The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

R.I.P Wikipedia

No, Wikipedia is not really dead, but it might as well be, with the news that Wikipedia editors may approve all changes.

Wikipedia faces a revolt among thousands of its contributors over proposals to change the way the online encyclopedia is run.

Until now, Wikipedia has allowed anybody to make instant changes to almost all of its 2.7m entries, with only a handful of entries protected from being altered.

But under proposals put forward by the website’s co-founder Jimmy Wales, many future changes to the site would need to be approved by a group of editors before going live.

Wales argues the scheme will bring greater accuracy, particularly in articles referring to living people. But the possibility has caused a furore among Wikipedia users, since many see it as a fundamental change to the egalitarian nature of the site.

A user poll on the website suggests 60% are in favour of trials, which could take place within the next few weeks. But some think the split could ultimately threaten the future of the site.

I suppose it’s the next phase in Wikipedia’s development, though it’s not that much of a change.

Depending on how you look at it, Wikipedia has been rules by a group of notability-guideline wielding editors for a while now.

After some consideration, and discussions, I’ve come to the decision that I will add no further articles on LGBT hate crime victims to Wikipedia. When I started the Hate Crimes on Wikipedia project, it was because I’d noticed that there were several anti-LGBT hate crimes I knew, and had written about, of that were not documented on Wikipedia for some reason. I thought that by adding them to Wikipedia, I could bring more exposure to a broader spectrum LGBT people who have been the targets of hate crimes.

I have learned, however, that the notability guidelines on Wikipedia, and some of the community members who enforce them, make it almost impossible to show to bring exposure to hate crimes that happened long ago and/or not received widespread coverage. And that means that it is difficult to being exposure to more diverse LGBT hate crime victims on Wikipedia, if their stories are not recent, having received widespread coverage, or otherwise launched major protests or new legislation. As subjective as those guidelines sound, they are reasons I was given as objections to some of the articles I posted.

And it’s been changing Wikipedia for a while a now, as I noted earlier.

By the end of 2005, we had lived through Seigenthaler. This incident especially threw a lot of scrutiny on Wikipedians, who previously had been just happy geeking out and amusing themselves. Seigenthaler was the mainstream media and traditional authorities (academics) demanding to know what the hell Wikipedia thought it was doing and how dare they and just exactly how were they planning to meet the standards of those traditional fonts of knowledge anyway?

I think it panicked the community, and the defensive reaction that was collectively taken was to retreat into the standards and practices of those traditional authorities. Appease them by adopting their methods, deferring to their authority. “Look, we’re not untrustworthy — we’re trying to write the same kinds of documents as you. We have the same ideals about verifiability as you.”

The idea of notability is also very much a product of this time. Academics decide what is worthy of study. Wikipedians mimicked this by becoming gatekeepers to the wiki. This “guideline” is the most obvious mark of a community appealing to established authority.
Paper encyclopedias must have inclusion/exclusion criteria because they have limited resources: limited time, limited money (to pay authors), and limited paper/space. But Wikipedia, with no publishing deadline, written by volunteers and provided virtually free over the internet, has none of these excuses.1,2 The notability guideline is the most blatant example of the Wikipedia community retreating into traditional acceptability because we were spooked. Maybe also because we wanted to be respected, respectable? We wanted to be gatekeepers too, and enjoy that decisive feeling of “keeping order” amongst the rabble of the world?

…The further Wikipedia’s coverage and cultural reach expands, the more we will have this problem. Academics do not typically consider “everything in the world” deserving of study. Even if they are po-mo pop-culture theorisers, they will draw the line somewhere. The other thing is that there is not enough of them. Wikipedia is writing up the world faster than academia can study, hypothesise, research and publish about it. (And if you’re lucky, in a language you speak, in a journal you can access via a library near you, too. Good luck.) When we tie our respectability to traditional authority by invoking their methods, we must also accept the limitations of those methods: because there are many things that academics will never study, Wikipedia will never cover those topics in a way that is internally consistent and acceptable. I am not just thinking about the trivia of Western life, but more importantly major cultural knowledge that has not happened to have yet fallen under the Western academic radar.

..I guess I think it is a great shame that Wikipedia has doomed itself to such a limited existence by, as I say, falling back on the methods of traditional authority for respectability. But! Just like the Podcast article, it is only limited if everyone carries out the letter of the law (policy). If we use social pressure to encourage the keeping of articles that are non-harmful and useful (if not sourceable), the law may be irrelevant.

Maybe this does go back to the Siegenthaler episode, which involved another prematurely-reported death, like the ones that caused this latest panic.

On the day of Barack Obama’s inauguration, the site reported the deaths of West Virginia’s Robert Byrd – the longest-serving senator in American history – and Ted Kennedy, who has been diagnosed with a brain tumour and collapsed during the inaugural lunch.

Both reports were false, and Wikipedia quickly changed the site back to reflect the truth, but the situation drove Wales to push strongly for change.

“This nonsense would have been 100% prevented by flagged revisions,” he wrote on the site. “This was a breaking news story and we want people to be able to participate [but] we have a tool available now that is consistent with higher quality.”

The technical system that allows Wikipedia to run in this way was released last summer and has already been put into place on the German version of the website. But German editors have decided that changes will not be approved for around three weeks – a timescale which Wales suggests would be “unacceptable” for the English-language site.

Yeah. It would be the death knell of Wikipedia, or at least Wikipedia as we know it. Under the rule of a group of editors, Wikipedia will cease to be a community, or at least an open community. The bar to participation will be raised.

And, really, I don’t see how the English-language site can avoid a long waiting period for approval, given how many contributions and etids the site probably gets on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. A staff of full time editors would be hard pressed to keep up with it. I predict the day will come when you will submit an article to Wikipedia and wait weeks before you see it “go live.” “Wiki” is supposed to mean “fast” (in Hawaiian), but Wikipedia will be anything but “fast.”

And Wikipedia will cease to be Wikipedia, and more like the Encyclopedia Britannica online. Perhaps with a larger group of contributors, but a closed society instead of an open community.

At that point, all they’ll need to do is charge a subscription fee to view full articles and they’ll be a “Pedia” alright, but not Wikipedia. But when the day comes, perhaps something will rise to fill the void.

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