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Watching Wikipedia's extinction event from a distance (boingboing.net)
244 points by maxerickson on Feb 14, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 126 comments

In October 2010, I authored my first Wikipedia entry[1] and it was immediately tagged for speedy deletion by an admin named Academic Challenger[2], a person who proudly proclaims "I have deleted over 10000 pages from Wikipedia that meet Wikipedia's criteria for speedy deletion." The problem is that he indiscriminately tags most articles for speedy deletion. As my article met the Wikipedia standard for "noteworthiness" I was determined to fight this abuse of power, which I did and through the help of another admin (who unsurprisingly was familiar with Academic Challenger) and restored the page, which is still up today and has been edited by many people who are not me.

Wikipedia clearly struggles with content review and creation, but it overall has been highly successful. The question seems to be, moving forward, how might maintain the ethos of Wikipedia in a changing world?

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cleanwell

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Academic_Challenger Looking at the revision history, I do not see Academic Challenger's action in the logs of the talk page. Anyone know why?

Wikipedia admin here. Re your question, that's because you've accused the wrong editor.[1] :-)

Looking at the article at the time it was nominated,[2] there isn't much of an explicit claim to being notable under Wikipedia's policies.[3] However, it was nominated for speedy deletion all of seven minutes after you created it—pretty quick, something I never like to see for articles that fall into a grey area.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Cleanwell&diff=38... - the actual editor was https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Terrillja.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Cleanwell&oldid=3...

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Notability - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Credible_claim_of_si...

Perhaps I have remembered incorrectly. I am far out of my depth of knowledge, so I defer to your information. Also please excuse my conflation of notability and "noteworthiness". As you can see and I think we can understand, as my first entry, I didn't know exactly how and what to do.

In spite of this, I have this distinct memory of AC being a problem, I will look through my change log (Tlow03) and see if perhaps the article was moved or renamed from my original attempt.

Also thank you for this clarification and you're right I think it probably was a grey area, but I do think the compound in question is a novel hand sanitizer that is the only of it's kind I know of.

DISCLAIMER: I have no affiliation with the company at this time, a friend once worked there, but I do not and never have had any financial interest.

Update: Yes the "boom your contribution is gone and doesn't belong here" almost the moment you write it feels very hostile.

That post didn't look particularly noteworthy to me, but I remember creating a similar page regarding a casual wear company (called "Lost..." if I recall) that I got distracted with one time. I saw their logos in my local mall in every department store. I spent a lot of time researching and writing up an article on the company. Then it got deleted. Probably not particularly noteworthy either, even if at one time it was a national brand.

I also wrote up a thorough discussion of various kinds of permanent life insurance contracts (I was a financial advisor at the time, and I had spent a lot of time studying them, and wanted others to have that information). I think the bulk of my contribution managed to get redacted at some point, but it lives on in the version control, forever.

There's a lot of stakeholders to Wikipedia: the subjects of articles and their followers, hawkish community members who try to control new and changed content, and consultants who charge money to change the framing of subjects on the site.

As a result, pages tend to be flattering of their subjects, unless the subjects don't have a lot of followers who speak the language that the page is written in. And new pages are likely to be deleted unless you have the cooperation of community members who will advocate for it when you start focusing on something else.

Now I mostly write up Python on Stack Overflow, where I get credit for my answers in terms of valuable internet points, which reflects my reputation in the community.

Perhaps Wikipedia could learn something from Stack Overflow. But unfortunately, it looks like they have incentivized deleting content and creating value for subjects over creating value for readers.

The parent response exhibits, politely, typical problems I've experienced with Wikipedia editing. It debates details, policies (with citations), customs, but does not address the actual problem (in this case, the hassles of contributing) or help advance the core mission, which is the content.

My experiences are similar to the GP, and often the responses aren't nearly as polite as the parent. It's just not worth the time to contribute.

You are absolutely right and I'm surprised more people are not calling that person out for what you describe. The person even notes that the article was nominated for speedy deletion __seven minutes__ after it was created. That is insane!

Very much reminds me of the time Around 2008 when Jimmy Wales' article about an SA restaurant was deleted for similar reasons[1]. Looks like for all its discussion the Wiki community has learned nothing.

1 - https://www.quora.com/Has-any-article-created-by-Jimmy-Wales...

I usually add on the content to existing articles these days cuz of the frigging deletionists.

If anyone's interested I've got thoughts on how to improve wikis here: https://housejeffries.com/page/4

My main issue with current wikis is that if you make a contribution and it's deleted, it's gone from the web. I think that if you're making heavy contributions to a page they should start on a personal wiki and then be pulled into the main wiki "pull request" style.

That way if some over-aggressive editor deletes your work it stays on the internet, just on your personal wiki instead of the main site.

I think this is not going to work on any large scale. Say you are a domain expert in some tiny little plant on some tiny island. Like, you wrote your PhD thesis on that plant. Sure, this is not very 'big', but it merits inclusion into the Wiki. Telling people that want to contribute, that are the domain experts, that have read and debated all the sources of which they may be the definitive source, that they have to go figure out how to set up their own wiki somewhere and then try to figure how to 'pull' and 'push' things to Wikipedia on a semi-regular basis because of some bot's deletion bias is the best way to make certain that Wikipedia is only written by insane people.

If you read down to the "Problems" section of the page, you'll see that I agree with you. I don't consider my prototype (that uses git) an acceptable solution at scale.

The actual solution would need to be as easy to set up and use as gmail. But if you're going to do the work of setting up hosted personal servers for wiki pages, you might as well do it for all content. And that's actually the plan! I'm working on it here if you're interested: https://juniorschematics.com/

The point is that the article is likely to be deleted, so if anyone sets up their own wiki it's a net win, since the information won't be deleted altogether.

I understand the point, what I am saying is that most of the contributors will have no idea how to implement this idea nor the technical chops to do it.

Some people do prefer to work on a new article in their user space (sub-pages of their user page which you're free to edit without interference) until it's in shape to be moved to mainspace (the actual Wikipedia that you can search).

They could host personal wiki's and make them easy to setup, like how tumblr etc make it east to setup a personal blog.

I think that it workable, however, how do you tell people to go out and do that? Wikipedia is unlikely to tell contributors to go off to somewhere else to contribute; it makes little sense.

I was thinking something like GitHub, create an account and you can write your own page's or fork other pages, modify them and do a pull request. You're forked version survives regardless of what happens to the pull request.

I do think that is a good idea, however, trying to tell historians and bio-peepz and whomever else that is not a programmer how to do this, and the reasons they need to do this in the first place, will end in failure. Adding more steps in that process will decrease use and contributions.

Why not use Markdown instead of MediaWiki syntax?

About URLs, you can take a look at StrongLink: https://github.com/btrask/stronglink

Your JSON subset is very interesting too: https://github.com/seagreen/Son

I actually do use markdown for the git-repo based prototype. My personal website itself actually uses that prototype. You can see an example "page" here: https://github.com/housejeffries-pages/2

Thanks for the nice words about Son. I need to get it completed (the spec still needs some touch ups) and get prototype implementations written, once that's done I think it will be pretty useful.

Thanks for the tip about StrongLink, that's definitely up my alley. Already I'm finding it useful, for instance in the docs it mentions ni URLs (https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc6920), which is something I'd never heard of before.

If you have any more comments or criticisms of my projects feel free to email me, none of them are quite to the stage I can start promoting them yet, but getting feedback is still super important.

> If you have any more comments or criticisms of my projects feel free to email me...

Done ;-)

A first wiki could be around your project. It can be made with existing tools (pandoc, github...) if the workflow is clear enough (even with manual parts).

That's a great idea

http://deletionpedia.org/ is a small project to cope with this in a positive way. A couple of years ago, when I was frustrated by deletionism once again, I wrote a bot that automatically copies articles that are about to be deleted.

My experience was that the prime criteria for deletion was that the Wikipedia editors be unfamiliar with the material.

1000 pages on Pokemon? Great!

2 pages on obscure technical subjects, of interest to tens of thousands of IT admins world-wide? Nah... get rid of it.

I stopped contributing to Wikipedia when my edits were nuked as often as they were made. When spammers and people making negative contributions had their changes last longer than people making positive changes... well... Wikipedia is no longer of interest.

Wikipedia (with it's current edit culture) is an example of what bikeshedding looks like when scaled up.

Gawker used to have a series on this, The 10 Best Articles Wikipedia Deleted This Week:


this is awesome, thank you!

Hm, I've been patrolling my only big contribution to Wikipedia, another niche article:


Woohoo, someone just made a nontrivial edit to it!

But other than that, it seems to be mostly flying under everyone's radar. I hope it doesn't get deleted, but it might for being too niche. If it does, I guess I'll have to find a statistics wiki to move it to. Most of Wikipedia's deleted niche content ends up migrating to wikia or similar.

It shouldn't get deleted—on a quick read, it looks like it meets Wikipedia's notability policy.[1] :-)

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Notability

that's entirely the problem being discussed here: there's a lot of things that shouldn't get deleted that nevertheless do, because there's a large number of wikipedia editors who feel a sense of accomplishment from deleting things.

Historically, that's not much protection for a short article. The Deletionists largely won the war, and plenty of acceptably-notable articles get tagged with "en-encyclopedic" or other bases.

If you think the deletionists won, you should try hitting Wikipedia's "Random Article"[1] link a few times.

[1] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:Random

This is like saying "well, our side lost 90,000 out of our 100,000 soldiers, but the fact that you can still find 10,000 soldiers on our side means the enemy didn't win!"

Depending on the objectives of the military engagement in question, the casualty count is not necessarily the determining factor when it comes to who "won" said engagement.

What in the world does _that_ prove?

The point is: your article can get nuked at any moment unless your article is about a topic familiar to the Wiki Admin demographic OR unless it has a defender (a powerful enough Wiki Admin who will monitor and stand up for the article).

That gives me an idea. Wiki Admins should offer a paid service! Pay me monthly and I'll actively protect article(s) of your choosing from deletion or vandalism!

Yep, you captured the point I was going for here. It's not that all stubs and oddities are deleted, it's that if an article catches someone's eye the default decision is "delete".

That's almost worse, since the results are so haphazard. Outside of a few predictable topics (virtually all cities/towns get long-lasting stubs), Wikipedia is "comprehensive" only to the limits of "no one noticed, or someone powerful stepped up to defend it".

The article has since been restored. Look at the history and the copy-paste from a book:


How does an experienced user (he has 14k edits!) make an edit like that?

EDIT: TIL article history page is not necessarily accurate on deleted articles

Wikipedia admin here. The edits that added the copyrighted material have been deleted, so this diff[1] isn't exactly accurate.

That said, I've just fixed the history page so that the deleted edits actually appear, even if you can't read the material in them.[2]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Hemovanadin&diff=... [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Hemovanadin&actio...

And yet this probably only happened because it was getting coverage.

I did my time as a Wikipedia editor. I've watched others do it, too. It's exhausting. You end up obsessively checking your watchlist multiple times a day, then every hour, then multiple times per hour, because you never know when someone will get you in their sights. And then you have to be prepared to obsessively watch talk pages and project pages and noticeboards 24/7 to be ready to come back in and copy/paste sources and arguments and the appropriate WP:IMEMORIZEDWIKISPEAK links over and over and over again to try to defend something. And even then you probably won't succeed.

Wikipedia is eating itself and is smugly proud of it. The effort involved in creating and preserving a piece of worthwhile content is orders of magnitude higher than the effort involved in deleting it, and people who get stuff deleted also get rewarded for doing so, while people who create and maintain get comparatively very little recognition. Eventually Wikipedia will have only two articles, someone will propose merging them, and them someone else will speedy-delete the last one for breaking various rules. And that'll be the end of it.

Yep. I too tried to edit wikipedia, and then gave up. The experience was unpleasant and exhausting.

> Wikipedia is eating itself and is smugly proud of it.

Oh yes. The smugness cannot be underestimated, and in some ways is the worst part of the whole process.

oh I suspected something like that but it left me wondering why would the copyrighted material stay there and the records of the edits disappear - shouldn't it be the other way around? I've also read about RevDel and that leaves the record in place just hides the summary/user/text of edit but leaves the record in history.

You're exactly right on RevDel (revision deletion). However, in this case only certain edits were restored after the article was deleted—but the copyright violations were left deleted, so there was no record of them in the public edit history.

That's why I've just restored the edits and revision-deleted the (copyrighted) text, leaving the editor and edit summaries public!

> How does an experienced user (he has 14k edits!) make an edit like that?

That's exactly how he made it to 14k.

A few points, as a sometime Wikipedian.

1. Yes, Wikipedia has its challenges, there are flaws in the underlying assumptions of its originators, and it's not perfect. But it is better, in general, than any other resource to date, and is widely transparent to boot.

2. Conflicts over editorial content are nothing new, nor are they distinct to open collaborative projects. A few months back I turned up an instance from 1874, in which the British publishers, and American printers, of Chamber's Encyclopaedia had significant differences of opinion on a number of topics, including on the topics of free trade, (economic) protection, slavery, and biographical details of Elizabeth I and heirs. It's a rare in sight to the process.


Another set of conflicts of which I'm recently aware concern Joseph Needham, biochemist and sinologist, whose research and writing were emperiled by his naive participation in what turned out to be a Chinese- and Soviet-led propaganda campaign. Documented in Simon Winchester's The Man who Loved China.

3. I've authored or contributed to a number of Wikipedia articles myself. In some cases, particularly in noting the blatant disinformation campaigns of Koch Industries and Libertarian partisans in particular, especially on global climate change, I've been rather frustrated. I've originated a couple of articles. One, on the present NPR president Jarl Mohn, was slated for deletion on numerous grounds when I first submitted it. The result of working with other more experienced editors was a substantially improved and strengthened article which still stands. I'd created the article after being surprised to find it didn't exist at all.

Yes, camping out on and watching articles may be useful to avoid more serious disruption, particularly on contentious topics. And Wikipedia does have a problem, as does all media, on ideologically-tainted topics. No, the truth doesn't always win out.

But it does pretty well, all told.

> But it does pretty well, all told

The main problem IMHO is that it stands largely on inertia from a bygone era, the pre-2007 period where most of the existing basic content was put in place by a swarm of highly motivated volunteers with a few loose rules.

This is completely different from the current situation, where the bureaucracy has been ossified into a neverending rulebook designed to protect the precious content from vandals and good-willed naive newcomers, in the hands of a shrinking and overworked zealous user base.

The original drive that got the whole thing up is gone. The only regulars are equally split among inclusionists and deletionists, but by its very nature deletionism will prevail in the long term - it only takes succeeding once to get rid of an article forever, while people defending interesting content from removal need to keep an active watch and regularly spend effort in fighting for its survival.

I think the periodic outreach for donations on Wikipedia would be more successful if they earmarked some portion of the funds to identify and remove harmful volunteers.

If you actually look into where they spend their money, quite a bit of it doesn't go to Wikipedia itself, which I think makes their donation requests nigh unto dishonest :/. What does is often funneled into projects of questionable value that seem to never make progress, such as switching to a WYSIWYG editor.

.. and didn't fight net neutrality in 3rd world countries.

Assuming you're talking about zero-rating: it's complicated. It's providing a public good, but opens the door for an argument that may see the erosion of net neutrality. I don't think there's something inherent in providing a free service (or enabling free access to a service) that is counter to the goal of net neutrality, and I do think that we can find a way to foster a free and open web and still make this work. It won't be easy, and it won't be perfect, but I think it's worth making the effort.


Seriously? In addition to having been fairly big news, and having been covered and talked about on this website numerous times, it took me all of three seconds with a single generic Google search to get a high-profile news result that focusses on the issue. Knee-jerk challenges to source things should be limited to things that are at least slightly difficult to find sources for and which are also difficult to believe.


Not the GP, but while I'd give you credit for the "at least slightly difficult to find sources for" part of that, "difficult to believe" definitely applies (at least for the average person) when it comes to a claim that Wikipedia, of all organizations, acts deliberately to undermine net neutrality.

Not that you're wrong, of course; only that asking for a source for such a claim is by no means unreasonable.

Believe me, I'm the first person to kindly point out that something is "Googlable" or, in the case of programming, direct someone to the docs. With this, I couldn't believe that Wikipedia would engage in such a unethical practice - didn't even search for it considering that Wikipedia is generally a great org.

Thanks for the info.

I watch topics that interest me, especially if i know nearly nobody else cares about them:

- takes 2 seconds every day to check the list (on speed-dial, next to HN) - 30 seconds to read a diff - and 1 second to click 'undo' (or a couple minutes of research/learning for an edit)

What's nice, is that there is a dispute process that the community takes pretty seriously, and you can always ask for assistance. As another user pointed out, the article has already been restored :)

I find it ironic that the author of this article bemoans the incompetent wikipedia admin who deleted the article, yet she didn't bother spending the 30 seconds necessary to post a comment on the talk page.

Wikipedia works through volunteers, and if you don't bother giving up a little bit of your time to improve it, you don't really have any right to complain.

I see regular articles on HN prophesying the death of wikipedia, but it doesn't seem to be going anywhere.

Pretty much every article on HN that is even slightly negative about Wikipedia, Apple, or whatever is the topic of the day devolves into a hatejerk. I've noted this before [0] and it won't end as long as HN keeps being an echo chamber. From browsing HN you'd think Apple completely tanked with the new Macbook and their other controversial changes, but they just had a record quarter. I notice this on sites like reddit and HN a lot, people spread these memes of how a company should function or rather doesn't and they consider themselves the most informed target audience for that company even if it couldn't be further from the truth. Even in this very thread I see so much misinformation about how Wikipedia works and how it's being overrun with deletionists, yet anyone participating in the site could tell you that these fears are overblown. (in fact, in my three years of editing, I've found it harder to actually delete stuff because of inclusionists and random keepers) People just want to say "ackshually, nice thing isn't nice because x...". I'm not going to bother commenting elsewhere in this thread because it gets tiring, but people really need to actually try understanding Wikipedia themselves before repeating misinformation about it again and again. Nearly every thread on HN about Wikipedia is about people crying about that their article with no sources at all got deleted in favor of a popular culture topic that is meticulously sourced. Yet they also complain about Wikipedia being unreliable and biased. You can't have your cake and eat it too, either demand quality controls or create your own fork which has no controls at all and watch what happens to it.

[0]: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13624239

Presumably, then, someone who bothered quite a lot and gave up a lot of time to research and write the beginnings of an article very much does have the right to complain.

Not if they didn't expend the 30 seconds of time necessary to prevent the deletion. It really doesn't take much effort...

The whole point of the article is that those 30 seconds (for reviewing the deletion request and possibly oppose it) need to be multiplied by the several thousands of stubs that are proposed for deletion every day.

As I understand, once a page is deleted, you're supposed contact the proper channels prior to recreating the page, including talk; a procedural thing. The core complaint is still valid against major changes without due diligence - heck, i don't even make minor changes without hitting preview and diff a half dozen times to make sure i didn't bork something.

Wikipedia was the original fake news. For instance, someone might edit an article to say that a person was a known political extremist. Someone else might write an article (not on Wikipedia) saying the same thing (after having read the Wikipedia article). Years later, if the information is questioned on Wikipedia, then editors will add a reference to the off-wiki article, and everyone will be happy. Circular fake news, with truth going down the plughole. The entropic heat death of information.

I've looked at large articles I contributed to a few years ago and they are now disasters. Full of bowdlerisation, inconsistent style, and false snippets of information. I think the abusive nature of many Wikipedia admins, and the hostility of Wikipedia itself to knowledge, will eventually just make it a 4chan with pretentions.

That statement is somewhat insulting to 4chan, on 4chan content is impartially wiped when it ages off the bottom. Unlike wikipedia nobody on 4chan is getting a psychosexual rush of power when destroying other peoples hard fought content to make them feel unwanted and sad. I would encourage people who are bullied off wikipedia to visit 4chan which is a friendler more open minded and inclusive group of people. Even when including /pol/, 4chan is still a nicer community than wikipedia.

Wew lad.

Since the election I've seen pretty much every major news and reference information source disparaged as "fake news" by comments like this. It begs the question: if every major source is untrustworthy, if it's all a chain of lies all the way down, how does anyone know anything? Can those who have seen the light please point the rest of us to the untainted source of pure truth you've cross referenced against to confirm this?

It seems like there are plenty of people in the world who manage to act productively on the information they have, but maybe it's all just a big conspiracy - nobody has ever known a single fact.

    if every major source is untrustworthy, if it's all a chain of lies all the 
    way down, how does anyone know anything?
That's exactly the sort of thinking that modern autocracies (like Russia, China, Egypt, etc.) use to keep their populations pliant. They know that people see government propaganda for what it is. However, they also know that merely knowing that what the government is telling you is propaganda isn't enough to serve as a basis for popular resistance to the government. Therefore, the authorities do their best to muddy the waters, ensuring that every news source, no matter how rigorous and well-researched is tarred with the "bias" or "fake news" brush. What happens then is that people, by and large, just give up and remain content to hunker down and get on with their steadily worsening day-to-day lives, without paying attention to the large scale abuses that they're subjected to.

It worries me immensely that we're seeing this pattern in the United States.

I'm not sure that that is worse than excessive credulousness. I think it's advisable to be skeptical of the news in any source, no matter how reputable -- who are the sources? What are their motives? Is this analysis credible and does it fit with the facts presented? Even the big names get it wrong.

There's no surfeit of credulousness among broken political societies. Where you'll find "excessive" credulousness is among high-performing societies where, not coincidentally, there's usually less reason to be cynical.

Skepticism is not the same thing s cynicism. And skepticism is not the same thing as holding all literature to the same exacting evidentiary standards, and requiring all consumers to have the requisite skill and motivation to scrutinize those standards.

The so-called mainstream media _is_ biased. That much can't be in dispute. The issue is the character of that bias. The bias of the New York Times is not the same as the bias of Russia Today or the People's Daily. And equivocating bias is it's own form of bias, perhaps the most pernicious kind.

I mean, no reason to be cynical except constantly publishing information sourced to anonymous operators with their own agendas that may or may not be accurate. I just don't think what would make the world better is more people uncritically reading the papers that led us into Iraq.

The entire motive for this "mainstream media is fake/lies push" to get people to ignore anything that doesn't come from them. It's exactly the same as the Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt legal strategy pursued by people like SCO only you don't have the benefit of court managed discovery to force a version of the truth out in the open.

"Even the big names get it wrong" isn't the same thing as "trust no one [but me]"

I don't think that's entirely true. Of course Trump and other mendacious characters have seized on it, but I think the general distrust and skepticism of news media is both organic and well-warranted.

I wouldn't call it organic. The Republicans have purposefully employed a multi-decadal strategy of painting the "mainstream media" as biased and untrustworthy. This has sown excessive and mostly unwarranted _generalized_ cynicism, and granted people carte blanche to outright reject challenging facts and perspectives in favor of much more partisan narratives.

This cynicism has infected not just conservatives but most other factions. It turns out that if you repeat a narrative often enough even your opponents as well as the "mainstream media" will pick it up and run with it.

The organic parts would be the dissolution and fragmentation of the mid-century media empires--broadcast news, regional newspapers, etc--into all the various cable and Internet outlets we have today. That fragmentation means readerships are more self-selected, creating market pressures for outlets to cater to their particular readerships' preferences and biases.

This is in some sense a regression to a 250-year mean of political culture, but that's a mean of slow and highly volatile social, economic, and scientific progress.

And there's no excuse for the slash-and-burn, nihilistic tactics adopted by conservative strategists. You simply cannot have a functioning democracy unless society retains the _myth_ of an objective, shared truth. It's one thing to nurture skepticism, it's another to nurture cynicism.

Not that there's no fault on the part of the left or other political factions. But I'm not going to equivocate factions which, say, pursue ill-considered policy objectives with a faction that undermines the fundamental prerequisites for a functioning body politic.

The Donald Trump phenomenon and the age of alternative facts is principally a result of a _particular_ concerted partisan political effort. And it's not new--it goes back to before Reagan, although really got going with Newt Gingrich's Republican Revolution, which finally solidified a unified GOP narrative on all policy matters. The only difference is that we're now much more focused on some of the starker consequences of that shift in strategy.

You think the problem with the media is a lack of centralized control? Sorry, I don't think we're anywhere in the same neighborhood on this issue.

Not centralized, but consolidated: when people all got their news from the same half dozen or so sources, they were a lot more capable of agreeing on basic sets of underlying facts with which issues could be debated, instead of just going through endless cycles of recusals and spin about the facts and their basic interpretation.

Sure, it didn't live up to certain capitalistic ideals, but maybe it turns out that not every domain of human life benefits from existing in a bare knuckle free market.

Media has undergone a massive consolidation in the last few decades, though, and a bunch of blogs without serious resources don't change that.

You're not sure that living under a repressive authoritarian regime is worse than generally trusting the mainstream media? Really?

That's obviously not what I meant.

The more confused and uncertain people are, the easier it becomes to manipulate them. Thus we are treated to spectacles like Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas - who is ironically head of the House science and technology committee - suggesting on the floor of Congress that people should ignore the media and get their news directly from the President.

It seems almost every day now I hear politicians saying things that I'd edit out from the script if I were writing a dystopian movie because they were too cheesy and crude to be good characterizations.

Everything becomes much clearer once you realize that everyone is for themselves, and that includes mass media who report stuff in a way that increases the clicks and the views.

The majority of us have been conditioned to worry, actually worry, about stuff that we have absolutely no control nor expert knowledge. The majority of our time should be spent on worrying about ourselves, our immediate circle of people, our neighborhood, city, country, planet. In that order. Turn on the TV or open your facebook and you'll that the hierarchy is completely reversed.

    The majority of our time should be spent on worrying about ourselves, our 
    immediate circle of people, our neighborhood, city, country, planet. In that 
In response, I'm just going to quote Martin Niemoller:

    First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Socialist.

    Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— 
    Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— 
    Because I was not a Jew.

    Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Your approach rules out collective action on any kind of scale that can change the direction of a nation. There are always concerns at the family and local levels. What we need to understand is that sometimes concerns at the larger levels (country, planet) that outweigh our local concerns.

I agree with you regarding the importance of thinking and acting locally, especially for the majority of people who don't realistically have the power and influence to make a difference outside of their locality.

But it's a tremendously cynical and harmful to believe that "everyone is for themselves." It's just not true: there are millions if not billions of people who live much more for others than themselves. The supremacy of self-interest is not some foundational truth of social reality - it's an economic theory of human behavior which corporations and power hungry individuals want us to believe in because it props up the system of predatory capitalism that enriches them at the cost of the public good.

Interesting ego trap you've fallen into there.

Lucky we have HN.

This criticism would be more useful with concrete examples.


Note that of course, like everything on Wikipedia this is probably neither complete nor necessarily accurate.

I had no idea the game console "generation" counting was a result of citogenesis. The more you know...

To the extent that it is complete, that list counters the criticism made. Incidents that have been documented and dealt with aren't an example of bad information existing forever.

It's also a pretty short list.

By definition, we don't know about the incidents that have not yet been detected and once we find out about them they're no longer undetected and so don't qualify as proof under your standard. Also, there are several entries on the list that hung around for 6-8 years and made their way into publications like scientific journals, books, and obituaries that are effectively going to be around forever.

One particularly embarrassing example on the list involved a real person being falsely accused of taking part in a major points shaving scandal in college despite not even being on the team at the time, with multiple major publications repeating the claim. It was only discovered after 6 years or so because a film reviewer got an email claiming he was omitted from a film about the scandal because he wasn't even on the team, and believed that person enough to start digging despite all the coverage insisting otherwise: http://awfulannouncing.com/2014/guilt-wikipedia-joe-streater...

The concrete examples have been deleted.

Which means things work as they're supposed to, doesn't it?

The "consoles generations" articles have certainly not been fixed.

No, obviously it does not mean that. That known flaws have been fixed says nothing about the prevalence of unknown flaws.

But you just said this:

> I've looked at large articles I contributed to a few years ago and they are now disasters.

Examples would be welcome.

I think mmphosis was being tongue in cheek given the article being discussed.

In any case, they didn't make the claim about disaster articles.

I'm far removed from Wikipedia's social/cultural realm and yet I've only ever heard negative things about the deletionist culture there. Is the deletionist rationale that fewer articles == fewer spots for vandalism to occur?

I think people had a hard time taking Wikipedia seriously when there were more articles about Wookie culture and light sabre colours than there were about chickens or water. So, the deletionist culture seems to be about pride, focus on the serious business so that Wikipedia can be taken seriously and have a better reputation.

Perhaps, but it's also a database and it doesn't really hurt anything. We can point at pretty much any article and find a strange influence of geek male culture all over the encyclopedia. "In Popular Culture" (which I think is now supposed to be removed from articles) all too often simply contained links to video games and obscure anime.

Personally, I find the shift to wikia troubling. Mainly because it came down from Jimbo to purge the articles and move them to wikia, which ahem Jimbo runs and profits from.

"In popular culture" sections almost never add anything, yeah.

I didn't know people took all the "Wikigroaning" stuff seriously.

I don't think it is clear that there is really a deletionist culture.

There's 5 million English articles. Even a very high quality bot will make hundreds or thousands of mistakes if it is doing anything vaguely interesting across a broad swath of articles.

Which doesn't excuse having a crap process at the margin, but nor does a moderate volume of unfortunate experiences make the case that it is all falling apart.

I think it's a bit confusing to equate deletionism with something done by bots?

The most infamous exchanges are almost all about active, human users seeing an article (possibly flagged by a bot), putting it up for Speedy Deletion, and steamrolling people who support keeping it.

The more pernicious approach, related to the one detailed here, is that articles are "pruned" for quality (removing e.g. external links sections) and then deleted for being incomplete.

My experience and reading certainly suggests that Wikipedia has a problem (as confirmed by new editor and article counts), but it largely seems to be about disparate groups aligning harmfully. Some people want to remove external links, some people want to fragment large articles into more focused sub articles, and some people want to delete everything that's excessively narrow or short on content. As a result, each faction does its thing and the end result is content moving from "good and comprehensive" to "deleted entirely" by several innocuous steps.

I think it's a bit confusing to equate deletionism with something done by bots?

I don't think it's a big leap to assume that people running bots review the output less and less before acting on it.

Uh, I really disagree with this article's premise. The author identifies a page he added that was deleted, and his contribution was lost (on more than one occasion), and cites this as evidence of wikipedia's inevitable demise.

Though such inefficiencies are unfortunate, and discouraging, I think they only slow progress. I think evenutally an article on Hemovidin will be written and not deleted, and I wouldn't be surprised if most encyclopedias don't even have such an entry.

There is some clunkiness around wikipedia, but compared to academia (which almost everybody without journal access and fluency in english is restricted from reading) it's by far superior. In fact, I can't think of another better source of reliable information that is freely and widely accessible.

It's part of a larger trend described here that turn the site into what's essentially maintenance mode vs thriving with new content:


It might survive but not the way intended.

I've been reading "Wikipedia is about to die! Everyone is about to leave!" articles for almost a decade. It's still there. Similarly, the low-hanging fruit has already been done. Maintenance-mode was always going to be on the cards.

The centrepiece in TFA is about a two-paragraph, four-sentence article. It's a terrible article, and should be rolled into another one. Any article that could be given in two tweets is a trivia-night factoid, not an article - I fundamentally disagree with TFA that it's "articles like this that make Wikipedia great". These kind of brief factoids are the type of content that shitty clickfarms have.

TFA even uses Britannica as a defense, saying that it has an article... but click on the link, and "Britannica does not currently have an article on this topic". Hemovanadin has, however, been rolled into another article - 'cell pigmentation'. Not exactly a sterling defense for the author.


I always see this happen with these bitter predictions of WP's death. People are either complaining about disagreement on an obviously subjective topic (like a politician's bio), or their chain-of-evidence is suspect, like in this case.

Here are the stats: https://stats.wikimedia.org/EN/TablesWikipediaEN.htm#editor_...

Look at the blue columns - number of editors per month/quarter with 5 and 100 edits - and it's been pretty consistent since 2010. Yeah, the heady days of 2007/08 are gone, but again, low-hanging fruit.

> Similarly, the low-hanging fruit has already been done

That's a popular reply to criticism of the poor status of the Wikipedia community, but it's largely false for anything that is not an US-centric vision of popular topics on Western culture.

As I've written elsewhere, the toxic culture and ossified rules would make it impossible nowadays to bootstrap the collaboration efforts needed to fix the well-known biases in coverage. The same policies that keep the current content to crumble from bots and advertisers prevent us from regaining the original drive of the original writing effort.

> It's a terrible article,

That's how all articles in Wikipedia started.

> and should be rolled into another one. That's a non-sequitur. If it's a notable independent topic, it should exist on its own, unless there are good reasons why it should be included only as part of a larger article where it's a natural fit.

Most often that not, there is no other place where that content would make sense as a section of a larger topic, so that mindset will ultimately lead to deletion of notable and well-referenced content.

> Wikipedia went from people writing an encyclopedia to people writing rules about writing an encyclopedia, or writing bots to defend an encyclopedia, but without enough safeguards to save content from deletionists.

Sounds like another example of "A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy."


This reminds me of the very insightful article "Geeks, MOPs, and sociopaths"[1] posted on hn a couple of years ago.

I'm not sure to what degree it can be mitigated, but it sure seems like something to account for when engineering social content communities.

[1] https://meaningness.com/metablog/geeks-mops-sociopaths

i may have posted this before.

when i use to be active on wikipedia editing mainly video game and sports articles, i stumbled upon a large sockpuppet that was constantly adding incorrect pieces of information to articles pertaining mainly to video games, espn, wrestling. this sockpuppet had a very clear M.O. and did the same actions, and even if you made changes, the person would go about and revert them.

getting all these accounts for this one sockpuppeter was a huge pain in the ass though, and finally i was exhausted dealing with it, so the next best thing for me was to reduce the surface area he could troll around. so i began looking at articles he had created, there was an article about a nintendo ds bratz game. he had created the article, filled it with random information and had left it. so i nominated it for deletion since it wasn't really a notable video game.

now this was before deletionists were a huge thing on wikipedia. i myself am not a huge deletionist but at best this game is a small mention in an article about bratz merchandising.

but almost immediately a huge flood of people came in to say that it was a notable game, with links from ign.. they weren't actual articles about the game, just literally the computer generated page they had for the game.

i think i made a couple comments arguing why it didn't deserve to have its own page but in the end i just gave up. not worth my time when i was honestly trying to improve the quality of the site.

so i guess my whole point writing this is the problem isn't with deletionists, it's the entire bureaucracy of wikipedia. i remember going through arbcom so many times because people disagreed with me about how a video game article should be written. or how alicia keys birthday is incorrect (she was born in 1980, not 1981) but because _everyone_ references wikipedia and cites it as the ultimate source, you can never get it changed because people ACTUALLY monitor and turfwar her wikipedia page.

How would deleting an article he had created "reduce the surface area he could troll around?"

Deletionist culture is also a big problem in the Gnome UI. For a long time they were deleting features like crazy. Same goes for Systemd.

I think people like deleting features because it's easy and seems like progress. It's a bikeshedding phenomenon.

The solution to this is to have a flexible module system so people can have their almost nothing "non-bloated" system and other people can have features. Same could work for wikipedia. You could have the core wikipedia and the alt hierarchy. It could work like usenet.

Its rampant across FOSS these days. People should from the hilltops how many lines of "old" code they have eradicated.

Wikipedia should never have existed.

Encyclopedias exist to provide (a) access to information, (b) organisation, and (c) some guarantee of expertise. It's easy to take for granted how amazing it is to have a world of information at our fingertips, but the Internet itself provides greater access to more information than any encyclopedia ever could. (And of course Wikipedia deliberately eschews original content anyway.) We already have tools to organise and find information on the Internet: it's called Google. Or DuckDuckGo. Or etc. How much authority an encyclopedia has depends on how much you trust its editors to be, or be able to find, experts in the relevant subject matter. A search engine doesn't provide any guarantee of accuracy in its results, but then neither does Wikipedia — most people point out that it's up to you to follow the references and evaluate them. The things Wikipedia is good at are the things that the Internet itself is good at; and the things that the Internet on its own is bad at (e.g. vetting accuracy) is not something that can really be fixed short of turning into Britannica Online.

It's not quite that simple, of course. In theory, anyone can throw up a webpage on hemovanadin for the world to see, and it is relatively easy to do so, but it could be easier. What isn't so easy is collaborating — Wikipedia's greatest strength is also its Achilles' heel: anyone from anywhere in the world can contribute, constructively or destructively. But easier collaboration is a technical issue. There's no reason in principle that a centralised body should be required to manage all that. It's just that the availability and user-friendliness of the necessary software currently provide too much friction to ignore.

The thing that makes Wikipedia so special is the fact that the community strives to follow the guidelines they have set forth:

- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Your_first_article

- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Notability

- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Be_bold

I'm not saying that every Wikipedia article adheres to them, but generally speaking, the quality is good and bias is severely frowned upon. "Random" web pages on any given topic miss out on these guidelines and are generally non-collaborative.

Full disclosure: I'm a big fan/consumer of Wikipedia... absolutely love the philosophy behind it.

The internet is very bad at providing clear, concise, and readable information, all without flashing ads at the user. Wikipedia is good at that bit. Britannica is, oddly, not good at that - it's a visually busy site and it's slow to navigate around.

Also, the "Britannica is more accurate than Wikipedia" comment is a canard, and has been proven wrong in the past. Google 'wikipedia britannica errors' and you'll find a number of study results that have one or the other slightly ahead, or rate them similarly. It's just not true that Britannica is more accurate than Wikipedia, not to any notable degree.

Wikipedia is a very useful resource for some things, especially as a starting point for a number of scientific and technical topics. I would never rely on it though, as a sole source of information.

As you shouldn't, even Wikipedia itself has a disclaimer against any claims of validity. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:General_disclaimer) Besides, encyclopedias are tertiary sources, they should only be used as general references, not primary sources.

what would,

you rely upon,

as your sole source of information?

Hacker news comments.

Truly not a bad answer, if you had to pick one source. This is a contentious crowd that likes to cite sources and present fully fledged arguments. At the very least I like to use the comments to quickly assess the article, and whether it's a dud or not. Beyond that, sometimes the comments here on good articles still manage to exceed even the articles they're commenting on.

I wouldn't.

It seems that several of the WikiProjects that are currently being worked on are aimed at improving stub articles ("an article deemed too short to provide encyclopedic coverage of a subject"). From the screenshot of the article the author references, his article was a stub. My guess is that someone tried to improve it, thinking that a book's coverage would be deemed encyclopedic, then when it was deleted, the person who deleted saw that it had previously been a stub and didn't look further into it.

It seems that copy paste from book and the insertion of copyright violation banner were made in the same edit. Why on earth?

I've just fixed the article history to make the sequence of events clear.[1]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Hemovanadin&actio...

He could post his deleted articles on his blog too meanwhile.

In 2004, I wrote the first article about a well-known but not very popular brazilian singer in the portuguese Wikipedia. I spent the whole weekend on it, citing references, finding dates, listing albums, etc.

A few years ago I went back to find the article much bigger... but it was utter crap. The text was nowhere near unbiased, barely touched facts and seemed more like a bedtime story about flying saucers than a wikipedia article per se. There was more content indeed, but most data was obscured by something that didn't looked at all like an encyclopedia article.

For exactly this reason I stopped contributing there. Flagrant admin abuse all over with their new speedy deletion tool.

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