OK! Back in February of 2006 I created an entry about five predictions I had for Wikipedia before the end of the year. It’s January 1st, and let’s see how I did.
The theme of the outcomes is “depending how you look at it”. While it’d be nice to claim I totally nailed things, I definitely didn’t, and what instead happened is even more interesting: Wikipedia twisted rules and bent procedures until some of the effective things I was trying to predict happened, but not the way I would have thought.
“Wikipedia will no longer allow anonymous edits of any kind.”
I got this one wrong. Anonymous edits are definitely still allowed on Wikipedia. What has instead happened concurrent to this is both an automatic skepticism of an anonymous edit compared to an edit by an account, and the creation of the “Semi-Protection” setting on articles which shut out anonymous edits on articles of controversy or undue attention, and adds an interesting (and arbitrary) 4-day waiting period on people who do register.
Anonymous editors are now a sub-class on Wikipedia whose contributions are to be used but who are not to really be trusted or listened to. Wales himself said as much when, during a discussion, he said “Sorry, but anon ip numbers do not have the same civil rights as logged in members of the community. If you want to be a good editor, get an account, make good edits. I really don’t care about your complaint as currently stated.” This is, essentially a capitulation to what editing on Wikipedia represents for anonymous users. So, like I said, you have the case that Anonymous editing is still allowed, but there’s a definite boxing-in of what anonymous editing is and how it’s considered and treated.
“Wikipedia will have to split off ‘user space’ from ‘Encyclopedia space’.”
Nope, User Space is still on Wikipedia. That said, there have been massive encroachments into what you may or may not do in that user space. Wikipedia has a procedure called Miscellany for Deletion which is the equivalent of a Homeowner’s Assocation for various pages including user pages. If you take the time to browse it, you’ll find people nosing into other folks’ User pages and calling for votes on whether the stuff the person has should be on Wikipedia. I still believe this one is going to happen, and I am all for it, but until then the uneasy balance about what a user page on Wikipedia should contain and how it should be on the site is still up for grabs.
Like a lot of other aspects of the site, there’s a lot of duct-tape solutions to overarching problems that can linger for some time and waste a lot of energy until it’s addressed. The finger-pointing wars over what’s “right” for a User page on Wikipedia are an example of this.
“Jimbo Wales will be either ousted or have his power curtailed relative to Wikipedia.”
I am effectively correct. While the shift of Jimbo from the lead of the Wikimedia Foundation to simply one of the members was both touted as big news and not big news at all, it represents a number of other similar moves that have diluted Wales’ direct influence over the project. I have seen a lot of his suggestions turned away. He has always coyly indicated that stuff happens without him really knowing about it, but that wasn’t strictly true; now it very much is. His new directions into the Wikia-related projects will dilute his influence even further.
I think he’ll speak “for” Wikipedia for some time to come, but in many ways, Steven Wozniak speaks “for” Apple although he has as much influence on the direction of Apple Computer as a minigolf windmill. The guy who shows up to all the events and the conferences is not often the guy who presses the big buttons in the boardroom. The word I think I’m looking to direct people to here is figurehead.
This all said, I believe he will still mount some kind of “assault” on the organization at some point in the future, where he’ll realize the ship has really gone in a way that “Captain Emeritus” doesn’t like and he will make a lot of noise to steer it “right”. I’m not really being all that psychic or anything; this is a natural step in the growth of a cult of personality.
“Wikipedia will make it almost impossible to edit entries on living people (or any entity that can sue).”
I was correct. There are two fronts to this conflict between the living and the dead on Wikipedia; the editing, and the office. In the case of the editing, pretty much every single article that cites a living person has this unfriendly statement in the discussion page: “This article must adhere to the policy on biographies of living persons. Controversial material of any kind that is unsourced or poorly sourced must be removed immediately, especially if potentially libelous. If such material is repeatedly inserted or there are other concerns relative to this policy, report it on the living persons biographies noticeboard. If you in fact go to the policy on editing biographies you are hit with a cascading set of rules about what you can do. While on the surface it might seem like good, responsible policy, in fact it’s merely because living people have called Wales’ cell phone and threatened to sue that motion has come forward on this policy, and the policy’s core concerns really represent concerns for every entry on Wikipedia. It’s just that “Periodic Table of the Elements” doesn’t threaten anyone over the phone or in a fax.
The second aspect is the front office. More and more, people from Wikimedia are going into entries, deleting them, and deleting evidence they ever existed, because someone made noise. Wales calls these “courtesy edits”. What they are is an acknowledgement that you can’t just swing Wikipedia’s bat around without hitting some legal representation in the face, and that putting biographies of living people up for worldwide anonymous editing is a recipe for disaster. I think this will continue.
“Wikipedia will add advertising (banner ads, text ads, or pop-ups).”
I was wrong because they found alternate ways to add advertising. I should have known that Wikipedia would continue to be the loss-leader while other methods would be used to generate cash off the content. For example, Answers.com licenses Wikipedia content from Wikipedia. (Here’s the Wikipedia entry on me on Answers.com, including ads). Answers.com makes cash off of the work of people on Wikipedia, then kickbacks to Wikipedia. Clever! And this Cisco ad uses Wikipedia in it and paid Wikimedia for the privilege. The result is the same, money coming in by licensing content created by others, but hey, that’s all part of the show.
So there we go, a pretty patchy set of outcomes for what I predicted 11 months ago. I’ll continue my occasional murmuring from the rooftops, and I’m sure Wikipedia will continue to enjoy its day in the sun.
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