Wednesday, May 07, 2008


'Twould drama generate
and mountains of hate
consuming the kilobytes endless,
all indexed by Google
to boggle your noodle.
So this is one time when more is less.

Most of the world still has no idea how Wikipedia operates. People read it because it's the easiest way to find information, and the information is usually pretty good, but the place sure is quirky.

An equally salient fact that most Wikipedians forget is that Wikipedia's structures--although transparent--require a significant investment of time to understand. I have conversed with three different Ivy League students, none of whom had a reason to feign ignorance, and none of whom understood what a featured article was until I explained the concept to them. Two of them were writing theses about Wikipedia, so it's a fair bet they were doing their darndest to comprehend the place.

Yet there it was: Today's featured article, front and center on the main page, and they had never realized what they were looking at. Information overload does that to people.

Wikipedians work by consensus, yet rarely do we consider to what degree we constitute a self-selecting population. I've often speculated that certain people's brains are hard wired to thrive in a wiki environment. Those of us who manage the site's day-to-day operations tend to be self-taught in wikidom.

So by consensus, the site's regulars generally deevalue organized training. I've been advocating admin coaching for well over a year (that means matching up administrators with editors who would like to learn administrative skills for mentorship), and it regularly get the counterargument that some people want adminship for power and status rather than to help the site.

Well that's not entirely false: some people do seek the admin bit for the wrong reasons. But what makes anyone suppose that people who don't get mentorship act from purer motives than those who do?

If I were a social scientist I'd construct a study right now to compare Wikpedia administrators against a control group. Seeing this place from the inside gives me a strong hunch that certain personality traits or talents operate synergistically with Wikipedia, and that a relatively small share of the general populationhas them. If so, that may skew a portion of our consensus discussions.

So getting back to the piece of doggerel above, Wikipedians often lose perspective when a particular page becomes a locus of contention. The reasons certain pages become flash points is another matter entirely, but I'd like to remind fellow editors that sometimes when we attempt to solve a problem and get frustrated with each other, we inadvertently make the problem worse.


llywrch said...

You wrote that "I'd like to remind fellow editors that sometimes when we attempt to solve a problem and get frustrated with each other, we inadvertently" (sic)

We inadvertently what?


P.S. I sincerely hope that my question does not mean I am the only person to read this post.

Lise Broer said...

Heh, thanks for the catch. :)

Moulton said...

You can also read more about that curious kerfuffle here...

A Scientific Dissent From Wikipedianism -- A Crockwork Orange