Wikipedia commentary/Responses to How to Destroy Wikipedia

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Responses to How to Destroy Wikipedia:

Hi. Dave Doolin here. aka DMD sometimes, but usually prefer to hide behind my ip address. Not so much that I care who knows my name... it's emotional self preservation! I wrote on Manning's home page a while back that wikipedia is fun as long as one strictly observes 2 rules, without exception:

1. Do not *ever* write an article on a subject for which you are an academic or professional expert, as recognized by your peers.
2. Never, ever, ever write anything on a subject for which you have more than the slightest emotional attachement.

Following these rules, I am able to check into wikipedia a few times a week, read some cool stuff, occasionally to contribute material I find interesting, and, if I'm lucky, maybe poke fun at Larry a little bit, because he takes everything so seriously.

I do have a suggestion about the format and "rules". Back in white trash country where I came of age, we had a saying: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." The only "rule" I would add, if I were the wikipope, is limiting participation for everyone to some finite number of edits per day.

My email address(es) is plastered all over the net if anyone so feels the need.

"3 KP for each day you add a new article."

If we wanted an experience system, we would be using something based on the Everything2 engine, not UseModWiki. Yes, Everything can be set up so that Guest User can edit documents, and the wiki engine we use is completely orthogonal to the NPOV. --Damian Yerrick

There is a 1% when it's a good idea, but the abusers of the NPOV believe it's more like 80%.

I can't think of more than a dozen examples of content being deleted due to a supposedly biased point of view, and in each case there was considerable discussion first, and generally about whether the article was neutral rather than whether the view expressed was correct, giving the lie to the censorship claim. That's not counting the one or two I was involved in, about which I am of course biased. Does anyone have any evidence to cite the above claim? I'm sure discouraging people from enforcing NPOV would be almost as dangerous a way to proceed as those listed on the main page.

"PHP wiki"

I stopped counting how many times I asked for people to work with me on the software, in countless places here on the wikipedia and on the mailing list. So far, I got some promises for help (which I still hope will result in something code-like one day), but as

  1. everyone (?) agrees that we need new software for the wikipedia
  2. the available wiki software does not fit our needs
  3. I seem to be the only one willing to something about that

the locical outcome is for me to write the thing by myself. I'm just a code-hacker, I don't waste time on extensive documentation, my goal is to get things running. If you want documentation, get yourself a sourceforge account, download the CVS repository, and start typing.

I uploaded the German tarball to my script for testing, and I invided everyone to help me test it. Just a few people dropped me a line there so far. So, if you think about it again, the problem is not me writing that stuff by myself, the problem is people screaming "new features!" and then not caring about it enough to help testing them. -- an increasingly annoyed Magnus Manske

The problem is that it's impossible to know what you're doing. There's not simply scant documentation, there's ZERO documentation. At least that's how it feels, since the info on what you're doing is scattered all over the place. You encouraged people to help test it--and it's in German! It's utterly confusing. If you want people to help you, you need to make it easy for them to do so, not nigh impossible.
I don't really fault you for your frustration--I think the responsibility lies with your "client" on this project, in other words, the people who are in charge of the server. If they stated explicitly what steps must be taken before they replace the current Wiki, then I'd be happier.
For example, noone has clearly stated how, if subpages are eliminated, the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack pages will exist under the new system. --TheCunctator
Do you mean documentation for the actual code or documentation like how to use the new functions? For the latter, there's a minimal overview at [1]. For the former, I just added a short comment to every function (except the special pages, which should be pretty clear), explaining its role. For the 400-page PHP wikipedia handbook, you'll have to wait a little longer;) Most of the source is in object-orientated PHP (as far as it goes;) and most function and variable names should be easy enough to guess what they're doing. (For example, guess what wikiPage->doDiff does;)
The ultimate goal, AFAIK, is to make the script 100% compatible to the UseModWiki, add some features, and eventually remove or alter things we don't like here. If you go to my script without logging in, it should behave exactly as the UseModWiki, with a few cosmetic alterations. (I turned the QuickBar on by default to demonstrate the subpage structure, I can turn it off again any time). I tried to implement all UseModWiki features, so I can turn of useless stuff any time on public demand.
It's in German, yes, because the database is way smaller, but complex enough to check out the behaviour under real conditions, which seems to be quite well. I didn't ask to check the contents, but the technical things (defective links, strange displays, stuff like that), which should be easy to spot even in a different language. I might use the English tarball as soon as someone shows me how to preserve the article history from the UseModWiki during the conversion. Otherwise, a little work on the parser, and I guess it's ready to go (see also [2]). --Magnus Manske

Well, as one of the listed proponents of the theory, I think we should be clear on what we want and what we are trying to avoid. I am not suggesting any kind of wholesale change to the way the wikipedia process is run, but only that there may be a place for adding abilities to those who stick around long enough to (hopefully) know how to use them wisely. I am not convinced that this is the direction we should go, but I think it is a good enough idea to explore. Mark Christensen

You don't realize that you're suggesting a kind of wholesale change to the way the wikipedia process is run, but you are. Introducing hierarchies, cabals, power structures, are always wholesale changes. Note that for example I'd be one of the greatest beneficiaries of a karma system. Shouldn't that worry you? --TheCunctator

Gee, I'd say that one of the best ways to destroy wikipedia is to allow ourselves to be drawn into a contentious and angry debate about it. I think that TheCunctator's tone of presentation of the issues here is not particularly helpful at all. Why would it worry us if TheCunctator is a beneficiary of a karma system like that which has been proposed?

TheCunctator is attacking a straw man. We have virtually 100% agreement that the only thing that will be necessary or desirable in the future is a way to protect the main pages from outright vandalism. Perhaps he's missed some of the things that have started to happen. For example, a few days ago, someone replaced the home page with a pornographic cartoon. Another vandal has been going through the site adding the word "farted" to articles. These juvenile pranks are something that we'd like to discourage.

The systems proposed are simply that newcomers have to do a fairly minimal amount of work before they can edit the homepage and a handful of other prominent pages. That's it! TheCunctator would of course have those abilities -- although he's a sometimes contentious person, he's not a *vandal*. I, for one, although I disagree with him frequently, do not consider it a problem in the least that he has full edit privileges over everything on the site.

I don't think it is particularly courteous to pretend that there's some dark secret movement afoot to change the social mores of the community. ALL participants in the discussion agree that extreme openness and preserving our wonderful culture are the essential goals.

With respect to Magnus's work on new software, I am not in the least sympathetic to your complaints. Magnus does not have unlimited power! Nothing will be changed about the production systems until we have reached a broad consensus within the community, and even then, if we see that some new element in the software is causing social problems, we will simply remove it. If anyone has unlimited power, it's me, and I'm here to tell everyone that NONE of TheCuncator's fears are at all likely to be realized.

I will work for consensus change, conservative change. But change will be necessary. As Magnus says, virtually everyone agrees that the software needs to be improved. He's done something very amazing -- he's actually done something about it -- actual code!

I think that rather than attacking the people who are working to change things for the better, TheCuncator should also work for consensus -- work to express concerns in a constructive way, while simultaneously helping us to figure out how we can usefully resolve some of the software problems that already exist.

To sum up: I strongly disapprove of _arguing_ as a mode of moving forward. That's so.... Usenet. We're doing something else here, something remarkable, something that many people think can't be done. We're working together as a community, respectful of differences, and always seeking to support each other in positive change. --Jimbo Wales

Hear, hear. --LMS

While I think TheCunctator may have some valid points, I fear that they were overwhelmed by combative language and emotionalism. Phrases like "be a dick" and "bad fucking idea" may be good for starting a flame war, but serve little purpose in working toward a goal as a community.

I agree. That's why I wrote the "Be Overly Combative" section. --TheCunctator
I guess that makes me wonder why you wrote the rest of the essay in an overly combative style. Are you trying to undermine your own ideas? --STG
An interesting conundrum, don't you think? I wonder what Swift would say. --TheCunctator

As for complaints against the new software, I feel they must be answered point by point:

Magnus Manske is a great person, and he's put immense amounts of effort into designing new Wikipedia software. And he's loaded it with so many new features and capabilities that noone has any idea how it will affect Wikipedia.

Yes, he is a great person, and I want to start off by saying how much I personally appreciate his efforts. As for "loaded it with new features", I must disagree. The only major new features currently implemented are (and Magnus should correct me if I miss a few) an SQL backend, separate namespaces for non-encyclopedic content, and an auto-generated statistics page. Magnus has primarily been working on duplicating the functionality that we now have, not adding flashy new stuff. And, most of the new features that have been added were requested and thoroughly discussed on Wikipedia.
As for the effects on Wikipedia, the software is being tested every step of the way. Right now it's loaded with actual data from the German Wikipedia. The next step would be to load the English data and see how things go. So it is incorrect to say that "noone has any idea" what its effects will be.

Since there's essentially no documentation, mission plan, or any other standard practice for quality software engineering, it's guaranteed to be a monster.

Wikipedia itself has no documentation, mission plan or other standards for quality encyclopedia writing, other than what its developers (us) have adopted, and it's not a monster. I don't think your guarantee will hold up.

And the only one who will have any idea how to deal with it will be Manske, in part since he's using the lesser-known PHP (but that is a minor concern compared to the individuality of the code).

I am not a programmer myself (yet), but I have several friends who are, and they assure me that PHP is dead easy to learn. One of those friends was turning out useful code (a search engine and message board) within hours. "Lesser-known" PHP is not a concern at all.

The current UseModWiki code is hard to understand, but it's deliberately very, very limited in its capabilities. That puts more power in the users and less in the technology.

I, along with most (I thought all; this is the first I've heard of your disagreement with moving to new software) Wikipedians have concluded that our project is stretching the limits of UseModWiki. I fail to see how improving our software will take power away from the people producing encyclopedia content, and you have not provided an argument.

He's wielding great power without any checks. Those who have power should be forced to justify their actions. Those with great power need to be assiduous in doing so. Manske essentially has infinite power right now.

How is he "wielding great power without any checks"? He has solicitied help consistantly, both for coding and for testing. Clifford Adams is working with him, helping to stamp out the bugs and import Wikipedia data. The features he has implemented have all been requested, except for a few minor items (which I happen to like). And Wikipedia will not be moved over to the new software until it is clear that it is stable, ready for action and won't screw everything up.

For anyone who isn't worried about this, just think for a second about Microsoft products.

There's no comparison here. The PHP source is available to all who want to look at, study, and improve it (and Magnus would thank you heartily if many programmers would do so!). Adding features is not a bad thing if done properly: slowly, and as required. --STG

As the author of UseModWiki, I'd like to comment on the new software issues. Originally I was very skeptical about the new software, but now I think it is a good idea. I simply don't have enough time to work on both the generic UseModWiki (used by over 50 sites) and the special modifications needed/requested by the Wikipedia community. I've barely had enough time to read Feature requests, let alone implement all of those fine ideas. Magnus Manske obviously has a little more time on his hands... :-)

The PHP wiki code is surprisingly good considering its rapid development rate. The move to an SQL database is an excellent idea, and should make it easier to write multiple interfaces to the database. (I've considered porting UseModWiki to use the SQL backend, but I don't have time for big projects right now.) I still have some concerns about performance, but I think they are resolvable. Magnus Manske has earned my respect with his excellent work, and I hope he will continue to support the Wikipedia project. --CliffordAdams

See why ManningBartlett left.

And Piotr Wozniak...

Mr. Bartlett chose to be offended, and chose to pick up his ball and stomp home instead of growing a spine. "Rudeness" is created in the minds of listeners, not the mouths of speakers, and a thick skin is a requirement for being useful here. --LDC
I have to agree with Lee here (Is that... Satan? Strapping on ice skates?). I say this because I stay far, far away from any page Lee has a hand in. Wikipedia is big enough to make that very easy to do.
I'm not sure that Piotr Wozniak is a good example, either. Piotr didn't seem to feel mistreated, but he did have reservations about the openness of the wikipedia system. His concerns were valid! But they are also concerns that we can't really do anything about and still remain true to the essence of what has made Wikipedia work so far. Perhaps someday Piotr will be pleased to take part in a project which works in a moderated fashion to build on our raw Wikipedia baseline data. I don't think it is fair to characterize his leaving as being caused by anyone 'Being in charge and being a dick'.
Piotr also violated Dave's first rule: never write about anything for which one has expert knowledge. It's too difficult to explain the subtleties to dil^H^H^H other people with superficial familiarity of a subject, and too painful to watch the prose chewed up by philistines.
I'd like to point out that M Bartlett also said on his page that he would be travelling and without regular computer access for at least 2 weeks, so if he did decide to come back it still wouldn't be today. --MichaelTinkler

Magnus and Microsoft

Microsoft uses copyright law and co-opts standards to ensure that people have to continue using their products. The content of Wikipedia can be moved to any software at any time, because it's open content. If we don't like Magnus's software, we'll use (or build) something else. I'm personally quite glad someone is at least thinking about improvements. I agree that they should be phased in slowly. --LDC

The mailing list is the semi-secret repository for the behind-the-scenes scheming to change Wikipedia.

This, of course, is just a lie. There is nothing at all secret about the list--it's 100% open to anyone, and it is advertised in pages here. It is also a more appropriate venue for this kind of discussion. This is an encyclopedia, remember? Discussion lists are for discussions. --LDC
I would dispute "semi-secret" - anyone can join it, and the instructions to do so are easy to find.

The Cunctator seems to be going out of his way to phrase arguments in as combative a manner as possible, using titles like "How to destroy Wikipedia" and comparing Manske to Microsoft....Politeness too is a worthy goal. But if calls for politeness come from an all-powerful cabal, which can kick you out, delete your work, etc., well, you can determine what to call that.

I have to disagree here--honesty is more important than politeness, and a thick skin is more valuable than a civil tongue. Tolerance is an obligation of listeners, not speakers. That's how to get the most effective communications. --LDC
I agree that honesty is more important than politeness, but the two are not mutually exclusive. I strongly disagree that the responsibility of keeping things civil is on the listener only, but I suspect that the two of us debating it would produce nothing useful. --STG
Ditto. I have no problem with "combative" comments. If they can dish it out but can't take it – that's when I have a problem. TheCunctator seems to be engaging, so I can overlook his style (and vulgar language) like I would overlook someone's halitosis. :-) It's exciting to see the 'pedia community grow, and disagreements are an inevitable part of group dynamics. It's how the group responds to conflict that determines its health. <>< tbc

Re Make big plans on the Mailing List:

Whine About the Mailing List Instead of Engaging

Wikipedia-L "is an essential resource for hardcore Wikipedians." So avoid it. Don't read the archives. Instead, spend your time writing screeds and spreading conspiracy theories.

Hmm. Overwriting someone else's essay, and calling it patent nonsense, is pretty rude, don't you think? -- TheCunctator

I ask for your forgiveness. I didn't see it then, but since your essay appeared as a subpage, I see your point now. Your response to my vandalism of your page gives me hope that you will remain engaged. <>< tbc

It will be interesting to see if wikipedia scales. These discussion consume time that might better be spent writing or editing. But they are important if wikipedia wants not to not usenet.

(See Larry Sanger/Cutting each other a bit of slack, which was written in response to this essay.)

Er, no. It was written in response to all the bitter wrangling going on over the past week or two, of which this is only a particularly shameful example. --LMS

Cunctator, What are you talking about? No one can kick anyone out. Anyone can delete anyone's work. You are aware of how the software works. There is nothing to stop anyone from hitting the site. There is nothing to prevent anyone from deleting other people's work. You're just making this up about an all-powerful cabal.

Either there is no cabal, or everyone with Internet access is a member of the cabal. Either way, your complaints are pointless, are they not? --Jimbo Wales

Tbe proposed powers of the cabal include kicking people out. You can kick people out, right? I didn't say the cabal exists. However, LMS and you do have powers others don't (and I think you're doing a good job with the responsibility, basically). --TheCunctator

And what are the powers you'd want that you don't have? The power to delete pages entirely or block IPs? Don't you think Jimbo is being generous & trusting with his webspace already; you want to let everyone have free reign over the database history and the server too? Take a deep breath and think about it.

I don't want more powers. I don't want people to have more powers. To be more accurate, I think it's very dangerous when some people have powers that some people don't, especially when they're powers over other people. --TheCunctator

If you were thinking calmly about it you'd see that you're being unreasonable. Jimbo bought the servers and domain name; he can do with it whatever he wants, including shut down wikipedia and turn it into a website selling neapolitan ice cream. He hasn't done that, or anything I'd call unreasonable (and yes, I've been lurking about for awhile) because he's not that kind of person. What exactly are you afraid of? You're not making sense.

That's simply ad hominem. I haven't said anything that resembles what you wrote, that I'm not "thinking clearly" and that I'm being "unreasonable" and that I'm "not making sense." I'm quite aware, and I think my edits demonstrate quite clearly, that lucid reasoning is one of my hallmarks. --TheCunctator

Is There Hope?

No theres not hope with current state of affairs.
Install PHP script right now or Wikipedia is failure.

Insist that you are right, especially when you are not

If the shoe fits, wear it. --9635

Opponents of the Cabal

  • Jimbo Wales -- who has expressed his opinion forcefully and clearly many times -- Wikipedia should remain permanently open to everyone who is attempting to make a legitimate contribution. My definition of legitimate contribution is extraordinarily broad and inclusive. Anyone who accuses me of wanting an elite cabal is just WRONG. I don't appreciate the suggestion. Got it? --Jimbo Wales
I think the following quotation may explain what I wrote:
I have this idea that there should be in the software some concept of "old timer" or "karma points". This would empower some shadowy mysterious elite group of us to do things that might not be possible for newbies. --Jimmy Wales, [3]
I know you meant it humorously, but my basic point is that in my experience, whenever there have been Cabals (TANCs) in the classic Usenet sense, they've inevitably led to hierarchies of elites and non-elites, which I think would be detrimental to the Wikipedia project. When I entitled the piece "How to Destroy Wikipedia", I could have entitled it "Trends in Wikipedia, That If Not Managed Properly, Could Lead To The Cunctator Not Enjoying Participating in the Project", but that's a little long. The essay is a personal opinion piece, not a statement of fact. That's why it's under The Cunctator, not Wikipedia commentary. --TheCunctator
I think these proliferating pages responding to your essay should also be under The Cunctator, too. This will make it clear (what is not clear from the titles right now) that these are responses just to your own personal, single, idiosyncratic views--as opposed to some sort of community statement about "what's wrong with Wikipedia." --LMS
Do whatever you'd like to make such issues more clear. Have you gotten any express feedback that it's unclear? Are you confused? I haven't seen any commentary that implies anyone's confused.
I suspect there are other ways than moving all of this discussion under The Cunctator, but I'm not going to stop you.
Another thing we could do is to have a Wikipedia commentary/How to destroy Wikipedia page, which everyone can hack up, add to, and reach a consensus.--TheCunctator

Sell Wiki to Britannica

humour -- BF

I've decided to completley abandon this argument. It's beyond pointless. The irony is, by acting the way he has, TheCuncator has made it much more certain that his opinions will not carry much weight. Personally, I think he should go back to Usenet. They like to argue over there, both pointlessly and ad nauseum. --Jimbo Wales

Well, Jimbo, since your page is read-only, I will mention this here. One sure fire way to slow down these kinds of problems is simply limit posting from a single IP address over a certain period of time. Say 10 posts per day. The problem of extraneous discussion will not go away, but it should proliferate much slower. I don't think it will hurt the quality of material that gets added, because it takes more than a few minutes to write something worth reading. For example, say I take a great interest in the Hick page as a result of the work I did in White trash and Redneck. Writing a nice little article will take 30 minutes to an hour, and probably 5 refreshes to clean up typos, etc. By that time, I will have something better to do, like take out the trash or whatever the wife has planned. People with nothing better to do than cause trouble will use up there daily ration pretty quick. People like me, who frankly have better things to do (like finishing my dissertation), will stick around because the troublemakers can't do that much damage. (-dave- usenet free since 1996).

That's an interesting suggestion, Dave, but people who occasionally "have nothing better to do" :-) have been some of the best contributors to wikipedia: Simon J Kissane in some stretches has added more information than others do in two or three months; The Cunctator was indefatigable about adding info on the Sept 11 attacks until he got derailed by the notion of not having subpages; and I even spent several hours at a time over several months adding all the information from the CIA World Factbook that hadn't yet been added.

Baby, bathwater, whoosh! Out the door! I know, the knife cuts both ways. However, that the "100,000" entries boast on the main page also disturbs me. Why do we care how many entries there are? Why do we care whether we are bigger or smaller or whatever than SomeOtherPedia? I could continue in this vein, but I won't.

Also, I saw the same approach on a listserv that degenerated anyway. I'm not sure what the answer is, but I think that's not it. I regret that I don't know what it is. Gentle reminders that we do more good writing might not work; it is a volunteer effort and so ... the carrot but not the whip, huh? Perhaps if we all just ignore irrelevant or trivial debate (and yes, I'd do well to take my own advice, I know). --Koyaanis Qatsi

I'd just like to say that after I got my licks in, so to speak, with the initial writing of Destroy, I've assiduously avoided calling people names or accusing them of lying, being dishonest, fantastic, unreasonable, etc. (excepting the little edit-war between me and Jimbo on the Destroy page). Rather, since writing that, I've attempted to clarify the motivations for writing the piece, via these response pages, and such entries as the Build piece, The Cunctator/Vulgarity, entries on the Cabala and cabal, work on the GFDL page and its talk page, private email discussions with Jimbo (which seem to have aggravated him further, unfortunately) and with Sanger, etc.

I assume that the contributors here are motivated out of good intentions but sometimes will do dumb or even dangerous things unintentionally. I was being too clever by half to deliberately do a dumb and dangerous thing in response. But I was motivated by good intentions.

This is a very roundabout way of saying I'm sorry for hurting people's feelings. --TheCunctator

Apology accepted. Now go find something else to do for a few days. We'll see you when you get back. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that.

Well, I for one don't bear you any ill will. But I'm a bleeding-heart liberal, and I don't even bear John Ashcroft any ill will, in spite of the fact he seems obviously to bear ill will towards the First Amenment. --KQ

Oh, pity. I had written a snappy reply to the previous response, but KQ's self-deprecating yet trenchant wit has redirected me. What interested me is that the people who responded most virulently to my piece were Larry and Jimbo; while from my perspective it seemed like the people in charge of Wikipedia were ganging up on me, calling an open season on attacking and dismissing the Cunctator, I now understand better how personally they took the attacks, because they are so deeply and personally committed to Wikipedia, for pretty much all the right reasons. And it's hard not to feel hurt and resentful, and even bewildered, when someone who you thought was on your side suddenly lashes out at you, where it hurts. To some degree, that's the crappy side of having a good idea and being successful with it, because I know that there will be people who actually will bear animosity towards them (unlike me) in the future. I think they'll probably do pretty well, even though they're both still royally pissed at me, in the future. --TheCunctator
It seemed to me that some parts of your essay would cause newbies to mistrust some of the more prominant people here, namely Jimbo, Larry and Magnus, and so that's why I responded as I did. I assure you that nothing I said was meant as a personal attack against you or anyone else; it was simply an attack on your essay. --STG

Deleting entries or content from entries is just a bad fucking idea 99% of the time.

Is it a "bad fucking idea," or is it a fucking bad idea? Is "fucking" an adjective modifying "idea," or is it an adverb describing just how bad the idea is? (And if it is an adverb, shouldn't it be "fuckingly"?) Encyclopaedists should be precise as well as accurate.... --The Epopt