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By Skomorokh

The closed, unfriendly world of Wikipedia

The top section of Requests for undeletion, whose appearance Wikipedia neophyte Danny Sullivan greeted with the exasperated comment "I wish my head hadn’t exploded before, because now it really would."
Frustrated new contributor Danny Sullivan in happier times

The catacombs of contested deletions

Search marketing specialist Danny Sullivan wrote a scathing account of his experiences on Wikipedia trying to intervene on behalf of a colleague, Jessie Stricchiola, whose article had been deleted at AfD in late October. While the unpopularity of Wikipedia's restrictive notability policies for biographies among internet users and the furor of subject matter experts at its egalitarian norms will not be news to readers, Sullivan also had harsh words for the complexity and relentless user-unfriendliness of the procedures he encountered. Confronted with {{Afd-top}}The following discussion is an archived debate of the proposed deletion of the article below. Please do not modify it. Subsequent comments should be made on the appropriate discussion page (such as the article's talk page or in a deletion review). No further edits should be made to this page.[1] – Sullivan seethes "Already, I’m annoyed. As usual, trying to contribute to Wikipedia means that you’ve got to know what a "talk page" is or where to find a "deletion review"." Finding that the talk page the notice directed him to had evidently been deleted, and no indication as to where the "deletion review" might be found, Sullivan (as Dannysullivan (talk · contribs)) tried to post directly on the closed AfD itself his rationale for why Stricchiola merited an entry.

Next he was confronted with an email notifying him that his user talkpage had been changed (this feature, activated by default in user preferences, is documented at mw:New Editor Engagement/Email notifications), linking to a diff of the edit in question, which provoked Sullivan further: "OMG, my message is a revision comparison of what’s been added to the user talk page that I barely even know that I have? Who creates this type of mess? Who tolerates this as an effective working environment?" The edit was an explanation that posting comments on a closed AfD is discouraged, and containing a link to the deletion review. Sullivan followed the link in the email to the userpage of the editor who had left the message to respond, but was greeted with a {{notice}} asking him not to post messages there, but on the user talk page instead, leading him to remark "Oh, don’t post messages on the page I was specifically told to go to in order to contact the editor. Nice, Wikipedia." At the top of the user talkpage, the following notice appeared:

This served only to incite Sullivan further: "Yeah, there’s nothing like that. If you’re leaving a message about an article that was deleted, assuming you even know how to leave a message, you’re also informed to do it with an “appropriate red link” with instructions on how to make links red, except that leads to a page that doesn’t explain this, and OMG, did my head just explode over all this bureaucracy?" He protested to the editor who had left him the message, venting his frustration questioning whether the Wikipedia interface and bureaucracy was serving the interests of creating an "accurate crowd-sourced encyclopedia", or only those of the "incredibly tiny few number of people who care to play in the high priesthood of Wikipedia editing". From here, he proceeded to deletion review, but the morass of unintelligible instructions there failed to indicate to Sullivan that it was the appropriate venue for objecting to closed deletion discussions, and he sought out Requests for undeletion instead. The sight that confronted him (pictured at top) sufficed to push Sullivan over the edge. The process asked for the title of the deleted page, which he did not know how to find, and explained the venue's purpose in alternately vague and impenetrable terms (for pages that have been "uncontroversially deleted" by processes "such as CSD G6" or that had had "little or no participation"). After leaving a request for the restoration of the article, which was declined with a default template, he concluded:

It’s insane. It really is. And with respect to the many hardworking people who have created a generally useful resource, it’s not a friendly resource. It doesn’t have systems, as far as I can tell, designed to help it improve. It has walls, walls you believe (with many good reasons) are designed to protect it from being vandalized. But those walls themselves are their own type of vandalization of the very resource you’re trying to protect.

The internet responds

"It took two weeks for Wikipedia to determine that this article should be deleted. During that entire time, her article stood with a very prominent notice saying it was going to be deleted, with a prominent link allowing people to argue in favor of keeping or, better yet, locate a real reliable source backing up any claim to her notability. Two weeks. Read the AfD. Read DGG's exegesis of the sources cited in this article – the guy found out how many libraries carried her book.

Now, think about this: Jessie's article wasn't a marquee deletion event. Nobody gave a shit. It was just one of many pages up for AfD that week, alongside the founder of a political party nobody has ever heard of and 3 members of non-professional football clubs. In every one of those retarded articles, someone had to marshall real arguments, chase down real sources, and in many cases defend those arguments against both bona fide Wikipedia contributors and also sockpuppets of the subjects of the article. Every time.

Anyone who can snark that Wikipedia is a knee-jerk or arbitrary culture is betraying a deep ignorance of how the most successful Internet reference project in the history of the Internet actually works."

— From the top-ranked post in the Hacker News discussion, by commenter tptacek.

Comments were closed on Sullivan's post, but it was picked up at Hacker News, where it attracted reams of discussion between sympathisers and Wikipedia defenders. Commenters defended Wikipedia's inclusion criteria, made the point that people should not try to add or edit content about subjects related to them due to potential conflict of interest, and debated whether those responsible for creating the bulk of content on Wikipedia were a separate caste from those controlling the byzantine and cryptic maintenance systems. That these systems were prohibitively bureaucratic and hostile to new participants was less contested, but many put the blame on an overactive immune system that had developed in response to combating articles like the one that Sullivan was trying to save.

Journalist and Wikipedia critic Seth Finkelstein wrote a response to the episode on his personal blog, focusing on the issue of the treatment of subject matter experts, which he said was indicative of "very troubling social undercurrents" – that experts such as Sullivan expect to be treated with respect but run up against a status hierarchy of an altogether different kind at Wikipedia, where only "with the right political skills, clique alliances, and of course a huge amount of time and effort, that expert could hope rise to as exalted a ranking level as the Wikipedia editor". Finkelstein cited this culture, and the alienation of experts it inspires, as a contributory factor in his not embracing the project.

A twist in the tale

ReadWriteWeb senior writer Marshall Kirkpatrick was also inspired to respond to Sullivan's post, but from a different angle: his own experiences in writing the Fubonn Shopping Center article as an inexperienced editor. His account is markedly different from that of Sullivan. Kirkpatrick's first step was to review and copy the coding of the articles related to the topic, then adapt it to fit his topic, and finally flesh it out with sources gleaned from Google News. He ran into a stumbling block when trying to copy an image from Flickr's Creative Commons section for use in the article, as it was swiftly deleted, as he learned from "a long paragraph of confusing explanation". A patrolling editor made some minor changes to the article and assessed it for WikiProject Oregon as Start-class and Low-importance, causing Kirkpatrick to take issue with the latter designation, after research revealed the notoriously uneven application of the rating of the assessment scheme. He commented:

There were some parts of the experience that I found confusing and disappointing, but when I woke up in the morning I felt silly for having complained about that the night before on Twitter and Google Plus. This was my first major contribution to the giant sprawling, pseudo-democratic experiment that is Wikipedia. Why am I entitled to just jump in and be praised for everything I do?

Article Feedback Tool ratings for the Fubonn Shopping Center article Kirkpatrick wrote, which provided encouragement to the new editor.

Despite conceding his encounter with Wikipedians had made him "bristle", Kirkpatrick did not endorse technologist Nat Torkington's acerbic invocation of Wikipedians as "vain nano-Napoleons" who "having built a valuable resource ... hide behind hostile UIs". He was enthused by the positive responses to the Fubonn article expressed by readers through the Article Feedback Tool, and began to muse that involving his nine-year-old niece in contributing to Wikipedia would be "an incredibly empowering experience for a young person old enough to appreciate it." He concluded:

If Wikipedia can figure out how to welcome more and more new editors onto the site, and I don’t think coddling us is necessary, perhaps that will become reality in the future. It’s an incredibly complicated community management situation though. Danny Sullivan’s experience having his entry about an important woman in technology get deleted is super frustrating and an example of how things can go wrong. But there’s a whole lot about that’s right about Wikipedia, too. The difference between many Wikipedia entries and old encyclopedia entries on the same topics is so substantial that it deserves to be sung about from mountain tops.

Fun and games with the Fundraiser

WMF Senior Designer and style icon Brandon Harris presses the flesh at a Wikimania 2011 party in Haifa, Israel. Incidentally, it's his birthday today, so be sure to get your greetings in in the comments.

The 2011 Fundraiser continued its successful start this week (see "News and notes"), but its reception in the news media and wider internet focused less on its record-smashing haul of donations and more on how to get rid of or ridicule the donation appeal banners, which have been variously found to be sources of annoyance, intimidation and hilarity.

Female-oriented tech site Chip Chick led the coverage with one of the more serious assessments, outlining the background of what the Wikimedia Foundation is and why it has opted for funding based on donations rather than advertisements—as some commenters have called for (see Signpost coverage). Network World revealed that even Jimmy Wales found the banners annoying, but as TechEye reported defended the use of his appeal as effective in raising money, while TIME magazine offered readers "three easy steps" to banishing the banners from reader's view.

On November 22, the Jimmy Wales banners were replaced with those of Wikimedia Foundation Senior Designer Brandon Harris (Jorm), whose long, lustrous hair and stern countenance elicited much glee, fear and speculations as to the programmer's possible biker gang/metal band affiliations from internet denizens. TechCrunch writer Alexia Tsotsis reacted to the switch by swiping "Now You’re Just Messing With Us Wikipedia", after being inundated with emails comparing Harris's appearance to that of Jesus, Nickelback lead singer Chad Kroeger and a member of Hell's Angels. The column was greeted with fierce defences of Harris and the fundraiser in the comments.

Such was the reaction on the wider web that Harris submitted an AMA ("ask me anything") question-and-answer session on Reddit, the popularity of which soon took off and rocketed the programmer to the front page of the site. A link to the Foundation's fundraiser statistics visualisation tool Harris included to illustrate fundraising progress drew so many views that it crashed the tool and caused a server outage that brought down Wikimedia sites for 30 minutes on November 27 (see "Technology report"). The Q&A drew the attention of Gawker, New York magazine and a recalcitrant TechCrunch. The focus of the coverage was Harris' revelations that the alignment of the pictures in the appeals over the titles of articles was intentional on account of being lucrative, and the secret fashion tip he used to get his hair just so.

The internet was not done with the jovial potential of the fundraising drive, as Crunchyroll and Something Awful offered parodies – "Get Moe Wikipedia" Offers a Personal Appeal from K-On's Azusa and Please read: A personal appeal from Wikipedia guitarist Dave Mustaine – the Daily What proffered an animated interpretation and twitterers exulted over the availability of a Jimmy Wales action figure. Readers alarmed by the paucity of levity in responses to the charitable appeal may take comfort in the hypothesis that sober-minded analyses are being held at bay while the Fundraiser statistics tool recovers from the voracious interest of internet users overwhelmed by the charisma of Wikipedia's hirsute ambassadors.

In brief

The blackout effect added to the Criticism section of the African National Congress article in protest at the organisation's perceived support of censorship.


  1. ^ An earlier version of this article inadvertently showed the plaintext version of {{Afd-top}}; this has now been replaced with the actual visual output of the template when deployed.

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  • The only time most people will read a long paragraph of instructions on a form is if the alternative is the likelihood of going to prison, or at least incurring a hefty financial penalty. As we do not offer these negative incentives, the instruction need to be 2 or 3 short sentences at the most (with links to fuller explanations). If we cannot figure out how to describe what to do in 40 or 50 words, the process needs redesigning -- and if it cannot be redesigned to that point, we need to re-think the way we handle the underlying problem. They need not offer all the possible options to do the same thing, and deal with all the potential cases. The clicks should go to the right places, simplify all possible steps. I've been here 5 years , 4 as an admin, and many processes I do not engage in because they're not worth the learning for doing it a few times only. I rarely even nominated Articles for Deletion until twinkle automated it; I almost never closed AfDs till they automated that also. The procedures I use by the hundreds I know, complete with all the details, but no new user will be in that situation. For the ones I know, when people ask me on my user talk to do something they could perfectly well do themselves, I just do it for them; I don't blame them for not knowing how, or refer them to the appropriate link that gives the full explanation. DGG ( talk ) 17:01, 29 November 2011 (UTC)[reply]
  • Reading the exchange between Danny Sullivan & the Metropolitan90 (the Wikipedian who happened to get involved), I found some interesting dynamics at work. Yes, Metropolitan did rely on Wikipedia jargon too heavily in responding to Sullivan, but in essence gave the right information. ("You're not helping your cause by posting to a closed discussion. Take it to Deletion Review.") About the only other thing Metropolitan could have done differently would have been to offer to help in that process -- but should a Wikipedian be expected to go that far? Do we all need to provide excellent customer service? We're all volunteers -- & by any measure, customers of Wikipedia too -- & for the majority of us our donation of time takes second place to the other obligations in our lives. He could have blown off Sullivan at any time.

    And reading Sullivan's response, he not only showed inexcusable arrogance -- in truth, does he take this attitude when talking to the average random contact at for-profit Internet projects like Yahoo or Amazon? -- I thought he showed a surprising lack of clue at how an online forum works. Specifically, where he accuses Metropolitan of asserting something on his Talk page, when it's clear that someone else had written it.

    A lot of this miscommunication could have been prevented if both parties had tried to treat each other as individuals & not as a subgroup of a type. Here I'm tempted to come down harder on Sullivan since he was the one who wanted something from the exchange: he wanted the article, so at the least he should have remembered the old saying about flies, honey & vinegar when contacting a Wikipedian. (For all anyone knows, Metropolitan is a stereotypical 15-year-old living with his parents. Many of them respond poorly to criticism. Fortunately, Metropolitan did act maturely.) Less obvious would be that almost any Wikipedian, with more than minimal experience, who is confronted by someone claiming to be an expert -- either in general or a specific expert individual -- is to suspect the opposite. Never say you are an expert; just show it. Another important point is that just because a Wikipedian makes an edit, there is no guarantee that she/he will ever make another; there have been countless Wikipedians who, after making hundreds or thousands of productive edits, just stop contributing. And had Metropolitan quit Wikipedia in the middle of this, where lesson would Sullivan had taken away from this?

    I know I'm preaching to the choir in writing the above, but maybe, just maybe, someone will point certain WMF employees to my comment the next time they criticize how Wikipedians treat new people. We didn't become unfriendly, insular members of an important project out of choice or careful reflection, but as a response to chronic frustration from problems in trying to create a reliable encyclopedia. These problems include dealing with people like Sullivan who, although well-intentioned, treat us like front-line employees in a faceless call center. -- llywrch (talk) 18:35, 29 November 2011 (UTC)[reply]

Bingo - "Here I'm tempted to come down harder on Sullivan since he was the one who wanted something from the exchange: he wanted the article, ...". That's the Wikipedia editor view. That's not his view, which is I believe, that he's giving Wikipedia something it should want, an expert contribution. And regarding your point about how you're treated by WMF, well, personally I get a lot of grief from low-level Wikipedians who see slamming a critic as a quick way to get status points. However, if you actually read what I say in my overall criticism, another thread is the exploitation, of the 99% by the 1%, where those at the top will make a power-calculation as to what benefits them. And if you lose in that calculation, you will be the fall-guy for the dysfunctional system. The classic question is how to react to this dysfunction. There's always many points for shooting the messengers. -- Seth Finkelstein (talk) 23:19, 29 November 2011 (UTC)[reply]
Having read Finkelstein's response, I've wondered if I should have used different words in making my point above. I doubt it: no matter what one writes, a listener will always chose which message to hear. Thus, Finkelstein will always find evidence of a cult in Wikipedia; he sees us as a faceless crowd which includes "low-level Wikipedians who see slamming a critic as a quick way to get status points". As for deference to expert opinion, their arguing that they are right because of a title or certificate will always be obnoxious or self-defeating, whether they are making their point in a classroom or on Wikipedia. Were they to approach us as individuals motivated to get the facts right -- often adequately educated, but always willing to learn more about the subject -- they would have a better experience here. And it works both ways: not every person who is unhappy with Wikipedia content is a kook, troll, or trying to push some fringe belief no one else cares about, & we Wikipedians us forget that more often than we would like to admit. -- llywrch (talk) 20:13, 1 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]
llywrch, you have no idea how disheartening your reply is. In terms of "always chose which message to hear", well, I don't think it would help you hear if I screamed at you, so I won't do that (in particular, the "faceless crowd" bit is a straight line for a riposte of "No, I see you collectively as ...", which I will forgo) . But, for heaven's sake, can I express with strong emotional tone, that it looks like you didn't even read what I wrote? (in terms of thinking about the ideas) Talk about evidence for a cult! (ok, one riposte). A huge amount of my criticism of Wikipedia is about exploitation, manipulation, digital sharecropping, dysfunctional group dynamics, and then that connects to another branch of criticism about anti-expertise and a kind of pseudo-popularism. To gloss this all as you do isn't even wrong. Regarding "a title or certificate", that's more of the same. Danny Sullivan isn't an expert because someone gave him a title of Professor Of Searchitude, or a certificate of SEOishness (shades of "The Wizard of Oz", where the wizard gives the Scarecrow a diploma instead of a brain). He's an expert because he's been studying the field for many years and understands it. Now, this doesn't mean you have to bow down before such people (I certainly don't). However, to deride it as you do is another matter entirely -- Seth Finkelstein (talk) 14:46, 2 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]

You all might be interested to know that Mr. Sullivan has been editing since this story broke; here is his latest:

"I know you're trying to help me; I do. And I do appreciate the effort you're putting in. But I don't need that help. Wikipedia needs the help. That's the core point in all this. It's not that I or Wikipedia outsiders are broken and just need to get up-to-speed on Wikipedia. It's that Wikipedia is this incredibly dysfunctional system. Seriously, just how we're conversing. This messaging system isn't a messaging system; it's archaic.

Help Wikipedia, that's what needs it."

Take care not to shoot the messenger. Food for thought. Skomorokh 22:48, 29 November 2011 (UTC)[reply]

  • It's absolutely true that WP is a maze of twisty passages all alike. And this would not be such a problem if firstly we were more uniformly friendly to people who get it wrong (which includes me, after all these years) and secondly more supportive of those who try to untwist the passages. Rich Farmbrough, 23:24, 29 November 2011 (UTC).[reply]
  • : Having said that, it does slightly stretch credulity that he "did not know the name of the deleted page" viz: "Jessie Stricchiola".... Rich Farmbrough, 02:12, 30 November 2011 (UTC).[reply]
Um, the title of his own page is "Danny Sullivan (technologist)". So how does he know the name of the page is "Jessie Stricchiola" and not "Jessie Stricchiola (technologist)"? That looks like what he was thinking, as he wrote "I suppose you can guess, but given how bureaucratic everything else is on Wikipedia, I have little faith". After all, someone might say "Of course you have to give a disambiguation - there might be several people with the same name". Wikipedians often really do underestimate how the little quirks which are their conventions are very opaque to everyone else. -- Seth Finkelstein (talk) 02:43, 30 November 2011 (UTC)[reply]
A technologist shouldn't find that hard. But then a good yarn for a blog may need a little embellishment. See my later comment below. Rich Farmbrough, 00:47, 1 December 2011 (UTC).[reply]

As much as I understand all the processes we have, I really have to agree with Danny. The METHOD in which we run our processes is so incredibly convoluted, it needs changing, and we really all need to understand HOW broken our system really is. (talk) 10:31, 30 November 2011 (UTC)[reply]

  • There are 4,142 chemists listed on English Wikipedia, compared with 996 pornographic actresses and 450 pornographic film actors.

    Chemists thus make up over 1 per thousand of WP articles, which I think is a good representation. (Whether we have, pari passu, to much coverage of pornographic actors, I am not qualified to guess, let alone judge.) Similarly while Wikipedia has 273 pages related to Pokemon, we have 10,000 on bird species and many more on fish, plants and animals. It is certainly clear that the "Otaku attack" in absolute terms is loosing its power.

    On a similar bent, Wikipedia was attacked for being too liberal recently, I noticed one of the metrics was the low proportion of criticism in the article on Michael Moore. The writer (who I recall was a well known pundit) had not noticed that there are whole articles of criticism that have been spun off.

    I do think WP has some fundamental problems, but they are not really brought to light by writing based on what are virtually made-up figures. Rich Farmbrough, 00:47, 1 December 2011 (UTC).[reply]
  • I think Danny missed a core point here. We don't need or want expert opinions. For a while, we gave experts deference. Then bad things happened and we stopped. Expert opinions are original research and harder to cite, making them unverifiable. Furthermore, an expert is much more likely to stand in a conflict of interest than a typical user. Experts are great for providing pointers to sources, and for less controversial work, but they are not and should not be our principle source of content.
Now, I do agree that our system is far too bureaucratic, making it much harder to contribute than it should be. But that doesn't mean that we should automatically bow our heads in deference when a person who claims to be an expert throws an out-of-process temper tantrum -- even if the claim proves to be correct. Process is and always will be important for a project of our size; experts and supposed experts don't get a free pass around it, and they certainly don't get to bypass it by being rude (nor, for that matter, does anyone else). --NYKevin @182, i.e. 03:22, 1 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]
NYKevin: Opinions are research, good. Wikispeak rules. Seriously, being "pointers to sources" and being "the principal (if not the only) source" is often one and the same. Either "the expert" reports the source, with or without opinions, or there's nothing. Step outside the U.S. college curriculum, step outside what's hot in research community and what's visible on googlebooks, - the number of people with physical access to good sources in less-popular areas is quite low. I would be more concerned of a different angle - that wikipedians who have such access become recognized as "experts" simply because they have sources. NVO (talk) 09:08, 1 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]
Fine. They need to cite those sources. If those sources are unpublished, they can't seriously expect us to discuss them at all. They can't just tell us to take their word for it. WP:V is a core policy. Experts don't get to ignore it. It's as simple as that. WP:COI is also fairly important, and often arises when an expert starts writing about fringe science, although in principle it could arise in any field. --NYKevin @836, i.e. 19:03, 6 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]
  • Per Sullivan: On occasion I have also been frustrated by the off-limits nature of closed AfD discussions. It might be useful to allow post-discussion comments to be added below the closed text box and have the addition pop up on a dynamic discussion thread somewhere. Regards, RJH (talk) 22:25, 1 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]


Can we get rid of it? It's more subjective than class assessment. WikiProject Environment got rid of importance assessment years ago and we hadn't have any problems with it since. OhanaUnitedTalk page 13:13, 1 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]

It kinda makes sense for smaller projects but ja I've not seem much point in the case of those projects that deal with very large numbers of articles.©Geni 13:56, 1 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]
So what I said to Marshall over Twitter is that importance is most useful to a project as an aggregate measurement of how well it's doing on creating good coverage of important topics, and that it's pretty meaningless when you look at it only comparing one article to another. I think that makes sense, personally. Otherwise a project might tout that it has 100 FAs... without anyone realizing that they're of very obscure topics that have low readership. Steven Walling (WMF) • talk 00:55, 2 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]
I agree. For the WikiProjects in which I participate, the importance rating seems to be mainly useful for identifying vital articles. If an article falls below the Top/High levels, I'm not sure the rating matters. Maybe it would have made more sense to give it a "Fundamental" rating. I.e. how close the article is to being a core topic for the project. Regards, RJH (talk) 23:15, 2 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]

Improve the user experience

WMF should hire some usability experts. Many templates presented to the user are too hard to read, have too much text, are unclear etc. And get that WYSIWYG editor going. And make it clearer that people can edit even without registration. Many people know how to post stuff on Facebook (even the less tech savvy) but they wouldn't even change a simple spelling mistake on Wikipedia. SpeakFree (talk)(contribs) 19:50, 2 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]

What I Wanted

From above: "Here I'm tempted to come down harder on Sullivan since he was the one who wanted something from the exchange: he wanted the article...."

No, I wanted an ordinary person to be able to give Wikipedia feedback about articles, such as errors in them, or suggestions on how they might be improved, or guidance to the resources that the editors themselves say they want, without having to go through a convoluted process full of strange acronyms and editing systems that seem designed by something a young Bill Gates concocted in his spare time from writing DOS.

That's what I wanted.

You can kill the article or not. I don't give a toss. If my goal had been to try and keep that article, I would have written something in depth on my blog about the absurdity of questioning her notoriety. You know, maybe something like this:

Open Letter To Wikipedia Editors: Yes, Matt Cutts Is Notable

That is what you do, if you're trying to rally opinion outside Wikipedia that a page should be kept. But what I wrote was instead an indictment of the inability to simply communicate with Wikipedia editors.

That's what I want to see fixed. If you cannot fix it, I promise you this. Wikipedia will follow the course of The Open Directory, a crowd-sourced project with great promise that heads to the dustbin of the internet because it failed to evolve.

"But I guess Danny Sullivan thinks he doesn't need to bother reading help pages…."

Actually, I come away thinking each time someone from Wikipedia says this that they didn't bother reading anything I wrote. I did read your help pages. I described how despite reading them, you couldn't do the things promised. Comment on the talk page for an article that was deleted — it has no talk page. I described this insanity and the further insanity of actually reading and trying to follow your instructions.

It shouldn't take more time to learn how contribute information as an outsider for Wikipedia editors to consider than to actually contribute the information. It's like saying that to mail a letter, someone should first have to read a 3 page article about envelopes, followed by how to lick a stamp, followed by the way to write the address, how to open the post box, and so on….

"Whereas Sullivan immediately went into full-on rant and tantrum mode…."

I did not. I actually came to the page, looked around for how to contribute information on the talk page that simple didn't exist, or the deletion review which didn't exist (because as I explained, there was no way to make a deletion review for this type of article). After doing these things, I left a message as best I could figure out explaining in the message why I was doing it.

Rather than ANY Wikipedia editor simply copying those comments over to the mythical talk page or submitting their own deletion request (despite the impossible nature of this, according to your own rules that I did read), one simply said, when another editor alerted him to this, that if that information was to be considered, then I should do the request that I mentioned already wasn't possible to do. A second editor, on seeing the same information, did what he felt was the courtesy of alerting me to do the things that I'd already tried and explained in my note couldn't be done.

I understand he meant it as a courtesy. I do appreciate the attempt. But the bottom line is that two different Wikipedia editors, who clearly know Wikipedia inside-and-out, failed to do any of the things that were either impossible or incredibly difficult to do to an outsider — things that would have, at the very least, allowed for a better debate on the subject you were considering.

But yes, I was clearly the unreasonable one.

"About the only other thing Metropolitan could have done differently would have been to offer to help in that process -- but should a Wikipedian be expected to go that far? Do we all need to provide excellent customer service?"

Actually, he should have just done the deletion review. It's not about customer service. It's about deciding if Wikipedia has all the facts to make the decisions it does. I documented seven or eight different points, and I think the information was self-evidently solid to at least be consider.

That's especially so when this deletion was NOT done with a consensus, as your own rules require. I've yet to see anyone seriously question how Wikipedia allowed a single editor to declare that a 7-6 vote equals consensus to delete a page, when all your own rules say that when in doubt, without consensus, err on the side of caution and do NOT delete.

"Less obvious would be that almost any Wikipedian, with more than minimal experience, who is confronted by someone claiming to be an expert -- either in general or a specific expert individual -- is to suspect the opposite. Never say you are an expert; just show it."

Wikipedia declares me to be an expert. You've determined that I'm notable enough to have my own page. I didn't create the page. I have no idea who did. But someone did, and it has been maintained, so you — Wikipedia — are declaring me so. That's why when I (or anyone you've deemed notable in a field) comes in to say hey, I see you're having a debate on this subject — here are some facts you might want to consider, we shouldn't have to give up our careers in the fields we're experts at to become experts at Wikipedia to communicate with you.

That doesn't mean I or anyone is demanding you do what we say. It's just that there should be an easier way to talk, to communicate, to provide the information you seek.

Actually, a Wikipedian first should welcome an expert suggest sources to them that they might not locate themselves (which I did, several URLs that your notability requirements demand). And when confronted by an expert? Confronted? How about when in contact with one, but maybe questioning if they are, do some basic research. Because it's not hard to look up who I am and decide if you think I'm an expert or not.

Let me see:

I'm the first non-interested outsider mentioned on that timeline from Google, about its rise. That's just one of many references anyone could easily find about me, if you wanted — beyond looking at my Wikipedia page itself.

Of course, my page its riddled with errors. Funny story — one of my sons was told at school not to trust Wikipedia by his teacher. I said that's crazy, there's plenty of good information there. Let's look at my page….

Oops. Guess not. It's pretty accurate, little things that are factually incorrect here and there. I'd tell you what they are, but oh no, that would be deemed too much self-interest. Can't have that.

"As for deference to expert opinion, their arguing that they are right because of a title or certificate will always be obnoxious or self-defeating, whether they are making their point in a classroom or on Wikipedia. Were they to approach us as individuals motivated to get the facts right -- often adequately educated, but always willing to learn more about the subject -- they would have a better experience here."

I didn't argue for deference. I argued that it is extremely difficult to send expert information across to Wikipedia for consideration, for you all to make reasoned decisions. And approaching you as individuals — how? Which individual is in charge of what page? How do we know who is a higher ranking editor? Who makes the final call on what? And using what feedback form? Most of the profiles you all have don't have email addresses. Do we approach five of you as individuals? 10 of you? Which of you is expert enough to understand that what we're saying even makes sense.

You have a dysfunctional system that has grown over time to exclusive to receiving information. I know why — because you're subject to so much spam. But as I said, the same walls you keep building higher to protect you are also making you worse.

"Experts are great for providing pointers to sources, and for less controversial work, but they are not and should not be our principle source of content."

Exactly. Again, I didn't argue that you just have to take what I say as an expert and do it. I actually provided multiple references. It's just so flipping difficult to provide that.

"So at the least he should have remembered the old saying about flies, honey & vinegar when contacting a Wikipedian...."

No, I don't have to remember that. That's because it implies that things only get fixed at Wikipedia if someone takes a positive tone, and in converse, any negative opinion will result in negative coverage.

Wikipedia is supposed to be neutral. That's your jobs as editors. Volunteer or not, that's your job. So do it, do it right, be neutral and evaluate the facts and make the right decisions based on them, not because you feel like you've been unjustly treated or that the proper procedures weren't followed, so you'll ignore important information.

Do your job right, or don't do it at all. Because when you do it wrong, you let down the very project you're trying to support.

To conclude, Wikipedia is an incredible resource. It really is. And it is made that way through the hard work of the volunteer editors. I've run forums. I cover the search marketing space. Believe me, I know the type of spam attacks that you face. I know them very well.

But to thrive, Wikipedia has to change. You have to get a system that doesn't make people think there's a little high priesthood happening here, one that's almost antagonistic to the subjects being covered.

Have a page about an subject? Why not work to verify people you really believe and agree are experts, and allow them special areas to leave a sentence or two or three where they won't be edited, so that they don't feel like they're potentially wasting their time.

Why not let a company profiled in Wikipedia have a box to say 500 words about whatever they want, a right of response, I chance to at least express their own viewpoint?

And why not, when Wikipedia receives so many inbound links, find a way for Wikipedia to give back to the resources it mines its knowledge from with non non-follow links, vetted, locked-down links that share back some of the deserved link love that helps other sites do well in the search engines.

I have no incentive — none — to share my knowledge of search on Wikipedia pages, because I have no idea if someone who knows nothing about the subject is going to come along and just overwrite it for no good reason. Instead, I'll just continue to publish separately, on my own site.

That should scare you. Because at some point, if your content is deemed not actually being authoritative, Wikipedia could find itself subject to being penalized in Google in the same way that content farms suffered under Panda this year. You might think that seems crazy, far-fetched, but it's not. It would only take a few cases of really big error here to cause the entire effort to be questioned.

But more important, this could be done better. It really could. You could find a way for people to contribute to editors for review without the insanity that is this bureaucratic system. You should want that. Dannysullivan (talk) 06:36, 3 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]

I quite agree with you that WP is too complicated and too unfriendly, for new users and even for oldtimers. But allow me one question: your head will explode if you have to read a paragraph of instructions (agreed, some instructions are long, obnoxious and aggressive), but you expect me (us) to read several screens full of your text?! Why should I? I won't, or my head might explode. - Nabla (talk) 11:36, 3 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]
You're upset that Wikipedia is such a complicated mess that I took the time to document how complicated it is in full, so that you could understand this?
You don't have to. What you could do is go back, make Wikipedia not a complicated place for anyone, and then I wouldn't have to waste my time, nor would you have to waste yours reading criticisms. Dannysullivan (talk) 17:06, 3 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]
Sullivan, why did you quote what different people wrote here as if they all came from the same person? Different people -- different Wikipedians -- have different opinions. AFAIK, no one else posting to this thread agrees with what I wrote, nor I necessarily agree with them, so don't act as if I am speaking on their behalf. If you want to talk to Wikipedians, talk to them as individuals, not as fungible members of a mythical "hive-mind".

My original point was that there was a problem in communicating here, with enough blame to go around. I expected you to do a better job of it because being a journalist is how you make a living, & you have to meet some minimum standards. I doubt Metropolitan makes any money contributing to Wikipedia; I've earned couple of tee shirts, & two complimentary copies of books over 9 years of contributions. The minimum qualifications for contributing to Wikipedia is the ability to find the edit key, know how to press some keys on a keyboard, & how to find the save key; there are some contributors who barely pass that bar. So excuse me for holding you to a higher standard. (BTW, did you ever apologize to Metropolitan for claiming he wrote this when another editor had? I expect someone who wants to be taken seriously would have.)

Funny thing is that I don't disagree with the statement that things are broken at Wikipedia. The statement "the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit" is correct only if it's qualified with "But you will be held responsibile for anything you add, because no one associated with Wikipedia will care about it unless it embarrasses someone." Individuals do the best job they can manage, while experiencing increasing levels of frustration dealing with others over articles -- both inside Wikipedia & outside -- over both articles & policy which has an orthagonal relationship with common sense, until one day that individual wonders if it is worth the time & sacrifices to spend dozens of hours improving a bad article -- & leaves. However, the myth is that Wikipedia works in some magical way to bring about great encyclopedia content without the WMF needing to spend a cent on it, & if we could distill the that magic from the Wiki Wiki software, then mankind could achieve world peace, end poverty & ignorance in Africa, sexual satisfaction to the entire world, & decent clothes & a haircut to posterchild Brandon Harris. P.S., if anyone wants to discuss my opinions about Wikipedia, email me. I'm tired of outsiders attributing what Jimmy Wales, Sue Gardner, Steven Walling, Rich Farmbrough, or Lir has written or said as what I have written, said or believe. -- llywrch (talk) 22:05, 5 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]

Closed unfriendly world

Danny Sullivan's story shows exactly why we urgently need to introduce an effective mentoring system for new editors who are identified as more likely than most to become long-term contributors. The Foundation should be working out which patterns of early editing bot-assisted human overseers can use to flag those who are worth the investment of personal mentorship. I for one am willing to participate in a mentoring scheme—perhaps one that uses another title to avoid any sense of putting down newbies, like a Pair with an established editor scheme.

The Foundation seems to be fixated on article creation as the benchmark for taking on new editors: this is fundamentally wrong; we have nearly 4M articles, many of them crappy little drive-by stubs. What we need are more editors who will do what most of us do: improve existing articles. Why isn't the Foundation getting this right? Tony (talk) 08:39, 3 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]

An effective mentoring system is a good idea for those who have the temperament to listen to and follow a mentor's advice. But that group does not include Sullivan, who has written "I don't need that help. Wikipedia needs the help.", and who has consistently met every attempt by Wikipedia editors to offer him help with bile, sarcasm and rhetoric.
Sullivan makes clear in his diatribe above that he is not interested in contributing to Wikipedia as it stands. He says "I have no incentive — none — to share my knowledge of search on Wikipedia pages, because I have no idea if someone who knows nothing about the subject is going to come along and just overwrite it for no good reason". He is not simply suggesting that we streamline and improve some of our processes; he is advocating replacing the "dysfunctional" Wikipedia model with one which "expert" editors and their contributions have special standing . We have, of course, seen this before. Gandalf61 (talk) 11:04, 3 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]
My "temperament" is usually pretty calm. But let me ask you this. Have you ever been in a voice mail system that after 6 options, still hasn't gotten you to what you wanted? And then after that, you get an automated call from the same company that you can't disconnect from, which keeps wanting to know how your service was?
How was your temperament after that?
I am not suggesting that you replace your model in which expert -- sorry "expert" -- editors and contributors have special standing.
I am suggesting that Wikipedia makes it incredibly hard for an outsider to send information that editors may want to consider. This is a blindingly obvious fact.
I am suggesting that because Wikipedia makes it so hard, actual subject experts can't easily send information for editors to *consider*
I am suggesting that because Wikipedia makes it so hard, subjects of articles can't easily send information for editors to *consider*
Put a link on every page. "Got a problem with this article or information you want an editor to consider? Let us know." Make that open a contact form. Make that go to a designated editor for that page -- EVERY page should have someone in charge or reviewing such communications. Then deal with the information or don't deal with it.
But why on earth would Wikipedia NOT want to receive information for consideration. I'm not talking about edits. Just that you might have facts you want to review.

Dannysullivan (talk) 17:16, 3 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]

  • Luckily, MediaWiki is designed so that anyone can edit. It's an amazing system that's fully customizable. Hundreds of wikis use MediaWiki but none are as vast as Wikipedia. So I appreciate how complex a wiki of this size must be, and I understand that it would take some time and effort to learn the various guidelines and policies. I for one did not encounter the kind of troubles you were having when I first started editing. I'm as regular joe schmoe average guy as you can get and I had no problems learning my way around Wikipedia, because I was eager to learn and contribute. Not just my one piece of knowledge as a single-purpose account, but to improve the whole project in general. That's just my experience anyway. -- œ 15:05, 5 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]
  • Wikipedia has nearly 4 million articles. We don't have 4 million active editors to assign one to each page. The best place to leave your comments is still the talk page (under the tab Discussion, yeah I too wonder why it's called that and not Talk). Generally the creator of the article has that on his or her watchlist so changes to that get noticed. But some articles were written by people who long have ceased to edit and with articles about more obscure subjects there might not be a replacement so comments can remain unwatched for quite a long time and sometimes forever. Apart from that there is the helpdesk to get answers and the e-mail contacts. These could be a bit more visible to the casual reader. SpeakFree (talk)(contribs) 15:37, 5 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]
I agree, Sullivan, that you did kinda get a rude reception, and even though I wasn't involved and am no employee of the Foundation I apologize for that. However, we have almost four million articles and nowhere near one million active users during any given month (let alone a million interested users), and a good proportion of articles either are too technical for most editors or attract disproportionate numbers of partisans. (The latter class of articles tend to be focused on political or ethnic topics, and many of those topic areas are under sanctions from ArbCom cases.) Now, while I do agree having a higher proportion of articles to editors is ideal (my ideal ratio is 4:1 or 5:1) in practice you're not going to have this unless you mandate it, and since this is a volunteer project many of these editors - especially those in heated topic areas - will respond by showing their heels.
Not too long ago, we had a spat over a model similar to what you're suggesting, with some supporters arguing that it should apply only to biographies of living people. However, that was (mathematically) even more unworkable, since the article-to-user ratio was ~ 63:1. Again, it sounded well in theory, but in practice it would have been extremely problematic unless mandatory. —Jeremy v^_^v Components:V S M 20:49, 5 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]
And indeed volunteering at Wikipedia is not compulsory. The pyramids were built using slave labor, Wikipedia however is not. Any contributor can choose to leave at any time. SpeakFree (talk)(contribs) 00:11, 6 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]

Mediawiki is a wiki

It's not forum software. It's not a feedback form. It's not a ticket system. For whatever reason though, we have this silly idea that we should use normal wiki page editing to do all of those things. One of the reasons Wikipedia administrative areas are so hard for people to use is because we are turning everything into a nail for our hammer. In the beginning, I was actually shocked that people on Wikipedia were using normal editing on talk pages for discussions, having previously used other Wiki software that actually supported threaded comments. This was almost 10 years ago. 10 years and we still abuse the wiki to do all these things it's not designed to do. No wonder people are frustrated. Gigs (talk) 20:53, 5 December 2011 (UTC)[reply]

Actually its the very pages where we try to introduce less-wiki-like rules that the problems occur. Threaded comments get tortuous and labyrinthine, noticeboard pages get archived off into the mists of time, Arbcom corrals individuals into their own sections, perennial issues are not documented, instruction pages get stultified... Rich Farmbrough, 02:47, 7 December 2011 (UTC).[reply]


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