[p2p-research] the wikipedia decline

Paul D. Fernhout pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com
Thu Nov 26 15:42:53 CET 2009

Kevin Carson wrote:
> On 11/25/09, Michel Bauwens <michelsub2004 at gmail.com> 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.
> I'm not sure you and Paul are disagreeing here.  Articles of interest
> to such microcommunities are unlikely to meet the Deletionazis'
> criteria for notability.
> And I think we're all agreed that the notability requirements are
> unnecessary in an environment of abundance.
> Reminds me of a radio commercial I used to hear for some pizza place
> that said "...And we don't put dead minnows on our pies!"  Well, I'm
> not aware of any pizza place that puts anchovies on orders for people
> who don't ask for them.  So what they were really bragging about was
> that they didn't have them for those who DID want them.  Similarly,
> the "non-notable" articles will never even be seen by those who aren't
> interested or looking for them; but thanks to the Deletionazis, they
> won't be there for anyone who IS looking.

And this gives me an opportunity to once again say, I feel the biggest 
problem of the 21st century is the tools of creating abundance in the hands 
of people thinking in terms of managing scarcity. And, to some extent, that 
is exactly what we see on Wikipedia as you and Michel point out -- scarcity 
thinking in a digital world of abundance. Like you say, if you don't want 
information on a topic at Wikipedia, the average user probably won't see it.

Still, I agree only up to point here on practical grounds. :-) 
Unfortunately, every article in Wikipedia can create a legal liability for 
the central organization in at least three ways, libel, copyright, and 
international censorship.

Libel (written slander) can show up on any page, and this creates a legal 
problem for Wikipedia (witness how much warning there is about issues in 
relation to commenting on living people). Sometimes (younger kids 
especially) someone might put up a non-complimentary page about someone in 
their social circle to hurt them. Wikipedia could be named in such a lawsuit.

Copyright-infringing information can show up and needs to be dealt with on a 
timely basis or Wikipedia could face vast amounts of monetary damages.

Information that is illegal in various countries can show up, which could 
entail jail time for people associated with Wikipedia if they travel to 
those countries.

These legal issues all deterred me from putting up and promoting OSCOMAK as 
a centralized site. They led me to prefer a distributed social semantic 
model where users or small topical workgroups would be more responsible for 
the legal implications of hosting their created content or transmitting it, 
not a central organization that can be attacked for every single legal 
problem as a single legal point of failure.

Another non-legal public relations problem is that some article with major 
problems might be presented to the press as evidence that Wikipedia itself 
has major problems (ignoring that Wikipedia has cybernetic feedback 
processes once issues are brought to the community's attention). This has 
happened several times in the past, like with the Ted Kennedy article or 
Even if only a tiny number of such situations show up, it can be a major 
public relations issue. So, now that Wikipedia has assets and a reputation 
to protect, it may be getting more conservative.
   "25 Biggest Blunders in Wikipedia History"
   "Wikipedia New Yorker Article Misrepresentation Exposed"
   "What The New Yorker Article Fraud Tells Us About Wikipedia"

Then there is also the Spam problem.

So, for these sorts of reasons, there is a natural scarcity of editors based 
on the size of the current community, but a potentially infinite amount of 
articles (or edits to existing articles) that may cause problems for the 
Wikipedia organization legally or in terms of public relations.

Every new article takes some attention from the community to appraise it on 
its creation, and every existing article takes some effort to protect it, 
and human attention by core volunteers (about 1000?) is a limited resource, 
and most of the rest of the volunteers may not be as concerned about these 
liability issues. Some people probably really do monitor a stream like this 
on new pages or new changes, so the less editing and less new articles, the 
better from their point of view, as it is less work for them:

In a way, does the existence of a "New Page" tool itself encourage 
deletionism? You suggest that average Wikipedia users won't see non-notable 
content unless they are interested in it, but because of these tools, there 
are people who will see it, and those people tend to be the ones who are 
more powerful within the system for various reasons (the administrators) and 
also the ones who feel the most overwhelmed and underpaid (mostly not paid 
at all). If we had a basic income in our society, then many people might 
just decide their contribution back to society would be to spend full-time 
taking care of Wikipedia (which by itself might decrease vandalism the way 
Jane Jacobs says many eyes on a city street does -- people won't even try 
it). Actually, Jane Jabobs' ideas might apply here as she says some 
community densities in the middle are worse than very dispersed or very 
dense, as you get the problems of random strangers interacting but not 
enough people to make solutions.

I'm also reminded of analogies to exponential-growth assuming mainstream 
economics (and limited demand) as well as David Goodstein's Big Crunch idea 
about the exponential growth of academia ending in the 1970s and causing 
problems. As long as Wikipedia was growing exponentially, the case for most 
of the past decade, one could assume that there would always be a lot more 
people next year to deal with maintaining last year's content against 
vandalism. But, as soon as exponential growth of the community stopped, then 
the burden per editor for new articles starts going up tremendously. And, 
like any pyramid scheme, there are maybe not enough resources this year to 
deal with the obligations incurred last year. So, all of this controversy 
may be related to Wikipedia transitioning to a more steady-state model of 

I can wonder if there are any lessons here about the implications of the 
ending of industrial growth or service growth in large areas of the economy? 
Will endless new products just be seen as a burden? Have we reached that 
stage already in some ways, like with Vioxx or endless new car models of 
only minor variations?

I can wonder if we could have some unified mathematical model (smiles to 
Andrew :-) about both situations as systems like Wikipedia or the global 
economy transition from exponential growth in some areas to a steady-state?

Anyway, what I'm saying is, if there is a scarcity, it is not mainly about 
bandwith or storage capacity, but it is about aspects of the community like 
limited human attention or maybe something else.

--Paul Fernhout

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