So this blog is an experiment right? A place to bat around ideas & try things out. So a week ago I made a pollyannaish post about wanting to trust in open, mass collaboration.
And then yesterday, @doshdosh pointed me to an article on a particularly nasty conflict of interest situation over in the land of the Wikipedians — see “Wikipedia ruled by ‘Lord of the Universe’“. It seems that a key admin on the site, one who happens to be one of the most frequent contributors to Wikipedia’s conflict of interest policy has edited that policy so that it allows him to prevent criticism of the guru/cult leader he follows from appearing in Wikipedia. Eeeeew, that’s a stinky situation.
I won’t rehash the gory details of this case, you can read all about it for yourselves. But it’s a bit of a slap in the face to my hopes of trusting in open collaboration. I’m so naive…
Actually in poking around while writing this post, I came across something which could indicate that this particular situation is on instance of a more systemic problem.
Using a common SF trope, Wikipedia is a quintessential post-apocalyptic warlord society. The warlords (admins) reign over subdomains of a generally anarchic space. The periodically fight each other (wheel wars), and participate in planned or ad hoc campaigns against each other. At the same time, they prevent the rise of additional opposition through exile (blocking) and assassination (banning), or cultivate acolytes and sycophants with privileges and rewards (tolerated rule-breaking, barnstars, admin status).
The warlords trade and jockey for status among themselves using a variety of mechanisms, including ritual combat — often with proxy fighters (ArbCom), denunciation (RFC), and whispering campaigns (IRC, off-wiki in general), and when one is weakened, they will ruthlessly turn on him/her (cf. Kelly Martin, Tony Sidaway). (Source: a forum post from Wikipedia Review quoted in Wikipedia Governance: the power of admins on the P2P Foundation blog)
It’s World of Wikipediacraft!
All joking aside, this paints a pretty unflattering picture of the Wikipedia community. I guess this goes to show that if you really want some kind of mass, open collaboration, it really will take a lot of sustained effort to maintain it.
I still think the wiki model is a wonderful invention that’s worth pursuing, and this stuff is totally at odds with my usual experience in using Wikipedia. Most times when I look something up in Wikipedia, the tone of language is neutral, it’s well confirmed by other sources, etc. etc.
So are these situations exceptions to the rule? Do the power politics in the Wikipedia community negate the value of Wikipedia itself? How can we safeguard open communities from this kind of thing? Does the effort involved in making open or mass collaboration work outweigh the value of doing it?
Questions, questions. It’s certainly got the wheels turning inside my lil’ head.