[p2p-research] the wikipedia decline (another slashdot article)

Paul D. Fernhout pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com
Sat Nov 28 19:34:25 CET 2009

Michel Bauwens wrote:
> Despite the dismissal by paul hartzog of my interpretation, the fall of
> wikipedia pretty much started with the victory of the exclusionists ... this
> is pretty much confirmed by the article,
> with the revolt of the german wikipedia hackers, we now have a realistic
> chance to regain a inclusionist Wikipedia with a real democratic peer
> governance,

Another slashdot article related to a reply by Wikipedia staff:
"The Wikimedia blog has a new post from Erik Moeller, deputy director of the 
Wikimedia Foundation, and Erik Zachte, a data analyst, to dispute recent 
reports about editors leaving Wikipedia (which we discussed on Wednesday). 
They offer these points to discredit the claims: 'The number of people 
reading Wikipedia continues to grow. In October, we had 344 million unique 
visitors from around the world, according to comScore Media Metrix, up 6% 
from September. Wikipedia is the fifth most popular web property in the 
world. The number of articles in Wikipedia keeps growing. There are about 
14.4 million articles in Wikipedia, with thousands of new ones added every 
day. The number of people writing Wikipedia peaked about two and a half 
years ago, declined slightly for a brief period, and has remained stable 
since then. Every month, some people stop writing, and every month, they are 
replaced by new people." They also note that it's impossible to tell whether 
someone has left and will never return, as their account still remains there."

An example chain of comments:
Oh, you can tell (Score:5, Interesting)
by CRCulver (715279) <crculver at christopherculver.com> on Saturday November 
28, @08:22AM (#30254092) Homepage

     They also note that it's impossible to tell whether someone has left 
and will never return, as their account still remains there.

I stopped editing Wikipedia in 2004, IIRC. There were plenty of cases who 
people left and you could tell they weren't likely to return, as their User 
or Talk page had some spectacular meltdown where they cursed the entire 
project and -- in the cases of the more qualified editors -- they vowed 
never to write anything about their field outside of academic rounds ever again.

       Re:Oh, you can tell (Score:4, Insightful)
       by ACS Solver (1068112) on Saturday November 28, @08:49AM (#30254188)
       Cursing or not, I can understand why people stop editing. I used to 
contribute stuff but stopped some 3 years ago. One problem is that Wikipedia 
has gotten very bogged down in its own bureaucracy. For making non-minor 
edits, there's the distinct impression that you're supposed to know a huge 
amount of rules and guidelines, proper procedures and whatnot. Then there's 
the problem with other editors that won't accept your edits as valid unless 
you can show them a citation they understand. Requiring citations is great, 
but if I'm making edits related to a fairly small European language only 
spoken in one country, what can I show? I can cite books or online resources 
written in that very language - citations that some editors don't find 
satisfying because they don't understand what it says.

             Re:Oh, you can tell (Score:4, Insightful)
             by mdwh2 (535323) on Saturday November 28, @09:13AM (#30254296)
             The funny thing is, elsewhere on this artice will be people 
bitching about "Well I left Wikipedia, I got fed up of people coming in an 
making changes to articles, without discussing with people or following 
basic guidelines". I'm not saying you're in the wrong, I'm just saying 
there's no right answer here, and the fault is not with "Wikipedia" as an 

             The fallacy is referring to "Wikipedia" as if it was some 
single entity. The problem is between the editors - and when you edit, that 
includes you. There's no you-and-them, as the them may well be other people 
who are complaining about "Wikipedia", when by "Wikipedia" they actually 
mean their experience with you.

             The only plausible time when a them-and-us argument is valid is 
when discussing Wikipedia admins (who are granted special privileges). But 
this doesn't apply to editors. You were an editor, and are just as much a 
target of Wikipedia criticism as any other editor.

             The bottom line is that when you have a massive collaboration 
between people online who don't even know each other, there are going to be 
disagreements. Unfortunately, rather than debate it with each other, 
sometimes both sides of an argument will take it out on "Wikipedia", each of 
them referring to the other side's view as wrong, and an example of how 
doomed Wikipedia is.

             Thankfully, criticisms on Slashdot comments or in the tabloids 
don't change the fact that out of this collabaration, we nonetheless 
actually have a resultant free encyclopedia that's pretty damn good.

I'm seeing one big issue here:
# 2.3.2 2. Collaboration is inherently composed of two primary components, 
without either of which collaboration cannot take place: social negotiation 
and creative output.
# 2.3.3 3. Collaboration in small groups (roughly 2-25) relies upon social 
negotiation to evolve and guide its process and creative output.
Although social mediation is an inherent part of collaboration, when applied 
in traditional face-to-face collaboration social mediation can provide a 
barrier to the rapid and seamless integration of contributions that 
characterises projects such as Wikipedia.org and the Open Source software 
movement. It may be that there is simply so much complex information to be 
negotiated when people communicate directly that the negotiations of the 
many collapse under their own weight without the mediation of an 
administrative/stigmergic system.
   This is not to say that social negotiation does not take place in 
stigmergic collaborative contexts – it may even be essential to developing 
the collaborative community – but rather that negotiation takes a back seat 
in terms of the creative drafting process. Most (if not all) stigmergic wiki 
collaborations have discussions associated with the content being developed, 
but it is possible to contribute (to Wikipedia.org, for instance) without 
discussing what you are contributing or creating. Conversely, it is also 
possible to take part in discussion without editing an article. Although 
such discussions are most certainly an important and perhaps crucial form of 
contribution, they are typically secondary to the objectives of the overall 
project. For an example of a discussion accompanying mass collaboration, see 
the Israel talk page at Wikipedia.org. In addition to such points of 
discussion, bulletin boards, IRC (chat) and email lists often support and 
augment the negotiation.

By focusing more and more on discussion, with ever more complex social 
rules, and with deletionism and rollbacking related a lot to taking part in 
discussion, Wikipedia makes the stigmergic part of the process harder to do.

--Paul Fernhout

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