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The dream that died: Erik Möller and the WMF’s decade-long struggle for the perfect discussion system

 

By Scott Martin. Scott began editing the English Wikipedia in November 2002, and became an administrator in September 2007. He was so disgusted with its management at the time of writing this piece that he resigned his administrator status to take an indefinite break from editing.

 

 

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The Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) has, in the last few years, embarked upon a number of major engineering projects intended to modernize aspects of its increasingly dated user interface, with the aim of attracting new participants to the ailing encyclopedia project. Referred to internally by the WMF as “Editor Engagement”, these have so far included VisualEditor, a “what you see is what you get” text editor, and Media Viewer. Both were foisted upon a largely unwilling audience of volunteer editors in an extremely unfinished and bug-laden state, leading to large amounts of discord and the generation of any amount of bad will towards the WMF’s “rock star” developers. The latest addition to the WMF’s hall of software fame is Flow, which looks to replace the complex — yet, to most editors of the WMF’s projects, familiar — method for editors to discuss changes in Wikipedia articles. The WMF plans to supersede the old, familiar method, “wiki text” editing of “talk pages”, with a threaded discussion system more akin to that seen in web forums, or the comments section on blogs and news sites. This decision has been no stranger to controversy, attracting much opprobrium from established editors who both see the existing system as good enough to get things done, and have no confidence in the WMF’s programmers after the disastrous experiences of earlier “flagship” projects.

Flow, however, is not the first time that the WMF has embarked on this particular road. For

…continue reading The dream that died: Erik Möller and the WMF’s decade-long struggle for the perfect discussion system

Arbs gone wild

by Yerucham Turing & Eric Barbour

There are two elements which form the structural bedrock of Wikipedia, and which combine to cause an insoluble problem:

1. Wikipedia insists upon the principle of anonymous editing. This is considered sacrosanct, and it means that ultimately, no real-life person is responsible for the accuracy or veracity of article content.

2. On any controversial topic, a Wikipedia article is a battleground in which the contestants vie for control of content. The stakes are high; the winner may use that Wikipedia article as a soapbox for propaganda, which will shoot right to the top of a typical Google search. Officially, Wikipedia wishes that this were not the case, but wishes are not yet horses. The battle for control is settled by two criteria: “consensus” (which in practice means majority rule), and debates over policy (which in practice means gaming the system). Disputes are resolved, on a temporary basis, by bullying and sophistry, but the only lasting resolution is via the banning by Wikipedia administrators of one faction of the contestants, generally through the connivance of the other faction. The banned editors are generally not prepared to simply give up and find another hobby; many are psychologically addicted to Wikipedia as a MMORPG. There is an appeals process for banned editors, which has roughly the same success rate as attempts to build a perpetual-motion machine.

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These two elements combine to ensure that Wikipedia is dominated by what it calls “sockpuppetry“. Because of the “majority rule” feature, and because Wikipedia editors are not real-life individuals, but rather, “accounts,” the temptation to create more than one account in order to sway the “consensus” is a powerful one. Consequently, many Wikipedians become sockpuppeteers. And as well, many Wikipedians who

…continue reading Arbs gone wild