Essay questions Wikipedia's success: Abort, Retry, Fail?

Fierce controversy and some administrative confusion followed the writing of an essay called "Wikipedia is failing" this week. The essay, written by Worldtraveller, argues that Wikipedia is failing in some ways to become a "reputable, reliable reference work". Many Wikipedians took issue with the claims, but attempts to change the essay produced a subsidiary debate over the extent to which users can control the contents of essays they have written in project space.

Essay contents

The essay argues that the failure to produce featured or good quality content in a substantial number of the 'vital articles' identified as needing them, meant that Wikipedia was failing in its mission to become a "reputable, reliable reference work". It argues further that the substantial number of former featured articles is an indication of failure to maintain standards.

It goes on to observe that six years of work has produced only 3,000 articles of good or featured quality, which leaves 99.8% of articles not having been assessed as of good quality. In many cases, contends the essay, "they are not considered well written, verifiable or broad or comprehensive in their coverage". In debate, Worldtraveller observed that he had asked contributors to the Featured article candidates page if they thought every article had the potential to be featured, and had been given the clear answer "yes".

History of essay

The essay was first created by Worldtraveller on 10 February, and in order to promote discussion he then advertised it on several noticeboards including the Village pump. Discussion started almost immediately there and on the essay's talk page, although the essay itself attracted no substantial edits.

On 14 February, the well known technology news website Slashdot linked to the essay, prompting a large number of vandalism edits from non-logged in users. The swift semi-protection of the essay attracted more publicity, and established users who disagreed with the general point it made began to edit it to conform with their analysis. These edits prompting Worldtraveller to protest and revert their edits. A rebuttal essay was started at "Wikipedia is not failing" by Jeff Carr.

Heathhunnicutt, whose edits to the original essay had been reverted by Worldtraveller, filed a request for mediation over their editing dispute; after it was rejected by Worldtraveller, he then filed a request for arbitration. This request did not receive the support of any arbitrators and was delisted. After Worldtraveller continued to revert edits to the essay, he and Willow were blocked by Kirill Lokshin for a violation of the three revert rule on 15 February. These blocks produced much debate over whether a user had the right to defend the general thesis of an essay they had written which was in Wikipedia project space, and whether the ownership of articles policy applied to essays.

While Worldtraveller was blocked, Cyde Weys moved a rewritten version of the essay to Worldtraveller's userspace on 16 February. As this removed it from the scope of the three revert rule, Worldtraveller was unblocked. Willow was unblocked at the same time; she wrote her own essay called "Evaluating Wikipedia as an encyclopedia". Later that day, JzG deleted the cross-namespace redirect. When a soft redirect was created instead, this was also deleted by JzG and turned into a protected deleted page by Nearly Headless Nick. After further discussion, JzG restored the essay to its original position on 17 February. On 19 February, Ta bu shi da yu nominated both the essay and rebuttal on Miscellany for deletion, but both debates were closed as a "snowball keep" by Radiant! after a few hours.


One early comment pointed to the Wikipedia general disclaimer which proclaims that "Wikipedia cannot guarantee the validity of the information found here". Those who disagreed with the approach of the essay pointed to the fact that many published encyclopaedias include poor quality and biased articles, which if they were on Wikipedia would be classed as stub articles, and that the Encyclopaedia Britannica did not include references but relied on its general reputation.

Others pointed out that many articles which are neither featured nor classed as good are still substantial and referenced, and some felt that the featured article candidate process was too restrictive and sometimes rejected articles for trivial and arbitrary reasons. One user identified a major failing of Wikipedia being that advocacy groups can use it to promote their cause in such a way as to make it prominent in Internet searches. Responding to a suggestion in the essay, some users tried the "10 random article test", clicking on Special:Random ten times and assessing each article's quality. This test produced mixed results.

The response Wikipedia is not failing essay argues that with 1.6 million articles, even if some of them are stubs, Wikipedia is now the largest encyclopedia ever known. It points to the fact that the number of articles on Wikipedia has shown sustained exponential growth. This essay considers that as a general encyclopaedia, Wikipedia coverage of diverse areas is generally good, and where it is not, there are active groups working to fill the gaps. The use of Wikipedia as a source in journalism and even in court judgments is mentioned as proof that, while Wikipedia does not claim reliability, some of its articles are in fact relied upon.

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For the record, I've listed both the article Wikipedia:Wikipedia is failing and the rebuttal on AFD as divisive and stupid. yes, I know it seems like another battle and I'm going off the rails, but really, this is all getting very stupid. Ever since this trend towards writing essays to push POV and attempt to make defacto policy, the whole site is getting much more unfriendly and unproductive. Essays are a great way of a. getting around consensus, and b. push your sole POV on others. - Ta bu shi da yu 08:54, 19 February 2007 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Couple of points

Interesting read! I have a couple of minor suggestions: you might want to note that the version of the essay that was moved to my user space was the re-written version as opposed to the original. As I was blocked at the time I couldn't do anything about that. You might also want to note that User:AudeVivere undeleted the link that JzG deleted, and he then re-deleted it. Feel free to ignore these suggestions if you think they are biased! Worldtraveller 12:21, 19 February 2007 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Oh yes, and you say it was moved over my protests. I argued against the move but I wouldn't really say it was moved over my protests as I think I was not the only one arguing, and 'over X's protests' possibly sounds a bit over-dramatic. Again, ignore if you want. Worldtraveller 12:25, 19 February 2007 (UTC)Reply[reply]
I hope you like the changes. I thought of mentioning AudeVivere's recreation and deletion but decided against it, as it was reversed and wasn't very important in the whole scheme of things, plus it might over-complicate what is already quite a complicated history. Sam Blacketer 16:19, 19 February 2007 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Missed reasoning

Unfortunately, the article fails to explain why I moved it into userspace, merely stating that I did so. I think the reasoning here is important, and I would've liked to have seen it covered in the article. --Cyde Weys 01:54, 22 February 2007 (UTC)Reply[reply]

What was that... maybe a reporter might be kind enough to update the article. That article, incidently, should be in user space. - Ta bu shi da yu 10:22, 22 February 2007 (UTC)Reply[reply]
According to the Move log, it was "If no one else is allowed to edit this, as many of the "Wikipedia is failing" crowd are asserting, then it is NOT a projectspace essay." I did not include this as the reason for the move because I had already reported that people were using this argument. Sam Blacketer 10:33, 22 February 2007 (UTC)Reply[reply]


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