March 26, 2008

My _Guardian_ column on Wikipedia / Jimmy Wales scandals

"Wikipedia's school for scandal has plenty more secrets to reveal"

"In reality, Wikipedia is a poorly-run bureaucracy with the group dynamics of a cult"

Readers of my blog may find this column well-trod ground. Keep in mind that the goal was to put some recent scandals in context for a general reader, not those who have already heard me at length. In particular, Rachel Marsden got significant coverage in the British tabloid press, so there are likely now many newspaper readers who think of Wikipedia as the so-called encyclopedia that can be used to publicize a break-up (some of that tabloid stuff was pretty funny: "Jimmy would continually be on this website called Twitter where you write one-sentence updates on what you are doing at that moment, even small things like "I'm making a sandwich". I couldn't understand it.").

Bonus link: Wikipedia contributor "Durova" made a hilarious "Nymphs and Satyr" parody (nudity, but artistic). She meant it as a jab at the gossip blog Valleywag's writing of Wikipedia, but art sometimes carries a message different from the intent of the artist.

[For all columns, see the page Seth Finkelstein |]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in press , wikipedia | on March 26, 2008 08:53 PM (Infothought permalink)
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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What?! Are you saying that something that Durova did backfired on her? That can't possibly be!!

Posted by: Gregory Kohs at March 26, 2008 11:06 PM

It's a well-known fact that irony is quite dangerous to attempt on the Internet.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at March 26, 2008 11:22 PM

Irony is always dangerous, no matter the medium. This is not to say that irony should not be used, but all possible consequences of its use must be considered.

Posted by: JimmyGymnastic at March 27, 2008 12:01 PM

That was your best column yet Seth. I hope it gets syndicated; it really distills alot of your observations about human nature and the internet.

Posted by: anon at March 27, 2008 05:37 PM

I think you overstate the importance of Wales to the project, his input is declining and there are plenty of others who opinion now carry more weight than Wales. Most editors have no contact with Wales and don't view him as a spiritual leader.

The latest star to emerge has to be Erik Moeller who has managed to secure a $3,000,000 grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

The project is moving to a more professional organisation with a foundation growing in strength. Its a shame you are just reflecting the views of the internet rumour mill rather those of the
active participants who see all this s the largely irrelevant side show that it is.

Posted by: Richard Morris at March 28, 2008 03:53 AM

What has Wikipedia done to make you huff and puff so blimpishly?

Jimmy Wales broke up with his girlfriend! Jimmy Wales spoke at a conference for money! Jimmy Wales tried to claim an expensive meal on expenses!

Who cares?

Like millions of others, I use Wikipedia all the time and contribute when I get a chance. I don't see this as a 'quasi-mystical collective endeavour', just a bit of enlightened self interest.

I can't understand why these mild acts of altruism cause pundits such irritation.

You characterise Wikipedia as 'a poorly-run bureaucracy with the group dynamics of a cult' whose processes are 'gamed' through 'romantic relationships'. Really? I'm obviously missing out: last week I edited articles on Balham and The Fun Lovin' Criminals and Adenoidectomy -- and *nothing happened*!

The Imminent Demise Of Wikipedia is getting more and more tedious...

Posted by: Sam Dutton at March 28, 2008 06:17 AM

/me waves his hand enigmatically

You don't need to write about Wikipedia.

These aren't the scandals you're looking for.

Jimmy Wales can go about his business.

Posted by: Seth Gordon at March 28, 2008 09:16 AM

Seth, as I already told you (in a prior post here), I think Dave Winer got it right re: trading sex for edits (and this is the only part of the affair that is newsworthy, as far as I can see) *providing* Rachel didn't make the stuff up... and it looks like pretty much everybody thinks you just can't make this up...

Rachel's last post on Wikipedia (which got he banned, so she says) clarifies the issue even more:

"You couldn't have cared less about my Wikipedia entry until we started sleeping together, Jimmy. At that point, it was nicely cleaned up and taken care of through your proxies here on the site, as per your instructions (and it's not the first time an article has been cleaned up through a proxy, as per your orders...this kind of stuff, contrary to popular belief, doesn't just happen "magically" here on Wikipedia). Now that we're not sleeping together and since you so publicly broke up with my here on this website, the page about me has turned into a complete free-for-all."


Posted by: Delia at March 30, 2008 07:57 PM

anon: Thank you for the kind words

Richard: Wales is still the "public face" of Wikipedia. Erik doesn't get into Valleywag :-).

Sam: I've never said anything about the demise of Wikipedia. The Moonies are doing fine. Transcendental Meditation isn't hot, but still has followers. I haven't seen a Hare Krishna in a while, but I think they're still out there.

SethG: And he is going about his (venture capital funded startup) business!

Delia: Yes, I've seen that. Actually, I think the big-sex-scandal effect is far greater than the break-up-with-Wales effect.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at March 31, 2008 03:29 AM

Seth: to me, trading edits for sex is the ONLY part that matters, what happened to her page *after* the break-up is not exactly Jimmy's doing (unless he continues to edit her page through proxies -- I doubt it -- , Rachel is just saying that he removed his protection so... it all went to hell... not at all unexpected) D.

Posted by: Delia at March 31, 2008 04:52 PM

I don't think that trading edits for sex is really accurate, in that I doubt there was an outright deal made between them. My reading is that it was more subtle, more that favored people get favored treatment. The aftermath is in reality quite complicated. There's the hordes of vandals attracted by the coverage. And there's also a group of Wikipedia people who think this incident makes Wikipedia look really, really bad, and don't want the bio to get too obnoxious - or whitewashed - for that reason.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at March 31, 2008 07:31 PM

what's subtle about this, Seth?

" right so the way it is told now, hang on a second *let's actually do this right now* because the last thing I want to do is take a break from fucking your brains out all night to work on your wikipedia entry :)" [my emphasis]


P.S. I believed Jimmy until I saw this (his story was that whatever he had going was *post* his official involvement -- this proves otherwise -- IF it's not made-up, of course...)

P.P.S. now, if NOT subtle for you would mean that he would have had to just tell her out of the blue: "by the way, just so you know, I'd be so much more help to you with your Wikipedia entry if you would just sleep with me... I'd use my power and influence as much as I possibly could..." --> he didn't *have to* say it in these words, did he? He *showed* her by arguing in her favor and getting others to help, WHILE talking about having sex with her... this is NOT subtle to me...(but I could be wrong...) D.

Posted by: Delia at March 31, 2008 10:08 PM

My understanding is that that exchange occurs later in the relationship - i.e. their relationship developed earlier and over time enough that the sex/edits part couldn't reasonably be said itself to have been the specific motivator (assuming Marsden didn't have that trade in mind from the start, and given there's lots of ways to influence Wikipedia bios without having sex with Wales, I'll assume she didn't have that as a major reason).

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at April 1, 2008 09:24 PM

re: "My understanding is that that exchange occurs later in the relationship"

yeah, that's the thing!: Jimmy said there was NO relationship while he was officially involved with the edits (that transcript contradicts his story -- well, *more* than just contradicts it... adds insult to injury since he is actually cracking jokes re: his conflict of interests; Valleywag pointed that out very well....) D.

Posted by: Delia at April 1, 2008 10:07 PM

I don't believe Wales's story completely - nor Marsden's. But they seemed to have together based on more than the Wikipedia edits. Which is actually a disturbing thought, given both their personalities.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at April 2, 2008 11:55 PM

That part is entirely their business as far as I can see: I believe they should have been able to end up together POST Jimmy's official involvement with editing her Wikipedia entry as a matter of personal freedom (but nothing should have been going on *while* he was officially involved --> this wasn't so if that transcript is not made up). D.

Posted by: Delia at April 3, 2008 12:38 PM