Please read: A personal appeal from a former Wikipedia editor
For the past few months, pages on Wikipedia have been headed by a series of “personal appeals,” with folks ranging from Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales to random users, all of them shilling for money to support the Wikimedia Foundation.
My appeal, from a former editor with more than 16,000 positive contributions: don’t bother.
I have said it before—Wikipedia is a failure.
Its experiment in community knowledge-gathering is fatally flawed, and I think in the long term it will become yet another Internet graveyard, another of those interesting online concepts that people will look back on and say, “Remember that? It was cool for a while, and then it fell apart, and nobody really misses it now.”
- A naïve openness that leaves it vulnerable to troublemakers.
- A model that ignores the possibility that some contributors are more reliable than others.
- A lack of concerted oversight.
Nobody gives a thought to who might have created or edited any particular article, and yet Wikipedia’s articles carry a pervasive air of authoritativeness—an air that’s taken, if you’re smart, at arm’s length. As much as it aspires to be, Wikipedia is not Academia. And it never can be.
No bylines exist; recognition of an editor’s work is fleeting at best. Unless—you’re an editor who works to defend Wikipedia against the rampant vandalism that occurs continually, and you run afoul of one of the many sociopathic recluses that lurk there. Then you get recognition, of the unwanted kind, and plenty of it. And that’s where Wikipedia utterly fails.
More than once I’ve been the target of attacks by people (and I use the term “people” loosely) whose sole purpose in life appears to be watching the Internet burn. Since Wikipedia was the place that drew these
gnats future presidents, I reported the attacks to the Wikipedia administration caste—which resulted in exactly zero attention.
Meanwhile, Wikipedia’s all-volunteer model effectively means that all editing, all policing, all administration is ad-hoc. When these same vandals and mindless pranksters returned to vandalize again, no one was paying enough attention to realize they were the same attackers, operating under new accounts. Editors went through the same nicey-nice, bullshit motions—polite notice, followed by caution, warning, and final warning—before finally blocking the vandals yet again, usually several days and many edits after their return.
Warning these douchebags does not deter them; in fact, that response is just what they want most—recognition and attention, negative though it is. Blocking their IP addresses is only a momentary solution, since for most of them a new IP address is only as far away as their modem’s power switch. They will not be appeased, and if thwarted will find other, extra-wiki (and frankly, illegal) means to cause trouble. I know this for a fact, from first-hand experience.
As a result, I have ceased all activity on Wikipedia, and will never again edit or contribute to it. My personal well-being (as well as my privacy and, I truly believe, my safety) are not worth the risk and grief. I have little doubt that many others have found themselves in a similar situation.
Unless Wikipedia decides to erect some semblance of a velvet rope, with a virtual bouncer checking for editors who are “on the list” by having demonstrated just a modicum of good faith, Wikipedia will suffer more and more from editor burnout and will soon cease to improve; it will stagnate, and the ruiners will win. Maybe they already have.
[Follow-up: This post was picked up by Hacker News on 14 Feb 2012, engendering a lively and interesting discussion.]