Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Fighting Wikinomics

I'm noticing an alarming trend by Wikipedia editors. They seem to be holding articles to a much higher standard than they did before. Problem is, the glory of Wikipedia (and wikis in general) is that poor quality content is much, much better than none at all.

The first I heard of it was when Doc Searls complained that wikipedia were about to delete his entry. It would be bad form for him to edit his own entry, and fortunately there were plenty of people who were willing to make the required changes for him (unlike Tara Hunt, who no longer has an entry). His entry is now safe.

Fortunately, all the changes are visible. Let's have a quick look at Doc's entry: before and after the threats of deletion. There have been slight improvements. Were the threats of deletion really necessary? Couldn't Wikipedia have just pointed out the issues with the article in a colourful box at the top of the page?

And here's a current example. Someone has created an entry for "tiddler" (a component of the TiddlyWiki product). Unless we can prove that the entry is notable, this entry will be deleted. Anyone who wants to correct this would have to understand the modest notability guidelines and the extensive citation guidelines. This requires a lot of time and effort. So if this entry is deleted, will no entry at all be better than the current situation? Of course not.

I think Wikipedia is losing sight of what made them great in the first place, and what makes wikis good in general. Public edits, a low cost of repair and virtually unlimited storage allowed the project and the community to bloom. Driving up quality is an admirable objective, but this shouldn't be pursued at the expense of the broad value of information contained within.

Don't get me wrong. Having a clear set of guidelines is essential, and the NPOV guidelines in particular have been essential in resolving disputes and setting the tone of some of the more contentious topics. It's been fantastic that the Wikipedia administrators have drawn attention to e.g. lack of citation when it's missing, and helped to correct vandalism when it occurs. But these administrators are now changing their role from moderator to policeman, and this will harm what has become an essential resource. Our essential resource.

1 comment:

dsearls said...

Good catch, Phil. I've also noticed a higher level of anality in Wikipedia editing, quite aside from my own experience with the threat of deletion.

By the way, I wouldn't call the only edit since my deletion survival experience an "improvement". "Cluetrain Marketing" now occupies most of the space in my entry. That's not only a term I have never used (it's Tara Hunt's, and most Google search results for the term go back to a presentation she gave on the subject), but it's not my core point in Cluetrain. I also doubt that Cluetrain (or my quarter of it) is my main contribution to the world, at least not as of today. But that's not for me to decide.

Anyway, I think I was better off with the stub. For what that's worth.