My talk in April at Notacon on Wikipedia is coming up, and should be either fun or interesting (or maybe even both). As part of that I’ve been both observing and in contact with people embedded in Wikipedia, and I figured it was time to make some predictions. Make of these what you will. I’m focusing on the “negative” predictions since everyone else is in the business of the “positive” predictions. Some of these might sound obvious, some might not; that’s the way of “predictions”.
Note again, this is about Wikipedia, not the general concept of the Wiki. In all of these cases, I am predicting all of these things to happen before the end of 2006, although I suspect some will happen by the summer.
Wikipedia will no longer allow anonymous edits of any kind.
One of the core aspects of Wikipedia from its beginning was the ability of anyone to edit anything at any time. While nice in theory, this approach fails under critical mass. The work of the programmers of Wikipedia’s software and the increase in tools to track edits has cut down on pure unchecked destruction, but the fatigue of an ever-growing army of people who actually want to do minor edits and little else is wearing out on people who wish to control the encyclopedia’s direction.
A flurry of press implied that this is already the case; in fact, anonymous editors cannot create completely new articles, but they can edit existing ones. Currently, if you edit an article and do not have an edit history, your edit is often undone until you “prove” yourself. This trend will continue, in my opinion, and I expect they will move to some level of registration and reduced user account creation, walling the garden from the point of view of the editing active user.
Wikipedia will have to split off “user space” from “Encyclopedia space”.
Right now, you, as a Wikipedian with an account, can have a page about yourself, the stuff you’re into, what Wikipedia work you’re doing, and so on. It is absolutely tearing Wikipedia apart.
Why it’s tearing Wikipedia apart is part of my talk at Notacon, but the short form is that these user pages, once simple waves from behind the screen to talk about what you’re up to, have become pulpits of controversy and hatred that are linked (even if not completely) as if they’re just more articles under Wikipedia.
The solution is simple: a “user.wikipedia.org” or “wikiusers.org”, a separate area allowing this sort of self-expression to continue.
I see absolutely no fault in this happening; it should have been done from the beginning. In the beginning there weren’t really “user accounts” at all on Wikipedia, so it kind of grew organically from the natural urge of people to go “look at me, look at the work I’ve done, here I am, making my place”. But this is causing huge, huge distress on both the infrastructure, and the “anyone can edit” approach. The whole point of a user space is that you control it, and having others come in and either “fix” your work or tell you you’re not “allowed” to have things in your user space is causing wasteful friction even by Wikipedia’s standards.
Either this will happen soon, or more people will leave/pull back from being treated like they joined the world’s largest homeowner association.
Jimbo Wales will be either ousted or have his power curtailed relative to Wikipedia.
Without a doubt, Jimbo is a vital part of Wikipedia’s success. His funding, initial guidance, and approach to the site are what helped bring in the critical mass of editors. Unfortunately (for him), he has also created an entity whose entire point of existence is an overriding anal-retentive attention to “policy” and “the rules”, all reached by a variety of methods, each with their own set of “policy” and “the rules”. And so on, and so on, like a hall of mirrors.
The newspaper articles about Wikipedia in the last six months have focused on two major “events”: An article in the journal “Nature” that compared a whopping 42 articles (out of 972,000) to decide all of Wikipedia had only 20 percent less errors than the Encyclopedia Britannica, and errored information in an entry about a man named John Seigenthaler with the attendant hand-wringing about “what is truth” and “what position does Wikipedia and The Internet hold in the nature of accuracy”.
What has not gotten any focus are moves by Jimbo Wales that skirt and avoid “policy” or “consensus” or any of the other buzzwords that users who edit Wikipedia live by. He has appointed administrators without following Wikipedia’s own “rules” on how that is done. He has had articles not just removed, but their entire editing history removed as well (this violates their own license). He has blanked out and locked down (prevented editing) on articles about people who have threatened him with a lawsuit. And in cases where he has encountered activities he doesn’t approve of and appears concerned of looking bad (editing his own biography was a minor offense), he has taken on the approach of mentioning idly what he’d like to see done, and an army of folks will do his bidding, out of a natural urge to follow the “leader”.
This dichotomy cannot continue; Wales makes appearances on television shows and in newspaper articles speaking in a tone as if he majorly or solely guides the direction of Wikipedia, while at the same time promotes an environment where people are led to believe that a consensus guides Wikipedia. Something has to give.
(Of all my predictions, I am weakest on this one, because power is pernicious in its effect on sense, and few things are more steely-gripped than a person holding onto power.)
Wikipedia will make it almost impossible to edit entries on living people (or any entity that can sue).
I’m vaguely cheating with this prediction, since this is already becoming the case. If you don’t like an article about yourself in Wikipedia and you wish to ensure that the entry on you contains no information you don’t like, threaten to sue Jimbo Wales. Threaten to sue the Wikimedia Foundation. There are notable cases where entire swaths of information have been pulled down for shaky reasoning, simply to get legally-concerning items out of Wikipedia.
This is the bucket of cold water that will affect the love-fest of editing on Wikipedia more than anything else. There are facts that are, by any measure, accurate and real (dirty deeds listed in public records, criminal histories, and so on), that are simply not ‘allowed’ to be on Wikipedia. They are blanked out (again, not put into a “document editing history”, but all trace of them removed) and in a few cases the articles have been locked so that no work can be done on them.
This is working for the moment, but it can only increase in frequency, so it is likely that a rule will be put in place, phrased in relatively neutral language, that will prevent living entities from getting too detailed a background in anything but the most basic of facts about them. And it is because of lawsuit threats.
Subpoenas are the ultimate edit.
Wikipedia will add advertising (banner ads, text ads, or pop-ups).
What’s the sound of a million people going “Well, Duh”.
I only make this prediction because there are a number of myths that people who do editing work on Wikipedia and who pour weeks of life into the production operate under. One of them is the idea that the Wikipedia will always be open and free and sans the grubby hands of capitalism fingerprinting their work with urges to buy, buy, buy. Apparently the story of CDDB has not had an effect on them. That’s fine.
A lot of people are offering Wikipedia a lot of money to put advertising into their pages. One day, they will win. I just happen to think this is the year.
Check back in 2007 for how many I got right or wrong.
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