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The decline of Wikipedia; Sue Gardner releases statement on Wiki-PR; Australian minister relies on Wikipedia

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By Go Phightins!, Andreas Kolbe and Andrewman327

The decline of Wikipedia

MIT Technology Review published a long article on what it called "The decline of Wikipedia". Editor involvement has decreased since 2007; according to the article, this has had an adverse qualitative effect on content, particularly on issues pertinent to non-British and American male geeks.

Noting that Wikipedia "threw out centuries of accepted methods" for compiling an authoritative and comprehensive reference work, the article goes on to detail efforts under Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director Sue Gardner to decrease the gender gap and attract new editors, including the ill-fated VisualEditor and its associated calamities, trying to develop an overall more-diverse editor group. "Because Wikipedia has failed to replenish its supply of editors, its skew toward technical, Western, and male-dominated subject matter has persisted," the article says. Jimmy Wales commented, "The biggest issue is editor diversity." If there aren't confident, new editors coming to Wikipedia with a drive to write great articles about Wikipedia's underrepresented content, then the encyclopedia will not improve, and will be in an eternal state of "decline" in quality, while its popularity and use through outlets such as Siri and Google search results increases.

In summarising its view of the state of Wikipedia, the article concluded that Wikipedia –

Wiki-PR scandal prompts press statement from Sue Gardner

Media interest in the Wiki-PR sockpuppeting story broken first by The Daily Dot and then further reported on in Vice (see Signpost articles last week and the week prior) prompted outgoing Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director Sue Gardner to issue a press statement which sparked widespread coverage in the mainstream media, led by the BBC, The Guardian and The Independent in the UK, and the Wall Street Journal, Time, Slate and the Washington Times (quoting coverage in The Signpost) in the US. Tech sites including Ars Technica, Web Pro News, Venturebeat, Tech2, CNET, Computerworld UK, The Register and many others also reported the story. (A more complete collection of related press articles is being compiled on Meta.)

Here is Sue Gardner's statement in full:

Wiki-PR's Jordan French in turn released a statement that was quoted in full by the Wall Street Journal and in part by the Washington Times as well as in PR Week. Here is the text as given by Wall Street Journal writer Geoffrey A. Fowler:

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More articles

A community ban discussion at the Administrators' Noticeboard saw overwhelming support for banning Wiki-PR from the English Wikipedia. Administrator Fram closed the discussion on 25 October 2013 and enacted the ban. As of 26 October 2013, Wiki-PR's website looks unchanged.

Australian cabinet minister: "I looked up what Wikipedia said"

The Sydney Morning Herald notes that Australian Minister for the Environment Greg Hunt, a member of the centre-right Liberal Party, "uses Wikipedia research to dismiss links between climate change and bushfires". Hunt had admitted his use of Wikipedia in a statement made to the BBC.

Hunt's comments came in response to concerns raised by scientists, environmental groups and politicians that extreme weather events—such as the current massive bushfires in New South Wales—were linked to climate change, and in the wake of statements by the head of the UN's climate change negotiations, Christiana Figueres, and former US vice-president and climate change activist Al Gore criticising the Australian government for its decision to scrap a carbon tax.

In a follow-up article, The Sydney Morning Herald noted "Wikipedia's verdict on Greg Hunt: 'terrible at his job'." The fact that Hunt used Wikipedia to dismiss concerns over global warming was promptly added to his Wikipedia biography (in an edit that included some expletives), and then deleted again. This was not the only such edit, as The Sydney Morning Herald noted:

Hunt's biography was semi-protected as a result. The affair, also covered in the UK by The Telegraph and The Guardian, sends a curiously mixed message about both the perceived authority of Wikipedia, and its perceived lack of authority.

In brief

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Alleged decline

The qualitative decline as described by the MIT Technology Review is woefully short of declining qualities. The author should have submitted the article to any or all of Category:Women's magazines if they were truly concerned about the identified best way forward. EllenCT (talk) 05:33, 27 October 2013 (UTC)[reply]

The "decline" story is now about four years old? People should look at Wikipedia:Modelling Wikipedia's growth#Logistic model for growth in article count of Wikipedia to see how "decline" models have in fact not accurately matched what goes on in enWP. And I believe the graphical evidence is that since 2011 steps taken have had a good effect. I can quite understand why anyone might think, from anecdotal evidence, that the site fails to be "friendly" enough. I know anecdotes myself that are shameful. More work to do, but that is an appropriate reaction to the end of the Gardner epoch: the Visual Editor is still in beta, and some editors still don't get it. Charles Matthews (talk) 09:15, 27 October 2013 (UTC)[reply]

Wikipedia keeps growing and people keep racing reading it. There's several threats, such as propaganda and trolls, but we have been doing fairly well. --NaBUru38 (talk) 01:11, 28 October 2013 (UTC)[reply]
The developmental status of Wikipedia reflects human nature and economic reality. Those who feel sufficiently motivated and able to improve it, on their own time and gratis, do; those who don't, don't. To report on which topics Wikipedia does not yet sufficiently cover is to report on which topics lack enough people sufficiently motivated and able to work on them gratis. It's about the people and the economics much more than it is about the medium or the user interface. If you want to plug the content holes, ask yourself what would motivate people to plug them. Regarding which other encyclopedia-creating methods have been "thrown out" by Wikipedia or which ones have "proved a worthy, perhaps fatal, match for" which other ones: This is clearly an implication that Wikipedia undercut the business models of traditional encyclopedias (such as Britannica, Encarta, or World Book) and that therefore humanity is going to lose the societal benefits (such as adequate content/coverage) that such models provided. But ask yourself this: How is Britannica/Encarta/World Book content created? Simple: Someone pays people to create it. Topic experts plus a staff of people whose jobs are essentially journalistic in nature. Wikipedia has long prided itself on allowing no paid editing of any kind. But the only thing stopping Wikipedia from having every ounce of content that any Britannica or Encarta or World Book ever had, plus a thousand tons of Pokemon besides, is N million dollars' worth of paying journalist-type people to build content. And you could pay the same people to maintain it and do vandalism patrol afterward. So if you want that content, then pay them. How? Well, if beg-a-thons soliciting individual contributions don't bring in enough cash, then what about large endowments from foundations? I have read in recent years some brainstorming-ish articles that suggest that that's the model that is needed to "save journalism"—that is, to continue providing a sufficient core of quality journalism (amid the usual sea of tabloid crap) now that the traditional newpaper model is so financially marginal to unviable. Well, as far as I currently see it, the same is true of encyclopedias. The same model could "save" encyclopedias, too (that is, fix all the issues that the "Decline" article complains about). The fact that the journalists would be getting a paycheck wouldn't corrupt them with COI any more than a Britannica staffer's paycheck corrupts him or her (so if you think Britannica or World Book is sufficiently honest and accurate, then you must not object to that level of COI), or any more than a good newpaper reporter's paycheck corrupts him or her—in fact, less, because most newspapers are now owned by an oligarchy of for-profit corporations and lack editorial transparency, but Wikipedia's fleet of paid journalists could be much more open and transparent and constantly watched by volunteer editors. Funny thing about UI and UX, too—everyone pours so much attention on how MediaWiki's UI and UX could be better, as if that's the barrier to content creation; but guess what? If journalists could get paid to build content, you'd be shocked at how content creation progress was suddenly independent of UI and UX perfection. If you pay a journalist to build content using plain old wikitext, suddenly s/he would be quite capable of using it. — ¾-10 23:26, 28 October 2013 (UTC)[reply]
One further point is the oft-mentioned problem of low-lying fruit: some of the missing subject areas will always have substandard coverage because finding information about those subjects is difficult. Add to that difficulty Wikipedia's requirement for reliable sources -- which is a requirement Wikipedia should keep -- & those missing subject areas may never get adequate coverage. For example, assume the recognized world expert on labor union history in Nigeria (which is a topic lacking adequate coverage) writes an article for Wikipedia: unless she/he includes adequate citations to secondary sources, the article will be savaged by other editors, perhaps even sent to AfD. And, despite WP:IAR, there is no good way around that likely outcome. (Even if said expert writes a book first, the article will still be criticized because it depends too heavily on one source -- the only book on the topic.)

Of course, traditional encyclopedias like Britannica or World Book don't have that problem because they are considered to cover only significant subjects, & if a subject is not included -- for example, labor union history in Nigeria -- it must, therefore, not be important. In short, this is an argument I don't see Wikipedia winning any time soon. -- llywrch (talk) 16:24, 31 October 2013 (UTC)[reply]

Charles, I think they were basing their talk of decline on the raw edit count figures, not the number of articles. Raw edit count has fallen quite a bit since 2007, and not all of the likely reasons are positive. However two of the biggest reasons for the drop in edit count are the automation of vandalism reversion, and since 2009 the rise of the edit filters. The antivandal bots haven't changed the number of warnings that a vandal gets before they are blocked, but by speeding up the process of vandal fighting we have reduced the number of vandalisms that the typical vandal makes before getting blocked. I suspect this was a big part of the drop in edit count between 2007 and 2009 but we could do with some stats on that. Post 2009 the picture is clearer, the edit filters have obviously had a dramatic effect - we have lost a lot of our vandalism edits, and even more numerous the reversion of that vandalism, the warnings, AIV reports and blocks. So one part of our response to them should be to say, yes edit count fell because we've lost a lot of the vandalism we used to get, but we think that's a good thing, even if it means we need to find another way to recruit the sort of people who used to join in order to combat vandalism.
As for Pokemon, didn't most of the non-notable ones get merged years ago? I thought our Pokemon coverage was less than it once was, though I suspect what's left is better quality than six years ago. ϢereSpielChequers 20:03, 30 October 2013 (UTC)[reply]

Sue Gardner

Sue Gardner had an interview on NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday. She was talking about a mass ban of sock puppets over promotional editing. The interview will be posted online later on Sunday. Liz Read! Talk! 13:19, 27 October 2013 (UTC)[reply]

"In general, companies engaging in self-promotional activities on Wikipedia have come under heavy criticism from the press and the general public, with their actions widely viewed as inconsistent with Wikipedia's educational mission."
That sentence is the best way to discourage companies to use services that tamper with Wikipedia. --NaBUru38 (talk) 01:11, 28 October 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  • Oh, thanks, Liz, I was going to say that. Every once in a while there's a real gem on that show. Normally Weekend Edition doesn't appeal to me but if I don't turn on the radio soon enough, I'll miss Car Talk. I've gotten better at hearing all of it on Saturdays, but yesterday was unusual.— Vchimpanzee · talk · contributions · 19:59, 28 October 2013 (UTC)[reply]
Vchimpanzee, I was just surprised that Gardner was talking about sock puppets. That aspect of the editing hasn't really been talked about as much on Wikipedia discussion pages. Liz Read! Talk! 15:57, 29 October 2013 (UTC)[reply]

Australian ministers

I'd think that ministers would hire experts to learn about technical stuff before making decisions, rather than check Wikipedia articles that show the wide spectrum of views (some of which aren't scientific). --NaBUru38 (talk) 01:11, 28 October 2013 (UTC)[reply]

NaBUru38, I'd think, no, I am certain, that you are correct. The Honorable Greg Hunt is Minister for Environment of Australia. He has access to all research and reference resources of Australia, not to mention the NOAA, UN, OECD and countless energy and mining company scientists. He has been minister since 27 Sept 2013. Not long, but long enough that he should know that! His ignorance does NOT discredit Wikipedia, not even indirectly. Wikipedia's mission isn't to inform G8 nations' public policy and governance. That's just scary, that the Hon. Greg Hunt would make that statement OTR. It has nothing to do with AGW's veracity. Even if AGW were wrong, Wikipedia shouldn't be his source. --FeralOink (talk) 03:06, 31 October 2013 (UTC)[reply]

Partnerships with airlines?

I see a partnership with Airtel noted. What if the WMF got airline companies to allow Wikipedia as the only website that people could use for free on flights? It would be of course awesome if those people also could learn how to edit while on flights as well. Biosthmors (talk) pls notify me (i.e. {{U}}) while signing a reply, thx 09:48, 30 October 2013 (UTC)[reply]

If anyone could learn how to edit at 30,000 feet – without access to a library or any website other than Wikipedia – it would indeed be awesome. Perhaps that's how the Deep vein thrombosis article got written? - Pointillist (talk) 12:12, 31 October 2013 (UTC)[reply]
O Pointillist. Have you ever seen Wikipedia:Simple guide to creating your first article? It's quite easy to do from 30,000 feet. Why act like it's a horrible idea? One could also take a WP:Training. Anyhow, even if editing wasn't enabled, wouldn't it be a nice partnership that would get us more page views? Biosthmors (talk) pls notify me (i.e. {{U}}) while signing a reply, thx 22:22, 31 October 2013 (UTC)[reply]
My tongue was firmly in my cheek when I posted, because I thought yours was too, and I was aware that your username is an anagram of Thrombosis. Honestly, in-flight wouldn't be a good environment for learning how to contribute. There's a lot of network to-and-fro when you start editing so latency would be a technical challenge,[1] quite apart from the problem of finding sources as recommended in Simple guide to creating your first article. Anyway, an airline that refused to allow passengers to connect to anything other than Wikipedia would attract a rather, um, skewed customer base, wouldn't it? - Pointillist (talk) 22:59, 31 October 2013 (UTC)[reply]
Ref: 1. Ilya Grigorik (2013). High Performance Browser Networking. O'Reilly. pp. 4–12.


Wiki-Pr's statement that

is wrong. Full stop. (Period.) I can't remember where I read this, but while 80% of vandals are IPs, 80% of IP edits are constructive. See Wikipedia:IPs are human too, Wikipedia:Welcome unregistered editing and Wikipedia:Not every IP is a vandal. They may be essays but there is no reason to assume IPs are vandals, and the essays back those facts up.

If it's a silent majority, how do Wiki-PR know about it??

I'm sorry if I'm sounding picky; I don't mean anything personally. But if Wiki-PR intend to be open and honest in their editing, why the sockpuppets? RainCity471 (whack!) 19:45, 31 October 2013 (UTC)[reply]

Saying that most vandalism is done by IPs does not contradict the fact that most IP edits are not vandalism. To put it another way, the minority of IP edits that are vandalism are themselves the majority of the vandalism. So if Wiki PR say that "It's usually unregistered IPs that go on to Wikipedia to attack companies and people with views and ideologies they want to advance." then that is born out by your stat that 80% of vandalism is done by IP editors. If they had said that IP edits were usually vandalism then I could understand your concern. As for the silent majority, I suspect that WikiPR would include some PR people in that silent majority whom you and I would not regard as members of the community. ϢereSpielChequers 20:56, 31 October 2013 (UTC)[reply]
I'll raise that picky by one pedantic. Conflating IP with unregistered doesn't make sense. Afaics many of our regular registered contributors see no shame in editing while logged out. Anyway, if a vested registered editor wants to play the system they won't use their high-reputation login: they'll edit from an unrelated IP address (that's if they don't already have a carefully prepared alternate account like this). Seriously: most of our so-called stats about edits from IP addresses should be taken with a large pinch of salt. We'll have to solve the advocacy problem another way. All the best - Pointillist (talk) 22:03, 31 October 2013 (UTC)[reply]
I won't dispute that some IP edits are done by people who also have an account, after all I've been known to do that myself, in fact if you are on an unsecure platform such as an airport WiFi then I would recommend not logging in. If all you are doing is fixing typos then IP editing works fine. Logging out to do edits as an IP that you don't want to have associated with your account is of course a shameful thing, but that's one reason why one should hardblock badfaith IPs. As for fine distinctions between IP editors and unregistered editors, I don't care whether a goodfaith edit in mainspace is from an unregistered editor or a logged out registered one. But one reason why IPs can't !vote is that it would make it too easy for registered editors to also cast an IP !vote. ϢereSpielChequers 07:51, 1 November 2013 (UTC)[reply]
Agree. I just don't think that numbers like these have any value. - Pointillist (talk) 08:23, 1 November 2013 (UTC)[reply]


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