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The Internet Education

Larry Sanger on Wikipedia and World 246

Phoe6 writes "MIT Tech Review is running an article on Larry Sanger, an epistemologist and the co-creator of Wikipedia. It is very interesting to know his views on Wikipedia. He says, 'To build a public encyclopedia, you don't need faith in the possibility of knowledge, What you have to have faith in is human beings being able to work together.'"
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Larry Sanger on Wikipedia and World

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  • by LostCluster ( 625375 ) * on Friday December 24, 2004 @12:15AM (#11174322)
    What he seems most upset about is the problem of "revert wars" happening whenever an author wants to be the absolute authority on a topic and regularly patrols their article to undo any edits that are made to what they consider their "perfect" work?

    What could they do to defuse these situations with a moderations scheme that encurages contributors but discurage this kind of abuse?
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 24, 2004 @12:48AM (#11174496)
      It may sound silly, but there is no good way to arrive at a universally agreed upon "truth". Every source of information has bias, and it's ridiculous to pretend as though this is not the case.
      The problem with Wikipedia is that the bias is inconsistent. That is, if the bias was consistently left or right or Zoroastrian or what not, then it would be easier to understand Wikipedia's articles. There would be a frame of reference -- you could perceive it for what it was. However, with no particular leaning, any individual article could be the result of any individual person with an axe to grind. I prefer a website with a single consistent bias to one with wildly unpredictable ones.
      How could we go about creating a website with a consistent bias? A simple Slashdot-like mod points system would work wonders.
      • by PatientZero ( 25929 ) on Friday December 24, 2004 @02:11AM (#11174856)
        In one sense, an inconsistent bias requires the reader to think critically about the articles. With a consistent bias, most people simply dismiss the entire site without review or accept it all as true without thinking for themselves or checking facts.

        The funny thing is that your consistent bias is another person's neutrality. There are several people at my office that go on and on about how Fox News is so balanced unlike all the "liberal media" out there. I can see someone thinking the New York Times is unbiased -- though I'd disagree -- but Fox News?

        • The question of bias is all about the relative distance to your position.

          For example, I know people who refer to Tony Blair as a right-winger. They themselves would probably gladly declare themselves as left-wing. Personally I see him as left-of-centre (although the terms left- and right- wing are unhelpful).

          Some people see Fox as balanced because it is at approximately the same position as them. Also, people often are drawn to something that suits them more, so will block out some of the minor biases b

        • But if you know those people are right-leaning, you know everything they say is right-leaning. Imagine if those friends had multiple-personality disorders, and some of their personalities are left-leaning, and some centrist. Now try talking to them on politics. You'll never know their current bias, and so it would be impossible to take it into account.

          Thinking critically should always occur, whether you agree with the bias of the source or not. Critical thinking won't help much if the bias of the sourc

          • I'd disagree. If you know the bias, you can just dismiss everything that seems unpleasant to you by saying 'oh, thats just their X bias' whether or not it actually is part of their bias or not. If their bias takes form entirely in omission/inclusion selectivity (I'll assume for now they don't write anything thats actually false) then you'll stand a good chance of dismissing facts because of a disagreement of bias.

            On the other hand, if the bias is totally random then you really do have to take each thing st
      • I dunno if I'd like a moderation system applied to the articles themselves (or even sections of articles.)

        But a /. moderation system would probably apply quite nicely to the Discussion posts about an article. In wiki* the discussions themselves are mutable though.

        Perhaps if article creators did "own" their articles...and only they (or admins) could modify existing articles, based on moderated discussion? Might be tricky to implement.

        Then again, that seems to be slowly happening anyhow. As articles are
      • Instead of having one ULTIMATE explanation, which the original author 'restores' continuously, we could have 'alternative' pages for each topic.

        Readers would be able to rate these (like on Amazon 'was this review useful to you?'). When you search for an item, only the top three or so would be shown, with a link to see all of them.

        Imho this would NOT lead to an abundancy of pages, because for non-controversial topics no-one would be urged to give an alternative explation for e.g. 'DNA base pairs'. For c
      • How could we go about creating a website with a consistent bias? A simple Slashdot-like mod points system would work wonders.

        A few possibilies:

        • If an article is suffering from a revert war, any party can enable a "peer review" feature, which remains in effect for the next week or two. If peer review is enabled, any changes must be approved by several other users, through a system implemented similar to slashdot metamoderation. (A peer-reviewer does not choose what articles to peer review, they are sele
    • by Billy the Mountain ( 225541 ) on Friday December 24, 2004 @12:57AM (#11174538) Journal
      Here's an idea. Perhaps a revert war is should be viewed as information itself. So for each article, there's a volatility index useful for identifying contraversial subjects. If you notice that an article has high volatility and are interested in examining it, you can see a history of the article over time.

      BTM
      • >war is information itself?

        Very good. Another angle would be to allow authors to block edits of their text, but to allow others to put dissenting links in it pointing their own articles. Usually there's agreement on the general facts of some topic, but after a few decimal places the specialists have a religious feud that the casual reader doesn't know or care about.

        Having two trees of articles on a subject may not the Wikipedia way, but for some hot-button issues it may be a preferred alternative to
        • by JavaRob ( 28971 ) on Friday December 24, 2004 @03:16AM (#11175084) Homepage Journal
          Another angle would be to allow authors to block edits of their text, but to allow others to put dissenting links in it pointing their own articles.

          I wouldn't do that, because the "author" is not necessarily any more an authority than the dissenters are. And the NPOV thing on Wikipedia is very specific about *not* treating all points of view equally, or letting a very vocal minority make itself seem like an equal player with commonly-accepted ideas.

          At the moment, I can't think of a better way they how they do it -- it's not chaos, because they actually do lock down articles that have become wars, and they do include reference to fringe ideas (but clearly label them as fringe).

          If you haven't read their bit on the neutral POV, it's very mind-opening stuff; there's no need for the chaos, and there should be no "winner" of the edit war.
        • Actually it's better to encourage people not to feel that they own anything in wikipedia. In this way, there are no such things as authors of articles. Everyone is equal.

          This is of course against human nature in western society, but it is an ideal to strive for.
      • Perhaps a revert war is should be viewed as information itself. So for each article, there's a volatility index useful for identifying contraversial subjects. If you notice that an article has high volatility and are interested in examining it, you can see a history of the article over time.

        Smart idea, I like it a lot.

        -kgj
      • One person's noise is another person's signal :).
    • You can dispute the neutrality of the article. It is called NPOV [wikipedia.org]. As an example you can check out the wikipedia entry for extra-sensory perception (ESP [wikipedia.org]).

      Lately read read wikipedia more then slashdot.
  • obligatory (Score:5, Funny)

    by moosesocks ( 264553 ) on Friday December 24, 2004 @12:17AM (#11174337) Homepage
    Wikipedia article on Larry Sanger [wikipedia.org]

    It had to be done ;-)
  • by agraupe ( 769778 ) on Friday December 24, 2004 @12:18AM (#11174343) Journal
    He says, for the whole thing to work, humans have to work together and help one another. Now, I like Wikipedia, and I think it works, but not because people are "helping" as much as they can. It works because there are lots of people with big egos that want to show off their knowledge, and moderators that aren't afraid to ban an entire subnet (any computers from the Calgary Board of Education, where I go to school, are prohibited for making changes; take two guesses why, the first one doesn't count). It still works, but the assumption that it is because people are "helpful" to each other is slightly flawed. I'm sure there are some, but as with most other facets of life, I imagine they are vastly overshadowed.
    • by MattJakel ( 815179 ) on Friday December 24, 2004 @12:43AM (#11174470) Journal
      It also works because of the amount of users that don't contribute. Imagine reading an article written by the average American... As a student at a public high school, I get to see how great the average American's grammar and spelling are everyday!
      • Everyday [google.com] in an adjective meaning "ordinary"; every day [wsu.edu] is an adverbial phrase which means "each day".

        But if you'd said, "I get to see how great the average American's everyday spelling and grammar are", you'd have been right.

        (Yeah, I know grammar correction is usually trolling, but here it's in context.)

        Other than that, your point is actually kind of at the heart of the issue. An ordinary encyclopedia works by getting experts in the field to write articles, and those experts are chosen by fiat by an edi
  • Doomed (Score:3, Insightful)

    by PNutts ( 199112 ) on Friday December 24, 2004 @12:20AM (#11174359)
    "What you have to have faith in is human beings being able to work together."

    Seems that most of our greatest achievements have been by individuals. People working together usually create destruction.

    Wikipedia is doomed. :(
    • Re: Doomed (Score:3, Interesting)

      Seems that most of our greatest achievements have been by individuals.

      Rephrase: many GREAT archievements have been by individuals, but most of our GREATEST archievements have been by groups of people.

      Great: discovering how to make fire, Newton figuring out laws of gravity, Einstein coming up with E=m*c^2, Linus starting Linux project, coming up with Wikipedia concept, etc.

      Greater/greatest: USA and USSR putting men in space, Egyptian pyramids, the Great Wall of China, filling Wikipedia with content, pr

      • Re: Doomed (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Golias ( 176380 )
        Great: discovering how to make fire, Newton figuring out laws of gravity..

        Greater/greatest: USA and USSR putting men in space

        Actually, I tend to give a lot of the credit for the space race to the two individuals who figured out fire and gravity. Nobody would have gotten far off the ground without them.

        And no, you can't be certain that, were there no Einstein, somebody else would have come up with Relativity. It may seem like an obvious conclusion now, in hindsight, because he showed it to us, but bi
    • Re:Doomed (Score:3, Insightful)

      by rufusdufus ( 450462 )
      This is just plain wrong. I think your view is subject to that statistical fallacy that humans brains have where they aren't good at looking at the complement of an idea.

      Human destruction is actually the minority in world events. Typically its some small number of people who get together to destroy the work of the larger body of people. And typically, even for all the fanfare, the overall effect of that minority is small. All wars are this way, only a small portion of the population are involved in the
    • There is a saying about this that i like:
      A camel is a horse that was designed by committee.

      • A camel is a horse that was designed by committee

        This is doubly funny, as camels are much tougher, stronger workers than horses ...
    • Re:Doomed (Score:3, Funny)

      by kamapuaa ( 555446 )
      That's true. That's why major science labs and reasearch facilities will never employ large teams of people to research and work together on a problem. Similarly, that's why use of outside research, consulting with other experts in the field, or use of the Internet, is so strongly discouraged in academic fields. It's because all great achievments come from lone solitary figures, such as Harry MacElhone or the Unabommer.
    • The sad truth is that too many cooks spoil the soup...
  • WE'RE UNDER ATTACK (Score:5, Informative)

    by tarunthegreat2 ( 761545 ) on Friday December 24, 2004 @12:23AM (#11174369)
    Wow dude, has anybody seen the last article - Yellow Dog Linux? It's become a GNAA nest, I think. To be more on-topic, this dude does have some interesting views on wikipedia, but I think the core of it lies in the article summary - "it's all about having faith in people's ability to work together...". For a cynic like me, I don't have that faith - at least for something like an encyclopedia. There are enough people who like destruction for the sake of destruction, see previous article on Yellow Dof (and 9/11) for an example. What does it cost somebody to revert a wikipedia article and totally trash it? It's a teency-weency bit harder to do the same thing on a FOSS project. As it is, skeptics/cynics like me take all encyclopedias with a pinch of salt, be they online or on dead trees.
    • by Rie Beam ( 632299 ) on Friday December 24, 2004 @01:30AM (#11174695) Journal
      You've obviously never worked in a Wikipedia environment. It's amazing that once you've become free from most of the rules, and are given a simply goal, how people will organize themselves and work toward a common goal. Not to say there aren't trolls, but now you have the community, not just the moderators working against them. I'm honestly surprised at how Wikipedia has gotten so many things right - not to say there aren't problems, but overall the project itself is a grand success.
    • Wow dude, has anybody seen the last article - Yellow Dog Linux? It's become a GNAA nest, I think.

      The Yellow Dog Linux article has barely been touched in the last year, and has not been vandalized once in that time (as of this post).

      What does it cost somebody to revert a wikipedia article and totally trash it?

      The same amount it costs somebody to revert a trashed Wikipedia article to its previous non-trashed state.

  • by Gyan ( 6853 ) on Friday December 24, 2004 @12:26AM (#11174390)
    In order to deal with the 'reliability' aspect constantly brought up, Wikipedia's appointed management, could use an audit to ascertain the quality of the project.

    My rough idea is, pick the 10 most popular articles, 10 random articles of moderate-to-high traffic, 10 random articles of low traffic and then do a compare/contrast against 'reputable' references. Then, check those references (and Wikipedia) against primary source references (if they exist, like journals/textbooks, for medical facts..etc). It will provide a good, quantified metric of the quality, acting as a rough indicator of where Wikipedia stands.
  • By and large I have found the quality of articles to be quite good. Its incredible the range of topics covered in a short time. Truly a gem of the web.
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mad_cow_disease
  • by AstroDrabb ( 534369 ) on Friday December 24, 2004 @12:40AM (#11174461)
    What you have to have faith in is human beings being able to work together.
    Am I the only geek to get goose-bumps over that? My utopia is a world of geeks working together. Maybe one day we will achieve that. I guess we have to kill a lot of non-geeks first ; P

    Maybe all that doom training will be worth something!

  • Don't worry (Score:4, Funny)

    by presidentbeef ( 779674 ) on Friday December 24, 2004 @12:49AM (#11174497) Homepage Journal
    If the first Foundation - I mean Wikipedia falls, the second Foundation - I mean Wikipedia - on the other edge of the galaxy shall prevail. Encyclopedia Galactica?
    • Wouldn't that be better as:

      If the First Foundation, er, Nupedia falls, then the Secound Foundation, er, Wikipedia will rise from its ashes?

    • ...the second Foundation - I mean Wikipedia - on the other edge of the galaxy shall prevail.

      What exactly do you mean by "edge"? ;-)
  • by rethin ( 536306 ) on Friday December 24, 2004 @12:49AM (#11174499)
    well, sort of.

    I did a search for "revert wars" and came up empty.

    So I created an article (sort of)
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revert_wars [wikipedia.org]

    Lets see if we can't get this puppy fleshed out a little.

    Rethin
  • by deathcloset ( 626704 ) on Friday December 24, 2004 @12:53AM (#11174521) Journal
    why not have a moderation system like slashdot?

    Require that 5 editors approve of a content addition/change before that modification is applied.

    Track the editor's moderation record. Make negative modding count both against the negative moderator as well as the moderated.

    This way only by getting 5 positive mods in x number of editor views can an addition get approved.

    There certainly has to be a way to handle the vandalism and pettiness. slashdot's moderation system [slashdot.org] seems to do a great job of handling just that.

    I mean, as an example, cruise slashdot at +5 and you get some good meat. drop to +4 and you've got your side of fries (or potatoes), +3 to eat your vegetables +2 for fiber +1 for garnish and 0&-1 for a dark alley to purge yourself in an anorexic fit.

    Just cruise the first couple posts on this thread and take a gander at what allowing anyone to post anything brings...

    I know there are problems with the slashdot moderation system - but as a whole it's a good system which tends to bring the most relevant and informative posts to the top of the heap. I would venture to say the slashdot moderation system is one of the most effective user-based moderation systems in existence.

    Now, since I'm not familiar (and like to read the contributions of individuals), tell me; how closely does the slasdot moderation system currently relate to the wikipedia moderation system?

    as an afterthought and to browse off topic (further?) since the inception of politics.slashdot.org I have contemplated the idea of something like a debate.slashdot.org

    It's quite a tricky notion to convieve - how could you setup something akin to a formal debate in the form of a web forum? I mean, it seems all the lego pieces are here, robust moderation system, informed parties abounding with great skills at backing claims.

    Would you somehow create opposing teams by using a vote system? how would you determine the representative for the side of the debate?

    mark my words. With slashdot and wikipedia we have only begun to see the possibilities of massive contribution of free thought.
    • I think that the problem with this is that there is simply a much larger volume of changes than the system could really deal with. What's going to happen is that you are going to a situation like: user a posts an article, A. User B comes along an edit's the article by fixing some spelling and grammar, and appling some wikipediafication, resulting in article A'. Now, while A' is in the vault waiting for the approval of 5 moderators, someone else comes along and adds some information and creates A''. A''
    • I think a /.-style mod system would be great for large-scale (think a paragraph or so) edits, but it would be a giant pain in the ass for edits that clean up grammatical or spelling mistakes, mostly because in my experience, it would take months for five people who both know enough about grammar and spelling AND who give a shit about the topic to come along and say, "Yeah, that edit is OK."

      If Wikipedians were *assigned* five random edits to moderate, though, things would probably work a lot better in that
    • by Julian Morrison ( 5575 ) on Friday December 24, 2004 @01:45AM (#11174750)
      Slashdot:
      - once you post it's set in stone
      - everything is moderated by default
      - mods have low power as individuals
      - moderation is recursively cliqueish; moderator approval feeds back into modpoints
      - system designed to force some semblance of signal into a high-noise community
      - unavoidably encourages groupthink and modwhoring

      Wikipedia
      - everything is mutable
      - moderator intervention is rare, the normal way problems are resolved is via discussion and edits
      - moderation is a private club with significant power
      - system assumes most people are "signal" and that "noise" is rare
      - encourages discussion, reason, and NPOV

    • how could you setup something akin to a formal debate in the form of a web forum?

      I didn't want to release it yet,
      so please don't kill it:

      example:'The "two party" system is bad for the US.' [debatepoint.com]

      it really isn't ready, but I'm actively working on it.

      -metric
      • Oh wow!

        Hey, Bravo hitchhacker!

        Even in your site's nascent stage I am very exited someone has gone and actually taken a swipe at this perplexing idea of creating a formal debate forum!

        Furthermore, this initial alpha looks very promising!! to see someone actually creating a system designed specifically for debate is very exciting! If you search for other debate forums you can quickly see they are simply standard threaded forums which have no structure geared at all towards a formal debate.

        I think I will c
  • revisionist history? (Score:5, Informative)

    by bcrowell ( 177657 ) on Friday December 24, 2004 @12:56AM (#11174533) Homepage
    Interesting that the article completely ignores the failed nupedia [wikipedia.org] project and Jimmy Wales [wikipedia.org]. It makes it sound as if Wikipedia was a unitary project created in whole cloth by Larry Sanger, which really isn't the case.

    Sanger says participants often become embroiled in "revert wars" in which overprotective authors undo the changes others try to make to their articles.
    In my experience, this is not at all what revert wars are about. They're not about pride of authorship, because that's an impossibility on Wikipedia. They're about controversy. You get an article about, say, messianic judaism, or Ronald Reagan, which then becomes a battleground between believers and skeptics.

  • Larry plays a mean Donegal-style fiddle in the local Irish music sessions.
  • by The Fifth Man ( 99745 ) on Friday December 24, 2004 @01:07AM (#11174597)

    Having text subject to a moderation period for hours or maybe a day or two in a discussion area (with some sort of indicator or flag) would be a LOT better than instantaneous posting, IMO.

    I contributed to the entry on Internet Explorer [wikipedia.org] (specifically, removing it). A while back, some editors at Wikipedia (I'm not attributing--I'm sure this time lack of attribution will make them happy) were continually deleting the section on removing Internet Explorer from Windows [wikipedia.org]. The kept changing criteria... First, they wanted the passage on removing IE to say exactly who recommends it. Then, it had to meet Neutral Point of View and attribution criteria. Then, another Wikipedia editor asked what computer security experts recommend IE removal. It finally ended; they deferred and named the three experts in the field.

    Per the article: Nonbias is a difficult ideal to live up to. Indeed, the most common complaint against Wikipedia is that it is unreliable; since anyone can publish or edit any article instantly, theres nothing except the diligence of other contributors to keep favoritism, misinformation, vandalism, or sheer stupidity out of the encyclopedias pages. I'd argue that so-called nonbias is not the problem.

    The problem was that these dedicated editors were not deferring to the actual experts (in this case, me--the guy who has a site on removing Internet Explorer [vorck.com] from Windows 2000, and ignoring the creators of XPLite and nLite [msfn.org]). If the editors don't like something, all they have to do is claim that it violates the holy grail Neutral Point of View and you'll have to beat them over their heads to get your text into the Wikipedia. Moderation is a lousy way to get at the exact truth, but eventually, it comes to light (seems to here at Slashdot, anyway). No, obviously the truth isn't what everyone thinks, but it would sure help with those editorial battles. An article might have a comment that Hydrogen [slashdot.org] caused the Hindenberg disaster, and it gets modded +5. Eventually, you can bet the comments pointing out that it was the zeppelin's skin (paint) will also get modded +4 or +5. The key is with the Wiki, with moderation, potential authors wouldn't have to have month-long running debates and editorial beat-downs.

    • It's an open-source Encyclopedia, not an instruction manual. You could discuss the controversy behind being unable to uninstall it, and provide a link, but remember - the point here is to get the gist of something, not to provide a complete manual for reality. If we were to discuss unistall instructions, what's to stop someone from turning it into basically a Help / Support guide? Nothing, really. That's not what Wikipedia is.
  • Is sad. When anybody can change the entire entry without anybody noticing.. the "Douche" entry was insulting some girl with first and last name for about a week or two before it was changed.

    Without a serious review system, I can see it becoming a nest of crap that no one will be able to use.
    • Is sad. When anybody can change the entire entry without anybody noticing.. the "Douche" entry was insulting some girl with first and last name for about a week or two before it was changed.

      So why didn't you fix it? It would have been less effort than writing that message.

    • by JimLane ( 810951 ) <JamesMLane&aol,com> on Friday December 24, 2004 @07:11AM (#11175657)
      The current wikipedia state...Is sad. When anybody can change the entire entry without anybody noticing.. the "Douche" entry was insulting some girl with first and last name for about a week or two before it was changed.

      Without a serious review system, I can see it becoming a nest of crap that no one will be able to use.


      I just went through the entire history of the Wikipedia article on Douche [wikipedia.org]. I learned more about douching than I ever wanted to know. (Still, the review is much easier with the new Mediawiki v1.4, implemented in beta just this week. You can go directly from any version of the article to its immediate predecessor or successor, or you can do the same in the "diffs" that display the changed sections and highlight what was changed.) When I review the article, I don't find anything like what you describe.

      The article seems to be a favorite place for the kiddies to insert people's names, but this vandalism gets reverted quickly. The first one ("Oh, and Eric's a douche") lasted all of one minute back in March before it was reverted [wikipedia.org].

      Here are subsequent corrections reverting such edits, with their lag times showing how long the vandalism stayed up before it was caught:
      one minute [wikipedia.org]
      three minutes [wikipedia.org]
      two minutes [wikipedia.org]
      seven minutes [wikipedia.org]
      one minute [wikipedia.org]
      nine minutes [wikipedia.org]
      one minute [wikipedia.org]

      Now, I'll admit, they got us this week. The vandalism that added someone's name at 2:02 on December 21 wasn't reverted for thirteen hours [wikipedia.org]. I guess we were all at our Winter Solstice rituals. But there is nothing remotely close to "insulting some girl with first and last name for about a week or two before it was changed."

      So, if you had added such a claim to a Wikipedia article, I'd just delete the misinformation, while giving my reasons (as above) in the edit summary or on the article's talk page. If you could back up your assertion, you could restore the passage. If you and I couldn't reach agreement, we'd get other participants involved. Here on Slashdot, with its "serious review system", however, all I can do is post this response.
    • Without a serious review system, I can see it becoming a nest of crap that no one will be able to use.

      There is a review system--though not a formal moderated one like Slashdot. Each Wikipedia user has a Watchlist. You can add as many Wikipedia pages to it as you want, and whenever any of those pages are changed a notation will appear on your Watchlist page.

      I have a few pages on my list that are related to the work I do, or areas where I can comfortably claim I am well-versed. I keep tabs on the coupl

  • by mungtor ( 306258 ) on Friday December 24, 2004 @01:10AM (#11174612)
    think of how dumb the average person is...

    Now realize thay 1/2 the world is even dumber than that.
    • Fortunately, most of them are too dumb to figure out how to edit a Wiki page...
    • think of how dumb the average person is...
      Now realize thay 1/2 the world is even dumber than that.


      No, that's not how dumbness works.

      Visualize a bell curve. The "average person" occupies the middle section of this curve -- the main central zone of the bell.

      To one side of the central zone, that's the really smart people.

      To the other side of the central zone, that's the really dumb people.

      -kgj
  • Actually, I think that this could easily be solved. For controversial subjects, have a "for" and "against" post (or some similar). Have the "Ronald Reagan" link offer a choice of articles about him: one for editors who love the guy, one for those who don't care one way or the other, and one for those who hate him. Similar, controversial subjects could be handled in a similar manner. This way, everyone gets their say, without the "slant" of the article depending on who touched it last.

  • by Combuchan ( 123208 ) * <sean@emvis . n et> on Friday December 24, 2004 @02:24AM (#11174913) Homepage
    But Wikipedia's "staff" of volunteers is "better than any full-time staff you could imagine, because there are so many people involved," Sanger says. Any malicious or mistaken entry "is going to be instantly noticed" and corrected.

    Bzzt. Wikipedia has a LOT of articles...430000+ in the English version alone, with varying ranges of popularity, of course. Vandalism that happens on some articles will be corrected immediately, vandalism on others could take days to languish. I've seen insidiously biased and incomplete articles that take far longer than an instant to get fixed.

    What's more troubling is that people think Wikipedia is an end-all of knowledge. I wish it were, I really do. The problem is, a vandal or somebody just flatout misinformed could easily change some obscure date from like 1342 to 1324 and nobody except an expert could possibly notice and correct. From this we can derive a major problem in Wikipedia: The number of bad edits to good editors can be incredibly disproportionate, and everyone else in between won't usually know the difference.

    In a perfect world, we'd seek out that information three times over before using it, and change any wrong edits back, but humans are just naturally lazy and not inquisitive enough when it comes to information on Wikipedia. In some sordid way, Wikipedia really does reflect the sum of all human knowledge. It's just that humans aren't perfect.

    When someone uploads a patch to an opensource project, you have a pretty good idea of the effectiveness of that patch--it'll either do what it says, or it won't, if the new source will even compile. Bugs can be found by the sheer number of people using the software, and they're usually a lot more apparent than an unfact on Wikipedia. No information compiler exists, and it doesn't spit out warnings when you've mispelled somebody's name, transposed a digit in their birthyear, or just die when you've got something completely wrong.

    I think Wikipedia would do well to perhaps remove editing by anonymous users, or perhaps introduce some sort of moderation system like those discussed elsewhere in the thread. The problem with these solutions is that knowledge is very fleeting--sometimes somebody just won't care long enough to create an account before an edit, or they might be a rare holder of some tidbit of knowledge that can't be verified by a moderator. And who's to say the moderator's correct?

    Wikipedia has a vast amount of potential. Their pursuit for freedom in both beer and speech of human knowledge is remarkably admirable, and I consider them one of the best Internet charities around. Regardless of the inherent problems, I will continue to be an editor and support them in other ways as time goes on.

    --sean
  • The Wikipedia Foundation will be exhibiting at SCALE 3x [socallinuxexpo.org]. This might be a good opportunity to meet with fellow wikipedia contributors. For a free expo pass use the promo code "free". For a significant discount off a full conference pass use the code "wiki". See you all there.
  • "The site's massive archive, including 380,000 articles in English alone, puts even Britannica to shame."

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klingon [wikipedia.org]

    Look at that article and tell me...who is shamed?
  • by the pickle ( 261584 ) on Friday December 24, 2004 @03:42AM (#11175172) Homepage
    I've given this some serious thought since my earlier post [slashdot.org], and while I'd love to see every edit moderated in some way, I don't think it's in any way practical, nor do I foresee that it ever will be.

    Let's look at a few statistics, shall we?

    Wikipedia's Wikistats [wikipedia.org] show that for November 2004, there were over three-quarters of a million edits. That's an average of about 25,000 edits every day.

    There are just over 15,000 registered "Wikipedians." Of these, approximately 1,000 have performed at least 100 edits. Let's call these people "active Wikipedians" and assume that these people all have time to moderate on a daily basis and, more importantly, are willing to moderate on a daily basis. That leaves each active Wikipedian with 25 edits each and every day that must be moderated.

    Now, let's look at Wikipedia's growth during 2004. Since January, the number of monthly edits has increased by a factor of just over four. The number of active Wikipedians has increased by a factor of just over three. In one year's time, if these rates hold steady, the daily moderation burden of each active Wikipedian will increase to about 33 edits.

    The number of edits is increasing faster than new Wikipedians are joining, which means this problem is only going to get worse.

    In order for a moderation system to work -- I'm trying to be optimistic here -- Wikipedia would have to implement something that judged the "degree" of each edit. Edits that make large-scale changes -- where, say, more than one percent of the page changes -- would be a top priority for moderation, because it's these edits that have the most potential for destruction. Edits that simply change a character or two, copyediting stuff, wikifying, etc., would be less likely to be specifically harmful, and perhaps could be moderated at random.

    Moderation, like meta-moderation here at Slashdot, could then be used to drive a karma system. The more useful edits a user makes, the higher his/her karma. After a certain point, perhaps that user's edits could be flagged as "low priority" for the moderators, because it's very likely that a user who has made many useful contributions in the past is continuing to do so.

    In short, moderating every edit will never be practical, but moderation could probably be put to good use all the same. Implementation would be a nightmare, though.

    p
  • Wikipedia? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by sadiklis ( 653366 )

    Isn't Wikipedia just a subset of THE encyclopedia (the internet)?

    Google's pagerank still rules the day. If Wikipedia's article on some subject is indeed the best web-wide it will be pulled to the top in search results. But that rarely happens in my experience.

    So what the fuss is all about?


    P.S. I wish i could exclude Wikipedia-related articles via /. preferences.

  • by Martin Spamer ( 244245 ) on Friday December 24, 2004 @08:23AM (#11175820) Homepage Journal

    I used to be a massive fan of Wikipedia and a regular contributor in the fields of computer science, programming and military history.

    However as Wikipedia has became more popular it has also became completely overwhelmed with pop-opinion, poor rigour and fact checking. It has become completely bogged down blatant bias and revisionist history, and simply trying to keep on top of this became exhausting.

    At first I assumed this was simple ignorance, and tried to work withing the wikipedia process for resolution, but it was pointless, over time I came to understand that the trouble causers seemed to exhibit the same personality traits as usenet trolls and MOG griefer. The ignore facts, build straw men and resort to personal assaults. However the usual tactic of ignoring them doesnt work because they carry on changing the articles anyway, use revert bots to change articles on mass. Some examples.

    - One contributor who tried to suggest that encapsulation was not a fundemental feature of OO.
    - Another contributor kept removing the word riot from the blood Sunday article.
    - Another contributor kept removing the evidence of JP Jones war crimes.

    These are just some of the many problems I experienced at the hands of revert bots.

    In the end I gave up and left them to their ignorance.
    • I actually edited this article and removed the word riot, although I was not the first one to do this. English soldiers put up a roadblock blocking Irish marchers from marching to the middle of their own city, and when the hell does some foreign army have the right to come into a foreign country and block native people from where they want to go in their own city? Anyhow, a small group argued with the soldiers over the roadblock while the majority of people went way down a side street, and the shooting to
  • I have been an avid reader of the English and Swedish versions of Wikipedia. Now, I haven't followed any of the other additions in the least, but, at least in the Swedish version, I have noticed an enormous mass of stubs. Personally, I think it looks like a conscious effort to raise the total number of articles. Regardless of the fact that anyone can contribute, this massive crapflood lowers the opinion of anyone I try to introduce to the project. (Granted, I have made three very successful conversions)
  • He quit! He's no longer a community member? Since Wikipedia changes so frequently (the Arbitration Committee is pretty new, the article count is at least an order of magnitude higher, speedy-deletion guidelines have changed, the category system is entirely new, for instance), the Wikipedia he left in 2002 bears little resemblance to the one he advocates for today. So what happened?

    Did he change his username and continue to edit as just another one of us plebs? Why the sudden resurgence of interest?

    As of r

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