Is something fundamentally wrong with Wikipedia governance processes?

The Wikipedia is often hailed as a prime example of peer production and peer governance, an example of how a community can self-govern very complex processes. Including by me.

But it is also increasingly showing the dark side and pitfalls of purely informal approaches, especially when they scale.

Wikipedia is particularly vulnerable because its work is not done in teams, but by individuals with rather weak links. At the same time it is also a very complex project, with consolidating social norms and rules, and with an elite that knows them, vs. many occasional page writers who are ignorant of them. When that system then instaures a scarcity rule, articles have to be ‘notable” or they can be deleted. It creates a serious imbalance.

While the Wikipedia remains a remarkable achievement, and escapes any easy characterization of its qualities because of its sheer vastness, there must indeed be hundreds of thousands of volunteers doing good work on articles, it has also created a power structure, but it is largely invisible, opaque, and therefore particularly vulnerable to the well-known tyranny of structurelessness.

Consider the orginal thoughts of Jo Freeman:

Contrary to what we would like to believe, there is no such thing as a ‘structureless’ group. Any group of people of whatever nature coming together for any length of time, for any purpose, will inevitably structure itself in some fashion. The structure may be flexible, it may vary over time, it may evenly or unevenly distribute tasks, power and resources over the members of the group. But it will be formed regardless of the abilities, personalities and intentions of the people involved. The very fact that we are individuals with different talents, predispositions and backgrounds makes this inevitable. Only if we refused to relate or interact on any basis whatsoever could we approximate ‘structurelessness’ and that is not the nature of a human group.

Consider also this warning:

Every group of people with an unusual goal – good, bad, or silly – will trend toward the cult attractor unless they make a constant effort to resist it. You can keep your house cooler than the outdoors, but you have to run the air conditioner constantly, and as soon as you turn off the electricity – give up the fight against entropy – things will go back to “normal”.

In the same sense that every thermal differential wants to equalize itself, and every computer program wants to become a collection of ad-hoc patches, every Cause wants to be a cult. It’s a high-entropy state into which the system trends, an attractor in human psychology.

Cultishness is quantitative, not qualitative. The question is not “Cultish, yes or no?” but “How much cultishness and where?

The Wikicult website asserts that this stage has already been reached:

With the systems, policies, procedures, committees, councils, processes and appointed authorities that run Wikipedia, a lot of intrinsic power goes around. While most serious contributors devotedly continue to contribute to the implied idealism, there are those with the communication and political skill to place themselves in the right place at the right time and establish even more apparent power. Out of these, a cabal inevitably forms; the rest, as they say, is history.

Specialized sites have sprung up, such as the Wikipedia Review, monitoring power abuse in general, or in particular cases

The Wikipedia Review offers an interesting summary of the various criticisms that have been leveled agains the Wikipedia, which I’m reproducing here below, but I’m adding links that document these processes as well. Spend some time on reading the allegations, their documentation, and make up your own mind.

My conclusion though is that major reforms will be needed to insure the Wikipedia governance is democratic and remains so.

1. Wikipedia disrespects and disregards scholars, experts, scientists, and others with special knowledge.

Wikipedia specifically disregards authors with special knowledge, expertise, or credentials. There is no way for a real scholar to distinguish himself or herself from a random anonymous editor merely claiming scholarly credentials, and thus no claim of credentials is typically believed. Even when credentials are accepted, Wikipedia affords no special regard for expert editors contributing in their fields. This has driven most expert editors away from editing Wikipedia in their fields. Similarly, Wikipedia implements no controls that distinguish mature and educated editors from immature and uneducated ones.”

Critique of Wikipedia’s open source ideology, as opposed to free software principles

2. Wikipedia’s culture of anonymous editing and administration results in a lack of responsible authorship and management.

Wikipedia editors may contribute as IP addresses, or as an ever-changing set of pseudonyms. There is thus no way of determining conflicts of interest, canvassing, or other misbehaviour in article editing. Wikipedia’s adminsitrators are similarly anonymous, shielding them from scrutiny for their actions. They additionally can hide the history of their editing (or that of others).”

3. Wikipedia’s administrators have become an entrenched and over-powerful elite, unresponsive and harmful to authors and contributors.

Without meaningful checks and balances on administrators, administrative abuse is the norm, rather than the exception, with blocks and bans being enforced by fiat and whim, rather than in implementation of policy. Many well-meaning editors have been banned simply on suspicion of being previously banned users, without any transgression, while others have been banned for disagreeing with a powerful admin’s editorial point of view. There is no clear-cut code of ethics for administrators, no truly independent process leading to blocks and bans, no process for appeal that is not corrupted by the imbalance of power between admin and blocked editor, and no process by which administrators are reviewed regularly for misbehaviour.”

Overview of developments

The blog Nonbovine ruminations critically monitors Wikipedia governance

The Wikipedia has stopped growing because of the deletionists: Andrew Lih ; Slate

Wikipedia’s abusive bio-deletion process: case by Tony Judge

4. Wikipedia’s numerous policies and procedures are not enforced equally on the community, popular or powerful editors are often exempted.

Administrators, in particular, and former administrators, are frequently allowed to trangress (or change!) Wikipedia’s numerous policies, such as those prohibiting personal attacks, prohibiting the release of personal information about editors, and those prohibiting collusion in editing.”

The undemocratic practices of its investigative committee

A personal experience

The badsites list of censored sites belonging to Wikipedia’s enemies

Lack of transparency and accountability

The Judd Bagley case

InformationLiberation on Wikipedia’s totalitarian universe

5. Wikipedia’s quasi-judicial body, the Arbitration Committee (ArbCom) is at best incompetent and at worst corrupt.

ArbCom holds secret proceedings, refuses to be bound by precedent, operates on non-existant or unwritten rules, and does not allow equal access to all editors. It will reject cases that threaten to undermine the Wikipedia status quo or that would expose powerful administrators to sanction, and will move slowly or not at all (in public) on cases it is discussing in private.”

Monitoring of ArbCom’s activities

Summary of criticisms

The case of the secret mailing list for top insiders

6. The Wikimedia Foundation (WMF), the organization legally responsible for Wikipedia, is opaque, is poorly managed, and is insufficiently independent from Wikipedia’s remaining founder and his business interests.

The WMF lacks a mechanism to address the concerns of outsiders, resulting in an insular and socially irresponsible internal culture. Because of inadequate oversight and supervision, Wikimedia has hired incompetent and (in at least one case) criminal employees. Jimmy Wales for-profit business Wikia benefits in numerous ways from its association with the non-profit Wikipedia.”

The Foundation’s budget

Wikimedia chairwoman rejects demand for transparency

Review of the conflict of interest issue

43 Comments Is something fundamentally wrong with Wikipedia governance processes?

  1. AvatarHenrik Ingo

    Good work Michel

    This is a very good piece. The last point that Wikipedia’s founder is running a related for-profit business shouldn’t be given too much weight, it is kind of common with many Open Source projects. (But, as your later research (in email) shows, it may be also this aspect has gone too far and there is not a clear separation of interests between Wikia and Wikimedia Foundation.)

    Apart from that the compilation of criticisms was eyeopening. I read in particular the case of If any of the other links support this is true, it seems the Wikipedia
    administration should be ousted in a popular revolt – or a fork (although brand value of Wikipedia is so high the cost of forking is almost prohibitive). [Now that I’ve thought about it overnight, maybe a large and influential enough group of people shoul approach Jimmy Wales on the issue, he should be able to understand problems if pointed out to him and it would be the most civilised way of resolving this.]

    It seems my previous thoughts on Wikipedia administrators simply misunderstanding the situation and opportunities of an online medium was way too positive. I now believe Wikipedia has in fact been taken over by a bunch of incompetent fools, who are drunk on the power of administering facts on the worlds now most popular source of information.

    This reminds me of what easily happens with large mailing-lists. An online medium runs the risk of becoming dominated by those who have most time to spend – such as people who are unemployed because of mental problems (this was literally the case on one list I used to frequent, I’m not kidding – of course some of the others were just weird types without a social life and therefore spending too much time creating controversy on the list) – and therefore can afford spending so much time producing nonsense that all the sane people (with day jobs) just have to surrender and go away.

    One would certainly hope something is done to correct this problem, Wikipedia is too valuable to suffer such a fate. Let’s hope a group of more clueful and responsible people (The Wikipedia Review?) are willing to spend their scarce time in the battle that seems to be necessary.

  2. AvatarSteve

    This is a really good, measured piece with appropriate, interesting links. Well done.

    Wikipedia failed because in 2005-2006, when the site suddenly lurched into the public’s consciousness, the founding fathers didn’t take appropriate measures to ensure a responsible process to cope. People like Jimmy Wales, entrepreneurs who clearly weren’t making enough money off it to be satisfied, ceased to care enough about the site itself. Opting for the glamour of “the myth” of “free collaboration” and parading around international conferences talking turkey.

    Meanwhile, by mid 2006, with co-founder Larry Sanger disillusioned and seeing a grim future, the site had become infiltrated, then controlled by unaccountables who had identified Wikipedia’s status at the top of google. These newcomers understood the power that provides. The bearded idealists and the dedicated encylopedists of the early days were gradually crowded out, or forced out by serious game-players.

    As the site lurched from crisis to crisis (John Siegenthaler / Essjay etc) it became apparent just how irresponsible Wikipedia was prepared to be. From top to bottom. The latest COO scandal is another example of this.

    Making the rest of ask: How can “the sum of human knowledge”, which now dominates the internet and has crept into education itself, be trusted to a community that so consistently fails to show due responsibility?

  3. AvatarJon Awbrey

    In my work on Inquiry Driven Systems it eventually became necessary to examine the blocks to inquiry that always seem to arise just as soon as any significant inquiry gets going.

    A critical turning point occurs when a system equipped with an Interpretive Framework (IF) is able to reflect on its own IF to the degree that it develops a Reflective Interpretive Framework (RIF).

    But if a community of inquiry obstructs or prohibits the requisite degree of critical reflection then it finds itself headed for the cul-de-sac of cult behavior.

    Here is a pertinent passage from one of my working papers on the subject:

    An interpretive framework (IF) is set to work when an agent or agency becomes involved in its organization and participates in the forms of activity that make it up. Often, an IF is founded and persists in operation long before any participant is able to reflect on its structure or to post a note of its character to the constituting members of the framework. In some cases, the rules of the IF in question forbid the act of reflecting on its form. In practice, to the extent that agents are actively involved in filling out the requisite forms and taking part in the step by step routines of the IF they may have little surplus memory capacity to memorandize the big picture even when it is permitted in principle.


    In the case of Wikipedia, we are dealing with a system that falls under the description of a Deliberately Unreflective Framework (DUF), that is, an IF in which “the rules of the IF in question forbid the act of reflecting on its form”.

  4. AvatarHenrik Ingo

    For reference, below is what I wrote previously on the p2presearch mailing list on the issue of deletionism. As I wrote above, I’m now convinced that the problem is much more severe than a simple misunderstanding. (Though incompetence certainly plays a part in any case.)


    Is the issue of creating “editions” of Wikipedia often discussed? I mean the whole question of deletionism seems to me to be a misunderstanding of the opportunities created by an internet
    wikipedia. The problem deletionists try to solve is that of quality/trustability, they try to delete all such material that would not normally make it into a traditional encyclopedia, or at least material which can be suspected to be wrong or just poorly written. Yet, the great thing about wikipedia (or the internet in general) is that it is not a traditional encyclopedia – it can contain an infinite amount of information (why not have bio’s of all of us there?) and be updated fast, rather than through a slow perfectionist process.

    It seems that the antagonists in the deletionist vs inclusionist debate have forgotten that they are dealing with an infinite medium, where all solutions ( -> forks) may co-exist. The sensible thing to do would be to have one “source” Wikipedia, which would strive for maximum inclusionism, and then have editions which strive for a certain treshold of quality, certain topics etc… (And there are mechanisms that can be implemented to make sure the original source is still efficiently re-used, the editions would be subsets of the inclusionist full wikipedia.)

    This would be similar to how Linux distributions work: Sourceforge and the internet in general will create an endlees supply of Open Source Software, and distributions are there to filter out the true gems for easy access to the greater public. Instead now the different camps in wikipedia seem to have gotten stuck on the idea of a one true wikipedia, and battling over how that should be governed.

  5. AvatarHenrik Ingo

    Uhoh, this is really grave. I read yesterday the mail thread starting with Wikimedia chairwoman rejects demand for transparency. I thought, surely that isn’t so, this is some out of context quote by people who just want to make baseless criticism on one of our favorite projects. I was stunned to really read what the WMF chairwoman has to say…

    Indeed, what some of you are asking is radical transparency at the organization level. And radical transparency is not really suitable for us, in most part because we are in the eye-storm of the media interest …

    So it is true, Wikipedia and its foundation are led by people who have completely abandoned the core ideals that brought it to its current glory.

    Reading the thread further one can see a couple comments to the sentiment of

    Well, the past year has been rough…

    …but I fear that those refer more to the accident of appointing a convicted criminal as COO, rather than any possible shortcomings of the remaining Wikipedia power holders. So I’m not too optimstic that a sudden change towards the positive is already taking place.

    However, Florence Devouard, the current WMF chairwoman has decided to not run for another term for the office and thus the search is on for a new chairperson. I think this is a good time to ask: What can we do to save Wikipedia?

  6. AvatarJon Awbrey

    Michel et al.,

    Just from my cursory scans of these pages, it looks like the P2P group has a lot of solid sociotech concepts to offer but that it is just a bit shy of grasping the Realpolitik that determines the real dynamics of Wikipedia.

    I invite the memebers of the P2P group to initiate threads at The Wikipedia Review where these isues might be more lesiurely discussed.

  7. AvatarJon Awbrey

    One of the “services” that Wikipedia “provides” is to show us everything that can wrong with a Peer Ideal Project (PIP). I think that it’s fair to say that anything that can go wrong with a PIP has already gone wrong or will eventually go wrong at Wikipedia.

    The uses of adversity are quite well known to the experimental mind, and information about worst case scenarios is extremely useful to those who know how to learn and adapt. Sadly, all too sadly, there is no critical mass of experimental minds at Wikipedia who are capable of reflecting on the symptoms of their current dysfunctionality and who, at the same time, have the power to correct their increasingly deflected course.

    NB. In the interests of encouraging wider dialogue, I am dual-posting my comments on this thread at The Wikipedia Review.

  8. AvatarHenrik Ingo

    I wrote about this on my blog too:

    Coincidentally, is running a history piece on events in 1998-99, due to its ten year anniversary. One of the themes of 1998 was the problems of the Linux kernel project and its leader Linus being uncapable to handle the sudden growth and success of the project. Partly this was just that the project was suddenly making great leaps forward, and partly because Linus was busy touring on a lot of conferences. (And now go back and re-read the quoted text above… … ok you’re back, continue.) But once enough people complained, and some gave constructive ideas, eventually Linus and Linux adapted to the new requirements, survived and indeed went on to flourish like it had never before.

    So if Linux could survive such a crisis, I’m hopeful Wikipedia might too. Indeed, Jimmy Wales has often been criticised for revising his opinions like a windmill. With Linus OTOH this is seen as a positive trait! So here’s for hoping that Jimmy will really soon completely change his opinion on how and by whom Wikipedia should be governed.

    Finally, at first I thought promoting a fork of Wikipedia would be kind of like admitting a failure. But I had forgotten a golden principle of how power works: Best way to avoid misuse of power is to take care that power doesn’t get too concentrated in one place. (For instance, the mediaval Catholic church was at some point a disaster. On the other hand some Pentecostal churches may sometimes be lead by complete loonies too. But the good thing about the Pentecostals is that those loonies have much less power than the medieval popes, and hence they almost never kill and torture anyone.) So I have now committed to start promoting the Citizendium much more. Not just because its governance processes might be better thought of, but also because it is good to have more than one Wikipedia around. (In fact it would probably be good to have more than two, but Citizendium at least is a good start!)

  9. AvatarZbigniew Lisiecki

    Without makeing a judgement about issues, named above one must also see that wikipedia has powerfull enemies. Beside an army of small contributors unhappy, when their wrong articles have been rejected or corrected there are vast corporate interests, which would like wikipedia to support them like pharma industry, food industry, etc. Last but not least the are numerous regimes still in power, which must fear encyclopedical knowledge about their past and today.
    Wikipedias’ structure must resist these forces.

  10. AvatarMichel Bauwens

    Dear Jon: concerning your invitations to contribute to the Wikipedia Review thread, I tried, but both my emails were refused …

    Somebody on that board says: “why did you wait so long” … well, this is not entirely true, I have documented criticisms about the Wikipedia for process for quite a long time already, they are also available in my delicious tag here at I have also on occasion refracted these arguments in this very blog,

    But it is true that I crossed some kind of treshold. I think there are systems that can be repaired, and other that can’t. My feeling after going over the evidence is that the dysfunctional process is probably beyond reform, and that the deletionist power grab is too entrenched. Before, I was of the opinion that the dysfunctions were part of a broadly healthy ecosystem that could repair itself from within.

    I keep an open mind though.


  11. Avatarprivatemusings

    Hi Michel,

    I think the article is good, and both accurate and worrying.

    I started a chat about it here which you’d be most welcome to contribute to, if you’ve got the time and energy. is much more directly connected to the ‘wiki-powerful’ – having been setup by a current member of the ‘Arb Com’ – and it seems to finds criticism of wikipedia harder to digest than the plain speaking at Wikipedia Review – but it’s doing ok, and registration shouldn’t be overly onerous should you be interested in discussing anything further.

    thanks again for the interesting article,



  12. AvatarSteve

    “…the deletionist power grab is too entrenched.”

    I would argue that the deletionist / inclusionist debate much loved by Wikipedians is of little real consequence to the debate.

    The key issues are those around themes of defamation, misinformation, corruption, unaccountability and an all pervasive resistance to responsible practices.

  13. AvatarJon Awbrey

    I think that it is very important to distinguish Open Source projects in the software domain from so-called “Open Source” projects in other domains, especially non-technical domains like amateur journalism and general information almanacks of the Wikipedia variety.

    The discipline of programming and the rigor of technical documentation maintain a constant reality check on Open Source software projects. No one there decries the brand of expertise that can prove itself in practice. It is not incidental that GFDL was to designed to suit just those domains, not the kinds of domains where the infantile whims of Power Rangerâ„¢ fanatics can defeat the good faith efforts of ethical reporters and lifelong scholars.

  14. AvatarMichel Bauwens

    Hi Zbigniew,

    I think that one of the remaining and crucial advantages of peer governance is that it is a permission-less system, i.e. you can undertake actions and produce freely, and the validation process is a posteriori. I think the problem with Wikipedia is the validation process which doesn’t require expertise and thus it becomes a battle of wills. In the chosen condition of artificial scarcity (deletionism) it would therefore be important to find mechanisms that are both democratic but also include a modicum of expertise, as is done in the free software field. Formal democratic governance is useful in all areas of scarcity, where resources have to be allocated, but it is equally important to learn to profit from abundance, and use probabilistic production where we can.


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  16. AvatarBill Anderson

    Michel, I found this critique very generative. I do hope that it engenders productive discussion.

    However, I think you are missing a larger discourse on group dynamics and organizational behavior. There is a body of socio-technical and socio-psychological work from the 1940s and 1950s that has demonstrated what Jo Freeman claims about groups and structure. This work builds on the work of Melanie Klein, Wilfred Bion, Elliott Jaques, A.K. Rice, Fred and Merrilyn Emery and many, many others. References to this line of work can be found at .

    I think that your arguments would be stronger if the claims about group dynamics and behavior referenced the available literature. Jo Freeman’s article is a good one, but it contains no references. She was not the first to notice our human group behaviors. From a historical perspective, Sigmund Freud described humans as herd animals in (Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego), and I’m thinkin’ he was not the first.

    C. Fred Alford provides an analysis of the group perspective in our political life in Group Psychology and Political Theory.

    I find that balancing my desire to just do things myself, with my life as part of many groups, is an ongoing challenge. It’s often easier to try to ignore it. It’s not a great tactic.

    You are right: more open discussion of how we actually work in groups and how authority and labor need to be divided to get work done in groups is required, and it will be very beneficial. As I said above, I hope we can have productive conversations.

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  18. AvatarStephanie Gerson

    Assume that (our understanding of) information in Wikipedia has undergone the trajectory of categorization. In other words, it has undergone a trajectory from binary (something either is/isn’t information, so all information is equally subject to change in Wikipedia) to spectral (some information is more x [insert metric, e.g. complexity] than other information, so some information is more subject to change than other information) to typological (there are different types of information, so different types of information exhibit different subjectivities to change). As Wikipedia’s governance system has emerged, the entry for science has become increasingly difficult to edit whereas that for social graph (which, would you believe, references this blog) still maintains its malleability. (If subjectivity to change sounds too subjective, use the word ‘resilience’ and check the history of an entry and track how often changes are made. Actually, because some changes are just copy edits, it would be most beautiful to visualize the evolution of a Wikipedia entry – incorporating date of edit and quantity of characters added/removed, among other variables. Or this could be translated into music, as would be possible with emails. Or into whatever, when you think about it.)

    But how to typologize information? Specifically, which typology of information correlates with resilience within the context of Wikipedia? One possibility is information hierarchy, which splits the enchilada into data, information, knowledge, and wisdom. Considering that data is used to generate information, which is used to create knowledge, and so on, wisdom may be the least likely to change. But Wikipedia is about information. Hmm. Another possibility is Funtowicz & Ravetz’s post-normal science, which splits it up into applied science, professional consultancy, and post-normal science (see image). But again, Wikipedia is about information; not science. (I’m aware that I’m littering this post with Wikipedia links, but I won’t it so easy this time: if you don’t know the difference between information and science, check Wikipedia.) Still, these typologies may be illuminating. Re: DIKW, could information be categorized into concentric types? Re: post-normal science, F&R’s axes of choice are decision stakes and systems uncertainty; what would be the relevant axes for information?

    Wikipedia has been criticized for advertising itself as the encyclopedia anyone can edit, but becoming increasingly resilient; I’d argue that only certain types of information are increasingly resistant. At the net level, there’s a tradeoff between editability/dynamism and quality/governance. But if you look at the distribution of resilience across entries, there certainly is one.

  19. AvatarJon Awbrey


    Students of information theory know that that information and control are intimately related, sometimes in sync and sometimes dually, if not “duelly”, in a reciprocal trade-off with each other.

    In our study of Wikipediatrics it is well that we keep both sides of this coin in mind.

    Those who do will almost immediately recognize that the controllers of Wikiputia are far more interested in amplifying their control over people, their beliefs, and their consequential actions than they are in augmenting people’s information.

    Just a little something to think about.

  20. AvatarSaltation

    Wikipedia is indeed a wonderful running-experiment in social dynamics.

    I will point out a fundamental error in your analysis though. Wikipedia is in no sense “structure”-less nor “informal”. It has had from day one a very clearly and explicitly defined social structure explicitly facilitated by its formal (technical) mechanism: utter egalitarianism.

    What it lacked was a formal Social Hierarchy.

    What we are seeing is the creation of Hierarchical structures, via the age-old mechanism of esoteric sects/subcultures. “Four legs good, two legs BETTER.”

    To be clear: you are confusing a flat structure with absence of structure; you need to reword your core thesis to address the creation of a hierarchy (elitism), not of structure.

  21. AvatarMichel Bauwens

    I do not regard the Wikipedia as structureless, but in fact I hold it as a problem that the non-expert editors (but with experience in the norms and rules), can, through notability and deletionism, hold power of more expert subject authors.

    As for your argument, that is exacly the argument of Jo Freeman in her theory of structurelessness, that it indeed creates hidden structures. See the beginning of the article.

    So I’m not sure where you located that fundamental flaw,


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  25. AvatarWird Krapht

    Recognizing that a social network is not only ungoverned but ungovernable, critics need to turn their attention toward what to do about it. A first act would be to stop venerating the damned thing. A next step would be to replace it with something useful, preserving valuable constructs while severing the structure of poor governance and leaving those methods the to rot in the field.

    What other publication, corporation or affiliation do we refer to as “The (brand name here)”. With the exception of a few books, ancient and with long histories of sometimes violent self promotion. The Bible. The Koran. The Torah. The network collectivity known as Wikipedia, when called “The Wikipedia” gains status along with those texts and with such major worldwide affiliations such as “The Internet.” There is no need to afford the project such recognition in Web postings, in printed news or academic reports, or in casual conversation. There are other ways to refer to the project. “Wikipedia” is the name. It’s just a brand name. We wouldn’t call Coca-Cola “The Coca-Cola” though company promoters would certainly appreciate if we started calling it “The Cola.”

    Major social collectivities that are nearly universally recognized among a particular population tend earn a direct article (“the”) when their name describes them as a collectivity. England is usually referred to as just England, with no article, but the widely used phrase “the United Kingdom” uses a direct article to emphasize the descriptive nature of the moniker. So it is with the United States, the AFL-CIO, and such. “The English Wikipedia” uses a direct article to differentiate various language portions of the site, but for a Web site who hired a felon operate corporate governance, such familiarity might not best convey a writers’ perspective of the site. “The English version of Wikipedia” better isolates “Wikipedia” as merely an early brand name of a fad that has contributed some valuable direction to social networking on newly available platforms. But let’s concentrate on social networking on newly available platforms, not on Wikipedia, except when we are extracting from the Wikipedia experience lessons in how to manage these new networks, or perhaps when we are citing content unattributable to any source other than Wikipedia pages.

    There is no need to assume everyone knows about Wikipedia. They don’t. The more we continue to emphasize a phenomena that largely occurred between 2001 and 2005 as a timeless, universal movement, the longer development of rapid-access information sharing networks will remain stunted. A focus on the stifling context of the world-wide free-for-all that emerged in the excitement of a new technology impairs vision of and execution of more manageable projects.

    Psychologically, we can analyze the phenomenon in more stark terms. Wikipedia was revolutionary in it’s rapidly changing time. Like many revolutions, there were atrocities. Even as the list of flawed decisions, directions and actions grows to include felons at the helm and ugly domestic confrontations involving the founder aired as network news items, Wikimedia Foundation spokespeople, like many revolutionary leaders, infer “fog of war” in the standard claim that these news stories are about “non-issues.”

    They are issues for those hoping to rely on user-generated content on the Internet as a source of information. Background checks for new employees, less transparency into poorly managed democratic governance and new declarations from a “founder” who considers himself a spiritual leadership and infers a lifelong divine right to rule won’t fix the problem. The problem is not only written into the structure of governance, it is written into the increasingly cumbersome code that drives the site.

    Add-on name-spaces that allow more granular control of content development, and after-the-fact systems of blocking unwanted users have not plugged a sieve of security leaks that prevent MediaWiki from being used as fast, collaborative content development system. The software was designed from the ground up to allow ungoverned access.

    Privacy for deliberative processes, and staging of unfinished work were not part of the coders’ original intentions. Dominant MediaWiki developers continue to insist the code be centered around now widely dis-proven concepts of anonymous crowd governance, refusing patches or directions that would let users run the software inside a typically limited social network.

    The organization lost focus. What was once a purpose of encyclopedia production, compelled by endless available topics, soon consumed the frontier and a purpose of organizational self-preservation emerged, within which countless interest groups battled for self-preservation.

    The solution is to move on. Fork or better yet, rewrite content based on sources cited in Wikipedia and elsewhere. Avoid being a one-for-all answer to everything. Focus on areas of interest and within professional and social networks develop collaborative methodologies that can scale.

    And not to set the bar to high, but don’t count on the now widely circulated MediaWiki softare as a primary wiki tool. Other available wikis tend to be copies of MediaWiki functionality. Anticipate the emergence of new code, built from the ground up to facilitate the granular access around which humans have constructed societies for thousands of years. And don’t worship the thing. Among IT professionals, maybe it is “Wikipedia.” In popular press, refer to it descriptively and in context as often as by name. “The popular social networking and information sharing site, Wikipedia…”

    Let the thing enjoy it’s old age in the latter years of its software lifecycle, then let it die a dignified death. Talk and write about Wikipedia in the past-tense, recognize its progeny and talk about new growth the way we would talk about young adults whose ambitions are marred by their recapitulation of their parent’s trials.

    We can grow past this. Let’s keep pulling weeds, but lets not venerate a plant that has outlived it’s productive lifespan, and let’s start planting for the next season.

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  27. AvatarMoulton

    The governance model of Wikipedia was so anachronistic that it took me over a year to place it in the timeline of historic governance models adopted at various times in the annals of human history.

    The thing that stymied me was the prominence of blocking and banning as the primary tool of governance. I simply couldn’t place that among the recognized tools of governance in any historic context.

    And then I happened to take a look at the oldest surviving account of secular law — the Code of Hammurabi of 1750 BC.

    Of the 282 laws that Hammurabi of Mesopotamia carved into the stone tablets, take note of the very first one:

    1. If any one ensnare another, putting a ban upon him, but he can not prove it, then he that ensnared him shall be put to death.

    Evidently, banning (ostracism) was a common practice in the tribal cultures in the Middle East some 4000 years ago, at the dawn of civilization. Capricious and spurious banning was evidently such a common and egregious abuse of tribal overlords that Hammurabi made it a capital offense to ban someone without proving just cause.

    And yet, on Wikipedia, indefinite blocks and bans without due process are a common occurrence. That is to say, the prevailing governance model of Wikipedia corresponds to a pre-Hammurabic tribal ochlocracy that is so anachronistic, it predates the advent of the Rule of Law.

    When Thomas Jefferson and the other Founders drafted the US Constitution, one of the provisions they put in Article One was a prohibition against Bills of Attainder. A Bill of Attainder is the technical term in the law for declaring a person to be an outlaw (without respect to having violated any specific law that applies equally to everyone). The Founders excluded Bills of Attainder from the tools of governance because 4000 years of political history had demonstrated that such a toxic practice is corrosive and ridden with corruption, and invariably sinks any government that comes to rely on it.

    The irony here is that Wikipedia purports to be the “sum of all knowledge” with an educational mission that reaches out to students, teachers, and scholars around the world. And yet those exercising power in Wikipedia have not yet learned the oldest and most profound lessons in the annals of human history — lessons enshrined in the first written law and in the first article of the US Constitution.

    The consequence of adopting such an anachronistic governance model is that Wikipedians are fated to relive and reify the long-forgotten lessons of history. They relive those lessons by reprising the same kind of political dramas that fill the history books since the dawn of civilization.

    The anachronistic governance model which Jimbo Wales foolishly and mindlessly introjected into Wikipedia is simply not a sustainable model in this day and age. Summary and capricious banning wasn’t even a sustainable model some 3750 years ago when Hammurabi first singled it out as an unacceptable practice in a civilized culture.

    So what to do about it? The answer can be found in the second law of Hammurabi’s Code. As Hammurabi advises, the solution is to tell them to go jump in the lake.

    Or as they say in Yiddish, Nem zich a vaneh!

  28. Avatarmmm

    We don’t see the counterfactual situation in which, with a different structure, Wikipedia would be a better product. Maybe it would have half of the entries, who knows…

    Anyway, if you are interested in a change, think that in the discussion here somebody has already proposed the only two solutions to the problem.
    As contributor, you can either become part of the core group of a project to be able to show what you think are the problems (effort that counts more then knowledge, the ignorant scholar that shut up a professor and so on), or, as Wird Krapht suggested, you can fork. I don’t see the need to rewrite it, is it open or not?

    I agree about the value of the brand that may be to attractive for editors. The vast majority of them would not even consider to leave, at least at the begining. So “project 1” would be more valuable than “project 2”, because it attracts more users and contributors.

    However, project 2 has some advantages over project 1. Reputation of project 1 and of its core group are extremely low. Project 2 may be able to make the adjustments that project 1 desperatly needs and is not able to make because it’s stucked in the actual situation. Project 2 in this case may be able to construct a reputation that make its brand valuable.

    If this story makes even a little sense to you, you agree that project 2 has reputation. project 2 has project 1 contents improved in what people believed were project 1 main problems, or at least some of them. For instance, more accurate scientific review. Are those factors sufficient to attract enough people in order to move on with affordable costs in terms of effort and time spent by its contributors? Maybe.

    If Open can beat Closed, why shouldn’t Open beat Open?

  29. Avatara fork is mightier than a sword

    We don’t see the counterfactual situation in which, with a different structure, Wikipedia would be a better product. Maybe it would have half of the entries, who knows…

    Anyway, if you are interested in a change, think that in the discussion here somebody has already proposed the only two solutions to the problem.
    As contributor, you can either become part of the core group of a project to be able to show what you think are the problems (effort that counts more then knowledge, the ignorant scholar that shut up a professor and so on), or, as Wird Krapht suggested, you can fork. I don’t see the need to rewrite it, is it open or not?

    I agree about the value of the brand that may be too attractive for editors. The vast majority of them would not even consider to leave, at least at the beginning. In fact “project 1” would be more valuable than “project 2”, because it attracts more users and contributors.

    However, project 2 has some advantages over project 1. Reputation of project 1 and of its core group are extremely low. Project 2 may be able to make the adjustments that project 1 desperatly needs and is not able to make because it’s stucked in the actual situation. Project 2 in this case may be able to construct a reputation that make its brand valuable.

    If this story makes even a little sense to you, you agree that project 2 has reputation. project 2 has project 1 contents improved in what people believed were project 1 main problems, or at least some of them. For instance, more accurate scientific review. Are those factors sufficient to attract enough people in order to move on with affordable costs in terms of effort and time spent by its contributors? Maybe.

    If Open can beat Closed, why shouldn’t Open beat Open?

  30. Pingback: P2P Foundation » Blog Archive » Organization as Containment of Acquisitive Mimetic Rivalry: The Contribution of Rene Girard

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  34. AvatarRaiulBaztepo

    Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
    PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language 😉
    See you!
    Your, Raiul Baztepo

  35. AvatarPiterKokoniz

    Hi !!! 🙂
    I am Piter Kokoniz. oOnly want to tell, that I like your blog very much!
    And want to ask you: what was the reasson for you to start this blog?
    Sorry for my bad english:)
    Your Piter Kokoniz, from Latvia

  36. Avatarchristine

    Fantastic review sir, It is very tough to give answer of this question personally i think so yes because an individual afford can’t made vast changes in the globe portal. As you have also pointed out very identical and ethical issues of Wikipedia are incredible. I wanna give you warm thank you take this topic so lightly.

  37. AvatarEllie Kesselman

    I retract every bad thought I’ve had about the P2P Foundation, most recently about some of the more Blue Sky aspects of crypto-currencies. This was a great analysis of the short-comings of Wikipedia.

    I am FeralOink on Wikipedia, a rara avis female editor. The only incidents when I have been summarily reversed without due process have been on female sexuality articles, by other female Wikipedia editors.

    Most Wikipedia editors, young and old, mean well. There is a strong thread of anti-intellectualism and disrespect for facts and authority… in some Wikipedias, not all. German, French and Norwegian Wikipedians are great. Russia Wikipedia seems good, well they try, not easy given circumstances. UK Wikipedia or Wikimedia seems something of a cesspool. In general, bad behavior is taught by example and reinforced by a small but influential few. Chided but initially well meaning contributors get bad attitudes from summarily doled out criticism and mistreatment. Rejection and lack of respect hurts, leads to disenfranchisement and cynicism, desire for revenge.

    For me, editing Wikipedia is its own reward, as it reveals (often indirectly) the basis for trends and belief in current events, politics, culture, that I lack access to view, thus understand otherwise.

    Prior comments by A Fork Is Mightier Than A Sword and sock Mmm said that there is a dearth of solutions to the Jimmy Wales governance model. That was in 2008. We now have big data 😉 Slightly seriously, I floated a suggestion recently. It was ignored, but my thoughts were of an editor-owned Wikipedia, with Jimmy Wales given a decent salary (maybe $500,000 per year) and appropriate title. He wouldn’t need to pander to Bono, Richard Branson etc. If he continued to give highly-compensated private speaking engagements or was otherwise unsatisfactory, we would fire him.

    Again, thank you for your honesty and open mind, p2p Foundation.

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