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Wikipedia Founder Jimmy Wales Responds 407

Posted by Roblimo
from the closing-in-on-100-million-words dept.
Wikipedia is an excellent project, and Slashdot readers' questions for Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales were just as excellent -- as are Jimmy Wales' answers to 12 of the highest-moderated questions you submitted.
1) Donations - by southpolesammy
What's the current state of donations and what is the future of Wikipedia if fund raising without advertisements does not increase?


Jimmy Wales:
We are always in need of funds for hardware. I still cover the bandwidth and hosting charges, and will do so for the foreseeable future, but we rely on community donations for the hardware that we need to run the site.

Our growth rate continues to be staggering.

One of the reasons I was excited to be asked by Roblimo to do this interview is that the slashdot community in particular has been so generous to us in the past. This is an audience that understands the importance of what we're doing, the importance of spreading the idea of GNU-style freedom far beyond the free software community.

Anyone who would is interested in donating money to help, please visit the site to see how we use the money.

2) Advertising? - by obli
How has the word about wikipedia been spread? Has wikipedia actually paid a dime for all its publicity? I don't think I've seen any advertisement when I think about it.


Jimmy Wales:
No, we don't pay for publicity, never have and most likely never will; it hasn't been necessary, and I don't see that it will be necessary.

The key is that we're doing exciting and interesting things, showing what is possible to a community project running free software and working under a free license. Nowadays everyone knows that excellent software can be written using the principles of free licensing, and we're proving that the idea of sharing knowledge is powerful in other areas as well.

3) Complement or Competitor to Traditional Encycs by ewanrg
Was wondering if you view the Wikipedia as a competitor or an additional tool compared to a World Book or an Encyclopedia Britannica?


Jimmy Wales:
I would view them as a competitor, except that I think they will be crushed out of existence within 5 years.

Software is unique in that there are network externalities and various other mechanisms of "lock in" that make it hard for us to get people to switch to free alternatives. People are very comfortable with Microsoft products, and they fear that if they switch, they'll give up all the skills that they've learned (ctrl-alt-del!) and won't be able to share files with others.

But the things our community is producing are different. There's no cost to switching from an outdated old encyclopedia to Wikipedia -- just click and learn, and there you go. You can switch before your friends switch, but the knowledge you learn will be perfectly compatible.

4) Quality Control - by Raindance
First of all, the concept of a community-built encyclopedia, open to submissions and revisions from users, is wonderful. It's much like open-source, in fact, and Wikipedia certainly exemplifies how to reapply the OS model to other contexts.

However, the contexts of encyclopedias and software are different. Significantly so. I'm interested specifically in quality control- you know when code doesn't work when it doesn't compile or results in unexpected behavior.

In what ways can a Wiki article be bad, and how can one tell? Do you think QC is a large issue for Wikipedia, and do you have any plans to further integrate the community in the QC process (perhaps akin to the slashdot moderation/metamoderation system)?


Jimmy Wales:
Well, encyclopedia articles can be bad in a lot of obvious ways, and some subtle ways. Obvious ways include simply incorrect information, or grammatical errors, or strong bias. Subtle ways can include milder forms of bias, dull writing, etc.

Quality control is what a lot of our internal processes are all about. Every page on the site shows up on Special:Recentchanges, and individuals have 'watchlists' that they can (and do) use to keep an eye on particular articles.

I am currently working on a first draft proposal to the community for our "next phase" of review, which will involve getting serious about producing a "1.0 stable" release. The concept here is very analagous to that in the software world -- the existing site is always the cutting edge nightly build, which rocks of course, but we also need a stable release that's been reviewed and tested and found good.

I'll put out that draft in a couple of weeks, and get feedback and revisions from the community, and then we will hold a project-wide vote.

That process might involve some bits that are like the slashdot moderation/metamoderation system, but it's likely to be much more of an editing-oriented process than voting-oriented process.

5) How to balance coverage? - by mangu
Is there an effort to get articles written on specific missing topics? If one looks at a commercial encyclopedia, the full range of human knowledege is covered. On Wikipedia, OTOH, one finds several articles about slashdot trolls, for instance, while other (important) fields are still unwritten.


Jimmy Wales:
This is increasingly a solved problem. It is true that we have quite a bit of pertinent information about slashdot trolls, but we also have just about every important topic as well. Of course some areas are in greater need than others, and finding them and resolving them is an ongoing effort in the community.

I think you'd be pretty hard pressed anymore to find topics that are in Britannica that we don't cover at all. It's still not that hard, if you look around a bit, to find rare articles in Britannica that are better than our article on the same topic. But it's getting harder all the time.

So to answer your question directly, yes, there are constant efforts to get articles written on specific topics, and to flesh out areas that we haven't yet covered as well as we should.

6) The constant bickering... - by Rageon
How is (and how will) the constant bickering between differing sides of the more controversial issues (abortion, religion, etc...) be addressed? Do you expect any changes to the current system, in which it seems the same pages get edited by the same people back and forth every day?


Jimmy Wales:
In our community, we very strongly discourage that kind of bickering. One of the biggest social faux pas that one can commit is the dreaded "revert war". But humans are humans, and they will argue, and we have to understand that there will never be a process whereby we eliminate all of that.

7) Getting people involved - by Anonymous Coward
What methods have you found that work best for getting people not only involved in contributing, but also keeping them contributing to the Wiki?


Jimmy Wales:
Love. It isn't very popular in technical circles to say a lot of mushy stuff about love, but frankly it's a very very important part of what holds our project together.

I have always viewed the mission of Wikipedia to be much bigger than just creating a killer website. We're doing that of course, and having a lot of fun doing it, but a big part of what motivates us is our larger mission to affect the world in a positive way.

It is my intention to get a copy of Wikipedia to every single person on the planet in their own language. It is my intention that free textbooks from our wikibooks project will be used to revolutionize education in developing countries by radically cutting the cost of content.

Those kinds of big picture ideals make people very passionate about what we're doing. And it makes it possible for people to set aside a lot of personal differences and disputes of the kind that I talked about above, and just compromise to keep getting the work done.

I frequently counsel people who are getting frustrated about an edit war to think about someone who lives without clean drinking water, without any proper means of education, and how our work might someday help that person. It puts flamewars into some perspective, I think.

Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. That's what we're doing.

8) Advertisers, Spammers, Search Engines, oh my! - by RomSteady
I like the concept of a wiki, but I'm a bit concerned about the current implementation.

Right now, we are seeing several instances where crawlers are disrupting wikis, spammers are embedding wiki links to their sites to boost their Google rankings, and advertisers are placing ads in wikis until someone goes through and nukes them.

Do you have any thoughts as to how wikis can be modified to prevent things like this in the future?


Jimmy Wales:
Sure, I think it's pretty simple to solve problems like that. One of the first tricks I would try is to parse the wiki text that someone inputs to see if it contains an external link. If so, then only in those cases, require an answer to a captcha.

Second step, keep editing wide open for everyone, but restrict the ability to post external links to people who are trusted by that community. Make it really easy for trusted users to extend the zone of trust, because you want to encourage participation.

Basically what I think works in a wikis is to trust people to do the right thing, and trust them as much as you can possibly stand it, until it hurts your head and makes you scared for what they're going to break. Because that is what works.

People are not fundamentally bad. It only takes the smallest of correctives to take care of that tiny minority that wants to disrupt the community.

9) Webservices ? Data Formats ? - by sh0rtie
Ever thought of offering alternative data access services other than HTML ? examples of other successful community driven sites such as IMDB [imdb.com] can be queried via email (in a structured way) and a huge number of applications are now built upon these capabilities alone, ever thought of offering up the data in alternative formats (XML/SOAP/TELNET/TXT etc etc) so clever programmers can create applications that could utilise the data in new and interesting ways ?


Jimmy Wales:
Yes, yes, yes. I am 100% all for it. Join wikitech-l, the technical mailing list, and ask about specifics, and we'd be thrilled to have more developers volunteering to help us get those kinds of things implemented quickly and correctly.

10) China and Wiki - by Stargoat
How do you feel about China's blocking of Wiki, and what effect, if any, do you think it'll have on the service that Wikipedia can and cannot provide to both the Chinese and the world community?


Jimmy Wales:
The block in China only lasted for a couple of days, until some administrators in the Chinese-language wikipedia appealed the ban.

My thinking on that is two-fold. First, it's a huge embarassment for the censors if they block Wikipedia, because we are none of the things that they claim to want to censor. Censoring Wikipedia is an admission that it is unbiased factual information itself that frightens you. We are not political propaganda, we are not online gambling, we are not pr0n. We are an encyclopedia.

Second, I consider it a moral imperative for our overall mission that we will not bend our principles of freedom, of the freedom of speech, of a commitment to inclusiveness and neutrality, to meet any possible demands of any government anywhere. We are a _free_ encyclopedia, with all that entails.

11) One area Wikipedia seems to lack - by wcrowe
Other encyclopedias cite sources for their work. Wikipedia does not seem to have a facility for this, and I have yet to see sources cited in any of the articles. Am I correct in my assumptions? Why aren't sources cited? It would add credibility to the project.


Jimmy Wales:
I think you're mistaken. We do cite sources, about as much as most encyclopedias, I think. But I do agree with you that more sources is good, and there's no question that as we move forward towards a 1.0 stable release, one of our goals will be to provide more articles with more extensive information about "where to learn more", i.e. cite original research, etc., as much as we can.

12) Money issues - by Achoi77
Considering the fact that wikipedia has gotten bigger than ever, are there any real potential fears that the lack of a steady cash flow may cause the whole project to collapse? Has any (and what kind of) unfavorable contingency plans been considered (like ads) and outright rejected, only to be reconsidered again at a later time?


Jimmy Wales:
Wikipedia has gotten bigger than ever, and keeping us in enough servers to keep performance where we want it is a topic constantly on our minds.

But at the same time, I have every confidence that we'll be just fine. The thing is: everyone loves Wikipedia. When I asked the world for $20,000 last January, we raised nearly $50,000 in less than a week.

We are currently investigating the possibility of grants, and we are also asking you, here, today, to consider visiting the project to find out how you can help, if that's something you're comfortable with doing.

The question of advertising is discussed sometimes, but not really in the context of "will we need to accept ads to survive". The answer to that is clearly "no".

The discussion about advertising is really more a question that asks: with this kind of traffic, and the kind of growth we are seeing, how much good could we do as a charitable institution if we decided to accept advertising. It would be very lucrative for the Wikimedia Foundation if the community decided to do it, because our cost structure is extremely extremely low compared to any traditional website.

That money could be used to fund books and media centers in the developing world. Some of it could be used to purchase additional hardware, some could be used to support the development of free software that we use in our mission. The question that we may have to ask ourselves, from the comfort of our relatively wealthy Internet-connected world, is whether our discomfort and distaste for advertising intruding on the purity of Wikipedia is more important than that mission.

But it's more complex than that, even, because in large part, our success so far is due to the purity of what we're doing. We might find that accepting ad money would cut us off from possible grant money. It's a complex question.

But it is not a question that has to be answered for our continuing survival. We can keep going as we are now, with your help of course. :-)

Know someone *other than your favorite political candidate* who'd make a great Slashdot interview guest? Please email Roblimo with the person's name and contact information.
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Wikipedia Founder Jimmy Wales Responds

Comments Filter:
  • Backups (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Patik (584959) * <cpatik AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @12:21PM (#9822844) Homepage Journal
    Wikipedia seems like a truly priceless knowledgebase. It would be a good idea if a non-electronic backup could be made and stored away in the event of a catastrophic world crisis. I realize it is over 700,000 articles, but it would be such a shame for something like a nuclear war to wipe out all of this knowledge. Perhaps a paper edition is printed every X years (to keep up with changing articles) and properly stored?
    • Re:Backups (Score:5, Funny)

      by karniv0re (746499) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @12:24PM (#9822855) Journal
      Dude, if it came down to a nuclear war, I'm pretty sure Wikipedia is going to be the last thing on everyone's mind.
      • Re:Backups (Score:5, Funny)

        by xmas2003 (739875) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @01:09PM (#9823190) Homepage
        Ummmm ... in case of Nuclear War, I think we should consult Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] to see what it says about it! ;-)
      • Re:Backups (Score:4, Insightful)

        by larien (5608) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @01:11PM (#9823206) Homepage Journal
        Possibly in the short term; in the longer term, people (i.e. historians) will want to know as much as possible about life pre-nuclear war.
      • Re:Backups (Score:3, Informative)

        by zsau (266209)
        Umm... yeah, but you realise that after you're dead, there may well be other people alive? Even if everyone in America dies, people might still survive in Africa or Australia. Maybe not nearly as civilised as we are today, but in the next few thousand years, they might want to catch up on the knowledge they've lost.
    • Re:Backups (Score:5, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @12:45PM (#9822937)
      Perhaps a paper edition is printed every X years (to keep up with changing articles) and properly stored?
      Excellent idea. Then that document is stored in the National Archives, and painstakingly scanned and OCR'd by an army of secretaries, and then we can have the whole thing online!
    • Re:Backups (Score:2, Interesting)

      by ravenspear (756059)
      How would a paper copy be any more safe than a server if there was a nuclear war?
      • Re:Backups (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Roadkills-R-Us (122219) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @01:11PM (#9823205) Homepage
        Well, for starters, the EMP blast area is much bigger than the physical destruction blast area.

        For another, it's easier to store an encyclopedia in a vault than a server farm.

        And of course, the paper encyclopedia will work without power, A/C, etc. Just keep the hunmidity reasonable.

        It's the time capsule approach.
    • Re:Backups (Score:3, Informative)

      by imsabbel (611519)
      Everybody can download the COMPLETE sql database from wikipedia.org.
      Im sure ther are at least 1000 people in the world who have a more or less recent version to resupply even if the whole datacenter burns down,ect.
    • Re:Backups (Score:5, Informative)

      by mbessey (304651) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @01:27PM (#9823378) Homepage Journal
      These folks [longnow.org] might be able to help with plans for long-term backups of WikiPedia content.

      -Mark
    • Re:Backups (Score:5, Informative)

      by FleaPlus (6935) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @04:37PM (#9825689) Journal
      The SQL databases can be downloaded here [wikipedia.org], and the current revisions are 633MB, small enough to be put on a single CD. Anybody is more than welcome to use one of the existing scripts to convert this to static HTML, then print out the results.

      Anyone care to calculate how many sheets of paper this would take, and how much time?
    • Re:Backups (Score:3, Funny)

      by Zangief (461457)
      Hey, what if we move the wikipedia server, to a far away planet, on the border of the galaxy, so they can work peacefully while the rest of our galactic civilization rots away?

      Don't worry, we won't be putting all our eggs in one basket, because we can also put another wikipedia server, in the other side of the galaxy!
  • First post! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @12:21PM (#9822848)
  • by smitty_one_each (243267) * on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @12:22PM (#9822850) Homepage Journal
    Will you burn DVDs for offline users to purchase? I like buying GNU manuals in dead tree format, to fetish, and support the community. Worth considering.
  • Trolls (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Mateito (746185)
    On Wikipedia, OTOH, one finds several articles about slashdot trolls, for instance, while other (important) fields are still unwritten.

    Its obviously the slashdot TROLLs who are the generous donors to Wikipedia, and Wayne knows that he can't upset the troll or his funding might dissapear.

    Then again, it might just be that more people know about slashdot trolls that they do about ancient slovian history.

    In general, science (especially physics) is covered quite well and the humanities less so. But that's

  • sources (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @12:27PM (#9822865)
    The cited sources might be a major issue for people doing research projects on it. I asked my librarian at the school I go to, and she had thought that it would be a bad idea to use it, because it's written by random people, instead of scholars like in "traditional" encyclopedias. Maybe this can be changed somehow to get Wikipedia look more credible.
    • Re:sources (Score:4, Interesting)

      by mbbac (568880) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @01:08PM (#9823181)
      I think one possible way around this is to have an author/owner for each article. Any updates/insertions for that article would have to be vetted by the author.

      Perhaps this should only apply to the periodic stable releases of the encyclopedia that Jimmy mentioned in one of his replies. That way if you're doing research intended for eventual publication, you'd use the most recent release of the encyclopdia since each article would have content vetted by its author/owner.
      • Re:sources (Score:3, Insightful)

        by geoffspear (692508)
        The very fact that the articles can change at all is sort of a problem with citing most web-based resources. If I cite the 2003 edition of an encyclopedia, someone reading my paper can go look up the relevant article. If I cite something on Wikipedia, and someone changes the article the day after I read it, a reader looking up the cited article might find it says something completely different than what I said it says. This might be ok for Ann Coulter, but most people like their sources to actually say w
        • Re:sources (Score:4, Informative)

          by mbbac (568880) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @03:19PM (#9824760)
          That's where this comes in...
          That way if you're doing research intended for eventual publication, you'd use the most recent release of the encyclopdia since each article would have content vetted by its author/owner.
          The URL in the citation would point to that release of the article which would remain fixed over time. Jimmy mentioned in one of his answers that he plans to acheive a "stable 1.0" version in the future. Each release should always be available along with the "normal" view of the encyclopedia which would always be instantaneous. URLs would look like http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1/Albert_Einstein where the 1 would refer to the first fixed release of the encyclopedia.
        • Re:sources (Score:5, Informative)

          by wsapplegate (210233) <wsapplegate@est.un.goret.info> on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @04:21PM (#9825543) Homepage

          > If I cite the 2003 edition of an encyclopedia, someone reading my paper can go look up the relevant article. If I cite something on Wikipedia, and someone changes the article the day after I read it, a reader looking up the cited article might find it says something completely different than what I said it says.

          Not so ! Why ? Well, because Wikipedia uses computers and their near-unlimited storage and processing power *intelligently*. Want to see that in action ? A poster in this discussion linked to the Wikipedia page about nuclear warfare [wikipedia.org]. Should you want to cite a stable version of it, you would go to the corresponding history page [wikipedia.org], and select the version you want after looking at the changes between versions. For instance, to link to the "nuclear warfare" page, as it stood on 2004-07-25, you would use this URL [wikipedia.org]. Problem solved :-)

      • Watchlists! (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Big Sean O (317186)
        Wikipedia does it with watchlists. You decide which articles mean something to you and you add them to your watchlist. Whenever anyone makes a change, your watchlist updates. You just watch the pages you care about.

        Recently I saw some confusion about Nat King Cole's Birthday. I did some research (I have a biography of Cole) and came up with a satisfactory answer and improved the article.

        With Watchlists, you don't limit yourself to one editor. I often find that when I make an addition, someone else (who ob
    • Wikipedia isn't great to cite as a source, but frankly, neither is Encyclopedia Britannica. Wikipedia should list more references, because if one is doing research it's better to track down those sources than to cite an encyclopedia.
    • Re:sources (Score:4, Interesting)

      by OneIsNotPrime (609963) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @01:24PM (#9823344)
      This may be an "interesting" post, but this is the same mindset of "Aren't professionals better? How can it work if it's free?" that has plagued Open Source Software from the outset, and I think it's important to understand that the implication behind it that "free and open = cheap and undependable" is false.

      In open source software, the dependability comes from the fact that anyone can view the code, see potential problems, and apply fixes. There is no obscurity. People don't hide behind credentials. Same thing with Wikipedia.

      In closed source software, the dangers of laziness and 'not made here' syndrome arise; people tend to trust the professionals and assume that everything is taken care of, hence issues like the current security crisis and lack of innovation in some apps (such as web browsers) arise. Same thing with proprietary encyclopedias - there is just as much, or arguably more, of a risk of publishing misinformation because the peer review process can NEVER be as thorough.

      Somebody back me up on this...
      • Re:sources (Score:3, Insightful)

        by glorf (94990)
        No, I think this is totally different. In open source software, it doesn't really matter where the dependability comes from as long as it is there. That dependability can be tested and independently confirmed by seeing if the software performs its function correctly (e.g. Did Apache serve the page? Did OO.org open your document?) The developer could be clinically insane and that the code was dictated to him by blue winged monkeys, but it doesn't matter as long as the software works.

        However, with a wiki, th
    • Re:sources (Score:4, Insightful)

      by mahulth (654977) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @01:26PM (#9823371)
      I have to agree that this could be the weakness in the foundation.

      If Wikipedia does not change their current format and add a full references and citations section to each entry, this model might never gain academic acceptance. Without that, it's just a really quick way of getting data off the web, instead of being a viable and credible source.

      Since they are still in a beta stage, Wikipedia should focus on addressing any and all possible issues, and not just stick with what they got cause they're already so far into development. As in this post, they should accept all of the feedback they can and address the necessarry issues instead of painting them over with an almost-superiority complex. I don't doubt the value of their work, but I think now is when you need to spot weaknesses and fix them so they don't haunt you down the line.

      The goal I would like to see is for Wikipedia to be interchangeable with any other source for a refereed paper. And to get to that stage you need to follow certain protocol. I'd hate to see them never make it that far...
      • Re:sources (Score:3, Informative)

        by GerardM (535367)
        One misconception of many is that there is one wikipedia, there are many. Articles on the same topic can be found in many languages, each language is a wikipedia in its own right.

        When you compare the articles in the different languages, the quality differs. The quality of the wikipedia differ. Some have fewer than 100 articles (chr) Some have 32000 articles (nl) and some have 314000 articles (en). This results in different maturity levels of the wikipedia, it means something because of the amount of editor
    • Re:sources (Score:3, Insightful)

      It's not so much the fact that the articles were written by random people. I'm sure that there are articles on the site that were written by experts in their fields.

      The problem comes down to a web of trust. The authors of Wikipedia articles--to the extend that anything on Wikipedia can be said to even have an author, due to the nature of the site--are not recognized authorities in their fields. They are not trusted. That's not to say that they're informed or uninformed, right or wrong. Just that they're no
    • Re:sources (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jilles (20976) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @02:06PM (#9823855) Homepage
      Traditional encyclopedias are also written by random people. The only guarantees you have about their quality comes from their reputation and the hope that the publisher won't cut to much cost on quality control. Traditional encyclopedias have another disadvantage: room for argumentation and literature references is constrained. Articles are kept short to make them fit in the dead tree version at a reasonable cost. Wikipedia has no such limitations.

      Literature references can be added and as I understand are being added when appropriate. A good researcher would never depend on vague formulations in an encyclopedia anyway but either back them up with more references or more evidence.

      Now when it comes to references, you can judge the quality of a scientific article by looking at the references. If it only includes some obscure references (and maybe a handfull of wikipedia references) the author probably didn't do his homework. This is the way I used to review articles when I was still in academia: read the abstract, skim through the reference list and then the article. Usually my opinion after reading the abstract was confirmed by the reference list and argued by reading the rest of the article (I usually stopped reading after a few pages if it was really bad).

      Reviewers have the liberty and the obligation to lookup references if that is essential to the argumentation of an article. If some author would make some vague claim that is essential to whatever he is trying to argue and would point to wikipedia for more material that would be suspicious already. A reviewer should then at least look up the wikipedia article and review that.

      Now unlike a traditional encyclopedia, both author and reviewer can also use their knowledge to improve the wikipedia article if it would need improvement. For instance a reviewer might actually agree with the wikipedia article but add some footnote with a reference to some article to strengthen its argument and then continue to slap the author (of the reviewed article, not the wikipedia article) on his wrist for not arguing his point properly.

      Now citing wikipedia articles might be a bit more problematic because the wikipedia article might change over time. Basically you have no guarantee that the version of an article you look up is the same as the version that was cited. Version history is the solution to that.
    • Re:sources (Score:3, Informative)

      by bfields (66644)

      I asked my librarian at the school I go to, and she had thought that it would be a bad idea to use it, because it's written by random people, instead of scholars like in "traditional" encyclopedias.

      Encyclopedias in general are useful as a place to get a broad overview of a subject, or to look up a few quick facts for your personal use, but if you're writing a paper and need to cite something then I think you really should track down an original source to cite. E.g., you might look up the world population

  • No (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @12:33PM (#9822889)
    Was wondering if you view the Wikipedia as a competitor or an additional tool compared to a World Book or an Encyclopedia Britannica?

    I would view them as a competitor, except that I think they will be crushed out of existence within 5 years.
    As it stands, you can quote Encyclopedia Britannica in any school essay. If I was marking some homework that relied on referencing Wikipedia, I'd have to fail them. Because (with some limitations) anybody with enough craftyness can write just about anything into Wikipedia. They could even write in what they're quoting. Nor is anything in there it verified 99.9% of the time.

    I know many people *want* to love Wikipedia, and it has its uses, but it does have its faults. People trying to pretend those faults don't exist are starting to look like Linux zealots who have been saying Linux is about to take the desktop for the last 8 years. Don't blind yourself, realize this is not a researched encyclopedia but an interenet scrapbook. Britannica may have made errors in the past, but there're more things wrong with a handful of individual articles on Wikipedia than Britannica has made mistakes in their entire history.
    • Re:No (Score:2, Troll)

      by dancingmad (128588)
      I too have this problem with Wiki: how can it be used for legitimate citations when Joe Schmoe can wreck havoc on it - when something you cited might not be there tomorrow (for whatever reason, revert war or legitimate change)

      I have used Wiki in paper citations before, when I couldn't easily find a more reliable source for general information, but the professors were also pretty clueless about Wiki (for a Biology paper and a Myth Fantasy Science Fiction paper). I didn't misuse the source in anyway, but if
    • Re:No (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Carnildo (712617) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @01:03PM (#9823120) Homepage Journal
      Nor is anything in there it verified 99.9% of the time.

      You sure about that? One time, I added a note to the article on the M1 Abrams tank about reactive armor, and later that day I got a note from an army mechanic who stated that that particular modification had never actually been made. Seems to me there's plenty of verification.
      • That's the problem (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Nor is anything in there it verified 99.9% of the time.

        You sure about that? One time, I added a note to the article on the M1 Abrams tank about reactive armor, and later that day I got a note from an army mechanic who stated that that particular modification had never actually been made. Seems to me there's plenty of verification.

        Yes, I am sure about that. I have seen people write total cr_p in Wikipedia and get away with it because they say theyre an 'expert' and others believe them. How do you know thi

    • by Jonathan (5011) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @01:14PM (#9823232) Homepage
      I don't think you realize how printed encyclopedias are written. Basically, they contact someone in a field and they can write basically anything they want and it goes in. Gary Olsen, who was my doctoral advisor, was contacted to write the World Book entry on Archaeabacteria. Now, he knows his stuff, and is honest, so it's a good article. But what if he didn't and wasn't? Certainly I've read just plain wrong things in printed encyclopedias
    • Well, that's a pretty strong claim you make there, given the level of peer review of article changes.

      Care to expand on what level of craftiness is required?

      Care to cite the Wikipedia articles which are so flawed?
    • Re:No (Score:3, Insightful)

      Is quoting a website that is solely authored by one person different than a Wiki article? What makes a printed article more correct than an online article? Would you dismiss an idea gleaned from Usenet newsgroups just because the information's veracity is unverified? What makes Wiki any different?

      Basically, if you're the teacher and you (a) disagree, (b) don't follow the student's references, and (c) don't provide evidence as to why the student's work is incorrect, then you're no different than a school
    • Re:No (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Elwood P Dowd (16933)
      As it stands, you can quote Encyclopedia Britannica in any school essay. If I was marking some homework that relied on referencing Wikipedia, I'd have to fail them.

      I haven't been allowed to quote an encyclopedia since gradeschool. If you are failing 12 year olds for quoting the Wikipedia, then you're just a dick. If you are allowing your 14 year old students to directly quote encyclopedias, then you're moving kind of slow, aren't you?

      Yes, the Britannica has more fact-checking than Wikipedia. However, the
    • Re:No (Score:3, Insightful)

      by caudron (466327)
      As it stands, you can quote Encyclopedia Britannica in any school essay.

      Maybe in high school, but in any rigorous academic setting dictionaries and encyclopedias are shunned sources. Both are facile overviews of the material. That has its place, but very little critical thought goes into encyclopedias or dictionaries.

      Of course, I'll get some replies telling me I'm wrong...but try to use Britannica as a source in a Yale Religious Studies grad class or a Harvard Law grad class and see what the professor
  • by asbestos_tophat (720099) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @12:35PM (#9822895) Journal
    a-non-y-mous cow-ard


    n.


    A rare breed of nocturnal technologically savvy coffee drinker. The anti-social A.C. is related to the neo-ludite family. The North American variety is known to infest networks of varied bandwidths and breeds quickly when the practically extinct female of the species is introduced to its natural habitat. The cubicle habitat has been providing more space and hope for the survival of these species. This important creature is part of an ecosystem that even supports the all important parasitic management weasels that live alongside them in relative harmony.

  • That's Beautiful. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mcSey921 (230169) <mcsey@ya[ ].com ['hoo' in gap]> on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @12:35PM (#9822897) Homepage Journal
    It is my intention to get a copy of Wikipedia to every single person on the planet in their own language. It is my intention that free textbooks from our wikibooks project will be used to revolutionize education in developing countries by radically cutting the cost of content...


    Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. That's what we're doing.


    Good luck and godspeed. That last sentence brings a tear to my eye. This what I thought the Internet would be about before the bubble. I may just start to believe again.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @12:46PM (#9822938)
    First, let me say that I love wikipedia and think its a great resource. I use it regularly. I also work at a traditional encyclopedia company (based in chicago, owned by someone real rich - you guess).

    The problem I have with Jimmy's assertion that companies like mine will be out of buisness in 5 years is this: wikipedia and most thriving encyclopedias have different markets.

    Our products (both print and online) are geared to the K-12 student and very little else. We take special pains to ensure that the content is at a level that our audience can digest. We talk with teachers and librarians across the world to ensure readership. We also take great pains to make sure the writing and style is consistent across the product - something that seems very important to educators.

    Now, Wikipedia has many many more articles than our online product, but quantity doesn't always win out, especially in the education world. Secondly, I doubt very much that wikipedia can attain the same amount of attention to the K-12 market as we do. Its hard to offer something for free and then do all the editing and research into the market. The educators that purchase our products want to have a good qaulity resource they can point pupils to, not something they have to contribute to make it that way. This is why I don't see Wikipedia and our product as a direct competitor, Wikipedia reaches a different market altogether. For instance, I really enjoy reading Wikipedia now, just as I really enjoyed reading encyclopedia's when I was younger. The difference is I am an educated adult now and can digest the Wikipedia content. When I was in elementary school, I think most of the Wikipedia articles would have been out of my reach.

    It goes without saying that traditional encyclopedia's have to change their buisness in a new information age (something we are working on very hard). However, as a product, we don't see our core audience (K-12 School and Libraries) running away from us for Wikipedia in the near future.

    Keep up the work on the amazing product.
    • For instance, I really enjoy reading Wikipedia now, just as I really enjoyed reading encyclopedia's when I was younger. You have GOT to be kidding!
      • by BJH (11355)
        What's funny about it? When I was about 6 or 7, my grandparents gave me a 13-volume encyclopedia from the 1920's (i.e. about 50 years out of date), and for several years I loved to just open a volume at a random point and start reading.
        I can only imagine what it would be like to be that age again and have unlimited access to a regularly updated encyclopedia.
    • by teslatug (543527) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @01:18PM (#9823274)
      The beauty of Wikipedia is that it can adapt. There already is a simple version (Simple [wikipedia.org]). All you need is more volunteers. Considering that there are only about 6000 active editors throughout the different projects (Active wikipedians [wikipedia.org]), and we have achieved this much, can you imagine what could be achieved if 10% of students throughout the world got involved. You could have a K-12 edition in one year. Likewise, once Wikipedia hits 1.0 you have a reviewed edition.

      Don't think that this is that it is just a dream, it can happen with enough people, which just means enough access and exposure. There is a very low barrier to participating in Wikipedia (yes, I can hear people saying that will just mean the unwashed/uneducated masses), compared to other open source projects. Most people really are good. Once the Internet takes off in the world, and once Wikipedia becomes more well known, you will see it become an even more useful project.
    • From the dead-tree encyclopedia guy... We take special pains to ensure that the content is at a level that our audience can digest. ... I doubt very much that wikipedia can attain the same amount of attention to the K-12 market as we do.

      The English language translation of Wikipedia is the largest, but there are a dozen or more equally active translations in other languages. Consider K-12 another "language" essentially. Each language exposes the same underlying facts in their own way.

      So if the English e
      • Overall, I agree with you totally, but I think you sell one point short: Ditto for K-12. Only it's easier. Because in theory, anyone who speaks "adult" English can edit down into the K-12 version.

        This is not particularly easy. It's not just a matter of swapping out the big words for little ones because kids don't have the same range of experiences or the level of intuition that adults do.

        Consider the Cyc project and the challenge of teaching the computer simple intuition - that a person with a foot must
    • Our products (both print and online) are geared to the K-12 student and very little else.

      Wow. That's fantastically depressing. I hold in my hand a reproduction of the original Encyclopaedia Britannica, which was printed in 1771. The preface opens like this:

      Utility ought to be the principal intention of every publication. Wheever this intention does not plainly appear, neither the books nor their authors have the smallest claim to the approbation of mankind.

      To diffuse the knowledge of Science, is the pro

  • by SilentChris (452960) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @12:49PM (#9822962) Homepage
    I liked most of his responses (although his "they'll be crushed in 5 years" was a little too brunt for my tastes. Still, I think Jimmy underestimates one of the basic tenants of human nature: it's fun to be bad.

    The first time I saw a Wiki, and learned enough to understand how to add to it, I was a bit surprised on how easily you could destroy the whole thing. A few types and, bam, the article was gone. Sure, there was versioning and all, so they could go back to an earlier version if they wanted, but the preventative measures they had in place for preventing random deletions (just showing the guy's IP) were crude.

    So you might say "no one in the community would do that". But guess what... it's human nature to test the system, to break things. That's where an Encyclopedia Britanica or whatever, with an established history, has a leg up over Wiki.

    When I open a commercial encyclopedia, I know the article I'm reading was usually typed by someone educated in the subject, edited by multiple people, and will never disappear while I'm reading it. True, there's bias and errors, and everything, but they're in all media. Quality control, which he barely addresses, is much more difficult in an environment where Joe Public can randomly delete articles.

    I think Wikis are eventually going to die off, and blogs with rating systems will ultimately reign supreme. Everyone talks, everyone determines what articles are top notch, and someone truly in control can axe things if necessary. There's no true control with Wiki, and that's its biggest hurdle.
    • by Carnildo (712617) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @12:59PM (#9823074) Homepage Journal
      I think Wikis are eventually going to die off, and blogs with rating systems will ultimately reign supreme. Everyone talks, everyone determines what articles are top notch, and someone truly in control can axe things if necessary. There's no true control with Wiki, and that's its biggest hurdle.

      Have you looked at the internal process at Wikipedia? There's plenty of control.

      Vandalize an article? Unless you pick something very minor and obscure, there's someone who has it on a watchlist who will find what you've done and fix it quickly.

      Repeated vandalism? You (or your IP address) can get a one-day ban by any of the administrators. A longer ban can be placed if needed.

      Having an edit war? One of the admins can protect the page from further changes, while arranging for a mediator to sort out the differences.

      There are plenty of procedures in place for dealing with problem users. They're not needed very often, which is why it doesn't look like they exist.
      • "Repeated vandalism? You (or your IP address) can get a one-day ban by any of the administrators. A longer ban can be placed if needed."

        With very little work, I was able to convince the system that I was deleting the same page repeatedly from different IPs. It was just a test (in that case, I put it back), but banning particular IPs doesn't help too much.
      • "Repeated vandalism? You (or your IP address) can get a one-day ban by any of the administrators. A longer ban can be placed if needed."

        It would take about half a day (with testing) to write a simple mass deleter app that would use rotating open proxies (slightly for zombies) to cause some major havoc in there.
      • Repeated vandalism? You (or your IP address) can get a one-day ban by any of the administrators. A longer ban can be placed if needed.

        Thanks to widespread inattention to security and incentives to exploit those machines (because you can use them to send spam), huge numbers of internet hosts are now known to be compromised. IP blacklisting is not a long-term solution to the problem for the same reason it's not a long-term solution to the spam problem.

        In general I think he's underestimating the security

      • Vandalize an article? Unless you pick something very minor and obscure, there's someone who has it on a watchlist who will find what you've done and fix it quickly.

        The point is, there should NEVER be any editing of articles by anonymous people, or for that matter, any non-expert people. This is downright stupid. It doesn't matter how much process you have in place, you simply don't give "commit bits" to random, anonymous and/or inexpert persons. No open source project has EVER done this and survived.
    • You can just link to a specific version of an article, it doesn't look as good but it works. Of course, then you'll end up with what Britannica has (which you consider superior): an outdated article. The good part is that you also have access to the current article.

      Having a stable release will also help with this. Wikipedia 1.0 might just be comparable to Britannica (if not better), and it will be just as stable. You could think of the current setup as a beta, and I think it's pretty good for a beta.
    • Like you I don't agree with Jimmy Wales that Wikipedia is going to destroy encyclopedias. Wikis have an incredible asset in that anyone can edit them, but this asset creates difficult inherent problems. You cannot always trust what is written in a Wiki and they are open for acts of vandalism. Wikipedia, even if it has not already, is going to suffer from the same large scale vandalism problems that the general internet does. Virus writers, script kiddies etc etc.

      However I don't agree with your assertion th
    • I think Wikis are eventually going to die off, and blogs with rating systems will ultimately reign supreme. Everyone talks, everyone determines what articles are top notch, and someone truly in control can axe things if necessary.
      They tried something very much like what you're describing with Nupedia, and it was a total failure. Wikipedia was only intended as Nupedia's informal "little sister," but it ended up being the one that succeeded, because of its openness.

      I really don't think Wikipedia's biggest

    • It is fun to be bad once. After you replace the text of an article with the word PENIS a few times (only to have it reverted in a few minutes) it becomes boring. Only the most backwards and retarded people can enjoy repeating this over and over. There are also some people who are cunning and evil and enjoy destroying things in a subtle way, but there are even fewer of them and they are usually dealt with eventually.

      I never vandalised articles - the words thing I did was intentionally place some true, neutr
  • by alarocca (683961) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @12:57PM (#9823050)
    has anybody thought about applying this community development towards the creation of some sort of mechanical device. Inventions could be perfected and perhaps someday there could even be open-source automobile designs. does this sound plausible to anyone? what are your thoughts?
  • nastalgia (Score:2, Interesting)

    by pHatidic (163975)
    When the wikipedia project was first announced on /. a number of years ago I remember I was writing a paper on Tiberius Gracchus. Currently there was nothing on wikipedia about him so I decided to edit my paper into an encyclopedia-ish form and upload it. This is when I was a sophomore in HS by the way. Anyway the article actually stayed as is for about two years before someone else rewrote it to make it not suck. However there are one or two sentences that bear just a hint of my original writing. Kind of n
  • Ah, fuck. (Score:5, Funny)

    by Elwood P Dowd (16933) <judgmentalist@gmail.com> on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @01:00PM (#9823084) Journal
    This kind of unabashed optimism has got to stop. Now I'm at work and I'm getting all bleary eyed.

    Success via trusting people & purity of ideals. G'damnit, this is going to have me verklempt for like a week.
  • by bigattichouse (527527) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @01:02PM (#9823110) Homepage
    May I have mine in a small PDA format with the messages "DON'T PANIC" printed in large friendly letters on the glossy plastic slipcover?
  • by tabdelgawad (590061) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @01:27PM (#9823383)
    When an encyclopedia article is written by an academic 'expert', the reader might be willing to forego detailed references because there's a certain trust and appeal to authority. If I read an article about physics by Stephen Hawking, in a sense he serves as his own reference.

    This situation does not apply when the encyclopedia article is written by essentially anonymous contributors. There's some reliability to be derived from open community editing, but ultimately as a reader, I need to see where the info came from. In fact, unless the article is making an original contribution to knowledge, a reader should be able to reproduce all the information in the article by looking up the references.

    This 'replicability' standard is nothing new; any refereed academic journal will insist on it for the portions of an article that do not represent original knowledge. IMO, It is the only way to make Wikipedia authoritative.

    Finally, I hope 'references' are not lumped or confused with 'to learn more' links. They serve completely different functions.
    • by Alan Cox (27532) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @01:44PM (#9823601) Homepage
      Academics can be as dangerously biased as anyone else. A trawl through academic history in the 1930's and the whole sorry "arian race" saga shows just how easily 'academia' is corrupted.

      Academia also has its "religions" that come and go and shut out opposing views. Microkernel people spent years being nearly as good as existing technology in part because if it wasn't Microkernel work you didn't get funding.

      Similarly references in academic journals merely indicate that someone somewhere once probably said something vaguely like the authors claims. If a fundamental assumption is later found wrong people will continue to build upon and reference the invalid data. Journal referencing because it is not entirely represented in a mappable electronic space doesn't have an effective "revoke" mechanism, nor a way to look for which subtrees of data in use have been invalidated by other research.

      Finally academic journals are reviewed by experts in the field - which means there is a tendancy to exclude papers that disagree with the current experts beliefs.

      Wikipedia has a large and very different set of problems, but I don't think holding up current practice as perfection is wise. Those ivory towers are built on the blood of grad students, corporate research money, political favours and academic backstabbing.

      • by tabdelgawad (590061) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @02:42PM (#9824306)
        What I suggested had little to do with *preventing* bias and more to do with possibly identifying it. If a piece of information comes from the Wall Street Journal editorial page, I view it through a different filter than if it came from the New York Times editorial page. If a piece of information comes from Wikipedia, what filter am I supposed to use? Surely you're not suggesting I take it as 'objective truth'?

        That's where references come in. They allow me, the reader, to adjust my filters according to my opinion of the sources. No one is suggesting that only "academic" sources be used, but if the information comes from a source (and it usually does), the reader has the right to know the source in order to judge its veracity for him- or herself. As a reader, I learn as much from the list of cited references to an article as I do from the article itself.

        It's easy to dismiss academia as "built on the blood of grad students, corporate research money..." etc., and it's true that there are whole fields that are shamefully inadequate (as you point out historically, and as the Sokol hoax demonstrated more recently). But academia is also what gave us modern science (physical and social) and a good chunk of modern technology and medicine, and it's not fair to tar it with such a broad brush.

        In any case, I was only advocating a *method* used in academia for referencing/sourcing, not the *content* of academic research. Referencing for replicability is hardly a perfect system, and it's not particularly useful in eliminating bias, but it has its (very important) functions and I don't see a superior alternative for it.
      • Academics can be as dangerously biased as anyone else. A trawl through academic history in the 1930's and the whole sorry "arian race" saga shows just how easily 'academia' is corrupted.

        Here is an article, The Corruption (and Redemption) of Science [zmag.org], about more recent problems in science. But some of those problems, like funding, appears to be age old....

  • Google, Gutenberg? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by otis wildflower (4889) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @01:34PM (#9823458) Homepage
    I have to think that Wikipedia would be _exactly_ something that Google could sponsor with its pending million$ or massive infrastructure..

    Also, I notice that a bunch of entries are taken from public domain encyclopedia editions. An interesting feature would be to, say, allow 'shading' of citation sources, so that sections of text would have background colors based on a citation key... With the user's ability to filter out sources if they wish, or set a 'trust' level..
    • by FooAtWFU (699187)
      Actually, there is a fascinating research project by IBM, the History Flow tool [ibm.com], which charts the history of a Wikipedia article. Email conversations with the guy in charge have revealed that they are going through the (internal, corporate) motions required to get it released for use, and it may possibly even end up GPLed or something like that.
  • by unfortunateson (527551) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @01:56PM (#9823742) Journal
    I would not mind unobtrusive advertising on Wikipedia if it was like the old days of PBS, where a program would begin with "The following was brought to you from a grant by Pan Am"

    So, the following are things I could deal with:
    1) A link on every page to "Sponsorship" which would list the biggest and/or most recent donations, and how You Too can contribute.

    2) A logo-of-the-day on the start page, rotating amongst the major donors

    3) This would push my limits, but the arrival page (where the referred is not on Wikipedia) could display a rotating sponsor ad, then take you on to the article. But that had better be the only time that happens, not like the every-five-or-so you see with, say Yahoo Groups.
  • Wikipedia and Bias (Score:4, Interesting)

    by sdjunky (586961) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @01:58PM (#9823762)
    A possible patch(note:not solution) for the bias issue is to have certain topics like abortion, religion and politics to have a central topic that is modified by admins.

    Then to have people post under that with their various biases. Thus, you can read about Abortion and then read responses to key topics side by side from both perspectives. Those who are pro-life can modify the pro-life sub pages but not the pro-choice pages and vice versa.

    Something like this

    Abortion: Should I get one?
    View point 1 | View point 2
    It is your choice to do so | It is murder and is
    nobody has the right to tell you | morally wrong to get an abortion
    that you cannot get one. It is | many people who have gotten
    your body and you can do what | an abortion regret having
    you want with it | done so many years later.

    And, a person looking at the wiki can modify it to show only one or more viewpoints that they agree with or that they want to see.

    Don't know.. just an idea.
  • Article of the Day (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dwvanstone (581420) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @02:23PM (#9824080)
    You know what feature I'd love to see? I'd love to have a random Wikipedia article show up in my mailbox each morning, just like a Word of the Day.

    Just clicking on the Random Page link gave me articles on Butha-Buthe, the Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, and Farragut North. I love learning how much I don't know.
  • by Sajma (78337) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @02:29PM (#9824151) Homepage
    I've noticed that several well-known individuals have Wikipedia pages (rms [wikipedia.org], Dubya [wikipedia.org],
    Ghandi [wikipedia.org]).

    So I wonder, at what point is it appropriate to add a person to Wikipedia? At one extreme, every person who wants a page for him or herself could create one; in fact, one's Wikipedia page could replace one's home page. But this doesn't seem right somehow. Certainly a personal wikipedia page could contain an (auto)biography and links to related topics and people. But other stuff---like vacation photos and fan sites---do not really belong there (and we wouldn't want to clutter "the sum of all knowledge" with this).

    Is this just a matter of good sense and public consensus? Would it make sense to have some kind of Wiki-social-network thing?

  • by Just Some Guy (3352) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @02:30PM (#9824170) Homepage Journal
    At first glance, it seems to me that Wikipedia would benefit from a public key system and reputation service. Allow editors to endorse articles by signing a revision with their public key, and allow visitors to establish a trust level for each editor whose signatures they encounter.

    If J. Random Hacker endorsed the "Cryptography" and "PKI" articles, and I agree with him that those articles are accurate, then I would be likely to trust his endorsement of "Elliptical Curves" (which I know little about). Similarly, if Pete Cruft endorsed "Linux Are Teh R0ck0rz", then his opinion on "Critiquing SHA-1" may not hold much weight with me.

    The same could be done on a lesser trust level without PKI by allowing visitors to "vote" on the accuracy of articles and using that to generate trust scores on other articles based on the editors.

    How 'bout it, Jimmy? Is a reputation server viable for Wikipedia? It seems like that would alleviate a lot of the concerns people are expressing about the reliability of your information.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @04:25PM (#9825582)
    The Legion of Trolls recognizes the following ranks for troll behavior, from lowest to highest:
    • sysops [wikipedia.org] are the lowest of the low, incapable of holding his own in debate, the sysop resorts to IP bans [wikipedia.org] and other technological tactics [wikipedia.org], based on the trust that the Dictator [wikipedia.org] has in him. They make truly wrong decisions, and have no clear basis for what they do - which is more or less random damage to the fabric of the Wikipedia.
    • cretins are better than sysops, since they actually raise issues that matter, and show what's wrong with training and orientation material or the pseudo-socialization process that passes for "community" on this system. Their articles are generally stubs, since they know very little about the actual topics; however, regardless of their shortcomings, cretins fancy themselves to be "editors." Their agendas are transparent, and in general uninteresting, and they plod along with 'good intentions' trying to 'fix things' which they just make worse; such users must be continually reverted.
    • vandals [wikipedia.org] are almost as low, for they justify the existence of sysops, but at least they do not cripple the entire project with the behavior, just a page or so at a time, and usually they give up. The main virtue that puts them higher on the scale than cretins, is that they distract and drive off sysops, which is a contribution that stands the test of time, whereas cretins don't do that nearly as well.
    • authors write pedestrian articles that stand until something better comes along - they are best employed compiling lists, checking facts and asking dumb questions in Talk files, and usually log in by the same name as their body answers to on the street. They are not contemptible but they have no idea how their information is used, and they don't care, as long as they get to claim that their articles are "published".
    • editors train authors to be better authors, and typically fix up things that authors don't really understand, without ever insulting them (if they do, they drop to cretins immediately, and if they drive away good authors, they are basically vandals, if they IP ban them, they drop to sysops, lowest of the low). Editors have specialties and should stick to them; they are likely to make big mistakes if they go beyond their limited understanding. They should be learning from authors all the time, and must trust other editors' judgement on topics that they simply don't care about. They are not creative but they are smart - typically they use pseudonyms but do not hide their body identities.
    • ontologists solve the difficult name-space problems, noticing potential namespace conflicts far in advance, often proposing and advancing WikiProjects [wikipedia.org] when an area is well-defined and important. They actually understand how Wikipedia is used! They argue fiercely but sparsely on Talk pages and etc., and in particular are responsible for arbitrating between editors and ending revert duels creatively. The best of them are very smart, but all of them are thorough, and this thoroughness is what marks them clearly. To ontologists the most important file in the Wikipedia is Self-references [wikipedia.org], since it marks what the Wiki itself thinks it is - its reflexive identity, its actual own self-image. An ontologist usually uses a pseudonym and does not reveal his body name. Or, alternatively, a constantly shifting IP with no name whatsoever, if s/he is engaged in cleaning up problems left by poor editors and previous ontologists.
  • by Angst Badger (8636) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @05:07PM (#9825952)
    Wikipedia has replaced Google as my favorite site. It's arguably the one site I would actually pay to access, and I'm so grateful I don't have to.

    That being said, I don't like being a leech, but I don't have any spare money right now, so I'm working on a couple of articles, but mostly, I'm correcting grammatical and spelling errors whenever I see them. This is an excellent thing for everyone with good language skills to do, and it's almost effortless. Simply editing the text of an article to correct errors or to replace an awkward phrase doesn't require one to learn Wikipedia's peculiar markup system.

    Of course, this only applies to you if you're part of the minority of Slashdot readers who know how to spell "ludicrous" and "ridiculous," can tell "e.g." from "i.e.," know that the expression is "just as soon," not "just assume," and understand that, unlike in C, the closing punctuation mark in English comes before the final quote, not after.
  • by jesterzog (189797) on Wednesday July 28, 2004 @08:04PM (#9827223) Homepage Journal

    7) Getting people involved - by Anonymous Coward What methods have you found that work best for getting people not only involved in contributing, but also keeping them contributing to the Wiki?

    I was really looking forward to the answer for this question. There are so many cool social and technical devices in wikipedia that could potentially be talked about, and I was very interested to get a better idea of how the wikipedia operators saw it from their point of view.

    Jimy doesn't seem to've answered the question by simply saying that "love for what they're doing" is what keeps people involved. Believing in wikipedia would be important, but I don't personally think that it's something that would keep people coming back.

    For instance, what about the following?

    • Placing edit links on every page, making it incredibly easy to change information without any overheads. (One doesn't even need to log in.)
    • Supporting an infrastructure where people can take responsibility for the pages they're interested in. Watchlists, in particular.
    • Defaulting to making people more involved. eg. Any edit you make on a page causes it to be added to your watchlist by default, meaning everyone can keep in touch with how others have adjusted their edits in the future.
    • Providing a tidy presentation and a relatively easy-to-understand editing system, making people feel proud of what they've produced with an incentive to do more.

    There are only starters. There are heaps of devices in wikipedia that seek to hook and involve people and give them every possible excuse to keep contributing once they've started. Jimmy's answer about "make them love what they're doing" just struck me as quite shallow.

    Oh well; the rest of the interview was interesting. Thanks to Jimmy and the slashdot editors for producing it.

"One day I woke up and discovered that I was in love with tripe." -- Tom Anderson

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