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Who Killed Wikipedia?; NCAA editing

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By Everymorning and Gamaliel

"Who Killed Wikipedia?"

Virginia Postrel

In the American magazine Pacific Standard, commentator Virginia Postrel asks "Who Killed Wikipedia?" (November 17). She details problems that have been plaguing the encyclopedia in recent years, beginning with the decline in the number of active editors. She notes that "Only about 3,000 editors contribute more than 100 changes a month to the English-language Wikipedia," whereas the number was about 4,700 in early 2007. She quotes a 2012 paper by Richard Jensen (User:Rjensen) as saying that Wikipedia is "operated by and for the benefit of the editors." She goes on to note that Wikipedia editors contribute to the site because they enjoy doing so, calling this "both the genius and the vulnerability of the organization." On the one hand, she says, Wikipedia's continued improvement is only possible because these volunteers are allowed to contribute to the site. On the other hand, Wikipedia's openness attracts a continuous stream of vandals and other types of unhelpful editors. This leads to the experienced contributors to the site becoming increasingly suspicious of new editors over time.

Postrel also interviews Dariusz Jemielniak and discusses his book Common Knowledge? An Ethnography of Wikipedia (see Signpost book review), which focuses on why Wikipedia's organizational design works despite the fact that, according to Jemielniak, it should not. Postrel describes Wikipedia's Five pillars, noting that the neutral point of view rule is accompanied by two other policies pertaining to content: original research and verifiability. She notes that some editors focus almost entirely on reverting vandalism and other edits that violate Wikipedia's guidelines, and praises Wikipedia's entry on George W. Bush as "remarkably detailed and dispassionate."

Postrel then tackles the issue of talk page discussions, where article content disputes are discussed, and notes that disputes only end when a given article is written in such a way that all editors are satisfied with it. She notes the existence of the policy advising against biting newcomers (WP:BITE), but nevertheless argues that Wikipedia, in practice, deters outsiders using "procedural knowledge and a sort of passive-aggressive resistance", and quotes Jensen as saying that activists don't put up with small mistakes when they have been editing for five or ten years. She also argues that experienced Wikipedians would have reverted some of the early edits made by celebrated editor Adrianne Wadewitz (User:Wadewitz). As evidence that Wikipedians are too hostile to new editors, she cites a study by Aaron Halfaker which found that less than 10% of "desirable newcomers" continued editing for at least two months in 2011, whereas in the first half of 2006, more than 25% did. She then points out that this is a problem because Wikipedia is not finished, and "many articles still fall short of encyclopedia quality."

She concludes by noting that Wikipedia has survived for twelve years or so, meaning that those who argued it would prove unsustainable relatively quickly have been wrong. But, she asks, "the perils of adolescence were one thing. What about middle age?"

Lawsuit filing reveals NCAA editing of Wikipedia

NCAA President Mark Emmert

In 2012, the Penn State child sex abuse scandal resulted in the National Collegiate Athletic Association imposing sweeping penalties on Pennsylvania State University, including a $60 million fine. The penalties spawned a number of legal actions, including a lawsuit from Pennsylvania State Senator Jake Corman challenging the fine. Onward State, a independent Penn State student blog, reported (November 10) that court filings in that lawsuit include depositions and internal NCAA emails which reveal Wikipedia editing by the NCAA in regards to the Penn State scandal.

On December 13, 2012, NCAA President Mark Emmert emailed Bob Williams, NCAA Vice President of Communications, about his Wikipedia article: "Just saw that the Wikipedia site in [sic] me grossly misses the mark in describing the Penn State decision. Check it out and see how we put the record straight." Williams directed his staff to create new language for the article to replace material which he deemed "inaccurate" and "editorializing" in his testimony. An email from NCAA Web Director Ronnie Ramos proposed changes which match a December 17 edit to the article from an IP address belonging to the NCAA. The edit replaced this text:

with this, cited to the NCAA website:

Williams testified "And so, we routinely, now, routinely review Wikipedia and correct errors. Just like any other media."

The next day, Onward State reported on the vandalism that occurred on Emmert's article following the revelations, vandalism which Onward State seemed to applaud and encourage. The article was semi-protected for three days, but vandalism resumed following the expiration of the protection.

  1. ^ "NCAA levies sanctions". NCAA. Retrieved 17 December 2012.
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  • I think the title "Who Killed Wikipedia" is alarmist and doesn't accurately sum up the article. The writer does not conclude that Wikipedia is dead, and does a good job discussing the strengths and some of the weaknesses of our project. It is well worth reading. Cullen328 Let's discuss it 04:53, 23 November 2014 (UTC)[reply]
  • Although I have heard it mentioned occasionally, I do not think that there has been much discussion of the elephant in the room. Facebook has had a huge growth over the time period that the number of Wikipedia editors has slowly declined. Also of note is that most Facebook users are female in contrast to our editor base. I would suggest that many would-be & former editors spend their time instead on Facebook, where they seldom have to worry about reverts to their edits. I am in no way suggesting that we reduce reverts, but I would also suggest that we would need to develop something like the mutual support that social media provides --- in the non-article space, of course. Peaceray (talk) 06:32, 23 November 2014 (UTC)[reply]
  • "Who Killed Wikipedia" rehashes some old news as punditry. I can't take Jemielniak seriously, having heard him talk at Wikimania in 2012 (bad historian, and very poor judgement). The "five pillars" are also not to be taken seriously now, being most relevant to what people thought some eight years ago was going on; and the trick of taking your baseline measurement (editor numbers at their peak seven years ago) is not a creditable one. Has anyone noticed how much better the encyclopedia is now than then? No comparison. Fundamentally, the work is easier to do now, with 20 million images on Commons, tools, templates, more reliable sources online and so on. Charles Matthews (talk) 09:17, 25 November 2014 (UTC)[reply]


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