ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

Wikipedia Templates —

Friends, both old and new, like to do the ol’ Wikicritic a favor by pointing out to him any little flame-up of wikipedia discussion that hits a prominent or not so prominent weblog or website or newspaper or the like. Almost none of these recent whorls of discussion expound on how great Wikipedia is; that’s old news and not interesting. Instead, a lot of them are making declarations of faults in Wikipedia’s setup, which is up there with reporting an occurence of drunken binges on college campuses to me, but apparently a novel enough angle to still get attention.

So yesterday I was aimed at this clusterfuck of a blog posting and comment collection, which has fallen into a template so firm that I feel like I should be able to type CTRL-W into an editor and generate it automatically.

Here’s how the template works.

Blogposting, by Blogger: Wikipedia. I am not completely fucking in love with it. I either hate it or am unhappy about some aspect of it. Here is more detail than you could possibly want about my specific thing that pissed me off about Wikipedia, and from this I’m just saying, I am not completely fucking in love with it.


  • The thing about Wikipedia is that it is not perfect, that’s true, but it’s good enough for my needs. Just like I’m quite happy to have Beef Jerky instead of steak, and to crawl on broken glass instead of riding a monorail, I get by using Wikipedia for subjects I don’t know because somewhere in that thing there must be something accurate. Also, please ignore the fact that I act like I am actually eating steak on a monorail anyway. Signed, Don’t Give a Shit.
  • I agree with you entirely about Wikipedia and let me take this time to tell you a very long and equally involved story about an incident I was part of, including this one Wikipedian I hate so, so very much. If we only got rid of that one Wikipedian and anyone like him, Wikipedia would be perfect. Signed, I Know a Lot About Geology.
  • When you really sit down and think about it, absolutely no facts are really true, nothing is real, all things are variant, there is no objective final answer, and so Wikipedia accurately reflects reality, which is itself variant. Signed, I’m Writing This At Work.
  • The problem for most people is they don’t realize Wikipedia is a work in progress and even though it’s the first match for everything on Google and is now cited in legislation, patents and newspaper articles, and is one of the top ten websites on the Internet, we should treat it like it’s some kid’s high school project and give it an award. Signed, I Occasionally Wear a Seatbelt.

As a bonus, this one included Cory Doctorow in the mix. If you haven’t figured out that most of Cory Doctorow’s opinions are formed, formulated and delivered as one delivers an analysis of a country from a moving train car… you’re not reading very closely.

A worthwhile endeavor, which I’m not in the mood to enumerate tonight, is to read the Wikipedia edit/discussion records of advocates of Wikipedia when they’re actually dealing with it. Go look up danah boyd, Xeni Jardin and Cory. Mix well. Enjoy. Bring a cup of tea.

But more than all that, I’ve lately been focusing less on Wikipedia’s problems than the problems of collaborative websites in general. What works, what doesn’t work, how different places handle this. While it’s fun to concentrate on a place that is unusually popular, that very popularity is causing such a crowd mass that the architectural flaws of Wikipedia are being stretched into all-out cascading failures. It’s become very hard to tell what’s a case of actual problems with the site’s setup, and what’s the result of an endless assault of Dumbass Torrent breaking the fort walls.

I will say, however, that right now the only thing that really makes me angry in the whole Wikisoup is the pride and joy of deleting articles by the truckload, daily. Not newly-created articles with names like “BONER MUNCH” and “I MADE A THING YOU SHOULD BUY”, but articles that last for months and months are are maintained by the work of dozens and then a random set of do-gooders go along and send it to oblivion. This is, in my humble opinion, the Web 2.0 equivalent of hunting elephants for tusks or killing buffalo to extinction using a few cuts of meat and letting the rest rot. It’s a nearly-unfathomable waste, one we’ll probably look back at with horror and regret; the realization that when the internet was relatively free and a lot of people were united in working on a project, a ton of effort was squandered. A shame.

So yeah, still not buying in, sorry.

The closest real-life metaphor for Wikipedia is the American Red Cross. Nobody dislikes the idea of the Red Cross. What a fantastic idea it is. However, if you look at a lot of how the Red Cross operates, it’s ugly, has had issues of corruption, waste and poor management, and does some pretty hairy scary crap in the operation of its business. While it’s entirely cool that people want there to be a functioning Red Cross, right now it’s not doing so well, and it would probably be a matter of a few minor but important shifts in policy to get things back on track.

I have no doubt that when Wikipedia inevitably moves towards a beta-release system, where you have a page that anyone can edit and a page that is the official “last good” one, that a lot of the current noise will cease, with regards to the issues of vandalism, edit wars, and the rest. That it hasn’t gone to that system yet is merely a case of the right people not feeling the pain yet. Eventually they will, and it will be portrayed that it was always a good idea to do this. Because it is.

But the endemic disregard for people’s effort, the inherent dislike of people who actually have experience in a subject, and the bushel of bad decisions masquerading as brave choices tell me that when I walked away years ago, I made a pretty good choice.

Make a template for that.

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  1. Doug says:

    Hilarious man 🙂

    I’ve just noticed for the first time a pattern on wikipedia pages – references to the Daily Show/Jon Stewart and Southpark. Anytime either one makes a reference to anything no matter how insignificant (like mentioning the term “clusterfuck”, like you did), it is documented in Wikipedia extensively:

    I guess if this were 20 years ago they’d be adding Johnny Carson and MTV references.

  2. cassiel says:

    As always: excellent analysis of the WP hype.

    Just to let you know how things are going with the german language version of WP:

    You’ve got to know that the deletionist rule on de-WP. Since they deleted a row of articles about different Linux distributions, the public opinions – at least the one of the geek cultures – is switching. On – the most important german IT-newsticker – you can watch this happening. A few months ago – not to mention in 2003 – as a critic you were getting a lot of negative ratings and reviews (red marks) for your postings there. Now everyone who just dislikes WP for any reason gets a lot of positive ratings (green marks).

    That’s how the mass changes sides: only when they start to feel to be the victim.

    “Oh holy St. Florian,
    save my house, light up the other one”

  3. weaky says:

    Apparently it “Sucks for science” too. Saw this and it made me think of you, big guy:

  4. Shii says:

    Jason, not sure if you’re interested but I wrote an essay which summarizes my how Wikipedia can be dealt with and advocates for a return to trustworthy articles (somewhat like FAQs, actually).