Something Wiki This Way Comes

Well that didn't take long. Reaction to my recent post, "Wikipedia to Scientologists: Edit this, sucker," was fast and vociferous.

Cringester M. A. (who says she "didn't like the tone of my article") is glad to have Wikipedia around and applauds its efforts to stop rampant propagandizing inside its virtual pages:

I want the Wikipedia to be as truthful and factual as possible. I'm sure it can never be 100% correct/accurate, but I sure as hell wouldn't want every religious group writing its own entry.

[ Check out the Cringely post that kicked off this latest Wikipedia/Scientology brouhaha | Stay up to date on Robert X. Cringely's musings and observations with InfoWorld's Notes from the Underground newsletter. ]

V.C., on the other hand, says censorship could eventually bring the whole organization down.

Wikipedia may have sounded its own death knell by starting down the road of censorship. As your article points out there are organizations and individuals that edit their entries all the time. By taking a socio-political stance in managing their text the Wikipedia Committee have labeled themselves with bias. Although they never have been an objective source of information, they had some merit as a casual quick reference. I doubt they will continue to have such merit in the future.

D. D. thinks Wikipedia just opened up a big can of whupass on itself with "L.A.W.Y.E.R.S." all over the label:

Wikipedia is naïve to think the CoS won't litigate. There is a high probability that the eventual settlement will give the CoS control of Wikipedia. I predict that within three years the main page for Wikipedia will include a picture of an erupting volcano, a smiling guy in white clothes and silver boots, and he'll say "Thank you!" whenever an entry is made. The Wikimotto will be "Clearing the world one search at a time."

S. S., who identifies himself as a Scientologist (then asks if he's scared me away), thinks the whole notion of trying to lock some people out is silly and unrealistic:

I was laughing my ass off when I saw what they had decided. There is no way they can really enforce that. ... there are so many ways to get around IP blocks that this whole thing is an exercise in futility, and they should have known better. ... it's plain silly to try to exclude both parties in this fight. And where does it end? Probably an excellent reason to get some Internet jurisprudence established for these kinds of stupid decisions.

Finally, reader D. G. notes, rightly, that Wikipedia is stuck between a Hubbard and a hard place. If it adheres to its lofty principles of an encyclopedia that "anyone" can edit, it gets royally gamed. If it only allows "qualified" individuals to edit entries, then it's just a regular old encyclopedia -- and the world has plenty of those.

So, they're following a heuristic approach -- ban (read "hinder") as best they can the worst (egregious) idiots where identifiable, and rely on the rest of their established processes to keep up quality elsewhere. We used to call it ABC analysis -- deal with the highest priorities first, and keep after the others as you can.

You seem to have issues with this. I'm curious as to what recommendation you would make that you think would be likely to achieve better results? And if you have one or more such recommendations, what is your definition of "better results" in this case?

Well, I'm no expert, I'm just here to eat the cheese dip and make fun of people. But it seems to me the Wikipedians may finally have to give up some cherished notions, first among them being the small fiercely guarded priesthood that make the rules for everyone else. The council of Wiki elders may need to democratize itself or, at the very least, let in some outsiders -- maybe even some (gasp) experts.

Another thing that probably has to go is the concept of anonymous posting. Yes, I can hear the screaming and gnashing of teeth already. Establish a reputation system like eBay's (only better) that ranks each contributor by the quality of their entries. Give entries from people with acknowledged expertise more weight than, say, that obnoxious 12-year-old down the block, as Citizendium is trying to do. Do what the Veropedia has been trying to do, and fact check the entries with impartial sources -- at least the important or controversial ones. (Citizendium and Veropedia were both started by original Wiki-heads who grew unhappy with how the Wiki was being run and branched out to make a better one, fyi.)

In other words, it's time for Wikipedia to grow up.

There, that ought to generate some more letters.

OK, enough of my bloviation, now it's your turn. E-mail me direct: cringe@infoworld.com.

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