Wikipedia's Quality, Internal Politics Issues

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Things are not happy down at Wikipedia. The Register reports on an interview with Jimmy Wales, one of the co-founders of Wikipedia. Wales has acknowledged there are real quality problems with the online work. As with DMOZ, I guess that there is no such thing as a free lunch, and when a "business" uses volunteer editors then there appears no way of controlling them.

There is a run through an article by Nicholas Carr who is decidedly unimpressed with Wiki articles. Randomly he looked at Bill Gates and Jane Fonda's entries in Wiki and concluded

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"This is garbage, an incoherent hodge-podge of dubious factoids that adds up to something far less than the sum of its parts," he wrote.

Surprisingly Jimmy Wales agreed with him

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"The two examples he puts forward are, quite frankly, a horrific embarassment. [sic] Bill Gates and Jane Fonda are nearly unreadable crap. Why? What can we do about it?" he asked.

And the office politics that are reminiscent of DMOZ

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Re-working Wikipedia so it presents the user with something minimally readable will be a mammoth task. Although the project has no shortage of volunteers, most add nothing: busying themselves with edits that simply add or takeaway a comma. These are housekeeping tasks that build up credits for the participants, so they can rise higher in the organization.
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And Wikipedia's "cabal" has become notorious for deterring knowledgable and literate contributors
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One day Wikipedia may well be the most amazing reference work the world has ever seen, lauded for its quality. But to get from here to there it will need real experts and top quality writing

Comments

The WIkipedia Challenge

Ever participated in the common forum game, Wikipedia Challenge? People insert a ridiculous, blatant non-truth into a page and see how long it stays there. Scores are dependant on how prominent the page is, how amusingly false the 'fact' is, and and how long is stays unremoved.

Vandalism is just one of the issues Wikipedia (and any other open wiki project on the Internet, for that matter) will have to find a solution to if it wants to concentrate on qualiy writing.

I don't know. Wikipedia has

I don't know. Wikipedia has so damn many great articles - I'm only dissapointed on one, maybe two out of every ten searches and this is only the nascent beginnings of what it can be. In my view, we're in for something very, very exciting. I know that Jimmy's worried, but he should take heart in the success that's already been achieved - he and the team have done something no one could have expected given the format.

I say - Bravo!

Well its not the fact that

Well its not the fact that the thing is controlled by a "foundation", a 5 man board controlled by Wales and 2 of his cronies. Its not the fact that in many cases the information is plain wrong, dangerously wrong if you go into areas such as chronic illness. Its not the fact that the "cabal" is controlling the information in a way that meets their world view, see the dmoz stuff. Its not the fact that they are very highly ranked in the SE's adding a certain legitamacy to the "information.

For it me its the fact that it is a shady foundation with inaccurate information controlled by a cabal whilst ranking highly in the SE's that gets my goat.

If won the lottery I'd buy it and close it down [assuming I had enough money left over from buying all the tickets for the next Mick Hicknall concert].

"He also consumes nothing but Lucozade, which may explain why he cannot be killed by conventional means."

Assclowns.

It's almost like mob rule

You cannot get coherency where you have no central authority for vetting the information and guarding against the intentions of the contributors. Many well-intentioned contributors really don't know enough about the topics to do more than share their enthusiasm, and some ill-intentioned contributors can inflict a lot of harm by spreading subtle propaganda across dozens of articles (and I know this happens because I have run into it).

Many well-intentioned

Many well-intentioned contributors really don't know enough about the topics to do more than share their enthusiasm, and some ill-intentioned contributors can inflict a lot of harm by spreading subtle propaganda across dozens of articles

A point worth underlining.

I was scolded by Jimmy Wales just yesterday!

Jimmy Wales runs Wikipedia from the profits that come from Bomis and from donations. Bomis.com is a porn directory network with a innocent-looking front end, and lots and lots of ads.

Wikipedia is straining under the load from their massive increase in traffic. This is due to the buzz from the media, as well as impressive rankings in Yahoo and Google.

The insider administrators are mostly anonymous, and they can use their editing privileges to stomp on any initiatives from the unwashed masses that they find objectionable. The word "cult" comes to mind. Recently there is a move on to require footnote citations for most assertions, in order to make the articles appear neutral. However, in my experience with Jimmy and one of his top anonymous admins, SlimVirgin, this past week, it seems to me that if the citation itself looks like an opposing opinion, then that's good enough. No one over there actually reads the stuff they cite -- no time for that.

The only defense the unannointed have is to put together their own list of CGI proxies, and give them a hard time for a couple of days. But the admins have many more "rollback" weapons to make it easy to "revert" any changes, which makes this too much trouble for any one unprivileged person.

I predict that before Wikipedia breaks under the traffic load, Jimmy will start running AdSense or Yahoo ads. At that point a lot of editors will probably leave, since their work is all volunteer and the ad income might be lucrative. Look at what the Google tie-in did for Mozilla Foundation, for example. Potentially millions per year would be generated by ads on Wikipedia.

Then he'll bank most of the money, buy some more bandwidth to keep it going as long as he can, but ultimately let it run down. I don't for a minute believe that Jimmy is motivated by this:

"Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. That's what we're doing." -Jimmy Wales, July 2004

I registered wikipedia-watch.org and am tempted to develop it someday soon.

Yahoo! is a major WikiPedia sponsor

They provide the hardware, and that is pretty much why it became so popular. Once Yahoo! started backing the group, it became an instant media darling.

So, talk about a bad idea getting worse. The concept of making useful information freely accessible is applaudable, but the methodology is not.

Im relatively certain Google

Im relatively certain Google also provide them with some stuff...

here ya go, nick

a wikiMedia entry on the subject. wonder if it's right, hhh?

>Google also provide

http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Google_hosting

right

and on tw too

Handjob?

Clicking through from RC's link to this:

http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Wikimedia_partners_and_hosts

Finds this (a bit disturbing) statement about the relationship with Yahoo (toward the bottom of the page). It talks about Yahoo being added as one of the Wikipedia search engine widgets and the wiki folks providing Y with a feed. It continues:

In exchange, we were apparently linked more prominently, or more effectively, in their searches, and have access to stats on how many clickthroughs we get from them. It's not clear how we were linked more prominently, but clickthroughs increased by a factor of 3 in the months after this agreement (and then levelled off).

Now, either the folks that speak for Wikipedia don't know what the heck they're talking about and cause/effect happens to be coincidental (yeah, I'm giving Y an out here just 'cause I think the Wiki folks might be screwed up); or this is one of the biggest SE handjobs ever and only a very few people have the satisfaction of that afterglow smoke.

This could just have been the result of a fresh feed. Whatever, the Wikipedia folks believe that the agreement got them better ranking in natural SERPs and they have no compunction about broadcasting it.

Appears that Y has to either pressure Wikipedia to amend it's statement (and explain the 'misunderstanding' to other site operators), or include a new user disclosure statement on the SERPs. Maybe something along the lines of, "You might not be getting the very best search results because certain pages might be returned higher in the rankings than they normally would because of agreements between Yahoo and individual sites."

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