Interesting read, and it reminds me of a really annoying experience I once had with one of the StackExchange sites.
There was a question about Emacs, and the answer was a chunk of elisp that was wrong - one of the closing parens was in the wrong place, so it caused an error. OK, easy fix! But I don't have enough karma to edit answers on StackExchange and have them submit cleanly, so I submitted an 'edit suggestion' or whatever they're called.
Unfortunately edit suggestions can't be submitted unless they have at least five characters of difference - seems like a fair rule to prevent tiny changes but five characters of difference can be a world of difference in elisp.
So I pad out the edit suggestion with a comment that added some value, only to have the suggestion rejected by a user who freely admitted to having "no emacs experience" because he "didn't think it looked valuable".
It also reminds me of a conversation I had with a professor of mathematics that taught one of my classes. He said he started and stopped editing Wikipedia the same day - when one of his changes to a graph theory article was reverted by someone who was "a computer repair technician" because of some Wiki-rule.
It's very possible that he did break the rule and his edit should've been undone, but at the same time he's the editor that Wikipedia desperately needs to attract.
Sites like this have Harrison Bergeron's Handicapper General ensuring that all contributions are seen as "equal", so it's not at all surprising that the article identifies one of the more comprehensive Wikipedia articles as "List of Pokemon".
Wikipedia needs to figure out how to say that the guy who wrote a paper with Erdös gets more leeway on mathematical articles than a guy who repairs computers all day.
Physicist here: I stopped making contributions to Wikipedia after a few edits and reversions, I stopped too. Furthermore, the danger that something I'd put a lot of time into could be replaced meant that it's not worth sinking a lot of time into it. The citation policy makes a ton of pragmatic sense, and I understand why it's there. It's an unfriendly way to meet the Wikipedia community. (an alternative way to address a "citation needed" concern is to presume that the editor is correct, and go looking for the citation)
In addition, I'm not aware of any way to be compensated, even by citation, for putting time and care into Wikipedia. As academics, we give a lot away for free (want to know some of our most-clever trade secrets? Just read our papers, where we detail everything we do so you can replicate it), but our compensation ultimately comes from what we can show others as our contribution to society. To anyone considering me for a job, promotion, or tenure, a well-written introductory article on precision tests of gravitation isn't worth a hundredth of one precision test of gravity published in Physical Review Letters.
For a single contributor, Wikipedia is ephemeral, but the academic literature is effectively permanent.
I think you have an interesting point about recognition for your work. It seems to me that Wikipedia's back end is ferociously clunky and outdated, there is no easy way to show all contributions made by a specific user, for example. If you compare this to a system like GitHub or one like StackOverflow, the deficiencies are obvious. Us programmers can easily point to our contributions to open source projects or our general knowledge through pointing at our profiles on those sites. A software overhaul to make Wikipedia more social, easier to edit would also go a long way.
Please come back and make suggestions on Talk pages, rather than directly edit. There, you can actively discuss, cite sources (your own and hopefully others), and make real contributions which will last. Experts have a special kind of conflict of interest: their possible bias when directly editing. Discussing will moderate and ameliorate that bias, before it gets into the article. This approach will help as science advances and understanding deepens and changes: recent advances in physics prove this. We need your help; just not in direct editing. Your contributions in Talk will be real and welcomed (and maybe disputed, but never deleted) by our more experienced, sane, editors.
Frankly, I'd rather not have the Talk page or the "editors", and a lot more actual data input.
The barrier for entry to writing articles has to be way, way lower than it is; it shouldn't require a negotiation with a bunch of self-important petty bureaucrats.
What those self-important guys (they're mostly guys) miss is that the best is the enemy of the good. Their misguided approach to quality actively prevents improvement.
Outside the high-edit-count word-shufflers, I'd classify contributions to WP in four buckets: (a) substantial contributors who know a lot about a little and are able to significantly add or improve content; (b) trivial fixers, who fix grammar / spelling mistakes, or otherwise make tiny casual edits; (c) mindless vandals, who work some adolescent scrawl somewhere in the text, with varying degrees of visibility; and (d) the really sneaky stuff; well-written fakes, PR companies, reputation massaging, etc.
The guys in (a) need to be preserved at all costs. I think the editors are concerned about (d), but the trouble is that they're doing it in a rules-bound way, but because knowing the rules and right WP:INCANTATIONS is a source of power, the rules become a thing in themselves, rather than a last resort for eliminating (d).
I'd much rather have a more complete, comprehensive WP than one that's even 90% correct.
New contributions to established articles should often be discussed on the talk page because of (a) though, and the fact that people sometimes just come in and start making major changes without looking at the work that's already been done is one thing that actively drives experts away. After a few history experts discuss the conflicting sources and an article reaches a semi-stable state after considerable discussion and additional research, someone will come in and make major changes to the article without reading any of that, usually based on an incomplete-at-best understanding of the historical sources, and sometimes reintroducing popular myths that had been previously removed after library research turned up good sources on the subject. Sometimes there are legitimate objections and an article should be changed. But also, sometimes, certain questions or disputes or uncertainties have already been discussed in previous versions of the article (often by historians who work in this field!), and it's worth understanding the work that's already been done to get the article to its present state, before rehashing the same issues.
A number of historians have given up on Wikipedia because it's too easy for people to edit articles without discussion. An expert will spend a bunch of time working out a solid, cited article that integrates the best current understanding, often in discussion with other people, then come back 6 months later and find their work has basically bitrotted. In which case, why bother doing the hard work of hashing out a good article in the first place? Some academics therefore prefer a much more bureaucratic encyclopedia model, where all changes must first be proposed and then vetted by an expert in the subject who "owns" the article; Citizendium and Scholarpedia are two attempts to build that model of encyclopedia.
In that case, would it not make sense to have metadata associated with a particular section, detailing the final consensus and how it was reached? Kind of like a comment describing a non-obvious section of code. Otherwise you have the equivalent of telling someone "Before you modify this code, look through the entire git history to see why it's the way it is today".
Yeah, there have been some discussions of that, but nobody has put together a MediaWiki plugin to do it afaik. Better annotation of regions in general is a longstanding wishlist, so discussions or even citations (or requests for citations) could be attached to a region of text. But then there are problems like how to handle annotations and arbitrary editing/splitting/moving of regions.
As a low-tech solution, you can actually put HTML comments in the source code, which people occasionally do, but it doesn't seem to be a very well-known option. <!-- Do NOT change birth date to XX/XX/XXXX, see talk page --> kind of things sometimes appear in the source. I haven't seen them used for longer discussions, though, just one-line "hey, watch out before you do X" things.
On contentious articles with a long history of debate people will sometimes write a summary on the talk page, so you don't have to read through the whole history of the discussion. On most articles, though, the talk page isn't huge, so I find it easy to glance at before making changes.
If you have a problem with experts disagreeing about facts, arguing over them, reaching a consensus, and then other "experts" starting up the argument again - it really sounds like you're doing a poor job of communicating the researched consensus in the relevant article.
When that sort of stuff happens, I think you should make sure the incorrect information is referenced in the article as a misconception, or just have the correct information associated with citations. False information should only be erased if it is not "in the wild", so to speak.
First, I think Wikipedia is great. And I don't want to imply that the Talk pages are bad. But, I really find the Talk pages to be the most "inside baseball," almost inane, and just impenetrable thing on the Web. Might just be me.
And your contributions can be even more easily ignored when they're made on Talk pages. If you provide useful information or links, you can expect it to be ignored. I ran a little experiment http://www.gwern.net/In%20Defense%20Of%20Inclusionism#sins-o... where I provided high-quality RSs/ELs, and the uptake rate after a period of years ranged from 3-8%.
If that's true, then incumbent Wikipedians need to take it upon themselves to communicate that to newcomers directly, and not in a random comment in Hacker News.
Probably the easiest way to do that: If someone makes a substantive edit that isn't obviously vandalism, but doesn't quite meet Wikipedia's standards, then don't just undo it wholesale. Instead, temporarily pull it off the main page and into a back-end discussion. And then immediately contact the author with an explanation of what's going on and what they can do to get the changes reinstated.
Well you can keep his edit and send the guy a polite message that he ought to cite his sources soon or you'll remove what he added. I mean, at worst you'll just have an article without a citation for a short while, without driving people away. What you are doing right now is this:
I don't think that's what is meant by "go looking for the citation."
I read it more as "by being an expert in this subject I know this is true; by being an expert in this subject I also probably don't have time to find the journal that has the article in question, cite it per Wikipedia's rules, and put it in the article."
Frankly that sounds like a great task for editors that aren't subject experts. Maybe the expert can say "this is missing knowledge, this is where I think a citation should be or what to look for" and the non-expert can do that.
If you do remember a journal article, it's perfectly fine to put in an incomplete citation with a note, and someone will fix it up. <ref>Einstein's paper on foo (FIXME: fill out this citation)</ref> or something is typically sufficient for someone to track it down. It's not sufficient to just say that you know it's true, though, for good reason; a lot of "common knowledge", even among scientists, is incorrectly or imprecisely remembered. Typically we are most reliable in our specific sub-specialty, where we actually will have no trouble coming up with sources off the top of our heads (in my very specific sub-sub-specialty, I could rattle off sources for almost anything without even needing to look them up). Outside our sub-specialty, we may remember some things but not 100% reliably, and often based on obsolete or incomplete knowledge (e.g. a course from university years ago) that someone familiar with the literature would be able to do a better job of covering. Hence the importance of referring directly to sources, not only to cite them, but to make sure the information is actually in those sources precisely as remembered. To me, "I know X is true, but I don't know where you can verify that" is a bit of a red flag, typical of e.g. something someone vaguely remembers from med-school or undergrad, rather than something they really have a solid handle on.
In any case, as an academic myself, I find it weird that we, of all people, would find ourselves "too busy to reference" or something. That's an attitude one finds among students asked to write papers, but academics do not have problems peppering supporting references all over the place; it's basically second nature. Some academics even get in arguments with book publishers because the publisher always want to remove the "clutter" of too many citations and footnotes that intimidate the general reader...
> Frankly that sounds like a great task for editors that aren't subject experts.
I disagree. Hunting citations doesn't take specialized knowledge, but it does take time. I doubt that the ratio of editors to article churn would sustain them being responsible for hunting citations.
I think that's really the core of most issues with wikipedia: neither side has the time. Individual contributors don't have the dedicated time to comply with all quality-control policies themselves, and editors are spread too thin to provide any feedback beyond quoting chapter and verse.
I read it more as "by being an expert in this subject I know this is true; by being an expert in this subject I also probably don't have time to find the journal that has the article in question, cite it per Wikipedia's rules, and put it in the article."
Wikipedia could add a category of academic editors whose identities have been verified in some way with their institutions, and who meet some definition of subject area expert. These editors would be given a presumption of innocence by other editors, so their changes should be researched for citations, rather than reverted.
Yes, I think you'll find that's explicitly what I'm advocating.
Maybe there's some sort of verification. Maybe experts get limited to their subject area. Maybe we just have to (gasp) assume good faith on the part of the editor and trust that they are experts in what they claim.
But I'd happily accept the edits of five "experts" if it means that someone that published with Erdos sticks around to edit.
I completely understand if that's not what Wikipedia wants. But I also think it's the wrong decision.
And we don't have trade secrets, that's why ISL followed it up with this:
> want to know some of our most-clever trade secrets? Just read our papers, where we detail everything we do so you can replicate it
ISL was pointing out that many other professions have a lot of field specific knowledge with which they can charge people money to access. Academics print all of the information for basically free. So we already give it away for free, we don't have the time or patience to give it away free to somewhere that's not going to keep our work.
Over my years of editing Wikipedia off and on, I've come to think this is mostly a bad excuse. The issue is that very few articles meet Wikipedia's real standards for citations. Yet new content provided by experts is often challenged for lacking citations, perhaps because of a sort of status quo bias.
What needs to happen is that there should be collaboration between Wikipedia insiders who know the Wikipedia system and subject matter experts who have valuable information to add.
Worse, the demand for citations is often just absurd. There's a big difference between "this is a controversial claim that might need citations" and "no one has yet bothered to look in a basic textbook for citations."
There are real reasons why experts can't just come in and say "do it my way" but the response has to be geared towards saying "how do we take advantage of your knowledge without forcing you to learn arcane policies?"
Update: As for identifying experts, that's not altogether obvious. But if an article is an absolute mess, there should be a low bar for cleanup. If the article is in decent shape, then presumably someone is running around with a bit of subject matter knowledge, and can coordinate. Think about any area you know something about: how quickly can you distinguish someone who generally is on target from someone who doesn't have a clue?
I was thinking about this the other day and I came to think that Wikipedia's rule about citations is this: Wikipedia does not want to be a source of information. It wants to be a collection/aggregation of other sources of information, and those other sources have to be accessible to others for all time (i.e. not a human being but a book written by a human being).
What I mean to say is that Wikipedia's system is one that does not/will not give article editors credit for original content; it treats them as just collectors and explainers of original content. When the explainers start writing stuff that has no source, they then disappear and leave Wikipedia holding the content which is now unverifiable. And that's just not how Jimmy wanted it to work I guess.
When I look at it that way, the policy doesn't seem that ridiculous. It may be inconvenient, but that's like saying a stack data structure is inconvenient because you can't remove things from the bottom. It's just the way it is; it has advantages and disadvantages.
I agree that Wikipedia's goal is to be the collection of things that we know that we know. So we do need citations. But when an article is wrong and doesn't already have thorough citations for every claim, should we demand citations for every new contribution?
My point is really about process: when someone comes to us with a bit of knowledge, but no citations and limited understanding of the Wikipedia process, how do we react?
The model whereanyone can edit and see their changes live has real benefits and costs. It makes it easy to make your first contribution, but it also means that if an editor doesn't like it, they just revert it. Sometimes, maybe changes should go in a queue or something.
I come to Wikipedia, and dump a ton of graph theory on some page. An editor says "look, this isn't quite how it works, but it looks like you're trying to improve the page. Is this stuff you have citations for? Do you know what textbooks would cover it?"
Maybe my edits don't go live immediately, but it's better than the current situation, where they just get reverted by some guy spouting WP:STQ!
(That's the grain of truth the comment down below that Wikipedia needs to be more like git).
> But when an article is wrong and doesn't already have thorough citations for every claim, should we demand citations for every new contribution?
Ideally, you'd go through the article. You'd remove anything that is "wrong", and find citations for everything else. Then, when someone wants to add anything, you can find a cite for it, or ask them to find a cite for it, and remove it if there is no cite.
This demonstrates why WP can be horrible - anyone doing this to any article would soon find themselves skewered in horrible WP processes. Good cites are mocked as POV pushing, hopeless cites are forced in by people with more time than you.
> I come to Wikipedia, and dump a ton of graph theory on some page. An editor says "look, this isn't quite how it works, but it looks like you're trying to improve the page. Is this stuff you have citations for? Do you know what textbooks would cover it?
Sometimes that's how it works. There are people on WP who are great at helping that style of new editor; finding them mentors or whatnot to help them with the process. it's hit and miss, sometimes it fails badly.
> where they just get reverted by some guy spouting WP:STQ!
WP has made some effort to prevent the over active 14 year old using tools to auto-revert hundreds (thousands) of edits per day.
I agree that many articles lack sufficient reliable sources. Only college or postgrad textbooks are considered reliable sources, but not great ones, unless written by noted and/or frequently cited authors.
In my opinion, experts should be sincerely welcomed to kibbitz on talk pages - not directly in editing articles - with a strong invitation to cite sources other than themselves. This approach, optimistically, will keep bias on the Talk page, and out of articles, and give experts a substantial real and perceived voice, currently lacking.
What you can do is first start a section on the talk page about the topic and which sentences/sections could be changed. Then go ahead and make the intended edit on the article and then link to the section on the talk page in your edit comment. Then any editor who may potentially revert or have an issue with the edit will see that link and can go directly to that talk section that you started.
The markup used for the linking in the edit comment is the same as the wikitext markup. For example, an edit comment like this:
... see talk page for discussion.
would be marked up:
... [[Talk:Article name#Section heading|see talk page]] for discussion.
This might help start discussions about low-traffic article topics that would otherwise languish at the bottom of the talk page for weeks if not months.
Oh, that's another association for sewer that I wasn't thinking of. I didn't actually mean that the comments are crap or nasty, though they sometimes are. I just meant that it's a big backlog of comments that people would probably not read through.
The set of experts I'd like to invite to Talk page discussions would be published, widely cited authors, including professors, engineers, scientists, and non-degreed practitioners with a good reputation in their field. Publications can be academic, professional, and/or popular, IMHO. Peer review, of course, helps. Longevity helps. Professors who have published, and been cited, would certainly become seen to be established in their field.
I bet he was too. But personally I don't care, and in my opinion neither should Wikipedia.
In my opinion it'd be better to risk a little inaccuracy if it meant attracting experts to edit articles. But as cldr notes above, it's possible that's not the goal of Wikipedia - which is completely fair, but makes me wish some hybrid of NuPedia and Wikipedia existed.
I gave up StackExchange since day 1, I found no difference between being registered or not, any useful action is blocked because I'm a new user, and I would rather stay away than spend time figuring out my way through a hostile site like that.
If you care, or for others who haven't yet approached Stack Exchange sites  in the wrong way and found themselves put off as a result, the way to start building reputation is by answering questions, not just accurately but as extensively and generally as you can manage, with bonus points for considering edge and corner cases. Play to your strengths in terms of domain knowledge, especially in relatively obscure domains of which you have extensive knowledge, and don't get discouraged if you are not immediately lauded; SE pages tend to rank very highly in Google searches for topics to which they have relevance, which means that if your answers are sufficiently valuable, they will be found and upvoted over time; in terms of reputation, which SE makes the essential currency of being able to do things such as edit questions and answers directly, this 'long tail' effect is considerably more valuable in the long term than getting your answers accepted. (That green check mark is worth 25 reputation points, once per answer; each upvote is worth ten, as often as someone with an account finds your answer of use. Answering the specific question in a quick and narrow fashion is more likely to get you the check mark; answering extensively and in detail, as I describe here, will certainly get you upvotes over time, unless no one but you and the asker cares about the subject anyway. Which buys you more rep? You do the math.)
Is it necessarily worth playing the Stack Exchange game? Certainly not, especially as the sites have grown to an extent which strains the moderators' ability to manage them -- Super User, I'm looking at you in particular, and the flood of undifferentiated garbage questions which has increasingly occupied your front page since I created my account a year ago, and Stack Overflow, you're hardly better, thanks to the endless zombie hordes of idiot PHP hacks who ask the same stupid question twenty times rather than try a single Google search which would certainly turn up the obvious, simple answer. Worse, in fact, as the original developer admits , the Stack Exchange model is explicitly designed to be addictive, and he and Spolsky nailed it; if you're not in favor of time sinks, Stack Exchange is probably not for you. But if you're a domain expert who finds interesting questions appealing, or even better someone who finds that the best way of gaining knowledge of a given domain is to work out how to answer other people's questions about it, you might do well to try out a Stack Exchange site.
 Except for English Language and Usage, than which you will never find a more wretched hive of snark and pedantry; unless you're a tenured professor of pointless linguistics, your time will be better spent on almost any other activity, be it Wikipedia editing or toenail bonsai.
The problem with StackExchange is that it's turned into the Eve Online of technology forums. It's fun for the few people who managed to get in early or got lucky and asked a question or posted an answer with lots of upvotes. And, simultaneously, it has a forbidding learning curve for everyone else.
I was involved in StackOverflow when it was still fairly young (before the whole StackExchange concept had taken off). I asked questions, I answered questions, I got up to ~1k points and then I stopped going for a while. When I returned, I felt distinctly unwelcome. The social mores had shifted to such a degree, I felt like I was coming in as a new user rather than one with some experience at the site. The experience was very off-putting, and I consider a large part of the reason why I haven't made any contributions to StackOverflow in a long while.
This brilliant professor of yours should not have a problem following a few simple rules that a repair technician can and everyone else abides to.
> he's the editor that Wikipedia desperately needs to attract
If those editors require special care and exemption from the rules on the account of their fancy credentials, they're certainly not the type for Wikipedia.
One of those examples is ISL the physicist here in the comments. He complains that his contribution got edited by someone else. And that he doesn't get compensated for his hard work on the wiki. I'm sure he's a smart fella, but this attitude is not compatible with the Wikipedia model.
McDonalds is surely turning aways scads of customers by not providing their food for free.
Certainly there are many things Wikipedia could do to be more welcoming. But not permitting editing by others and/or paying people to edit are not within the Wikipedia model any more than McDonalds giving away all their food would be.
There is nothing wrong with being polite but firm about what something is and what it isn't.
In my view, a large part of the problem is that many of the rules or the way they're enforced borders on the idiotic.
Take  as a case in point. It's aggressively and mindlessly waved all over the place, irrespective of pre-existing content in wikipedia itself and obvious factual information.
Say you contribute one or two sentence summary of related pages -- complete with links. Or worse, a sentence or two that expands on an existing statement by merely highlighting the obvious assumptions or implications. Such edits have good odds of being greeted with the dreadful  or reversed outright by some random rules zealot.
Adding insult to injury, the latter seem perfectly content with sources such as The Onion and slimy news sites. The thing that really matters is that it must be written somewhere else. It's then up to random editors to decide whether that somewhere else is credible or not.
Admittedly, would-be editors can jump back in to defend their edit, appeal, etc. and even expand on it with the requested citation. But this seldom occurs, because it leaves such a sour taste in their mouth that they grunt in bemusement, scoff the whole thing as hogwash, and move on with their life.
As a world expert on some topics (Machinima filmmaking) for which the primary source of some relevant information resides largely in my head, I was wondering if this was the best way to approach Wikipedia edits. Thanks for the info: I may actually make some contributions soon!
If what you know has been published in a way which meets enwp.org/WP:Reliable_sources then it can be used in articles. Unpublished material can't be used, because it can't be independently verified by anyone - see enwp.org/WP:V
Self-published material might be usable under certain circumstances, if you're already an established expert in your field (per independent reviews, or citations by others) - see enwp.org/WP:SPS
You are correct. WP still does want secondary sources, exactly as you state: http://enwp.org/WP:V and WP:IRS Independent reliable sources, and does not want WP:OR. IMHO it's ok to discuss one's own work on an article Talk page, in the light of a future improvement to the article, as in, "I've just finished this, it's in peer review now, it's slated for publication on (future date), and it's relevant to update/correct (section). I'll come back and notify y'all if it receives commentary by others elsewhere."
Sorry to hear you had that trouble on Stack Overflow -- I assume it was SO, anyway; most of the Emacs questions tend to live there.
I doubt you care at this point, but for others who might, it's generally a better alternative for a new user to comment with the correction, than to try to edit; comments are globally visible no matter who makes them, and a comment pointing out an error like that one is very likely to result in its being edited into the answer by someone who does have the reputation score necessary to do so. Even if it doesn't, someone who tries to use code from the answer, and finds it does not work, will be able to read the commentary and find out why not and how to fix it.
As for the edit reject reason -- well, all I can say is that idiots get everywhere, Stack Exchange sites not excepted. For whatever it's worth to anyone, I've found that sort of obstreperous idiocy much less common on most SE sites (again, English Language & Usage excepted!) than in, for example, Wikipedia.
Are they? It's been long enough since I started that I'd forgotten. Still, 50 points is 5 upvotes, which is not difficult to attain quite quickly -- I earned >400 rep in my first two days with an account on Super User, and while that's not typical and took some effort on my part to achieve, a mere 50 points shouldn't be all that hard to manage by comparison.
This is by far wikipedia's biggest weakness. The people with the power at too disconnect from what matters. Even worse, they have a false sense of their own importance. And wikipedia's reference guidelines are silly at best.
Wikipedia wasn't designed to scale to what it is now, and a lot of the erroneous assumptions baked into the design are causing growth of the site to become more and more unsustainable.
It was calming to read the thoughtful comments here after reading the interesting article submitted to open this thread. And I need some calming today, because I spent a lot of what was meant to be my "free" time yesterday evening in a rollicking dispute on my Wikipedia user talk page about one tiny edit I did the day before. Indeed, the experience of being a Wikipedia editor is usually not even fun, not to mention not rewarding.
The submitted article notes that "in July 2012, some editors started a page called WikiProject Editor Retention with the idea of creating a place to brainstorm ideas about helping newcomers and fostering a friendlier atmosphere. Today the most vibrant parts of that project’s discussion page have gripes about 'bullying done by administrators,' debates over whether 'Wikipedia has become a bloody madhouse,' and disputes featuring accusations such as 'You registered an account today just to have a go at me?'" Yep, I visited that WikiProject Editor Retention a while ago to see if I could pick up some tips there on how to encourage conscientious editors to stay involved in Wikipedia, but all I found was that kind of dispute and back-biting.
It happens that my main area of professional research is connected to topics that are among the ten most edit-warred topics on Wikipedia. So from the beginning of my involvement on Wikipedia in 2010, I've seen lots of reverts and lots of article talk pages that go on and on and on and on to waste time about petty disputes. Because I used to a professional periodical editor, and later an academic journal editorial assistant when pursuing my postgraduate degree, I have a sense of what a collaborative editing looks like, and I try to suggest to Wikipedians how we can all collaboratively built an even better free, online encyclopedia.
It's slow and pains-taking work to edit articles on controversial topics. I have found it helpful to compile source lists, because Wikipedia always needs new sources, and then post links to the appropriate source lists to the talk pages of articles. Sometimes I see sources taken up by other editors months after I post such a link, gradually improving the quality of some articles. And of course I continually add new sources to my source lists whenever I learn about them from seeing them used in Wikipedia. I go to my alma mater's academic library frequently to circulate reference books about the topics I research (mostly for work, but also for Wikipedia), and I devote a lot of time to verifying sources. About two hours of "free" time today were devoted to transcription typing of quotations from reference books into Wikipedia-format citations, which I hope to use in the next few months to update articles.
To answer some questions that came up in comments posted before this comment, Wikipedia does have a too-radical culture of not taking experts seriously, but indeed that is partly because it is hard to verify who is an expert. Wikipedia got badly burned once by a young guy who claimed to be an older guy with academic credentials and actual expertise on certain topics, and that phony not only pushed around a lot of other editors while editing articles, but even got a job at the Wikimedia Foundation without his background being checked out beforehand. So now Wikipedia is once burned, twice shy about anyone who claims to be an expert. Come with sources, and everyone will join in the scrum of deciding whether or not you are an expert.
One person in this discussion thread claims to be an expert (and I believe him) and he wonders how much of a detailed reference he has to give for a widely known fact. There are a BUNCH of the 4,359,600 articles now on English Wikipedia that cite no sources, or at best only cite the name of a book or article without any page reference. So if you are really sure that a standard reference book in your field backs up a fact you've just inserted in the article, you can add a reference like <ref>Smith Handbook of Physics</ref> and let other editors sort out what edition of the handbook, and what page of the handbook, backs you up. I see that iterative process of improving references happen all the time, sometimes over years.
We have frequent discussions of the defects of Wikipedia here on Hacker News. I still wonder if there is space for a new effort to build a nonprofit, free, online encyclopedia for the whole world. Is the current Wikipedia just the AltaVista that will be replaced by a yet unknown Google? I think a more healthy and professional editing environment could still let another effort to build an online encyclopedia take off and surpass Wikipedia, if only it had enough seed funding.
An ex of mine edited a wiki article and added false information to it. I think that sort of thing is very harmful, so I removed it. A day later the edit was reverted. I tried a few months later. It, too, was reverted.
I had someone else try. It was reverted. I tried once more, probably two years later (after the "fact" had time to propagate throughout the internet), and it too was reverted.
The reason it was reverted every time? Apparently I didn't sufficiently explain the edit. It didn't require explanation: it was an uncited, demonstrably false fact. It asserted the existence and publication of a book (in recent history) that was never published. It is impossible to find a copy of it. It does not exist. I didn't know how to explain it any better than that.
A few months ago, I saw that someone finally noticed it was fake and removed it for good.
Thank you for the effort. Good edit summaries are really helpful to other editors - that fact is not well explained as you're trying to save an edit.
It's a frequently thankless job. Now (thanks to concerted effort by the Wikilove project) thanking an editor for a specific edit is now easy and tidy with a single click of "thank" in the edit history. They're notified by an upcount in their red notification box - no messy Talk page spam.
My point is that little things are gradually improving.
Most people needing live help editing Wikipedia can access IRC easily using this freenode webchat link: http://webchat.freenode.net/?channels=wikipedia-en-help . You really don't have to wonder about why edits are reverted - you can ask in real time. This help channel is intended for new editors, but edit warring is certainly a topic well asked about.
I edited a Wikipedia page yesterday, gave a very strong reason in the edit comment. 20 hours later my edit is still there... The system isn't totally broken just many people watching the new edits for spam and other things and they might get a bit overzealous sometimes.
The results paint a numerical picture of a community dominated by bureaucracy. Since 2007, when the new controls began to bite, the likelihood of a new participant’s edit being immediately deleted has steadily climbed. Over the same period, the proportion of those deletions made by automated tools rather than humans grew. Unsurprisingly, the data also indicate that well-intentioned newcomers are far less likely to still be editing Wikipedia two months after their first try. ... One idea being tested offers newcomers suggestions about what to work on, steering them toward easy tasks such as copyediting articles that need it. The hope is this will give people time to gain confidence before they break a rule and experience the tough side of Wikipedia.
People want to create content, not fix other people's grammatical mistakes.
Here's another idea: Instead of figuring out new processes, badges, sandboxes, help zones, and polite ways of saying "your contribution doesn't meet notability requirements and needs at least n media citations. Please refer to Policy X before resubmitting", why not attack the hydra head on? Determine how to eliminate bureaucracy. Don't keep adding to it.
People want to create content, not fix other people's grammatical mistakes.
Hey, I'm the product manager for that work (also quoted in the article). I thought I might mention that we've A/B tested our task suggestion workflow extensively, and the answer is definitively that Wikipedians want to do both things. I can share links to all our research, which is public, if you want.
There are basically two kinds of people who sign up for Wikipedia: those with something to do in mind, and those who want a suggestion of where to start. The evidence we've gathered so far shows that many new contributors like being able to get started and learn the ropes doing something that's easy and not intimidating. They have a positive first experience editing, and then they typically move on to other tasks, having gained more confidence. We are giving people options, not requiring anyone to do N number of grammatical fixes in order to earn badges, privileges or anything of the sort.
I should also note that among more advanced editors, there is actually a popular Guild of Copyeditors that does highly-coordinated copyediting drives on Wikipedia. Not to mention all the peer review for quality that happens in other places. Never underestimate the interest of grammar nazis in fixing your comma usage. ;)
Unfortunately, bureaucracy is the only way we know to synthesize a kind of homogeneous, approximately unbiased store of knowledge like Wikipedia wants to present. Stack Overflow's gamification seems to work well--or at least better compared to Wikipedia's--so it makes sense they would try it. I bet few people can write in an unbiased way about topics they're passionate about and have achieved a great depth of knowledge in. Are you going to get a higher quality encyclopedia by taking raw, highly biased, unsourced, "bad" content and coaxing it into shape through a very contributor-affirming hand-holding process, or by simply turning away the "bad" content and the people who created it? I don't think anybody knows which method works better, but it's clear that Wikipedia's method falls into the second camp and its shortcomings are only becoming more obvious as time goes on.
I used to try fixing grammatical and typographical mistakes, and most of my changes got reverted. This was perhaps 4 years back. It was frustrating seeing ok/good content written by what seemed to be a non-native english speaker that could have been good/great content if it were cleaned up, but instead was left to rot.
Look at the Wikipedia article on the Russian Armed Forces. Look at the budget of 907 billion dollars (44% GDP) for 2013. That's ridiculous isn't it? I tried changing it to the proper 90.7 billion (4.4% of GDP) but it reverted back. I tried again and same thing happened. I rest my case.
The "Wikipedia's Bureaucracy" chart is sort of frustrating.
It used to be that being in the "Administrator" group was basically the only granularity we had to differentiate users. People complained that they only wanted to work on some things, like vandalism patrolling, or file maintenance, or creating accounts on behalf of other users.
So we unbundled, so that people could get the rights they wanted to do a particular task.
And in other cases, like with Checkuser, the Bureaucrat group, and Oversight, the advanced privileges are in fact dangerous and therefore are appropriately restricted.
Actual governance is pretty simple: the only things that are truly binding are community consensus (as determined by a sufficiently public discussion, closed at its end by one or more administrators) and decisions of the Arbitration Committee, which conducts its business on public Wikipedia pages. Administrators have some leeway in terms of blocking and closing discussions, but everything is subject to review.
NB: I'm part of the system, granted. I'm an administrator, Oversighter, and CheckUser. But these roles exist for good reasons, and I think the unbundling helps increase participation, by letting people help out without requiring full community trust in all matters.
As a part of the system, I hope you'll work with the rest of the Wikipedia High Priests to address the problem that so many people have pointed out for years.
The ability to contribute to Wikipedia is based more on one's expertise navigating the insular secret-handshake culture of Wikipedia than upon actual expertise or knowledge.
Naturally, Wikipedia needs safeguards to protect against the vandalism, manipulation, and inaccurate information that would flood the site if left unchecked. But in doing so, it's grown into a secret club where only the people with time to learn its byzantine customs and rules participate. Some effort should be made to contribute, but the majority of one's time should be spent on subject matter expertise, gathering quality citations, and good, clear writing—not on learning the intricacies of entering said content.
I expect there's a certain badge of honor that comes from being a part of the system. Once you've put hundreds of hours into learning a system and joining a community, outsiders and newcomers are viewed with suspicion at best. Why let some latecomer barge in and just start writing when everyone already in the community had to work harder to get there? But it's that "community consensus" you talk about that makes Wikipedia the closed culture it is today. As long as a small, demographically homogeneous group holds the keys to participation, Wikipedia will suffer.
It's like the Catholic church, centuries ago, when the liturgy was in Latin, and only the initiated could have access to the scriptures—everyone else had to rely on their interpretations. Wikipedia needs its Martin Luther.
Well all of the low-hanging fruit is taken. A contributor has to resort to increasingly obscure topics in order to have editorial control of an article. Otherwise they're editing a page where each paragraph has an active editor who likes it exactly as it is.
This. Wikipedia has reached a point where most of what people are interested in writing about has been written about, or has been staked out by more active participants, leaving the bulk of remaining work either obscure or maintenance, neither of which is motivatingly interesting to most people.
Hence a recurring theme: the great failing of FOSS products (free as in beer) is precisely that a non-trivial amount of work which needs doing doesn't get done because there is no incentive to do it: it is hard, boring, unappreciated, and/or expensive to the point that the only way to get it done is to pay someone to do it. Unless Wikipedia pays somebody to round things out and constantly polish content, it will suffer stagnation.
What I think wikipedia needs more than anything is a new way to propose an edit without actually committing it, and to be able to solicit feedback or have others fix it for you before having it finally approved and submitted. It needs to be something where an inexperienced editor can make a good edit proposal without having to be completely versed in wikipedia's editing policies.
Talk pages are a horrendous way to implement this. Making an edit proposal should be extremely new-user friendly.
I think a proposal and dialog format would do a much better job at absorbing new content than what happens currently, which seems to be a revert if you run afoul of any editing policy.
Yes, this is an idea we definitely want to try at Wikimedia.
Right now, some of our most popular articles in English are perpetually semi-protected, meaning anonymous or brand new contributors can't edit. That means millions of pageviews are on articles that don't even have an edit button visible. :(
Some Wikipedias, like German, Polish, Russian and others already use a system called "Flagged Revisions", which is an obtuse name for software that instead of protecting a page, delays edits and makes them subject to approval from someone experienced. Unfortunately the workflow for this software is clunky and it doesn't seem to be helping German and other Wikipedias stay vibrant.
I'd really like to A/B test a very easy "suggest an edit" as an alternative. I think it could work, because Wikipedians are already pretty good at staying on top of the request queue, if you manage to make a request on the Talk page. One thing we'd need to be careful of is not garnering suggestions by cannibalizing the people who would otherwise have just edited.
This is a fabulous idea. More experienced WPedians could then offer advice as to what would make the change acceptable (must be cited to an actual policy) and the person doing the edit could keep working until they fulfilled the requirements, automatically completing a valid edit. There would be no possibility for immediate revert and any edit made this way would have to persist for some time.
I wonder if this is more a matter of would-be participants being turned off or of a higher volume of readers giving individuals the sense that the site doesn't need them. (Probably an equal amount of both.)
I can't remember if there's a formal psychological term for the latter, but it's like how a person in trouble is better off being seen by one person than many (the many assume someone else is helping).
While I don't mean to sound ungrateful to the Wikipedia team and community for providing such a great resource, I've personally been turned off by all the calls for donations because they won't implement a few measly ads. It just seems kind of stubborn to me-- shifting the problem onto each individual user when money could be generated so painlessly. Even a little ironic considering the calls for donations get in the way of the user experience more than regular ads would.
It's big enough that you can have pretty different experiences in different kinds of articles. I mostly write history stuff, and my experiences there are pretty good. People seem to appreciate new articles on stuff like a Greek archaeological site, a 19th-century politician, etc., or expansions to existing articles, as long as the information has references. [Actually that's my own theory for part of the decline: around 2007 it became much more necessary to include citations for your additions, which raises the barrier to entry.]
In history articles, things mostly get contentious around subjects that seem inherently contentious for non-Wikipedia-related reasons. The archives of the talk page for "Armenian Genocide" are rather extensive and not always cordial, because people have very different ideas about what should go in it, some of them strongly held. But it's at least converged on a decent article imo.
When there aren't the same passions around the historical disputes, I've found the environment pretty supportive. I worked on a biography of an ancient Roman politician where there was quite a bit of inconsistency between what different classicists had written about him, but the discussion was just trying to figure out how we should deal with that in the article, and where the mainstream historical consensus lay (if anywhere), not hugely partisan or anything.
Whenever I hear warnings about the pace of change slowing down on Wikipedia, I have to wonder to what extent this is explained simply by (parts of) Wikipedia being "finished", in the sense that it is now only updating to keep up with current events as they happen, and not working on filling in gaps on subjects that are relatively static. For example, the articles on most well-known laws of physics are effectively "done", and, barring a major breakthrough in physics, aren't going to change much. This doesn't mean that they are somehow "dead".
So what fraction of articles on Wikipedia are "finished", and does this explain the apparent decline of Wikipedia in terms of contributors/contributions? I don't know if there's an easy way to answer this.
I don't know how it differs by field, but in the field I know best (philosophy), it's pretty hit or miss. Consider https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_realism. That's a pretty fundamental topic, and it has cleanup tags that are four years old.
Wikipedia represents a tiny fraction of the content that could conceivably exist there. I think most people who have used wikipedia extensively have found some part of it that was extremely light on details on a topic that was not particularly niche.
I've burned enough midnight oil trying to add content in Wikipedia just to discover it frequently gets deleted next day. The worst part is that even if it doesn't, it always feels like that it's a question of when rather than if it would get deleted. And I'm not talking about silly content. For instance I tried to add content on properties of different grades of gortex material and someone deemed it not useful on the page about gortex!
Lot of restrictions, if you think about it, are silly. Why can't I create a wikipedia page about my mom or my high school teacher? Why can't I add interesting details on techniques to solve high school math problem or even add exercises like textbooks? However "non-useful" it is, it's still information and it's all electronic. Why wikipedia should restrict itself to articles of types that only traditional paper-based encyclopedia would potentially allow (well, mostly)?
Would it be so hard to design it so we can add ~infinite amount of information on any given topic while allowing users to dive in from 10ft to 100,000 ft level? My dream would be to have wikipedia or an active website like that which catalogs almost every imaginable information available to any human at any point in time. May be they can add "draft" mode for content that is not fully baked yet. Or pages that are only visible if you opt-in. There has to be better way than enforcing silly bureaucracy.
I'm not a "wikipedian" -- but I do think the focus on sibling-projects, allowing wikipedia to be an encyclopaedia, is good. Contribute to wikibooks if you want to write text books (on math or some other subject) -- I don't think it makes sense for wikipedia to host all content everyone ever wants to create. That's what the Internet is for. It shouldn't be the goal of wikipedia to be the wiki to end all wikis. More wikis with different focus would be more manageable, I think. Both wrt quality control and translation.
Text in a wikipedia is much like source code for a program -- it will be read many times more than it is written -- and after a certain point, it should largely stop changing, unless bugs are found. "Bugs" in the case of text are the obvious: grammar/spelling, somewhat subtle: use of language, wording (contrast eg: articles written in "simple English" wikipedia vs "normal" English) -- and external change: Hiroshima has lots of beautiful wooden houses > Hiroshima is one of two cities to have ever been bombed with a nuclear weapon (For a rather grotesque example).
Although I don't see PR interests having any effect on the creation and publishing of these studies, those interests could certainly have an effect on the widespread link proliferation and blogging about them. After this spike in coverage tapers off, we could certainly do a study of how this particular story proliferated.
The study was published six months ago, and at any rate is first mentioned halfway through the article. I don't think it's beyond the pale to suggest that a little birdy whispered in Mr. Simonite's ear, especially since the article doesn't read like it took very long to put together.
I think it's pretty clear why this is. I used to contribute a lot and then my content was repeatedly cut because of streamlining and simplification or the whole page got scrapped because it's not notable. When I read a wikipedia article I often check the history to see if there wasn't a time when the page was actually more complete before the article has been streamlined to the lowest common denominator.
Is anyone surprised that an organization which created user classes called "Bureaucrat" and "Oversight" has become difficult to manage?
To the extent that reform is possible, they'll have to figure out a way to attract new, inexperienced editors who either don't care about or don't know the organizational structure and technical requirements (will all due respect to the software engineer quoted, wikitext is significantly more complex than # or @ symbols, and is most definitely not user friendly).
Maintaining a complicated language of policies and procedures is not an effective way to do this. It's all too easily used as a weapon by those who understand it best.
Well ... there was always a limited amount of information in printed encyclopedia's, and since printing included incremental costs, the editors were careful to make sure each article had enough value to be included.
Is it possible that all the important articles have been written and are, at this point, well vetted? Perhaps there aren't enough topics left for all the people that would be writing articles? Or perhaps the ones that are left are boring, so volunteer writers won't address them?
Thats not true at all, but the interests of the editors do not cover everything. Also you need reference books for most stuff, online sources are not that great. eg loads of historical subjects are not covered at all well.
Another issue with online sources is the impermanence of URLs. Unlike the original concept, things change over time. Domain names are bought and sold or allowed to expire, site maintainers stop (other work or health), maintainers change and decide on a new schema. Even if there were a valid URL for every citation today (that is, every book, magazine, newspaper, etc was made available online), in a year half of them could be 404'd or simply contain different content.
There's a bit of a movement to encourage going back to Real Books(tm) for sourcing. But lots of wikipedians know about and lament linkrot, site death, and robots.txt hijacking (which can "disappear" an entire dead site from the Wayback Machine behind a domain squatter's temp page). So we soldier on with archive.org, WebCite, archive.is (new, and under indictment for bot spamming at the moment), and several other archivers to save our citations. Still, properly filled out references (author, title, publication, date, page) will always be verifiable even if its link rots, and one must take a trip to the library.
I understand, and I've noticed what seems to be a trend in WP articles of more "hard" sources. I think that's fantastic. My personal frustration as a would-be editor came from 3 types of edits that I would make that would frequently be reverted (years ago, and I haven't been back to edit since):
1. Grammar/typos - for whatever reason correcting "then" and "than" ticked some people off. "Could/would/should of", "intensive purposes", "loose/lose". These are common mistakes that happen with either careless writing or non-native speakers. The content can be good, but it feels like amateur hour and cleaning it up should be encouraged. Most of my changes of this sort were reverted within hours, even though I would include a comment in my commit explaining the changes.
2. Correcting based on the citations provided. Read an article, see something that seemed off, go to the citation. The citation states the exact opposite of the WP article (or some segment of the article), and I'd make changes based on that (usually it was careful editing so that it was a paraphrase or quote that dropped a "not" or something).
3. New content. I was new to WP editing, so I didn't know all the arcana (the process seems as esoteric to new editors as the old AD&D manuals seem to modern RPG players). I'd write something, post it, have the citations, realize I didn't put them in the day after. Everything was gone. I'd remake the changes with the citations, and it'd still be reverted (I honestly can't recall anymore which articles). I'm not doing research, there was no POV issues, I was just fleshing out content that was barebones. I'm the sort of person that could've been a good maintenance editor, filling in sparse articles or rectifying the information in others. Instead, the community seemed to actively reject my contributions. After a few starts like this, I saw no reason to persist.
For my own references, I have a git repo in my home directory, ~/references/, which has everything I consider important stored as PDFs that I "printed" via Firefox. It is the only way to make sure it is still around.
How about, instead of git, a git-like (or really, modern version control like) model, rather than the linear, non-branching model that makes "pending" changes and "suggested" changes impossible to accurately convey. While the underlying tech may be git, and that certainly makes it easy and largely natural to the tech crowd, it's also an open tool for others to build proper editors/apps on top of.
Yeah! Although I'm not sure git is the right model. I'd like something where people can have "channels" that are their own contributions, then various levels of aggregation and curation so that I can subscribe to a few massive, "mainstream" channels plus a few smaller special-interest wikis.
If I had the money I'd fork WP. I'd take the 100,000 most important articles and get those vetted, corrected, written nicely, with better (and more consistent) open source graphics, and with multiple good quality cites.
It'd go on the line, and people would be able to suggest edits and that page would ask them to provide a citation.
This version would be suitable for children to use.
The ledes would be re-written to give an ELI5 intro to the topic for people with little to no knowledge of it.
There'd be torrent downloads of it, so people could run it locally offline.
100,000 is an admirable goal, but I do not envy that "most important" selection process. Excluding episode and character articles (even the Good Article-ranked ones) may be a good start, but the worst bloat may be elsewhere.
The problem is that Wikipedia's selection process for Featured Articles and Good Articles doesn't take into account the importance of the article. So you have lots of excellently written, thoroughly researched articles... about South Park seasons: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Park_(season_13)
I think the western male tech-centric demographic partly boils down to the fact that you just need to spend much time at the computer, spend much energy for writing and editing and have to be passionate about it and the topic you write about has to be provable/widely accepted (no personal stories, opinions, etc.). The combination of these things is exactly as it is, maybe except for the western part. I don't understand why easterners aren't participating more actively.
> I don't understand why easterners aren't participating more actively.
Quite a few are, though it's highly variable between countries, and many contribute in languages other than English. The Japanese-language Wikipedia has about 4000 active editors in a typical month , and I believe the vast majority of them are Japanese, though I'm having trouble finding solid stats on that (if any exist).
There seems to be a formula to hatchet-job articles about Wikipedia these days. Point to pokemon and porn stars instead of the history and science, say it's not quality (despite beating Britannica for accuracy), say there's a dearth of new articles (despite the natural slow-down due to low-hanging fruit being exhausted), and suggest that having to back up the things you say is stifling bureaucracy, and that the community should just somehow psychically know who is an expert and who isn't.