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The tragedy of Wikipedia’s commons

By Gigs

This article appeared originally in the Wikipedia Signpost, June 12, 2013.

I’ve long thought that we should get rid of the Commons as we know it. Commons has evolved, through the actions of a tiny group of people, into a project with interests that compete with the needs of the various encyclopedias that are the primary users of Commons, and the reason it was created. It’s also understaffed, which results in poor curation, large administrative backlogs, and poor policy development.

First, some background information. Commons was primarily created so we could share media between various wikis, with a secondary goal of being a free media repository. When Erik Möller proposed the idea of Commons, he also proposed an inclusion criteria, “Material would be eligible for inclusion in the Commons if it is useful to at least ONE Wikimedia project [including potential future use].”

At no point during initial discussions was it proposed that the inclusion criteria basically be the mere fact that an image was free. There was an implicit assumption throughout that the files would be free, and also encyclopedic in some way.

From inception until 2008, the main inclusion criteria at commons was the media be “useful or potentially useful” to a Wikimedia project, reflecting Möller’s initial proposal comments. In 2008, a replacement policy was proposed and implemented by User:MichaelMaggs, with half a page of feedback from about six other editors. These six editors (some seemingly unwittingly) redefined the scope of Commons from a repository of files useful to Wikimedia project, to files “useful for an educational purpose”.

This unchallenged action by a tiny group of people changed the scope of the project such that any media file with a free license can be included, since it is extremely easy to argue that any media is

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