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Wikipedia is "a rancorous, sexist, elitist, stupidly bureaucratic mess"

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By Gamaliel

Wikipedia is "a rancorous, sexist, elitist, stupidly bureaucratic mess"

Title page of the Encyclopédie

David Auerbach (Auerbachkeller) wrote in Slate that Wikipedia is "a rancorous, sexist, elitist, stupidly bureaucratic mess" (December 11). While Auerbach praises Wikipedia, calling it "amazing", a "seminal" work, and comparing it in importance to the 18th century French Encyclopédie, he also writes that the online encyclopedia has developed a Kafkaesque bureaucracy full of "ugly and bitter" personalities that is inhospitable to women and new editors. Commenting on the "legalistic anarchy" that is the English Wikipedia's governance, he writes "I am not exaggerating when I say it is the closest thing to Kafka's The Trial I have ever witnessed."

Auerbach delved into the recent Arbitration Committee case regarding the Gender Gap task force, expressing surprise that "the only woman in the argument", Carolmooredc, was indefinitely banned for her "uncivil comments". At the same time, her two male "chief antagonists" received "comparative slaps on the wrist": Eric Corbett—whom he calls "productive but notoriously hostile" and notes that he "has a milelong track record of incivility", including a highly offensive comment directed at Jimmy Wales—and Sitush, who wrote a Wikipedia article about Carolmooredc during the course of their conflict.

Auerbach contrasts "The Unblockables, a class of abrasive editors who can get away with murder because they have enough of a fan club within Wikipedia", and new editors, who sometimes receive a "hostile welcome" and are accused of being a single-purpose account. Auerbach links the latter to the decline in the number of active editors, which he says increases the pressure to retain productive editors, even those who engage in problematic behavior, behavior which alienates new editors and increases even further the pressure to retain existing ones.

Auerbach expresses doubt that Wikipedia will be able to address these issues from within, citing Dariusz Jemielniak (Pundit), author of the recent book Common Knowledge: An Ethnography of Wikipedia (see Signpost book review), who told Auerbach that "Wikipedians are allergic to all forms of control." Auerbach concludes:

In brief

The CIA Torture Report

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Slate article

Totally agree with the headline, and a lot of the rest too. Hopefully, it will give some a cause for introspection, instead of reflexively trying to trivialize what is getting said.OrangesRyellow (talk) 05:35, 13 December 2014 (UTC)[reply]

This behavior is not going away, as it's now too ingrained in the system, and there's no real will in the community to do something radical to change it. It will end when Wikipedia finally gets forked, likely when Google (or some successful startup, which will be acquired by Google) at last finds a way to bootstrap user participation that doesn't suck at their Knowledge Graph. The hostility towards outsiders will compound, as it will attract more and more bad press, driving away existing and potential good editors, accelerating the process until it begins to rot for lack of hands to maintain it.

Only then, when facing real competition there will be a chance for the community to put their at together and react, although it's more likely that it will simply continue with the same old timers in their same toxic environment, but it won't matter because everybody else will be using the alternative. It's a grim outlook, but quite plausible for anyone who knows how the project has worked since at least 2007, with no signs of improvement. Diego (talk) 07:37, 13 December 2014 (UTC) O[reply]

I kept out of it on purpose. I decided it wasn't worth it. Seeing the outcome made that pretty clear. I am not so much unhappy with the outcome...just really confused by it. I am not going to begin this again does look like we placed the blame on Carol and let her critics go almost scott free. I would prefer if everyone got away scott free if two similar offenders get such differing penalties. And I know this is not a punishment...but then it does look like some did get just get a slap on the hand. I couldn't tell you if anyone deserved to be banned over this situation but I have no intention of going anywhere near the task force for a while at least. I mean do we know half these users are really male or female even when they claim it. Unless they are someone of note that has disclosed their ID, it is nearly impossible. Maybe what we need are just more editors to say they are female. I don't know anymore.--Mark Miller (talk) 09:11, 13 December 2014 (UTC)[reply]
I don't agree at all. Sorry. I think it is a lot of the above is just throwing mud. And I DON'T want to know who is a woman or a man. It is not interesting and it is of no importance at all, when editing. I believe in the equality between the sexes, equal rights, equal intellect, equal capability to build encyclopedia. And some of our best editors are actually women, (declared women, sic). No names. Hafspajen (talk) 11:05, 13 December 2014 (UTC)[reply]
No mud, and it isn't about what you or I may want but but what those that decide to declare think. I for one feel a lot easier when I know the gender of the editor in discussion, but not when I'm editing along without discussion. Then it doesn't really matter. To be honest I don't entirely agree with what I wrote because I don't feel more should have been dished out....I really feel less should have been. I wonder if a community discussion for an Arb Com ban review is even possible or worth it here? The drama does not need to go further but I feel uneasy with this as the last say in the situation but then...I did opt to keep my mouth there is certainly that bit to encourage me to do little more than express myself here. I certainly do not feel any one needs worse sanctions.--Mark Miller (talk) 12:02, 13 December 2014 (UTC)[reply]
I think the article by Auerbach was very accurate. I've been severely harassed twice in one year and NOTHING was done to the abusive users. I'm not surprised so few people stay on a long time. Those in power seem to worry more about protecting themselves that doing what is right. I agree serious change from within is probably impossible, but until the nasty users are driven out and the power cliques broken, the insanity Auerbach points out will continue. HalfGig talk 12:14, 13 December 2014 (UTC)[reply]

I have long since switched to mostly anonymous editing because the politics and warring cliques of favoritism are beyond insane. Allowing the general public to contribute to a growing knowledge base is a wonderful innovation which has and will continue to change the world. However, the governing structure set up around it is amongst the worst imaginable and will inevitably continue to spiral into failure. Eventually that will lead to fragmentation or a better organizational setup... but the overall mission will continue either way. So, no worries. Avoid the insanity as best you can and keep on spreading the library of human knowledge. --CBD 13:11, 13 December 2014 (UTC)[reply]

  • I agree with the article's conclusions (the headline) and that the governing structure is completely messed up. The key problem IMHO is the consensus decision making criterion. On small discussions - say less than 20 people involved - consensus decision making is possible. But the big issues - such as admin behavior and the absence of enforcement of the rules - which might potentially involve 100s or even 1000s of editors, "consensus" really has no meaning. The decision goes to those who yell the loudest.
Consider WP:NOT, which includes
    • Wikipedia is not an anarchy
    • Wikipedia is not a democracy
    • Wikipedia is not a bureaucracy
    • Wikipedia is not a battleground
Sorry, but Wikipedia does seem to be an anarchy (most of the time), a battleground (for any controversial issue), a bureaucracy (but an ineffective one), and sometimes a democracy (with all the negatives that can imply - but that is currently the best we do with controversial issues)
It is time we grab the bull by the horns (and there is a whole lot of bull to grab onto) and reform our governance system.
Smallbones(smalltalk) 16:03, 13 December 2014 (UTC)[reply]
  • The article has some good general points to make, but really does not understand GGTF or WP:ARBGGTF. In its first substantive sentence Aurebach writes "...Gender Gap Task Force, the goal of which is to increase female participation on Wikipedia from its current 10 percent to 25 percent by the end of next year." GGTF has never set such a goal, this is a WMF goal. The current participation is unknown, but the percentage of female editors a few years ago was a little over 16%, not 10%. The article continues in this vein, Carol was not the "only woman in the argument", a link supporting "After the decision, several editors announced their intentions to resign in protest" was to one editor, apparently before the decision, and not in protest, but because of dysfunctionality.
The lesson we should perhaps take here is that a hasty word in mailing list, or a forum, or on-wiki can provide material for crafting journalist pot-boilers that perpetuate and exacerbate negative stereotypes about the Wikipedian community, and certainly do not encourage women and girls to contribute.
All the best: Rich Farmbrough17:15, 13 December 2014 (UTC).
The most recent WMF editor surveys that we have results for (those run in 2011) found women's participation to be at 8.5% (April 2011 survey) and 9% (December 2011 survey). The results of the 2012 editor survey were never released, for reasons unknown. Instead we got a mathematical re-analysis of the 2008 (results published 2010) UNU survey from Benjamin Mako Hill (a member of the Wikimedia Advisory Council) and Aaron Shaw (2013), that upped the actual percentage found by the UNU survey (12.64%) to 16.1%, based on assumed sampling bias. I and others have many times enquired about the results of the 2012 editor survey, to no avail. Wikimedia board member Phoebe Ayers recently said she herself did not have them. Andreas JN466 17:41, 13 December 2014 (UTC)[reply]
Well, Andreas here we have one of our women editors I mentioned above - >Gerda - but - alow me to doubt that famous survey. Until you know each end every participans gender - nobody will really know just HOW many female editors, woman editors - we have. I would call those rather superficial surveys. Hafspajen (talk) 18:41, 13 December 2014 (UTC)[reply]
Superficial how? Survey methodology is well established. It's the tool people use to capture demographics. There is little reason for women to lie about their gender in an anonymous survey; and if anything, I would have thought women might be more likely to participate in Wikipedia surveys than men, given the high profile of the gender gap in recent years. Andreas JN466 18:49, 13 December 2014 (UTC)[reply]

The article wasn't the first to connect arbitration results to Kafka, --Gerda Arendt (talk) 18:22, 13 December 2014 (UTC)[reply]

I am a woman. Expanding a bit.
  • I believe that Andy is a blessing for Wikipedia. In the 2013 so-called Infoboxes case, 7 arbs agreed to ban him. 2 changed their mind, or he would have been banned. In 2014, he received an honourable mention by Jimbo Wales.

Hello again, Gamaliel. I appreciate the write-up, but you forgot to mention the part about you! Thanks nonetheless. Auerbachkeller (talk) 18:28, 13 December 2014 (UTC)[reply]

Auerbachkeller, what do you think about the SPJ Code of Ethics, the one that requires ethical reporters to "Diligently seek subjects of news coverage to allow them to respond to criticism or allegations of wrongdoing"? Did you attempt to contact the subjects you wrote about? Did your editor attempt to contact them? Jehochman Talk 20:06, 13 December 2014 (UTC)[reply]
Jehochman, what part of Auerbach's article required a response? Please be specific in your reply. Otherwise, I will assume that you are engaging in shooting the messenger, as required by the Wikipedia Groupthink membership duties. Viriditas (talk) 23:22, 13 December 2014 (UTC)[reply]
As I said on Fuhrer Jimbo's talkpage, its singing and dancing when someone blindly praises Wikipedia, but when Wikipedia is being criticized, its all "butbutbut ethics waaahhhh ;-;" or "Clearly this idiot journalist is an idiot, wotwot ol' chap?" The longer I stay here, the more I feel Wikipedia's facadé must be ripped off, and people should know the REAL Wikipedia. Perhaps its time for a, "Wikipedia is dead, Wikipedia doesn't have to be your encyclopedia anymore" article or two. Hah, maybe it'll spawn WikiGate. "Actually, its about ethics in Wikipedia journalism." I'd go on, but I shouldn't due to a topic ban. --DSA510 Pls No Bully 02:21, 14 December 2014 (UTC)[reply]
  • @Auerbachkeller: I played a small role in unsuccessfully trying to mediate a GamerGate-related dispute, so I didn't think that was worthy of mentioning. Your GG experience was a small part of your piece and you don't even mention GamerGate by name. The fact that your piece doesn't unduly focus on your personal experience and takes a look at Wikipedia as a whole is what makes it important and moves it from the category of "personal gripes with Wikipedia" to "significant critiques of the project". Gamaliel (talk) 21:14, 14 December 2014 (UTC)[reply]
  • I got tired of seeing newer editors get indefinite blocks for either undisclosed reasons, identified as a sock (even when they had had ZERO edits!), or called "disruptive" (which means whatever an admin wants it to mean), or breaking some wiki policy that the user was likely unaware of. I used to try challenge this, "block first, ask questions never" against new accounts but it was either ignored or I felt outnumbered by those with more experience than I had. The irony is that many productive editors had rocky periods when they first started editing that they grew out of but there seems to be less tolerance for missteps from newbies.
  • This all hurts Wikipedia as editors are always drifting away and I doubt that as many new editors are coming on board and accepted to replace their numbers. I also learned not to even try to edit certain subjects areas as established editors can be quite territorial and quick to bite a newbie. Then, if a newbie takes their case to AN/I, they are almost always shot down and face a boomerang for claiming ill treatment by a veteran editor. It actually takes a lot of perseverance to last more than a few months as an editor. Liz Read! Talk! 00:47, 14 December 2014 (UTC)[reply]
  • It must be luck, since it can't be smarts that make me spend most my time in the polite, peaceful corners of this vast website. Or it's my hardening from flame wars in 20th century BBS networks. Or maybe I'm the one that y'all are complaining about. Jim.henderson (talk) 01:59, 14 December 2014 (UTC)[reply]
Jim, I doubt anybody is complaining about you. There certainly are nice quiet corners of WP where people can work, and where most of the work gets done. But there certainly are also areas where people like to throw their weight around. In these areas, governance now seems to be completely dysfunctional, reminiscent of a boys high school locker room. Smallbones(smalltalk) 07:12, 14 December 2014 (UTC)[reply]
Jim, used to have the same sentiment, but I've realized it's definitely luck in avoiding the worst from the community interactions. Our policy works very well at obscure, untrodden areas where you can safely apply Ignore All Rules, or at the huge cases like Chelsea Manning where the whole society is watching and people will make sure that NPOV is applied in spirit without wikilawyering the letter.
Everything in between is dominated by article owners. and gaming the system, and for cases where there's more wide controversy (but not society–wide), like GamerGate or fringe topics, it's an attrition war with a series of battles in the respective decision and review. forums, where a clique of editors sides with a clique of friendly admins that will favour them at every step, no matter how many rules must be bent when applied to "their side" while still being enforced with full severity to anyone else, and without the other editors and admins being able to do anything about it. Those are pretty botched dynamics, and you can count on those happening anywhere people won't just let things go. Diego (talk) 08:46, 14 December 2014 (UTC)[reply]
Yes, on topics where the world is a messy struggle among passionately half-informed factions determined to save the world from each other by any means necessary, so are we. Those topics, I figure, are unencyclopedic and not amenable to open participation. In theory they could be tamed, but the needed resources are not available to the purpose. Mostly I just give them up as hopeless, thus preserving my own remaining shreds of sanity. Our rivals at Citizendium, Conservapedia and Rationalwiki don't seem to have those problems, but their solution is to build an ivory tower or fort that protects them from the crazies. That strikes me as worse than our method of letting the crazies in. Everyone's at least a bit crazy anyway, aren't we? Complaints and presentations of these problems in WP are plentiful. What I'm not seeing is hopeful proposals. My own proposal? Newbies should be discouraged from attempting to fix the worst problems in Wikipedia. Not very hopeful, eh? Jim.henderson (talk) 14:16, 14 December 2014 (UTC)[reply]
There can be a lot of spillover between topics, e.g. a financial "artist" will change articles on economics and math to make his system look better. Is the solution just to leave all article on finance, economics, and math alone? I, for one, generally leave finance articles alone, but am not ready to give up editing economics and some math articles.
Jim - you and I know each other well enough to say in a friendly way that we're both a little crazy at times. I mean what sane person would ride his bike in all weather through the dangerous streets of NYC just to get a few NRHP photos? Well, let's just say "eccentric." But letting in some "crazies" to edit is not the same thing as putting the "crazies" in charge. (Actually I doubt that this has anything to do with mental health). But our system is starting to look like the "The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether.
I've opened a thread at User talk:Jimbo Wales/Archive 178#Steps to solve the problem so we can get some idea of practical steps to solve the problem. Smallbones(smalltalk) 16:54, 14 December 2014 (UTC)[reply]

It was pleasant today. I snapped the wrong vacant lot on my way to a Wikimeeting, where I folded the bike and learned to repair the Wikidata item that misled me. Hard part was returning, dodging twilight pedestrian traffic on Brooklyn Bridge. I wish my editing were as sane.

As for internal reforms to bring sanity to our Wikiwars, my hopes are dimmer. Outside journalists could help their readers by saying near the top something like, many parts of Wikipedia are contentious. Then they should go on about the horrors that await anyone who goes there unwary. Jim.henderson (talk) Jim.henderson (talk) 01:50, 15 December 2014 (UTC)[reply]

Despite all the criticisms of WP processes and some editors' behaviour, we somehow end up with this magnificent product. When discussions get too snarky, I just stop following them. I have long since learned to stay away from topics where conflict is inevitable. I am not concerned about the decline in editor numbers. This is a strange self-regulating organism. It will survive and prosper. I liked the comparison with Diderot's Encyclopedie. What a compliment! I think it's great that one needs some staying power to succeed as an editor. It actually helps the quality, IMHO. Greenmaven (talk) 06:51, 17 December 2014 (UTC)[reply]

I am a woman and to be honest lately I've been feeling like changing my username to hide my gender, to KCG or something like that, because of sexism. I support this article. Sexism isn't something you really notice that you're doing, so it's easy to deny it. Despite being a feminist it's very easy to fall back into my social conditioning. It's awkward for me to speak to my classmates sometimes, at my women's college, and tell them that I edit Wikipedia, which they have no interest in doing. Also, I think that too many vandals makes everyone jaded with newbies. I sometimes feel it happening to me, and then I back away. — kikichugirl ? 12:38, 18 December 2014 (UTC)[reply]

Money money money

Some stand-out comments from the mailing list discussion on the design and wording of the fundraising banners:

Today I had a coworker private message me, worried that Wikipedia was in financial trouble. He asked me if the worst happened, would the content still be available so that it could be resurrected? I assured him that Wikimedia is healthy, has reserves, and successfully reaches the budget every year. Basically I said there wasn't much to worry about, because there isn't. The messaging being used is actively scaring people. This isn’t the first person that’s asked me about this. When they find out there’s not a real problem, their reaction quickly changes. They become angry. They feel manipulated. [1]Ryan Lane, creator of Wikimedia Labs

I agree that the urgency and alarm of the copy is not commensurate with my (admittedly limited) understanding of our financial situation. Could we run a survey that places the banner copy alongside a concise statement of the Foundation’s financials, and which asks the respondent to indicate whether they regard the copy as misleading. [2] —Wikimedia developer Ori Livneh

I’m alarmed about the content. That should come to no surprise to the fundraising team, because I can’t imagine this content hasn’t been written to evoke the maximum amount of alarm. But it crosses the line towards dishonesty. [3]Martijn Hoekstra

Lila, the concern is not that the fundraiser is working, which your soundbite confirms, but that it is deceiving people, or at least manipulating them "too much" to be consistent with our values. [4]John Vandenberg

I am however negatively-struck by the finishing statement, a return to the old motto of "keep us online without advertising for one more year". I thought that we had collectively agreed that banners that directly threaten advertising next year were not going to happen any more. Remember when we used to get lots of mainstream media reports saying "Wikipedia will soon have ads!" as a result of those campaigns in the past? (This is different from simply saying "we don't have ads and we're proud of it", etc.) [5]Wittylama

Food for thought? This year’s automated thank-you message for donors apparently reads,

“Over the past year, gifts like yours powered our efforts to expand the encyclopedia in 287 languages and to make it more accessible all over the world. We strive most to impact those who would not have access to education otherwise. We bring knowledge to people like Akshaya Iyengar from Solapur, India. Growing up in this small textile-manufacturing town, she used Wikipedia as her primary learning source. For students in these areas, where books are scarce but mobile internet access exists, Wikipedia is instrumental. Akshaya went on to graduate from college in India and now works as a software engineer in the United States. She credits Wikipedia with powering half of her knowledge.
“This story is not unique. Our mission is lofty and presents great challenges. Most people who use Wikipedia are surprised to hear it is run by a nonprofit organization and funded by your donations. Each year, just enough people donate to keep the sum of all human knowledge available for everyone. Thank you for making this mission possible.”

Each year, just enough people donate to keep the sum of all human knowledge available for everyone? No, Wikimedia. Each year just enough people donate for you to have been able to

Less than 6 cents per donated dollar go on Internet hosting. The single biggest expense item is salaries and wages (nearly $20 million), and most of that goes to the department that brought us products like the Mood Bar, the Article Feedback Tool, the VisualEditor and the Media Viewer. --Andreas JN466 11:42, 13 December 2014 (UTC)[reply]

The facts disgust me. This is like those charities where the managers keep all the money and the hungry kids get 2 cents on a dollar. HalfGig talk 12:14, 13 December 2014 (UTC)[reply]
I've been mulling the idea of organizing a group of long-term Wikipedians to advocate not contribute to the annual fundraiser. For way too long, most of the money is collected & is spent on stuff that doesn't help any of the people doing the actual work of improving content in any of the Wikimedian projects. (Creating software of limited value is not helping.) However, since most of the Wikipedians I know off-wiki in one way or another either have retired or limited their on-wiki activities greatly, I doubt it would do anything more than brand me as a disaffected krank & encourage me towards full retirement. -- llywrch (talk) 00:34, 15 December 2014 (UTC)[reply]
  • While I have issues with the wording, timing and length of the fund-raiser, I think we need to be careful not to indulge in hyperbole in the reverse direction. We need hosting and bandwidth, we need a legal department, we need someone to look after the books (and an annual audit). We also need a 24x7 technical support team, and a certain amount of development effort. It is of course open to debate how much of this needs to be paid effort, how much can be voluntary, how much is required, how much is "nice to have" and how much is too much. It would be nice to hear a proactive response from the Foundation and Board looking forward to future years, and taking heed of the existing fund-raising principles. All the best: Rich Farmbrough16:40, 13 December 2014 (UTC).
    • From a historical perspective, I think it's interesting to contrast the current state of affairs with what Jimmy Wales told a TED conference in 2005:
    • “So, we’re doing around 1.4 billion page views monthly. So, it’s really gotten to be a huge thing. And everything is managed by the volunteers and the total monthly cost for our bandwidth is about 5,000 dollars, and that’s essentially our main cost. We could actually do without the employee … We actually hired Brion [Vibber] because he was working part-time for two years and full-time at Wikipedia so we actually hired him so he could get a life and go to the movies sometimes.”
    • It seems these fundraising messages are a hangover from a time when the Foundation had a tiny fraction of the revenue it has today, and web hosting really was the major expense. But today, Wikimedia is no longer the "little guy" struggling for survival. Millions of donors' dollars have been squandered, and none of it has produced a way of measuring the quality and reliability of Wikipedia content – which I would have thought is the one aspect of the service that Wikipedia readers and donors would consider to be of the very greatest importance. Andreas JN466 16:51, 13 December 2014 (UTC)[reply]

Sexist? Yes, but ...

I have encountered sexism with wikipedia, but not as much within the english as within the german part and it was mostly expressed by feminist editors. (talk) 13:41, 14 December 2014 (UTC)[reply]


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