[p2p-research] the wikipedia decline

Paul D. Fernhout pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com
Thu Nov 26 06:22:07 CET 2009

Good points.

Still, even as I think we are heading for an abundance of physical goods, 
this may fall into the category of "scarcity of attention", which is not 
necessarily artificial.

The more articles you have, the more they need to be policed against 
vandalism. And the more confusion there might be in the system. "Less is 
more" may sometimes be true.

So, to the extent the community is fixed, every article creates an extra 
burden. On the other hand, every article may create more users and editors. 
So, which way does the balance tip? And has it changed as most of the 
obvious articles have been written and new articles have less interested 

I'm not saying I agree -- one can have search engines. One can even have AIs 
to pay attention to things. :-) But that would be the argument.

Still, I like where you are going with the "artificial scarcity" argument 
and linking it to power. :-)

But what you are doing is basically questioning the notion of "notability", 
and by implication, maybe questioning the whole notion of a conventional 
encyclopedia as it has been known before the internet.

The implication of your point is really that we need a better paradigm for 
thinking about collaborative production and distribution of human knowledge 
than an "encyclopedia", IMHO. See, when someone like you (and maybe me) 
comes to the internet, we might say, "What can we do with the internet that 
is wonderful and useful?"

But other people may walk up to it and say, "How can I put an encyclopedia 
on the internet?", which is a very different issue.

 From Wikipedia:
An encyclopedia (also spelled encyclopaedia or encyclopædia) is a 
comprehensive written compendium that holds information from either all 
branches of knowledge or a particular branch of knowledge. Encyclopedias are 
divided into articles with one article on each subject covered. The articles 
on subjects in an encyclopedia are usually accessed alphabetically by 
article name and can be contained in one volume or many volumes, depending 
on the amount of material included.[1] ...
   The encyclopaedia as we recognize it today was developed from the 
dictionary in the 18th century. Historically, both encyclopaedias and 
dictionaries have been researched and written by well-educated, 
well-informed content experts, but they are significantly different in 
structure. A dictionary primarily focuses on alphabetical listing of words 
and their definitions. Synonymous words and those related by the subject 
matter are to be found scattered around the dictionary, giving no obvious 
place for in-depth treatment. Thus, a dictionary typically provides limited 
information, analysis or background for the word defined. While it may offer 
a definition, it may leave the reader still lacking in understanding the 
meaning, significance or limitations of a term, and how the term relates to 
a broader field of knowledge.
   To address those needs, an encyclopaedia article covers not a word, but a 
subject or discipline. As well as defining and listing synonymous terms for 
the topic, the article is able to treat it in more depth and convey the most 
relevant accumulated knowledge on that subject. An encyclopaedia article 
also often includes many maps and illustrations, as well as bibliography and 
   Four major elements define an encyclopaedia: its subject matter, its 
scope, its method of organization, and its method of production:
     * Encyclopaedias can be general, containing articles on topics in every 
field (the English-language Encyclopædia Britannica and German Brockhaus are 
well-known examples). General encyclopaedias often contain guides on how to 
do a variety of things, as well as embedded dictionaries and gazetteers. 
There are also encyclopaedias that cover a wide variety of topics but from a 
particular cultural, ethnic, or national perspective, such as the Great 
Soviet Encyclopedia or Encyclopaedia Judaica.
     * Works of encyclopedic scope aim to convey the important accumulated 
knowledge for their subject domain, such as an encyclopaedia of medicine, 
philosophy, or law. Works vary in the breadth of material and the depth of 
discussion, depending on the target audience. (For example, the Medical 
encyclopaedia produced by A.D.A.M., Inc. for the U.S. National Institutes of 
     * Some systematic method of organization is essential to making an 
encyclopaedia usable as a work of reference. There have historically been 
two main methods of organizing printed encyclopaedias: the alphabetical 
method (consisting of a number of separate articles, organised in 
alphabetical order), or organization by hierarchical categories. The former 
method is today the most common by far, especially for general works. The 
fluidity of electronic media, however, allows new possibilities for multiple 
methods of organization of the same content. Further, electronic media offer 
previously unimaginable capabilities for search, indexing and cross 
reference. The epigraph from Horace on the title page of the 18th century 
Encyclopédie suggests the importance of the structure of an encyclopaedia: 
"What grace may be added to commonplace matters by the power of order and 
     * As modern multimedia and the information age have evolved, they have 
had an ever-increasing effect on the collection, verification, summation, 
and presentation of information of all kinds. Projects such as Everything2, 
Encarta, h2g2, and Wikipedia are examples of new forms of the encyclopaedia 
as information retrieval becomes simpler. More specifically, Wikipedia has 
received acclaim for its scholarly nature, succinctness, verifiability, 
accuracy, and neutrality.[citation needed]

Maybe what went wrong was a confusion of product and process?

We need some process for accessing information that is commonly agreed on, 
or which provides summaries and consolidations, or which has links to 
literature that meets some standards of verification, or which presents 
information according to some perspective (even a supposedly neutral one), 
or which allows knowledgeable peers to contribute to it in a productive way.

But, that does not mean we need an "encyclopedia" as a product.

Still, this is not to disagree with Wikipedia entirely, in the sense that 
there is a part of Wikipedia which is about creating a community (and so, a 
community process) that writes to certain standards and policies itself 
(even as one might argue about the bias in those standards given they demand 
citing reference materials that have been produced by a scientific process 
very much tainted by capitalism or other ideological issues).

Somehow I am reminded of "A group is its worst enemy" by Clay Shirky:
(Not that everyone agrees with Shirky, like about handles.)
Still, how has the Wikipedia community become its own enemy?
Obviously, to some extent it has. How can that be fixed?

Is it something as simple as dropping the "notability" guideline now?

Makes me also think of Engelbart and a co-evolution of a community and its 

Does Wikipedia as a community need better tools that a wiki?

Ward Cunningham said wikis worked because older software built in the wrong 
expectations about how things should be done, and by imposing no 
restrictions, wikis let good processes emerge. But, it all is done manually. 
Now that Wikipedia has social processes that have emerged, could it benefit 
by building some of those into the code? With workflow? Or structured 
arguments? Or multi-perspective stuff? Or visualization tools? Or someway to 
rank articles on "notability" based on viewership (where less notable things 
are there but harder to find from indexes or topic links)? Or something else?

The deeper issues is also just the semantic web.

I set up a Halo Semantic MediaWiki for OSCOMAK, but it just seemed really 
awkward. But, that might be a next logical step for Wikipedia too, and maybe 
some of the semantic stuff might help building these new tools for the 

--Paul Fernhout

Michel Bauwens wrote:
> Paul, there is no shortage of articles at all, that's a myth, just like
> saying the world needs only five computers .. there are thousands or even
> millions of microcommunities with topics dear to their heart which are
> systematically expunged from the wikipedia.
> Why would this be necessary in an infinite medium? Whom does an extra
> article hurt.
> What artificial scarcity has done however is create a power base for the
> selectors, who are typically less knowledgeable about the articles than the
> authors, and create such a high treshold for inclusion (which now always
> includes political fights with the powerful editor clique), that most
> volunteers just call it quits. Without the support of the p2p-f community,
> my own article would already have been deleted twice ...
> Michel
> On Thu, Nov 26, 2009 at 10:51 AM, Paul D. Fernhout <
> pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com> wrote:
>> Paul D. Fernhout wrote:
>>> Just for a personal example, yesterday, out of nostalgia in the context of
>>> the current student occupations of buildings, I went to look up an old
>>> science fiction society at Princeton University that now seems not to be
>>> around anymore. Google showed me there was a Wikipedia page on it, I went
>>> there, because I've been wondering what happened to the group who brought
>>> James P. Hogan to campus where I met him, and imagine my disappointment to
>>> see the page had been deleted:
>>>  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infinity,_Ltd
>>> """
>>> This page has been deleted. The deletion and move log for the page are
>>> provided below for reference.
>>>    * 08:34, 15 January 2009 Redvers (talk | contribs) deleted "Infinity,
>>> Ltd" ‎ (A7: No indication that the article may meet guidelines for
>>> inclusion)
>>> """
>>> The science fiction society I belonged to at SUNY Stony Brook is still
>>> going strong though, with lots of content on the web, and even a Wikipedia
>>> article on it:
>>>  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science_Fiction_Forum
>>> Just pointing out an inconsistency. I hope this does not get the other
>>> article deleted too. :-(
>> I had mentioned separately a slashdot article from today on Wikipedia and
>> the WSJ article, and here is a comment by someone than is very insightful
>> about this issue:
>>  http://news.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=1457098&cid=30227440
>> "When 'deletionists' destroy the work people are putting in, it's not
>> surprising when the people who have put that work into Wikipedia leave the
>> site. There's only a finite amount of things that can be written about and
>> as Wikipedia progresses, the articles that are created must become more and
>> more obscure. But with those kinds of articles effectively banned from
>> Wikipedia, the only editors it needs around are those that upkeep the
>> existing articles."
>> That idea explains a lot -- both why that web page on "Infinity, Ltd." got
>> added (people are still stigmergically building at the edges), and also why
>> it got deleted (almost anything left to add now is less and less of general
>> interest).
>> So, wikipedia's notability policy:
>>  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Notability
>> essentially suggests that Wikipedia may not be able to grow much anymore?
>> With over three million articles, it may just be hard to come up with
>> anything that is really "notable" to enough people that has not been added.
>> And, if the result of trying to put something new up is to just see it is
>> deleted as not "notable", that is a real turnoff.
>> Anyway, that comment cleared up some more of the dynamics for me.
>> --Paul Fernhout
>> http://www.pdfernhout.net/
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