[p2p-research] the wikipedia decline
Paul D. Fernhout
pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com
Fri Nov 27 01:09:50 CET 2009
Michel Bauwens wrote:
> Hi Paul,
> the issues of spam and libel etc.. are real, but have no bearing on
> inclusionism/deletionism, since they can happen on both notable and
> so-called non-notable articles; in fact, since the latter are from
> passionate subcultures, they have most chance of being corrected ...
> either we go back to pre-publication censorship or verification, or we
> accept the open model, knowing that the latter is a process of
> post-publication verification ..
> again, the only result of deletionism and creating the selection hierarchy,
> has been to destroy the passionate engagement of volunteers, as has now been
> amply demonstrated, and was widely expected by people such as myself ...
Maybe I'm not explaining this well.
Let me try again with more rambles on this. :-) I'm not saying I'm right on
this; I'm just trying to advance a plausible argument for deletionism and
notability for Wikipedia, even as I agree 100% it seems out of hand if it is
driving people away. And personally, I wish that page on the Infinity, Ltd
sci-fi society had not been deleted.
I'm suggesting that the more pages Wikipedia has, the more likely someone
can place information that creates legal liability for Wikipedia. With many,
many mostly trivial pages, no one may notice something is seriously wrong
with one of them until someone is directly and seriously offended, and can
then say that information has been up for a year, and then sue or attack
Wikipedia somehow over it. This is a legal issue, and maybe, ultimately, the
remedy for it should be legal and not technical or community process?
Consider, for example, just to show I'm not making this up completely out of
"Italian Prosecutors Seek Prison Sentences For Google Execs"
""Milan prosecutors have sought prison sentences ranging from six months to
one year for four Google executives accused of violating Italy's privacy
laws over the posting of a video showing the bullying of a handicapped
teenage boy. The prosecutor's request was backed up by a request by lawyers
representing the Milan city council for €300,000 (US$452,000) in moral and
material damages. The case concerns the posting on Google Video of a
three-minute mobile-phone video showing a handicapped boy being tormented by
his classmates in a Turin school.""
More on that:
"mikesd81 writes to tell us that four Google employees may be facing charges
of defamation and failure to control personal data simply because they
didn't remove a video of a boy with Down's Syndrome being harassed and
eventually hit over the head with a box of tissue, from Google Video. The
video was posted in September of 2006 and was removed by Google within a day
of receiving the initial complaints, but apparently that isn't fast enough."
A focus on articles being "notable" and "verifiable" is one defense for
Wikipedia staff perhaps -- that they are trying to avoid such problems, and
so if there is a problem, it is not due to ill will or lack of trying, but
just the nature of running a big useful site.
Also, beyond setting up a legal defense, sure, notable articles can get
spammed or vandalized, but they will be fixed fairly quickly. Others
probably won't. So, the risk vs. reward is different for articles with
different interest levels. Every page that is created poses a new risk for
Wikipedia; the risks worth taking are the pages that have the most value to
The "notable" articles, probably really meaning popular articles or
culturally iconic articles maybe, will get a lot of people viewing them, and
problems will be quickly found and corrected. Less popular pages probably
create just as much legal liability per incident, but are less likely to be
fixed quickly (so, maybe more likely to generate legal action? weighed
against them being less likely to be viewed, except maybe by someone using a
search engine specifically looking for trouble somehow), and those less
notable pages are also somehow worth less to the community. So, the risk is
less worth taking for less notable pages.
One might draw some kind of curve of risk vs. reward for pages of different
Let me give a hypothetical example (making up some numbers).
Wikipedia has about three million articles in English.
I'm guessing (is there some analysis somewhere?), following the usual an
exponential distribution with a "long tail" that articles fall into some
categories of more "notable" to less "notable":
1% of articles are really important to a lot of people.
10% of articles are fairly important to quite a few people..
30% of articles are interesting to some people.
50% of articles are interesting to a very few people.
9% of articles are of no interest except to people who made them and maybe
Those are just guesses (anyone here know?), and they assume deletionism has
been going strong for a while, and they may even be skewed toward too much
interest. Maybe 50% of articles are of little interest -- I don't know for
sure. But I can guess at least 10% of articles are probably fairly
interesting, so probably at most 90% of articles are probably not that
But what if Wikipedia grew 1000X to be three billion articles, purely by
people adding random "non-notable" things, and 99.9% of articles were of no
interest to anyone but the people who made them and a few friends? I just
looked at one new article today from the new articles page and it was a
woman's name and a few silly things about her (maybe not even derogatory,
just silly) and was marked already for speedy deletion. In general, without
a lot of policing, people might even just start using Wikipedia as --
shudders -- a wiki! :-) So, people across the globe might just start using
it like a public chalk board.
If only, say, 0.01% (so, one hundredth of one percent) of the Wikipedia
content was of interest to at least a very few people, there would be no way
for the community to police what was going on, assuming the community was
not suddenly very much larger. But the Wikipedia community seems to have
stopped growing a lot, either because of the deletionism or, more likely,
that there are a lot of other alternatives for attention on the internet and
all the easy notable articles are there and the exponential growth of people
coming onto the web is ending.
So, by letting there be billions of pages that were not "notable", there
would be no way to have any hope of ensuring content was not a liability
until the legal notices came in. And then that would take a lot of time to
Of course, one can still argue about where the cut-off on "notability"
should be. And that is probably pretty subjective. It might make more sense
to look, after a year, at articles that have few page views and delete
those. Or, maybe, have a way people can click to say they thought the
article was important to mod it up if few people viewed it, or something
like that (assuming that would work).
Now, if you look at the web, probably 99.9% of the content is of no interest
except to people who make it and their friends. That still may mean tens of
millions of interesting pages for everyone, because the web is now so large
(billions and billion of pages -- Google says they now see a trillion unique
So, if Wikipedia goes that way, it basically becomes the web somehow. And
maybe that's a good idea, but it's just not what the creators and the people
who joined them have in mind.
Now, maybe those people are just misguided in some way. Maybe it would be
best to just have a public wiki space with a search engine and a moderation
system? Maybe the idea of an encyclopedia is obsolete?
Or, maybe there should be some way for Wikipedia to support multiple groups
working towards their own encyclopedias by their own guidelines? So, there
could be one wiki group with very aggressive deletion policies, but there
might be another group with lax ones or none at all, and there might be
other groups that tried to connect knowledge from various perspectives
somehow. I don't know if that would work out. It's just a thought.
One idea I developed for the Pointrel system in some versions was that you
could layer archives of triples on top of each other to create synthesized
composite views. So, people might have a common core and then layer
different data on top of it.
The deep issue is, giving wikis can hold anything, what is the "value added"
that the Wikipedia community is offering over, say, the original wiki?
Consider what is said there:
Wiki Is Not Wikipedia
As this wiki matures a curious pattern emerges.
In the olden days, people learned to Wiki here, then migrated out to other
These days, WikiPuppys who grew up with WikiPedia come here. Sometimes, they
start applying its norms to our edits.
Folks, these are the norms for this wiki:
* unattributed viewpoints
* original research
* fussing, noise, fun, actual and inactual advances
* thread mode, jokes, and transclusions
* content shamelessly ripped off from other forums, possibly without
* signed works by WikiAuthors
* unsigned works by actual authors
Nothing here needs to be chronically cleansed of any potential for dissent!
So, what is Wikipedia? A tool? And information source? A community? A set of
rules or principles? A license? An index into "notable" content? A set of
servers that can get hit hard and keep running? All of those things? None of
them if it just an idea of an "online encyclopedia"?
Before we can talk about how Wikipedia can be better, we need to say what it
is, or what it is trying to be?
How is Wikipedia different than Ward's Wiki? And why? And what does that
mean now and in the future?
Maybe a big issue is just "identity"? Or "mission"?
But in this big complex and changing world, "identity" itself can be a
slippery subject. Maybe the real issue is not, has Wikipedia lost editors,
but, has Wikipedia lost its identity somehow?
More information about the p2presearch