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Death of Wikipedia predicted---film at eleven

Wikipedia is dead on its feet. It just hasn't fallen over yet. In the next couple of years it will join Usenet on the list of Internet "places" that are still technically alive, but that no one visits anymore except trolls, fanatics, and those who happen to hit it through their Google searches.

Of course, the previous paragraph requires explanation and justification. The remainder of this overlong article is intended to provide that…

There are two things that have killed Wikipedia. The first, and perhaps most important, is the combination of Google and scads of freely-available and cheaply-available publishing space elsewhere on the web. Google ensures that the interesting informational content on the web is equally accessible, regardless of where it resides. Space elsewhere ensures that only a tiny percentage of the interesting informational content on the web is at Wikipedia.

Folks look stuff up on Google first these days, and the list of topics for which Wikipedia is my most relevant first-page hit has slowly but substantially decreased over the last couple of years. I know of no topic on which Wikipedia is currently the most complete and respected freely-available source—except the history and administration of Wikipedia.

As that last remark indicates, the second thing that has killed Wikipedia is the mis-administration of Wikipedia. Wikipedia's first-mover advantage as a place to post informational content has been almost completely eroded by the bizarre collection of trolls, self-important idiots, and a few valiant but hopelessly outpowered defenders of sensibility that has been handed the keys to the place.

There's a bizarre game called Nomic where a move consists of amending the rules of the game. Wikipedia's current set of operating guidelines reminds me strongly of the state of a long-running Nomic game. Folks make weird stuff up, and then everybody argues about whether the weird stuff is "good for Wikipedia". The rules take on a life of their own, and eventually lead to irrational and unfortunate outcomes.

(As a case illustrating the earlier point, consider that Wikipedia's article on Nomic is not a first-page Google hit. This is in my humble opinion sensible, since there is little of note in that article that is not better said on either the nomic.net page, the original author's web page, or even the Usenet alt.games.nomic FAQ. I found these links by following Google's first strongly relevant hit—to a story on the public news and discussion site Kuro5hin.)

As an example of how silly things get, consider that there appear to be four places in Wikipedia where I am currently mentioned by name. In two of these, no link is given. A third links to my user page. The fourth is a dead link that would presumably point to a biographical sketch of me if it pointed anywhere.

In this situation, one might think that a good thing for me to do would be to post a few verifiable and relevant biographical facts about Bart Massey on a page with that title, then link the unlinked pages to there. However, this would almost certainly be against the rules. First of all, folks are all but forbidden to write about themselves—doing so would somehow violate the "impartiality" of the information. (After all, others who write about a person inevitably do so without any bias.) Second of all, the rules require that bio sketches be of persons of "unambiguous notability", contain no "original research", and some other things that probably exclude me or anyone from writing about me.

Oh well. Of the first 100 current Google hits for "Bart Massey", 96 of them refer to me. I guess anything you can't learn about me from that probably isn't worth knowing anyhow :-).

Of course, the real problem with Wikipedia isn't the absence of me. It's the increasing corruption or absence of legitimate content, as this horrible process takes its toll on those who, like myself, were once willing to contribute their subject-matter expertise to Wikipedia.

Most of my contributions to Wikipedia have been deleted or altered for the worse, and mine is a pretty mild case compared to others of which I'm aware. Why in the world would anyone who had made a legitimate technical contribution also take the trouble to try to get their stuff put back after the Wikipedians delete it? The most bizarre part of this whole Wikipedia editor/admin worldview is the assumption that many of those of us who actually know stuff can be bothered to engage in the otherwordly and unwieldy Wikipedia "process". More and more, those I know whose knowledge is valued are posting it elsewhere, and Wikipedia is getting the, to put it politely, "less-valued" authors.

As someone who has contributed some technical articles and refactoring to Wikipedia content, I am so done with this. The only legitimate excuses that I can countenance for deleting content in a public workspace like Wikipedia are outright spam or outright erroneous content. If the Wikipedia maintainers want to be more restrictive than that, have fun heading back toward what Nupedia was—a walled garden with no interesting fruit. Fob

Update: Here's an interesting link to an a Scripps-Howard article similar to mine.

More importantly, I meant to open with the quote I will now close with. My bad.

I have the world's largest seashell collection. You may have seen it, I keep it spread out on beaches all over the world. —Steven Wright

Comments

Check out the bottom of the TV Tropes wiki (about which I intend to blog more later). Be sure to follow some of the relevant wiki-links.

I can't see this going away as it has peer-reviews and such, and articles written on pretty specific subject material

I hadn't heard of Scholarpedia previously. These things usually suffer from the Nupedia problem—very hard to get folks to contribute a broad range of content. So far, Scholarpedia has articles only in three fairly obscure and related topic areas.

I was quite impressed with the breadth and quality of article titles and authors in the Computational Intelligence section. Then I started trying to find one that had actually been written. No joy after sampling a half-dozen. Even the introductory article on Artificial Intelligence, supposedly to be written by Patrick Henry Winston, isn't there yet.

I guess I'll believe in Scholarpedia when I start to see some actual content. In the meantime, MIT's Open Courseware initiative looks like it will serve for a lot of this role. Fob

Another misguded prognosticator fails to predict the future.

The process I described in this year-old post seems to me to be continuing. I haven't changed my opinion about where Wikipedia is headed. But it may take longer to get there than I rashly predicted.

Thanks much for the reality check.