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Can we stop the Wikipedia witch hunts?

Posted on | December 15, 2007 | 4 Comments

We’re coming dangerously close to throwing the ‘baby out with the bath water’ when it comes to one of the few quality sources of free information available to anyone with an Internet connection.

Technology web sites have been ablaze with criticism over Wikipedia editorial cliques, broad sweeping user bans, sock puppet editors and lately the news that the former COO (who controlled the money) also has a colorful criminal background (and current legal headaches).

All of this is good to know, anyone who cares about preserving and improving the Wikipedia resource would want to know this stuff. What concerns me is the gratuitous “we caught you!” reporting that is flooding high profile technology websites such as The Register and Slashdot profiling Wikipedia in a similar lite as one would profile the mafia.

Will we be calling Jimmy Wales “Jacko” next? Will the tech paparazzi camp out in front of the homes of Wikipedia editors in hopes of catching them doing something human? Do they (the tech paparazzi) realize, or care that such sensationalism causes Wikipedia to be excluded in public class rooms? Such exclusion is not at all warranted even in full view of the dirty laundry that has been aired as of late, but its dangerously close to occurring.

Does Wikipedia have issues? Yes. Can they be fixed? Yes. Will they be fixed if all that comes from the community that enjoys access to free and (broadly) accurate encyclopedic information is conjecture and complaints? No.

I am a technology writer, however I am not a high profile technology writer. Approximately 150,000 people will read this article over a three month period. 1.5 million people per day read the articles on web sites such as Slashdot and The Register. Given the power of the reach that they enjoy, I would hope that they would realize the effects of writing sensational articles that attract ad clicks when the subject of the rant is the only (real) complete and completely free encyclopedia.

Lighten up, will you? We all know that Wikipedia has problems that it must overcome, many of which are sour fruits from the tree of human nature. We don’t need to sensationalize these types of problems, we need to address them. The issues that plague Wikipedia also plague almost every other enormous distributed and collaborative effort in the free software/information ecosystem and are evidenced on a daily basis therein. Why is Wikipedia becoming the “poster child” for criticism due to these types of problems?

Put very simply, I wish that technology columnists would either get their heads out of the toilet, or stop complaining about how much it stinks.


4 Responses to “Can we stop the Wikipedia witch hunts?”

  1. Wikipedian Pete
    December 15th, 2007 @ 10:17 pm

    “Why is Wikipedia becoming the “poster child” for criticism due to these types of problems?”

    Because it is run by Jimbo Wales? And because Wikipedia is the most irresponsible institution that the internet has yet to produce. Ask the 1000s of people that have been slighted, misrepresented, lied about, harassed and intimidated by a site that sits proudly at the top of every google search.

    There is a fix. And that is for a professional organisation to distribute “the sum of all human knowledge” in a responsible fashion that makes Wikipedia quickly redundant. Thus ending this appalling Lord Of The Flies style monstrosity that at present degrades everyone involved.

    Wales took a great human possibility, of shared online collaborative knowledge building, and destroyed it with his own hubris and idiocy. He hopes to make a fortune from his “success”. If there was any justice, he’d be facing lawsuits for the rest of his life from the numerous victims of his snake oil selling blather.

  2. Moulton
    December 15th, 2007 @ 10:18 pm

    The reference to “witch hunts” is interesting, because the Puritans were also known for their use of the Pillory, Stocks, Dunking Stool, and the infamous “Scarlet Letter” whereby miscreants who ran afoul of the church elders received shameful treatment characterized by raucous public indignities.

    The bizarre “sanctions regime” at Wikipedia makes the Puritans look downright saintly by comparison.

    Over the years, the erratic sanctions regime at Wikipedia has alienated a lot of people of good will who naively mistook Wikipedia for a serious academic enterprise, rather than a sophomoric MMPORG masquerading as an online encyclopedia.

  3. Dan T.
    December 16th, 2007 @ 12:05 am

    Speaking of witch-hunts, the mindset among many on Wikipedia has a great resemblance to the McCarthyite witch-hunt against communism in the 1950s. Like with the “red under every bed” then, there is a belief that there’s a troll or a sockpuppet of a banned user lurking everywhere, and repression based on vague suspicions and guilt by association is needed to root out this menace. It’s a lot like the Twilight Zone episode, “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street”.

  4. tinkertim
    December 23rd, 2007 @ 12:58 am

    @ All,

    Thank you for your comments and realizing that my questions were not rhetorical by nature.

    Unfortunately, I’m still asking the same questions, this time with clarification:

    Thousands of people are alienated (or worse) daily on sites like Myspace. Yet, this is not in the headlines of major technology web sites. Why is this?

    Human nature dictates that these problems will occur. Why has Wikipedia become the focal point (or fulcrum, if you will) of these problems to the point that the collaborated knowledge base that lies behind the issues becomes excluded from classrooms?

    All of you have left insightful comments, yet, none really address my questions. As such, they remain questions that I hope to answer.

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