learn to know the difference.

Wikipedia as a Utopian Movement.



As anyone who has delved into my editing history already knows, my intellectual background is in the history of international socialism. I think this is one of the reasons that the politics of Wikipedia’s internal governance are so interesting to me. Wikipedia is essentially a utopian self-governing collective on the one hand; a proliferating quasi-commercial bureaucracy on the other. The tension between these two contradictory poles is fascinating. I think it would be helpful if other people came to understand Wikipedia as a Utopian movement.

“Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. That’s what we’re doing.”

You may roll your eyes at this statement for its naiveté. You may think this is a conscious lie to divert the eye from pockets being picked. It is neither of these things. It is a fundamental statement of ultra-idealistic belief, the foundation upon which the entity we know as Wikipedia has been built. It is a line that Sue Gardner can repeat with feeling in a room full of strangers and draw applause. It is a fundamental belief which can keep underpaid software engineers coming to work for a dysfunctional management team every day. It is an idea which drives thousands of people every month to give freely of their time.

Throughout the 19th and 20th Centuries there have been innumerable attempts of True Believers in a cause or an idea to gather, to cloister themselves from others, and to attempt to build a new, principle-based reality for themselves. These efforts have invariably failed, whether they happened in early industrial England or on the American frontier or in the first years of revolutionary Russia. At best such Utopian efforts floundered along for a generation or two before they were commercialized or sucked up by bureaucratic governments. Still: Wikipedia is barely older than a decade — even less than that if one tosses away the first three years or so years where it emerged in obscurity. There are still True Believers and they still believe, even as the bureaucracy inevitably expands…

On Ceremonial Kings…


Jimmy Wales? What is he? It is an interesting question. Not so simple, really. On the face of it, he’s a capitalist internet entrepreneur. It should have been an easy process for him to have effectively monetized this thing — and I’m not talking about a few hundred thousands of dollars (or even a million or two) in speaking fees. He could have been an internet billionaire, yet he did not do this. Why?

The answer, I feel, is that Jimmy Wales has proven himself a damned poor Randoid but a fairly consistent anarchosyndicalist over the past decade. He, let us be frank, is himself a True Believer in the project. We all need a religion of some sort; Wikipedia is his. He’s still an internet entrepreneur; he’s still gonna make his bucks. Yet there is a reason why he goes a little crazy over the issue of paid editing — it is a challenge to his fundamental idea of what Wikipedia is, can be, and should be.

He’s a human being. He screws up. Yet, keep this in mind: Jimmy Wales remains the wild card to fundamental Wikipedia reform. A ceremonial king, perhaps, but Juan Carlos of Spain had his role to play in ending fascism and bringing democracy to his native land — even if he does go to Botswana on holiday to shoot elephants like a self-indulgent sultan. I still believe in Jimmy Wales because he still believes in Wikipedia.

Criticize Wikipedia as much as it needs to be criticized. I do it and you should, too. Don’t flinch. Nobody is above criticism, including Jimmy Wales. But do try to maintain a reasonable understanding of what is possible and what is not, and of what you are fighting and why.

Tim Davenport / “Carrite” / RfB


 Image credits: Flickr/bunnyhero, Fickr/JudyGr, Flickr/dullhunk ~ licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

8 comments to Inevitabilities

  • metasonix

    Gosh, Tim, you sound so reasonable. Pity more Wikipedians can’t manage to do that.

  • HRIP7

    This is a great post, though something needs to be said on why Wales did not proceed to make billions off Wikipedia. I believe the real answer is far simpler.

    Wikipedia has, from the very beginning, been a project relying on unpaid volunteers. In 2002, the entire Spanish Wikipedia community “forked” and disassociated themselves from the Wikipedia project over the mere mention of the possibility that there might be advertising in Wikipedia, forming Enciclopedia Libre Universal en Español instead. It took years for the Spanish Wikipedia to recover.

    This made abundantly clear that volunteers would stop showing up if advertisements actually were introduced, and Wales stood to make money off their work while they got nothing.

    This bit of history is described in Larry Sanger’s Slashdot memoir for example:

    “Jimmy had told me the previous December that Bomis would start trying to sell ads on Wikipedia in order to pay for my job. Even in that horrible market for Internet advertising, there were already enough pageviews on Wikipedia that advertising proceeds might have provided me a very meager living. We knew that this would be extremely controversial, because so many of the people who are involved in open source and open content projects absolutely hate the idea of advertising on the web pages of free projects, even to support project organizers. In fact, when this advertising plan was announced, in late February of 2002, the Spanish Wikipedia was forked (something I urged them not to do).”

    The mystique is the consolation prize Wales settled for when he realised he couldn’t monetise Wikipedia (which, after all, was the original intent with Bomis’ Nupedia project). And with his speaker’s fee standing at over $70,000 per event, according to the New York Times, and various other endorsements, he is after all not doing badly anyway.

  • A Utopian movement? Iternational Socialism? Animal Farm, you mean. Yes Orwell saw Wikipedia coming. Some animals are more equal than others and there is no getting around that in a ‘level’ playing field. The hierarchies need to be clear, open and rational or hypocrisy poisons the whole society. In an encyclopaedia, the hierarchies should be knowledge based, credentialled experts at the top, students working their way up on merit, or else you won’t end up with an encyclopaedia but what you have already got, a snake pit where the only idealists left are just plain, stupid workhorses and where most of the experts are experts in stuff they daren’t admit in public.

    Yes this is the information age. It is also the misinformation age and Wikipedia is definitely part of the mix. It may have value as a salutary lesson, as a cautionary tale, but only if the general public learns the truth about what actually goes on there. It supports all kinds of ugly parasites, like a whale, but some are good, such as Wikipediocracy, which feeds on the nastier kind. This site keeps the compass pointing north – thanks for that, you guys.

    I am an idealist too. I look forward to the day when Wikipedia is widely known and avoided as a sick joke. Then the people who have been blocked or have left in disgust won’t feel so alienated from the web as they do now. Wikipedia is everywhere now, like a dirty secret, like an animal farm masquerading as a Utopian movement.

  • simsa0

    From the contention that something is ineviatable it follows that one has no other choice than to embrace it. From something being here to stay it follows that on has to make its stay as comfortable as possible. Or some such like.

    The problem, or one of the problems, Tim Davenport, with your apologia of Wikipedia, is its inherent and naive creed in (technological) progress. Thank God it’s only the internet where you expect people to accept the inevitable and recommend their surrender under its constraints. It would be quite a different matter if this belief in inevitable progress had its theatre in the real world. Remember The Great Leap forward in China? Or the forced industrialization of the UdSSR in the 50s and 60s? Or the Green Revolution in Africa in the 60s and 70s? Do you remember how many million people have been killed in these inevitabilities of progress and technologcial advancement?

    Thank God, it’s only the internet — so this time the Grand Leap Forward will not kill millions of people but will deliver the paradise on earth without any collateral damage.

    It’s not surprising, then, that you praise as wonders what are in fact the horrors of what comes with Wikipedia: the spreading monoculture of encyclopaedic information (due to Wikipedia cum Google); the loss, not advancement of knowledge and varieties of knowledge (by editing processes that border on social Darwinism); the Smithonianisation of indigenous knowledge (by forcing literality on knowledge types that are defined by orality); the amalgamation of points of views, perspectives, aspects, of traditions, histories, and cultures by one-sided technocratic approaches (“one size fits all”) which in effect puts us back to the editing practices of Isidore of Seville’s “Etymologiae” (7th century AD).

    You’re right, Wikipedia is “a fundamental part of the new information world.” And that makes both so scary.

    No, Wikipedia is not important to “humanity”, especially not when all the content that might be of interest to a broader circle of people other than the affluent Global Nort-West, e.g., the medical or pharmaceutical content, are constantly unreliable. A glitch, you may say, something to be fixed in the future. Yes, exactly the answer of a technocrat who wants others to participate in the Great Leap Forward. It’s not him who will starve in the rice fields or coal mines, not him who will encounter medical problems — with all the help from medical doctors who didn’t rely on Wikiepdia to acquire their skills and knowledge.

    What people like you don’t seem to understand, Tim, is that it is sites like Wikipedia that not only change the concept of knowledge but also implement in people this restricted sense of knowledge — the literal, superficial meaning of some badly written texsts. In the current recreation of the world in a digital form we experience a huge pauperization of meaning, sense, context, perspectives. Undertanding becomes what can be phrased in a 140 character message, a bonmot at best. (To put it differently: Clarity is not the result of brevity but of patience.) Just try to see that it’s not the internet or this new information world order that makes Wikipedia possible, but endeavours like Wikipedia that make this new information world order possible. That’s why I feel so scared when I hear you talk about “true believers” and “Wikipedia as a Utopian Movement”. Because you are right. And they will succeed. And they will make this world a more dire place. Like all Utopias.

    Because that is something no totalitarian character seems to grasp: Utopias, like dreams, aren’t there to be reached, or to be realized, but to be longed for. Otherwise some puny version of it will count as the original. And blindness will be heralded as sight.

  • The author wrote: “Since it is so important to humanity in the new information age, Wikipedia is not going to go away.”

    How do you know this? Wikipedia appeared suddenly. It might disappear just as quickly. Other media such as radio appeared out of nowhere, took over the world for a while, and then fell by the wayside.

    Wikipedia is a monopoly. Monopolies usually end badly, because they concentrate power and thereby corrupt people.

    The Internet is capable of generating many other forms of media. Improved search tools and creative publishing may compete with Wikipedia, then marginalize it, and eventually destroy it. That might happen decades from now, or it might happen this year. Things change quickly on the Internet.

    • Tim Davenport

      It’s all there in the same paragraph:

      >>Since it is so important to humanity in the new information age, Wikipedia is not going to go away. Neither will the people behind it ever have trouble raising money. Anyone who believes otherwise is dreaming. Profits are already being generated from the content by those commercial entities in a position to actually replace that content (Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.). They are thoroughly disincentivized. There is no alternative to Wikipedia, nor will there be for the foreseeable future. It follows that the task is to repair and perfect Wikipedia rather than to pine for its replacement.

      It won’t be a lack of funding that’s gonna kill it, fundraising is up up up, even running 5% ahead of plan.

      It won’t be a billion dollar alternative encyclopedia launched by Google or Microsoft — both have figured out how to cash in on Wikipedia’s free content themselves. They have no incentive to make the investment.

      It is what it is, not for all time, FOR THE FORESEEABLE FUTURE.


      • If there is no alternative to Wikipedia, why do we have to repair and perfect it? You can try repairing it, if you want. Let the rest of us look forward to its alternative.

        How is an encyclopaedia important to humanity? The genre is just a collection of summaries. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Yes, Wikipedia makes online searches easy but not if the information it provides is wrong and it will get wronger and wronger in the years to come, because fewer and fewer people will want to repair it or perfect it. There are so many more pleasurable things to do with our time.

      • You wrote: “It is what it is, not for all time, FOR THE FORESEEABLE FUTURE.”

        I do not think so. It is a deeply flawed institution, and a monopoly. Such things tend to last for a short time. For example, the Ford motor company dominated the industry from 1908 up to around 1924, and then fell apart in 1927. GM and other better alternatives came along.

        A better alternative to Wikipedia might show up any day now. Internet institutions can be overthrown practically overnight. Think of how rapidly the early browsers and search tools were replaced.

        Foreseeable future? No, I foresee the near term collapse of Wikipedia if the institution is not reformed. When there are obvious problems with an institution, and no action is taken to fix them, someone is bound to make a better version of the institution without those problems.