Criticizing Wikimedia and Wikipedia

Posting my ideas to blog instead to a wiki

Posted on: July 24, 2010

Here we go. I decided to publish outside Wikimedia, because I think this will hopefully bring more than when a brilliant idea is lost in all the wiki garbage. In my opinion the main problem is that Wikimedia is an extremely diverse environment, where you barely solve a thing unless you do it yourself. And doing stuff on your own is not always an easy task – no, it is mostly a ridiculously difficult task, because you need an extreme intellectual property in your head. Simply put, you need to be a half-god to do what you actually would like to.

My last bigger part besides regular editing of articles was the involvement in the Strategy planning project. This project aimed to create a 5-year “business plan” on where all the Wikimedia projects (Wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons, Wikinews etc.) should go. Unfortunately, the strategy website was yet another regular MediaWiki software, with which thousands of new users struggle at Wikipedia. Despite this hard interface to work with, quite a few (1000+) proposals for changes and new projects were posted to the site. I admire all the brave people who fought themselves through the wiki and left a piece of text behind…

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5 Responses to "Posting my ideas to blog instead to a wiki"

I see, so youd prefer a different software to collect ideas of Wikimedia community and build a strategy?

I would say, that the diversity of Wikimedia in this new strategy cant be seen. It is still about Wikipedia.

This is the network problem that all committees face. With a Wiki-style site used for what is essentially political collaboration you wind up with the Greek Problem. Namely, that the number of interfaces available (and indeed required if everyone’s position is to be heard) is n+n^2, where n=the number of people involved. The Internet and design Wikimedia exacerbates this because where you could fit a fatally large committee of, say, 100 people in a single room physically and expect to get nothing done, the Internet and Wikimedia permit you to fit a million people into the same space (while removing the opportunity for physical communication nuance, inflection, emotion, etc.).

There are better methods than this — and they go back to the roots of human political formation. The open source world has solved them quite readily, specifically by adhering to a loose system of benevolent dictators. The nature of programming permits this because we are generally unified around the relatively unambiguous goal of functional software, which has its roots in testable specs and mathematics. Unfortunately for the Wikipedia world, however, a lot of the things they argue about are very subjective and are not so easy to resolve. Being a dictator there tends to make one anything but benevolent, and that is a very hard position to be in when leading a purely community-driven project.

Solutions? This comment has none. I hope this can get the wheels spinning on the nature of the problem, though.

Interesting insight, especially on the number of user interfaces! However, I think Wikimedia is in the same competition for users (readers and editors) like other (commercial) websites, so being a non-profit does not exclude it from a normal market competition. Things are getting better, but for example look at what speed changes on Facebook are going on – much faster than on Wikipedia for instance.

Wikimedia does exist in the same space as commercial sites such as Facebook. But to imagine that they are literally in the same market is wrong. Facebook is a for-profit company with clearly stated aims of marketing aggregate user and usage data as well as advertising. Facebook will pursue those aims in whatever way suits them, and being a commercial entity they have paid employees who can be paid to accept decisions in isolation from their own opinions and do all the necessary and necessarily less-than-glamorous work to keep a network such as Facebook’s working.

Wikimedia is a non-profit with a much less clear-cut aim. Is it a clearing house for open source information collaboration suites? Is it an open source development center for such suites? Is it an information production community focused around Wikipedia? Is it a series of autocratic organizations with differing aims each existing under a giant benevolent dictator’s organizational umbrella? Etc. All of the above are true, and the level of truth will vary depending on who you ask. So this makes Wikimedia’s mission less clear, and this is a critical disadvantage when attempting to organize through committee.

Facebook’s organization is clear, self-funding and heirarchal. If a tech decision isn’t perfect in theory, it can still be made as close to excellent in execution and implementation as possible by the developers receiving the imperfect decisions. Its their job, and they don’t want to leave, and there are far worse things in IT than attempting to achieve optimal implementation of a design the programmer doesn’t agree with.

In the open source world, however, everything is volunteer, and there is a huge blending of lines between architecture and implementation. This makes projects where a clear initial vision is picked up on by people who have a thorough understanding of the problem space perform phenomenally well — but “cool” projects tend to do far, far worse, specifically because they are cool enough that people who maintain a less than perfect understanding of the problem space remain motivated to work on the project despite their lack of understanding because the project is, after all, still very cool. This produces a lot of problems and a lot of silly committee time is wasted considering silly positions in such situations — which is where the role of the benevolent dictator comes in. That’s what Linus Torvalds spends most of his time doing, shooting down bad ideas.

Wikimedia can’t emulate that, and I consider this a social design flaw which will act to limit it in some situations.

Extremely delayed response, but I believe this is a useful discussion.

to zxq9: I think you are wrong. Facebook and Wikimedia are in exactly the same market – trying to attract new users. Finally, the Internet is only one. While the number of users of Facebooks still grows rapidly, Wikimedias participationship actually declines… and that is what matters.

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    • Jan Kucera (Kozuch): to zxq9: I think you are wrong. Facebook and Wikimedia are in exactly the same market - trying to attract new users. Finally, the Internet is only one
    • zxq9: Wikimedia does exist in the same space as commercial sites such as Facebook. But to imagine that they are literally in the same market is wrong. Faceb
    • Jan Kucera (Kozuch): Interesting insight, especially on the number of user interfaces! However, I think Wikimedia is in the same competition for users (readers and editors

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