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February 27th, 2006


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10:13 pm - Wikipedia can suck it (or: POLICY WANK MORE LIKE POLICY CIRCLEJERK)
I created a Wikipedia account a year and a half ago for to make some edits and stuff while slaving away at the ol' roadside assistance job. No biggie. I threw up a quick userpage which ripped off most of the jokes I make in my usual online profiles, and I included one of my favorite portraits what charva took of me back in 2003 and let me use all over God's green intar web.

Then I kinda drifted away from Wikipedia after realizing a few sad, inevitable truths. First, Wikipedia is a very good germ of an idea. Totally. You can just hear the exuberant idea as it sprung into existence: "Hey, let's go and make an encyclopedia that everybody can contribute to, and anybody can edit. It'll be like the Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy and stuff! People will send in updates, really smart people will be able to show off how smart they are, we'll run the whole thing through a Peter Jones voice synth for that truly dry delivery, it'll be great."

Only they seem to have neglected to realize the random factor in this: people. The utopian vision, that of a happy community of happy contributors contributing happily, dies before it even can take a breath. Because you just can't stop people from being people. People are stupid. People are vain. People have axes to grind and agendas to further and obscenity to write. And these people are the ones who truly Believe in the overall authority of the site. If it's written in Wikipedia, and then edited and re-edited and cross-referenced and reverted and filtered of all non-neutral points of view, then it must be true. The lack of true authoritativeness is what gets the collective panties of the "Dead Tree Pedia" community in a snit. Encyclopedia Britannica says "We spend zillions on our research and fact-checking department! Where do you ham and eggers get off trying to play our game?" The media also gets their panties in a snit, but they're not really in it for any altruistic reasons; they just love to shake the jar to watch the buggies inside fight. "Vandal changes article to read SENATOR CLAGHORN EATS HIS OWN POO! In an online encylopedia! Shock! Gasp! Also, random sexual encounters on Craigslist! Who the hell knew?"

So is there a way to solve that problem and bring peace to the land of Wiki? I don't know. (Hey, I never claimed to have all the answers. Circle this day on your calendar.) But I'm pretty sure the solution won't be any time soon. Currently, the future of the whole shebang is plodding along in an Intelligent Design By Committee sort of way. Wikipedia is this newborn critter, see, and while nobody knows exactly what it's supposed to really end up doing with its life, they all can see it may turn into something Very Important. It's going to turn into The Authority. So this massive crowd of people, each of whom figures themselves to be Very Very Important In The Growth Of Whatever It Is, has circled around this innocent little beastie, and each of these people has their own idea on what to do with it: nurture it, eat it, throw stuff at it, have sex with it, put a wooden board over it and then stomp on the board, that kind of thing. And when they try to take the floor and discuss their ideas, there's a lot of arguing going on. Meanwhile, the little critter is looking increasingly more and more uncomfortable under the glare of the harsh spotlights, and is desperately looking for a corner in which to relieve itself.

It's just a website, people. Which may or may not be useful in the long run. Don't listen to the media.

The media attention over the thing is really the glossy sheen on the waxed turd donut, anyway. It's "Web2.0" sensationalism at its best (HINT: THE DOT COM BOOM IS OVER, LEBOWSKI, THE BUMS LOST, CONDOLENCES) and it shines on like it ain't ever shone before. The real laffs come when you realize the media can't figure out whether to hype the site, since it's New Web Technology 3000 Let's All Get Rich Again, or demonize it since the fifteen minutes' worth of hype is nearly over and the big hand on the clock is edging steadily towards "Inevitable Backlash."

The whole debacle over certain people from certain parts of our certain government making surrepitious edits on behalf of a certain senator or representative is the best example. It's absolutincredibly silly. I love it. Because do you know what it means? The government's bought into the hype, too! They, too, believe that Wikipedia is the be-all and end-all authority on all things everything! Because if you write "SENATOR CLAGHORN EATS HIS OWN POO" on Wikipedia, it's entirely true! And if you omit the parts in his biography where he experimented with squirrels in college, it never really happened! And gosh, the suckers who read the thing will be none the wiser!

It's at this point where I'd just like to put my head in my hands and weep softly for humanity, only honestly, guys, you made your own goddamn bed, you can wallow in it. I think I'll go find something else to do, something fun, like chase butterflies, pound sand, or teach the cat how to do Sudoku. ("Geez, didn't you hear me? PROCESS OF ELIMINATION, BUDDY! OCCAM'S RAZOR! Quit licking yourself and show me the only number that can logically go here!")

Again, it's just a goddamn website. Attach too much importance to it and you are just setting it -- and yourself -- up for ruination. You hear me? Ruination! Razzem! Get off my lawn, you young upstarts who cain't learn from history fer beans, and take your blobby logos with you.

Anyway, I'm grumpy. And not just because I checked the site for the first time in months only to find that someone went and deleted my own picture from my own user page because it wasn't "released under the Creative Commons license." Ok, maybe it is just because someone went and deleted my own picture from my own user page because it wasn't "released under the Creative Commons license." Seriously. The overlapping levels of bureaucracy just seem so useless.

Now is the time where any and all Web2.0 apologists can come right up and try to engage me in debate. Please keep in mind I will respond to every sincere attempt to sling the self-delusion my way with pictures of dogs in people clothes, because buddy, we all delude ourselves in different ways. Mine just happen to be funny.

(29 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:signsoflife
Date:February 28th, 2006 04:05 am (UTC)
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The fact that "Blood flukes" redirects you to "Schistosomatidae" is almost enough to get me to want to fix it 'cause it's broken.

But only almost.
[User Picture]
From:reveritas
Date:February 28th, 2006 04:22 am (UTC)
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come on, admit that you're just grumpy because someone deleted your picture. really, would you have thought about it otherwise?




(i'm trying to elicit dogs in people clothes here!)
[User Picture]
From:derspatchel
Date:February 28th, 2006 04:47 am (UTC)
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Very nice. You may have some pugs in hats.
[User Picture]
From:obra
Date:February 28th, 2006 06:48 am (UTC)
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Are those pictures under a Creative Commons license that lets you include them in a derivative work like this conversation without fairly compensating the artist?
[User Picture]
From:obra
Date:February 28th, 2006 06:48 am (UTC)
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Sorry. I couldn't resist.
[User Picture]
From:stopword
Date:February 28th, 2006 04:38 am (UTC)
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This is me, tongue-kissing your picture in between bouts of shouting "Amen! Preach it, brother Spatch!"

The problem with an online community writing an encyclopedia is that it's going to have a ton of content about all the various Trek incarnations and nothing about, say, Saskatchewan. I exaggerate for humorous effect, but you get what I mean.

And heaven help the moderator who gets in between the two factions arguing about the color of the Vulcan's blood.

(in my tenure moderating an online community like this, I ended up learning an awful lot about Cyprus-Turkey relations. Turns out, they don't like each other. And they wish they could tell me that with grenades.)
[User Picture]
From:derspatchel
Date:February 28th, 2006 04:45 am (UTC)
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Yeah, there's a big problem with Very Many Experts On This One Subject. The last time I trolled around the Wiki admin stuff, everybody was up in arms over the fact that people really really really wanted to add every single Pokemon to the encyclopedia, complete with detailed writeups. Pokemon are very very important to some people, and they don't quite seem to realize that maybe, in the grand scheme of things as others see it, Squirtle's special powers aren't quite as important as geography.

But I guess there are others who can't quite seem to realize that geography, in the grand scheme of things as others see it, isn't quite as important as which Pokemon evolves from Pikachu. These are the people who didn't doodle Charmander all over their geography exams.

Ok, my knowledge of Pokemon has been exhausted, so I better stop here.
[User Picture]
From:maga_dogg
Date:February 28th, 2006 07:07 am (UTC)
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The latest Insiduous Bias I got was when I checked the page for Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of modern Turkey. I'd just got done with reading a semi-fictional book which featured him as a nonfictional character, and made it quite a strong point of his character that he was an atheist who was constantly exasperated by Islam, but knew how to manipulate Islamic sentiment for political ends. It's a thoroughly well-researched book, but I nonetheless was interested in finding out a bit more blah blah blah.

The obvious thing was that, right, the guy was the national hero of Turkey, and not really particularly well-known by anyone who isn't a Turk, so the great majority of people who give a flying crap about him are a) Turks, hence probably Muslims and great Kemal fans, and b) Serious Academic Historians of the Modern Near East, who aren't very numerous and don't use Wikipedia. So what you naturally get is a chunky and ever-so-slightly-defensive paragraph on Kemal And His Profound Love Of Allah. So I find myself more inclined to trust a work of fiction than Wikipedia. Go community!
From:ungratefulninja
Date:February 28th, 2006 05:04 am (UTC)
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I have nothing to add, I just wanted to plug my last post about wikipedia.
[User Picture]
From:derspatchel
Date:February 28th, 2006 05:07 am (UTC)
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List Of Posts By Der Pinor What Mention Lists In Wikipedia
From:ungratefulninja
Date:February 28th, 2006 05:08 am (UTC)
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...In List Format.
[User Picture]
From:annilita
Date:February 28th, 2006 05:13 am (UTC)
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Wikipedia is just another place for all the alt.yell.at.each.other folks to feel important.
[User Picture]
From:redtheblue
Date:February 28th, 2006 06:56 am (UTC)
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It's like letting the people who write letters to the editor take over the entire paper. "It's a wide open paper, where everybody can report, man! No more one-way conduit of knowledge for us, no sir I can tell you that right now!" In reality we've perfected the reader-newspaper relationship: Let us do the reporting and let them have their little section where they can shit in each other's breakfast every morning.

Our newspaper's policy is that, if we need information, Wikipedia is less-than-good for nothing. Wherever the people who write those articles get their sources? That is who we should go to. The people on Wikipedia are like us: For the most part, they're playing expert-at-large. The difference for us is that we get fired if we fuck up bad enough.
[User Picture]
From:bedfull_o_books
Date:February 28th, 2006 02:53 pm (UTC)
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My mom teaches 5th grade. She doesn't let her students use Wikipedia as a source for their research papers because she knows that Wiki is inaccurate.

She's not the most web-savvy person in the world either, so perhaps there is hope....
[User Picture]
From:androidqueen
Date:February 28th, 2006 01:11 pm (UTC)
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you're right. wikipedia cannot be used as a verifiably accurate source. but it's still damned useful, particularly for subjects that are not up for debate. would i cite it as a source in a paper or article? never. do i go there all the time looking for mostly accurate information? yes.

go ahead, add every pokemon character ever known to existence. it's not like you're wasting paper, and bits are practically infinite. and it's not likely to get in the way of someone else's search.
[User Picture]
From:dolphinsolo
Date:February 28th, 2006 02:56 pm (UTC)
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Right. You go there to remember what the heck that guy's name was that started some war, or the generic plot of some show, or what the capital city of Zimbabwe is.

And I happen to think it'd be cool to have all the Pokemon listed with their descriptions. I'm not going to search for thermodynamics and be linked to Pikachu and somehow think an electric mouse affects entropy in a significant manner.
[User Picture]
From:derspatchel
Date:February 28th, 2006 03:34 pm (UTC)
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It's good for quick wossname references. I really didn't have anything against the Pokemon, myself, and stayed out of the discussion. The arguments made against the Pokemon stuff (and other specialized topics) was that Setting A Precedent was bad, because obviously if all the Pokemon people get their way, then the Yu-Gi-Oh and DBZ folks would tromp right in thru the open door and the Wikipedia logo would turn into a Pokeball before we knew it. (After dire warnings about that, then they turned it into a "and that takes disk space!" argument which I honestly haven't heard since the days when a 150KB file really did take up a lot of precious disk space.) It really was a bunch of arguing from people who didn't think one person's Important was as important as their Importants.

Eventually a compromise of sorts was reached, if I'm remembering this correctly, in that the Pokemon entries were kept, but you crazy kids better not try it again!

I think at this point, ungratefulninja has got it right -- the scope is too large. Specialized wikis are great. I think WikiTravel for one is a brilliant idea (and more along the lines of the "Hitchhiker's Guide" concept) but a wiki that wants to cover Everything In The World suffers from the problem that nobody can agree on just what "everything" should entail.
[User Picture]
From:androidqueen
Date:February 28th, 2006 04:19 pm (UTC)
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*shrug* i disagree. specialized wikis are great and serve a particular purpose, but there is something to be said for a more general overview of information, even if it's just a collection of useful links. (that said, i do dislike the fact that you can edit anonymously -- it means you have much less information when reading an article about whether the sources are reliable.) there will always be the debate over what is inappropriate to contain in wikipedia. personally, i think it's a rather silly debate. (include it all! let god sort it out.) if you *actually* start running out of space, you can always set up some sort of "usefulness" metric. it won't be accurate, of course, and it will be hackable, but

wikipedia is not a guaranteed accurate source of information, and anybody who assumes otherwise deserves to be ridiculed in every way possible.

like any piece of technology, it has a specific use and purpose. if you try to use it a way that it is not designed for, it will make you cry. "doctor, it hurts when i do this . . ."
From:(Anonymous)
Date:February 28th, 2006 02:54 pm (UTC)
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I SERCHED FOR SPATCH AND GOT CATTOWN. MAN THAT CATTOWN CHICK IS CRAZY. DRESSING HER POOR KITTIES UP LIKE THAT. WHAT A LOOSER.
From:dcart
Date:February 28th, 2006 02:55 pm (UTC)
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Um, I thought I was logged in. Better go back and reload my friends list.
[User Picture]
From:phonemonkey
Date:March 1st, 2006 05:38 pm (UTC)
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It's funnier as an anonypost though.
[User Picture]
From:vanguardcdk
Date:February 28th, 2006 03:05 pm (UTC)
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Personally I've found Wikipedia useful enough for light research (definately wouldn't source it in a paper!) and it can be a lot of fun if you're hunting for Dr. Who episode summaries or the fictional warship in the original War of the Worlds book ("Thor's Hammer" if I remember right).

If I had the money I'd much rather use Britannica.com, but I don't so..umm..I don't. ;) (maybe I can convince my boss I need it for work..hmmm)
From:zhym
Date:February 28th, 2006 06:03 pm (UTC)
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Here are my rules for trusting Wikipedia content. A Wikipedia entry is more believable and useful when:

  1. Many people know the subject well. Perhaps this is obvious, but Wikipedia only really works when there are enough people who can tell if an entry is accurate. That skews it to pop culture. Millions more people can tell you won the last "American Idol" than know what language the Sumerians wrote.

  2. The subject is technical or well-known to geeks. This is really a corollary to #1, pointing out that the people who are likely to update Wikipedia know some subjects more than others.

  3. The subject is non-controversial. In the worst case, you get warring factions battling over a page's content. In the best case, controversial subjects lack content. For example, most entries about political parties don't describe party politics, only their histories. Politics are controversial; history is more factual.

Wikipedia is based on the adorably democratic notion that mass review is better than review by a handful of experts. That's only true when the masses know about a topic and agree on it. When very few people know a subject, or it's controversial, it's far better to have a team of experts verify information.

I don't think of Wikipedia as an encyclopedia, but as a collection of the beliefs of the Internet at large. Sometimes those beliefs are true: often they're crap. Generally, though, I find that these three rules give me a good estimate of whether the "democratic belief" system will generate something resembling fact, or bunk.
[User Picture]
From:amandaruth2001
Date:February 28th, 2006 06:19 pm (UTC)
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That comment is just SO Zhym. I suppose it couldn't be anything else. :) It's good to see. A little Zhym brightens my day.
From:zhym
Date:February 28th, 2006 07:49 pm (UTC)
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A little Zhym goes a long way.

It rhymes *and* scans. :)
[User Picture]
From:semer
Date:February 28th, 2006 06:40 pm (UTC)
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The part I love is that I totally get away with citing it in papers to most of my profs, even though I know that it's wrong to do so. Hahaha I love Stanford. <3
(Deleted comment)
From:ungratefulninja
Date:March 1st, 2006 03:10 am (UTC)
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[User Picture]
From:derspatchel
Date:March 1st, 2006 03:17 am (UTC)
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I think a lot of that is due to everything2's crazy user interface and bizarre user "levels." It really doesn't lend itself well to newcomers wishing to jump right in, though jumping right in may be one of the problems Wikipedia faces.
[User Picture]
From:mabel_morgan
Date:March 1st, 2006 03:59 pm (UTC)

Xrefer

(Link)
I gotta recommend xrefer.com as an excellent resource. You can only sign up for trials a month at a time and you have to pretend to be a librarian, but really, if you want a definitive answer in dounle time then this is it:

Go on, try it: http://www.xrefer.com/libraries/index.jsp?m=8

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