December 05, 2007

My _Guardian_ column on Wikipedia Scandal As Dysfunctional Cult
Inside, Wikipedia is more like a sweatshop than Santa's workshop

"Wikipedia is frequently touted as a model of selfless human collaboration but it may be more instructive as a hotbed of social pathologies"

I didn't pick the title, but I like this one a lot :-).

I feel like it's anticlimactic now, that my take will get lost as an also-ran. It's really quite a different perspective, and worth reading even if you're tired of all the discussion about cabal and secret mailing list.

I didn't even mention the mailing list, and tried to avoid personalizing it to the administrator "Durova". To my mind, this is not an individual "bad apple" story, but an example of a systemic failing that underlies that drives Wikipedia.

In the past few days I've noticed a backlash, roughly that Wikipedia is run by people, so what did you expect? The problem is that Wikipedia is extensively marketed as some sort of harbinger of novel social organization that produces collective good. The reality is it's just a very old sort of social organization, one that gets people to work for free in part by pandering to their group impulses. And that's the point which I'm trying to get across. Maybe that's too complicated to get to Slashdot or Digg (or ironic).

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in press , wikipedia | on December 05, 2007 07:44 PM (Infothought permalink)
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The systemic dysfunctionality seems to be institutionalized. There appears to be a formulaic Kafkaesque script to summarily exclude editors who take encyclopedia writing and ethics in online media seriously.

Posted by: Moulton at December 5, 2007 08:18 PM

A curiosity. I notice multiple unembedded tinyurl links. This seems very odd. Why not embed them in the related nearby text, especially since the displayed link info is meaningless, the real link information being hidden by tinyurl? But then maybe that's the point, using tinyurl as a proxy to hide the referring url when the links are hyperlinked. I'm surprised there wasn't an editor to fix that up since it looks silly, doesn't make much sense and makes the functionality dependent on a third party. Tinyurl certainly isn't being used for its intended purpose, to avoid long complex displayed urls that may break up with a newline.

Posted by: Amos Anan at December 5, 2007 09:39 PM

"Amos" - I have no say over the Guardian's web design styles. You'd have to ask them why they do that. The articles I submit have the full urls, not tinyurl links.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at December 5, 2007 11:53 PM

this is just an observation by a human who has issues like everybody else, but why do you often "predict" that you will either be misunderstood or ignored? it could be precisely that attitude that makes people write you off before they even really read what you're writing.

just write on and stop taking so much pride in being an "outsider" is what i'm thinking. FWIW.

(this is not specific to this post. i read you all the time.)

Posted by: madame l. at December 6, 2007 01:07 AM

To answer that directly, because I've studied what "works", and I'm not good at it.

This shouldn't even be argued now - the hyped, the sensational, gets echoed, while the thoughtful does not. The problem with making it a personal issue is that it's unfalsifiable, and further puts the burden on those already frustrated, in essense telling them to shut-up because they're not being a shiny happy person. That is, I'm not going to get any more coverage whether I think I will or not (excluding effects such as lying to suck up to gatekeepers). It's like if someone has a disease, whether or not they get cured is entirely independent of positive attitude (research has shown this, excluding effects of keeping to treatment regime).

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at December 6, 2007 01:29 AM

> You'd have to ask them why they do that.

Maybe next time you can tell them, you already talk to them... it was slightly annoying to see an otherwise well thought out article made look newbie-ish by not "getting" hyperlinks.

I was surprised there was no mention of the mailing list. I would have wished for some more background information on how Wikipedia admins operate behind the scenes (or operated behind the scenes in this case), but maybe that's for your next article.

Power structures come in many shapes and forms. One approach is to simply make it very complicatd to do any real change effectively. Not sure if it could be otherwise, I guess, unless those that hold the knowledge which gives them authority intentionally work to subvert their own platform. Such acts of subversion could consist of: promoting critical views of others, asking others for criticism and feedback, adding disclosures, being self-criticial, being the first to point out things that could be considered scandalous about one's own organization, and so on.

Posted by: Philipp Lenssen at December 6, 2007 07:02 AM

Phillipp, I can try, but remember, I'm very far removed from the people who are in charge of those decisions.

Since I only had 700 words, I couldn't get into everything involved. I wanted to stress instead the official actions in trying to keep the secret dossier from being posted to Wikipedia, and the group dynamics implications here.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at December 6, 2007 08:11 AM

There's the A-List, B-List, C-List, D-List and at the very top there is... (wait for it)...

The F-List: comprised of those that read Finkelstein regularly.

"Did you Finkelstein today?"

Both Seth and the amazing Shelley Powers complain regularly about being ignored and misunderstood.
The move you follow their work, the more it becomes clear that they understand their position well in the B-Verse.

For example, TechMeme rewards "speed of posting" on most issues and by the time Seth or Shelley post a thoughtful, researched and measured response the issue has scrolled off the page...
They blog like a good journalist or judge: after reflection and analysis. That's doesn't drive a front seat in the commons.

But if you want more careful and reasoned "news" they are the best sits to follow.

Believing that makes me an "F-Lister". Believe.

Posted by: mcd at December 6, 2007 03:15 PM

The problem with bemoaning not being an "A-lister" is the sense of defeatism that's continually projected. In blunt terms too many posts end with "But then I'm such a loser who cares?"

Tucker Carlson, a political hack of monumental proportions, recently caused a stir and likely will lose his high paying cable gig for signing off with, "That does it for us. Thank you for watching, as always. We mean that sincerely to all eight of you."

If the world doesn't appreciate your brain the size of a planet at least be funny about it, like Adams' "Marvin."

Posted by: Amos Anan at December 6, 2007 04:38 PM

actually, mcd, it goes all the way down to the Z-List... ;-)

Posted by: Jon Garfunkel at December 6, 2007 05:59 PM

mcd: Thank yoo for the kind words.

"Amos": Well, you're asking for a happy-face on a disheartening situation, and criticizing me when I don't put it on.

Jon: Exactly :-(.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at December 6, 2007 06:19 PM

No, not at all. I find phony smiles repulsive. That's what we have politicians for. But I find self-flagellation similarly repulsive. You made your point long ago about the weaknesses in the manner in which blogs get to be popular. You got coverage and commentary on that. Maybe your breakout post will come but I think your area of commentary is too narrow and off "pop" for much of a wide spread audience. If it makes you feel better, picture yourself as a "blues" performer before it became hot. Can you sing "Buy me a Mercedes Benz?"

Posted by: Amos Anan at December 6, 2007 07:28 PM

I'm pretty good at warbling "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose".

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at December 6, 2007 07:40 PM

If I wanted the latest latest shiny bit - I would get technical and have an rss feed to high throughput site.

The who did what to who part is easy - even then a lot of places can't even get that right.

I read here for the hows and whys. At least a different perspective.

I don't think Seth expects to get rich or invited to many dinner parties to discuss Wikpedia and other Web2.0 shennanigans when there are all too many who can and do sell the opposite - for the right price. And they have the audience.

When all you get told is
"When the moon is in the Seventh House
And Jupiter aligns with Mars"

it is good to be able to hear
"The floods is threatning
My very life today
Gimme, gimme shelter
Or Im gonna fade away"

Posted by: tqft at December 7, 2007 01:32 AM

Seth, you confuse "thoughtful" with "shiny happy".

Also, I agree with madame l. and Amos.

"I'm not going to get any more coverage whether I think I will or not"

Right, but you will get more coverage if you let posts stand on their own without dredging up the constant complaint.

Posted by: Scott Lawton at December 11, 2007 04:43 PM

tsqft: "And they have the audience" - exactly :-(

Scott: What reasonable evidence would convince you that you're basically wrong? (please don't give me the generic personal slam - that's unfalsifiable).

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at December 12, 2007 02:54 AM

First, I should clarify my poorly-phrase one-liner. "Thoughtful" and "shiny happy" are orthogonal.

Seth: er, I don't need convincing since I don't have a stake in the game. The evidence on my side is right here in the thread. 2 people stepped up (and I echoed) to offer some sincere audience feedback. Sure, it's anecdote not data, but it rings true. Will it turn you into an A-lister? That's a straw man. There are millions of bloggers, and all sorts of reasons why traffic gets distributed according to a power law.

Observation: "don't give me the generic personal slam" is an example of the exact approach that several of us are suggesting is highly counter-productive. You seem to want a larger audience, we suggest you treat each subject on its own rather than constantly invoking negatives that aren't relevant ... so you invoke one in your very reply.

Do you want to be bitter and "right" or do you want to reach a larger audience? Unless "wearing bitterness on your sleeve" is one of your fundamental principles, then I'm pretty sure you can increase your audience without violating your principles. But you may well have to change your writing style. Is it worth it? *shrug* That's certainly not for me to decide.

Posted by: Scott Lawton at December 14, 2007 01:46 PM

Scott: The point is that it very likely doesn't make much difference, since it's not the limiting factor. But they will never, ever be convinced of that, since it's basically kicking someone when they're down, and that's cheap and easy.

Note - People can't hear this. They just can't. They always argue that since they personally are offering themselves as anecdotal evidence, that's dispositive.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at December 15, 2007 08:35 PM