Musings on why Wikipedia fails

July/2007: From those that know me, I've been an avid reader of Wikipedia ever since I can remember the website being of any prominence. Prior to forming, I had Wikipedia as one of my favored links on my personal blog. Wikipedia in general is great until you learn how Wikipedia works.

Wikipedia itself is, as most know, user-edited. It prides itself upon that fact. Much has been made of this, especially in criticism of Wikipedia... so I won't bother to rehash that aspect of the criticism against them. Wikipedia basically works as "information by democracy." If there's a conflict, other editors weigh in on it. If there's a clear consensus, the conflict is decided by majority rule. For the uninitiated, if you edit an article to point to your website that says "JFK liked to smell socks, he loved it. He loved socks and smelling them"... that information is true if you can convince a majority of people who weigh in on it that it should be included.

Now, in a perfect world, the above model works. In a perfect world, people know that a random person on a random website saying something outlandish like that means it needs a better source. In that perfect world, the edit is deleted. In a perfect world, people are smart and Wikipedia's guidelines help guide nutcases away from the project.

We obviously don't live in a perfect world.

Let's pretend that the sock-smelling JFK allegation has a following. Let's say that there's a cadre of individuals who also love to smell socks and believe that JFK is "one of them." On Wikipedia, those individuals, without registering an account... on an anonymous IP address... have the same input that oh, Joe User who edits a broad-based selection of articles does. Wikipedia protects those individuals, random IP's and the like by their "assume good faith" rule.

What is the "assume good faith" rule?
The rule itself means that you are to... almost literally, take a lawn-mower to your brain. You are to assume that every edit by every user is done with the best interests of Wikipedia and "truth" at heart. Each edit is to be assumed as though the editor is free from bias and that the edit is designed to advance the concept of learning and knowledge and all these fluffy flowery things that we SHOULD all value.

This rule itself, however, shelters trolls and those who come with a point of view they wish to propagandize. You cannot challenge a person on the basis of their edit history. This leads to examples where a user will solely edit an article towards one direction... yet you cannot point out this bias nor can you make any insinuation that the user may be POV. Nor are any other editors allowed to sniff out those who come with a point of view. Instead you are expected to shut your eyes, stick your fingers in your ears and try to find a consensus.

The only other aspect of the world that is dumb enough to use this viewpoint is, in most cases, international diplomacy mediated by a power with two parties who hate each other. This principle of "must consensus" is pretty much the entire reason the Israeli/Palestinian conflict spirals on to this day.

My experience editing Wikipedia.
The last thing I ever wanted to do was to get caught up editing Wikipedia on any articles. However, due to my position with the CorporateSexOffenders thing, I figured I'd give it a shot. Fortunately, I learned enough about rudimentary Wikifying that it greatly aided the Wikisposure Project we launched. However, it also has robbed me of the ability to read much of anything on Wikipedia.

I made the mistake of trying to get involved from the inside to throw my (admittedly beyond POV) viewpoints against the pedophile viewpoints on a couple articles they had made calls to campaign over. Prior to that, I had the good policy of merely lobbing attacks at Wikipedia for their really fucked up pedophile articles by pedophiles and for pedophiles. However, when Wikipedia banned a ton of pedophile user accounts for pedophile trolling, I figured they might finally start having NPOV editors fixing their pedophile sections.

Oh man, that was naive!

Wikipedia now shelters itself behind it's "assume good faith" policy. It effectively is a "don't ask, don't tell" policy and the pedophiles know it. They have remarked on it, they have celebrated it. Now, instead of having an account where they note that they're a pedophile and their edits go unchallenged as they mass in numbers... they merely mass in numbers and hide their status. At the end of the day, status quo is unchanged.

Instead of it being BlueRibbon that edits while you have to assume good faith about his propaganda and ridiculousness, it's a random string of numbers. The end of the day sees this... a contentious area of articles such as the pedophilia articles themselves being nothing more than a bunch of people on both sides, invested in the topic, having edit and revert wars. Eventually, one side will tire or realize they have less numbers and one POV will then reign supreme. There are no editors outside of this paradigm that arrive to create any encyclopedic content, rather, the information is decided by who has the bigger "voting block."

Even if neutral editors arrived, they would have no more weight than random IP's that one has to pretend is anything other than a pedophile when they're only editing pedophile articles in favor of child rape and using resources that few others outside of the pedophile activist community know about.

That, my friends, is lunacy.

How this affects other areas.
Take any area that is even quasi-controversial. Forget pedophilia for the moment, think of any other topic. Let's say... the Armenian Genocide.

The Armenian Genocide was a campaign by the Young Turks who rose out of the ashes of the Ottoman Empire to wipe out the population of Armenian Christians from Turkey. The Armenian Genocide is one of those things history has weighed in on. It happened. We know it happened. The Turks, deep down, know it happened. It's like air. You know air is there. If someone asked you to prove it, you'd say "It's fucking air."

Well, as I probably shall become fond of saying... "it's the fucking Armenian Genocide."

Of course, if you wish to read about the Armenian Genocide on Wikipedia, good luck. As Wikipedia assumes that good ol' faith and because the topic is controversial, the articles relating to the Armenian Genocide aren't encyclopedic but rather the product of tit-for-tat warring between Turkish and Armenian editors. The content is little more than a tug of war. It's not information, it's weighed propaganda. Currently the pro-viewpoint is winning the fights against the anti-viewpoint. It's like a sports game, just with information.

The viewpoint that it was actually a genocide is up by ten points in the third quarter. GOOOOOOOOO TEAM!!!!!!!!

The Srebrenica example.
It's one thing to simply say this stuff, people's eyes glaze over and they don't really get it. Here's a "talk page" for people to read to understand what I'm going on about: Srebrenica Massacre Talk Page.

The following is an example from the linked talk page. It's in the debate of whether it should be called a massacre or a genocide. One of the users wants more supporters for his position... so what does he do? He lobbies.

From Wikipedia talk page
Comment. Apart from WP:RM, this debate was announced at bs:Wikipedia:Čar'ija#Srebrenica_Genocide by User:Kahriman. Translation:

I would only like to ask you to vote for moving of Srebrenica massacre article to Srebrenica Genocide on English Wikipedia. You can vote here. Thanks in advance.

Information by democracy... except that in any case of an article that is even remotely controversial, it's all about which side is better organized and entrenched to swing decisions their way. The Srebrenica example is just one of hundreds. I've seen it myself when I was dumb enough to try to take part in lending a voice on the pedophile articles. The second an action was proposed, pedophile websites had threads instructing their users to circumvent the process. At the end of the day, they got their wish because they mobilized enough accounts to "win the day."

So what's the value in Wikipedia?
When it comes to articles, if you want information on something that isn't in any circle even remotely controversial, you'll usually find good information. Wikipedians that edit with the ideals of the foundation in mind are usually really good editors that can write some quality articles. However, the entire project fails when it comes to any article that has any controversy whatsoever. They have no workable mechanisms to ensure the integrity of articles that have opposing viewpoints.

Instead, such articles are like one long-winded argument that only ends when one side gets tired of wasting their time mobilizing, propagandizing and arguing. There is no "core" of established Wikipedians that are dispatched to send both sides "to bed" while they fix the problems of the articles. There are no, oh, say "Wikipedia Special Forces" to come in, lay waste to the battleground and rebuild properly without POV.

This is how Wikipedia fails and from what I can see, those that operate the foundation only seem too content in the reality of that failure.

If enough people fight for the "fact" that JFK was a sock-smeller... a sock-smeller JFK was.