Encounters with Wikipedians are almost always toxic and unpleasant, be it to discuss changes to specific articles, discussions about policies, and even when it comes to throwing new ideas around on how the status quo could be improved. That's because they are generally very pleased with the status quo. People that weren't have been driven out long ago.
One of these days, I hope there will be a meaningful fork, and I hopefully article versions will simply be voted on.
Actually if anyone is interested in doing an experiment in this space, shoot me an email, I'd like to work on something like that.
I mean, I choose not to spend much time trying to edit it myself, because of these issues. But I use it ALL THE TIME to look stuff up. Don't you? And my impression is I'm getting at least as high quality information as from traditional print resources. I suppose it's possible I'm wrong, but we get into all sorts of epistemological questions there.
If that's the case, my statements are not intended for you. I'm not trying to convince happy people that they're actually sad. I don't want to convince anyone that something needs to be done. I tried to reach out to people who already believe that it's time to start experimenting with alternatives. For everone else, absolutely nothing needs to change.
Yes, I use Wikipedia every day. But that doesn't mean I believe we can't do much better (at least for a deeply subjective value of "better").
> Yes, I use Wikipedia every day.
When I spot an error in an article I do not ever bother to correct it, even if it is a trivial uncontroversial spelling error. I certainly would not attempt to change something that needs references, even if I have excellent references and even if the current error is unsourced.
That's not how WP is supposed to work and any wikipedian reading that should say that WP is broken, but plenty of them don't and are happy with the status quo.
If you want to fork, most information you need can be found here (wrt database downloads) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Database_download . You might also want to look up http://mediawiki.org/ for the engine.
Voting on article versions could be a bit tricky. Can you come up with a voting system that wouldn't be gamed somehow? And how do you propose a voting system would counteract bias?
But most users don't see this. As a source of information, Wikipedia is unparalleled. There is nothing in existence that comes close.
So, it's difficult to say that Wikipedia doesn't work.
True, it would be more measured to say that some aspects of it don't work. Specifically, it doesn't really work all that well as a method of curating and incrementally improving content. That's because content is only a byproduct of what's truly happening there. Granted, it's a pretty awesome byproduct given the circumstances, without being facetious I would even say that Wikipedia should be considered one of the world wonders by right.
However, we're increasingly coming up against the limitations imposed by its horrendous culture. The reactionary nature of that culture will mean increasing calcification, and a high rate of actions that are net-detrimental to content quality . At some point, we'll need to move on and find better paradigms for content curation.
Very often people visit Wikipedia for a superficial overview of a topic they know nothing about - or perhaps to confirm a commonly known piece of trivia - which tend to be reasonably well curated.
For example, mathematical articles are often considered to be terrible because they miss this layperson target - they appear to be written by experts, for themselves. These are not necessarily people who are good at communicating their ideas to laypeople, nor even to other interested experts.
Wikipedia is not good for the long tails of research and expert knowledge - that's (for example) what research journals are for. I don't think Wikipedia could comfortably succeed at covering expert content while remaning so strong in its core.
Policies which I personally dislike, such as the poor culture amongst editors and pointless deletion policies, surely annoy me. But these may mean that editors who have chosen to contribute to Wikipedia focus better on creating the content which actually matters, rather than on infinitely long strands of esoteric knowledge.
For instance, it's not at all clear to me that a database of human knowledge could not do both - giving general overviews and provide in-depth information. Even Wikipedia kind of does both in a lot of places.
Research journals are not a good place for in-depth information because they're closed source and because they put too much emphasis on single studies (which are often wrong and need to be seen in the context of other evidence). The need for curated in-depth content is just as real as it is for high school-level summaries and there is nothing in principle preventing a wikipedia-like database from providing arbitrary depth.
It seems we have already taken a big step in this direction with the formation of Wikipedia, but for all the tremendous mileage already achieved it's a vehicle that doesn't seem to be taking us much further. Indeed, we seem to be rolling backwards and losing knowledge from the pool again.
Again, this is not a critique of people who are mostly happy with Wikipedia. It's a faint hope that something new will emerge from the midst of those who are not happy.
Wikipedia was not the only online/open encyclopedia, but it was the only successful one. To some extent online encyclopedias form a natural monopoly, and if that's the case then it's better that Wikipedia is it (rather than maybe Microsoft Encarta or Encyclopedia Britannica).
But I think I agree with you: this space benefits from having encyclopedias with different goals and ethos. IMHO ethos used effectively to be how paper encyclopedias competed.
I, for one, would welcome a good competitor: do you have enough of an idea to execute something potentially successful? Even if I am optimistic, that's difficult to imagine.
I'm talking about introducing a way to measure this merit. So I apologize for the misnomer that confused you. However, I'm hesitant to call such a system democratic either, though that might be a closer match.
Ideally, I'd like to decouple ego and personality from the act of content creation as much as possible - to the extend that is possible while still motivating people to work on it. So you see why I might describe this as having democratic or meritocratic traits, without actually being a *ocracy.
I'm also open to the idea of such a system being distributed, which would solve another problem Wikipedia has. If that's feasible, you might even be tempted to use terms such as adhocracy or federation. My beef with all these phrases is they're describing forms of government, whereas what I'm looking for is more a mode of content curation.
But let's talk about actual substance instead of nomenclature. I don't claim it's a silver bullet, but I think those are some ideas that may be worth experimenting with.
I think its ruled by people who just have different views of quality than their critics. Since quality is highly subjective, but people are frequently very heavily invested with the idea that their vision of quality is universal and objective, its very common for people who disagree with a speaker on what quality is to be described as not caring about quality.
So Wikipedia driven by Stackoverflow's interface. Love it!
Frankly, this seems like a perfect teaching tool - you've got someone right there willing to do the teaching for you, because they're engaging your student in a debate about the content of the material. Maybe the student doesn't get published along the way, but she can still get a grade, and she can learn the essential skill that is justifying her positions (or the equally important skill of accepting when you are wrong).
Which could be an indication that there is also a problem with wikipedia. In particular, I think when someone takes a genuine effort to improve an article and that effort is reverted, there should be a clear indication of the reasons. In this case, whenever malte pointed to specific issues with the article, the student corrected them immediately.
> if someone comes along and disagrees with the changes, they revert to the consensus version, then you discuss it and try to reach a consensus.
I don't see much effort to reach consensus on the editor's side. Most comments are in the style of "please read the rules before editing" - which is not very helpful.
>I don't see much effort to reach consensus on the editor's side. Most comments are in the style of "please read the rules before editing" - which is not very helpful.
I've said elsewhere here I think the whole situation would have been much more fruitful if the teacher had been or had engaged with an experienced Wikipedia editor to put these sorts of comments in the right context. Personally, I think the WP:SYNTH document is concise and clear enough that it isn't unreasonable to point to it after the reversion, but that's beside the point. The student has the option of continuing to make changes to their text to try and fix the problems the experienced editor pointed out, or if they think the changes are appropriate, go through another dispute resolution mechanism if the experienced editor is unwilling to budge. There are many such mechanisms, none of which were tried in this situation, because inexperienced editors don't know how to take advantage of them.
> I was put in touch with a Wikipedian here at the University of Michigan who would be able to help
Now, to your other issue:
> the problem with Wikipedia causing this is a PR problem, not a problem with the culture of Wikipedia.
Both problems exist, as the above refutation of your statement makes clear. There is denial among Wikipedians that there is a cultural problem, and that denial comes in the insidious form of not noticing facts that would counter your position.
There is also a public relations problem, in that people really, really need a stronger advisory before embarking on a Wikipedia edit that there is a measurable risk of reversion or deletion, and first contact with bureaucracy will almost certainly be unpleasant. To mitigate that, the new editor should be very strongly advised to skim the rules and expect the neutrality of the administration to feel harsh. Like coming up against laws of physics while rock-climbing harsh.
I think this was a cautionary tale for educators considering similar projects. If you tried to learn how to surf and almost drowned three times before you got your feet back to solid ground, I think you'd be cautioning other people as well.
> Frankly, this seems like a perfect teaching tool - you've got someone right there willing to do the teaching for you, because they're engaging your student in a debate about the content of the material.
If the goal is to learn about Wikipedia administrivia, then yes, it's a perfect teaching tool (the virologist Mahlke doesn't seem terribly interested in teaching epidemiology with statements like "see, the thing is..."). I will even grant you, there's a fair chance that being able to incorporate most Wikipedia administrivia into your online behavior is probably a good test whether or not a person is really able to act like an adult. That said, without realizing the primacy of the bureaucracy at the outset, I think most people agree first contact with the Wikipedia bureaucracy is generally a horrible experience. It's rather similar to learning to surf: most people give up before they try, and most who do try give up after the first attempt.
The be bold policy should now be "be bold, and time your edits. In the 1 in 20 chance they are contested, expect at least 10 times as much time will be spent in the bureaucracy. Once administrative action is taken, skim the key policies and guidelines (1) before saying anything. Expressing indignation will only make things worse."
> About Meghan Duffy (author of post): I am an ecologist at the University of Michigan. My research focuses on the ecology and evolution of infectious diseases, particularly in lake Daphnia populations.
I believe this student is a college student. Since it was reviewed by an expert in the field, I'm inclined to believe it was a quality edit.
Regardless, you had to two doctorates (one in Molecular Virology, other in evolutionary biology and behavior) duking it out. Looking at the difference between the two pages,  there doesn't seem to be a large difference. My guess is that this was a small point they were arguing over; on a large part, her edits were accepted.
Also, as for the changes that were "accepted" - the main article has now been reverted to the student's version since this article was posted. If I had to guess, I'd say it'll be re-reverted back to its original state shortly, then temporarily semi-protected if it starts an edit war. It's quite likely that this will spur a bunch of additional attention which will cause the student's changes to be refactored into something that the previous editors would find acceptable, and much of the student's research will be incorporated into the page.
So, maybe the blog post isn't such a bad thing after all?
That said, I don't think the blog post author did anything wrong or anything. Her experience sounds like it could have been a frustrating one. I just don't particularly believe the general conclusions that are quick to be drawn from these one-off experiences about the health of Wikipedia and its viability as an encyclopedia.
I'm looking at the most recent version [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Super-spreader] and the revisions [http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Talk:Super-spreade...], and I'm having a hard time seeing the bullying---it looks like an individual defending an edit, another individual defending the revert with explanation of what is missing, and the first individual adding additional data to clarify that the original edit isn't "original research."
Can someone help highlight the bullying for me? Is there a subsection of the Talk history that I'm missing / can Talk history be deleted?
Wikipedian, 4/19: Deletes one new section of the article that he disagrees with. Entire comment is: " (-1,214) . . (→Typhoid Mary: not a super-spreader. she was an asymptomatic carrier; super-spreaders are symptomatic)"
Student: 4/19: "There was dispute about whether or not asymptomatic carriers could be considered super-spreaders." Defends her position with un-Wikipedia-esque speech, reverts deletion.
Wikepedian: 4/20 Deletes every single thing the student contributed. (This is where things go off the rails.)
Wikipedian: "Also, I'm not aware of any "dispute as to whether or not asymptomatic carriers should be considered super-spreaders", so perhaps you could also provide a source for that."
The source of the dispute is that he reverted her edit; of course it exists.
The student then comes back with a source to defend that Typhoid Mary is considered a super carrier by serious sources, and gets no response.
Further, if you look at what the editor excised, it was a sincere edit, well-sourced, and deserved at least a modicum of respect for trying to help his pet project.
Yes, this is what I don't understand. I think other commenters here haven't actually realised this is what happened, as well, and aren't seeing the problem.
One thing I find annoying about Wikipedia is that there is basically no owner or point of contact for the content. So, if I have an idea for a change, I can add a comment to the Talk page for the article, but it'll often languish there for months (years) on some pages. I've never gotten a sense of 'community' there, and although I've made 500+ edits and contributed new articles and been a member of a 'WikiProject' I still wouldn't class myself as a 'Wikipedian' nor would I know how to assign that role to someone else.
Generally if I'm about to do something potentially controversial, I write a comment on it in the talk thread, and then I go ahead and do it. If others have a problem with it they'll fix it. You kind of have to have a "ask for forgiveness" attitude towards non-active pages.
That is often catastrophic and will get you templates and warnings, and will make it very hard to push through any edits.
It's kind of subtle, so if your English isn't too good, or maybe you aren't so hot at reading tone over the internet, I can see why you'd miss it, but that response reads as dismissive, snarky and a bit patronizing to me.
It's hard to discern tone from text on a screen, and easy to attribute meaning to actions that did not carry that intent.
Disclosure: I'm a privileged white male.
And any time you start off by being patronizing you aren't actually trying to advance your argument or teach somebody but rather trying to belittle the other person.
Part of the article explains that women and men communicate differently, I wouldn't enjoy being counseled in that tone.
No one is right or wrong. Just different.
Note here that this represents the net change from 25 intermediate edits over 7 months: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Super-spreader&di...
Through this action alone, the owner is claiming that literally nothing of the student's work has merit, while their own work remains unquestioned.
When I edit a Wikipedia article, it gets immediately reverted, often accompanied by ad hominem attacks on my character because the articles babysitter didn't want this or that section cluttering up his nice short little summary.
I am completely demoralized from editing Wikipedia, and though I still use it I SURELY won't be donating any of my time to helping that spectacle
If I expand an article no one seems to notice.
It shows up on my computer, but it is still a human institution.
That's not an improvement over traditional encyclopedias.
A Wikipedia edit reversal is frustrating, but not as frustrating as a thesis pursuit or academic journal publication rejection. The takeaway I get from this story is actually that Wikipedia could serve as a lower-cost learning experience for budding young academics; the student got a real taste of having their input considered and rejected by a semi-anonymous stranger in a position of editorial power, which is a valuable (and hard) lesson to acquire at a young age.
This should be standard Welcoming Committee text.
Mentally the negro is inferior to the white. The remark of F. Manetta, made after a long study of the negro in America, may be taken as generally true of the whole race: " the negro children were sharp, intelligent and full of vivacity, but on approaching the adult period a gradual change set in. The intellect seemed to become clouded, animation giving place to a sort of lethargy, briskness yielding to indolence. We must necessarily suppose that the development of the negro and white proceeds on different lines. While with the latter the volume of the brain grows with the expansion of the brainpan, in the former the growth of the brain is on the contrary arrested by the premature closing of the cranial sutures and lateral pressure of the frontal bone. 3 This explanation is reasonable and even probable as a contributing cause; but evidence is lacking on the subject and the arrest or even deterioration in mental develop- ment is no doubt very largely due to the fact that after puberty sexual matters take the first place in the negro's life and thoughts. At the same time his environment has not been su:h as would tend to produce in him the restless energy which has led to the progress of the white race; and the easy conditions of tropical life and the fertility of the soil have reduced the struggle for existence to a minimum. But though the mental inferiority of the negro to [the white or yellow races is a fact, it has often been exaggerated; the negro is largely the creature of his environment, and it is not fair to judge of his mental capacity by tests taken directly from the environment of the white man, as for instance tests in mental arithmetic; skill in reckoning is necessary to the white race, and it has cultivated this faculty; but it is not necessary to the negro.
On the other hand negroes far surpass white men in acuteness of vision, hearing, sense of direction and topography. A native who has once visited a particular locality will rarely fail to recognize it again. For the rest, the mental constitution of the negro is very similar to that of a child, normally good-natured and cheerful, but subject to sudden fits of emotion and passion during which he is capable of performing acts of singular atrocity, impressionable, vain, but often exhibiting in the capacity of servant a dog-like fidelity which has stood the supreme test. Given suitable training, the negro is capable of becoming a craftsman of considerable skill, particularly in metal work, carpentry and carving. The bronze castings by the cire perdue process, and the cups and horns of ivory elaborately carved, which were produced by the natives of Guinea after their intercourse with the Portuguese of the i6th century, bear ample witness to this. But the rapid decline and practical evanescence of both industries, when that intercourse was interrupted, shows that the native craftsman was raised for the moment >above his normal level by direct foreign inspiration, and was unable to sustain the high quality of his work when that inspiration failed.
-- Encyclopedia Britannica 11th Edition
Hurt feelings are hardly the worst byproduct of Encyclopedia policies in regard to editorials and authorship.
Now, the way the original author responded is completely inappropriate given WP:DNB (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:BITE). A couple people have already tried having that conversation with the author, and he/she still incorrectly feels the onus is on the (naive) editor.
Obviously the deleted material, that is, everything that the student previously contributed, contained the citations (on the left). Still everything was deleted by the strange behaving wikipedian.
The difference I link to shows the effects of the second deletion of the student's newly contributed material by the wikipedian. How can that be justified? I understand that the wikipedian didn't want the original research. But was it all really just the original research?
Seriously? This is just drivel.
I'm sorry her edits were undone, but that's hardly a gender issue.
Just try arguing with a feminist, then you won't see "informative messages phrased as suggestions, offers, and other non-assertive acts". In fact, that phrase disproves itself.
I think she made a good point. Many people have commented that they thought his tone was fine. Others have said his tone sounded patronizing. I don't think anyone is wrong. We can't write off the people who don't share our communication style, which is what you're doing when you call it 'drivel'.
It sounds extremely sexist to me to make such a claim. My experience with men has been different as well. Also my experience with women (they are not all timid about their opinions).
In any case, I don't see the relevance of the theory to the Wikipedia incident. So why does she quote it? Because the Wikipedia editor happens to be male, and the quote is supposed to discredit all male opinions.
She wrote a whole blog article about it - is that an example of "an informative messages phrased as a suggestion, offer, or other non-assertive acts"? I don't think so - she disproves the theory, yet you defend it.
If you are a woman, you also disprove the theory, because you claim a fact: "But it's not drivel. Men and women communicate differently, that's supported by many, many studies." That's not a suggestion, offer, or non-assertive comment you made.
There's no evidence that women are less sexist than men. In fact, all the evidences is that women and men discriminate equally against women:
Of course, this does show the flaw of trying to judge the gender of a person by how they present themselves online; while on average men and women may show small differences in communication, there are of course many women that communicate in a "men's" manner and v.v.
I love this: so we can fire sexist stereotypes at will, because if we see examples of men or women not fitting the stereotype, it is just a man acting like a woman or a woman acting like a man, so it doesn't count? Or in fact a woman acting like a jerk would be "acting like a man" and therefore reinforce the stereotype of men being jerks?
You basically did exactly what was described, as you were opposing it.
What is your job anyway - how come you deal with so many obnoxious men? Do you also deal with the same amount of women, and they are less obnoxious? Or are there perhaps many more men, and you tend to remember the obnoxious ones.
I have the impression you don't have much self-consciousness either. How does that align with your theory about the world?
It's not really about gender, but rather a confrontational style of communication that can sometimes be not very productive.
I have a tendency towards this style of communication myself, but I've worked towards communicating in a more effective way and it's improved my life (and the lives of the people I interact with).
If you don't believe it, just see how my comment history has changed over the years... haha.
It is supposed to be the repository of human knowledge.
Not the quality such that a student 'learning' about a subject can do an assignment of editing it.
When this student has long gone, it's the Wikipedians who have to clean up the mess.
What real Wikipedians do is clean up vandalism, correct spelling and grammar, arbitrate differences of opinion.
They don't just sit around creating content then leave.
If you really want to help Wiki, work on teaching students the politics and how to do the real work that's needed to make it so great.
In my opinion we need to get more people like this involved in editing, rather than pushing them away. There are lots of articles that need help, and it's a great learning experience.