Wikipedia and Relevance and Dreams

The German Wikipedia has been embroiled in a discussion of its relevance criteria for a couple of weeks. Even the stately FAZ had a long article over the weekend one it (Das Schweigen der Lemmata, the silence of the lemmas, a pun that actually works, something Germans rarely use). I had a longish discussion with one of the bloggers leading the charge, Felix von Leitner (known as Fefe), by email, and I agreed to meet with him. I was going to be in that part of town anyway, and I was curious to meet him.

He and another CCCler, Frank Rieger, met with me at the CCC headquarters in Berlin, and we had a nice chat over donuts. The CCC sees the problems, and they are basically solved problems. Technically. The problem is, that the Wikipedia does not really have a captain on the bridge, telling this oil tanker where to go next. There are a bunch of people in the galleys, paddling every which way.

Making changes in an extremely large, global system like the Wikipedia is a very, very delicate operation. You can't just change the interface or the way one edits or introduce icons that signal how trustworthy a lemma entry is just to see if it works. There are literally millions of users out there who don't really understand what all the extra tabs are for, don't even realize they can edit and see the history or even follow a discussion on a page.

Yes, the technology is just so last century. People don't come to the Wikipedia for the technology. They want to settle a bar bet - or look something up for school. Or worse, copy it for use at university. But that's a topic for my Other Blog.

If you want to fork the Wikipedia - please, do so! That's the point of free documents. If you succeed where Wikipedia fails - all the better!

As for making up new rules to keep the trolls and vandals at bay - I don't know. Since we now have only checked versions on display in the German Wikipedia, that is, changes are only possible for unregistered users when a checker has eyeballed them to make sure that it is nothing stupid or silly. I suppose we ought to apply the same rule to new articles (maybe we do - even experienced people get lost in all the pages).

But it's a wiki, everyone should be allowed to edit. That's part of collaborative writing, there is no one author, there is just the collaborative authorship. If you want to have someone responsible for the text, to have the text be some sort of authority, then it has to be linked to someone. I have suggested that users could sign versions of articles, saying: What is written here is true, as far as I know. But when I see how difficult it is to get people to use digital signatures or even use PGP for encrypting their communication, I despair of getting some sort of change put through the Wikipedia.

But it's okay. The Wikipedia does not need to be 100% correct. Good enough is just fine. It is meant to be a starting point for answering a question, not the end point. It is troubling, that lately I have been wanting to look things up in the Wikipedia and there has been no entry. Just this weekend, I wanted to know more about Borussia, the female allegory for Prussia. Nix. Nada. Lots of soccer teams with Borussia in their name, and of course the article on Prussia. But nothing about all these statues with the name Borussia. I secured some links on my user page, I guess I will have to start an article in my spare time.

The Verein, the Wikimedia, does lots of things. What it does not do is run the Wikipedia. It offers technical support. Sure, a lot of the stuff they do is boring. I rattled of the list of what the Verein has been doing the past few months. Oh, sure, the picture action was great. But things like teaching teachers how to use the Wikipedia was met with a puzzled look.

I know, it is hard to realize how little many teachers know about the Wikipedia. My son tried to tell a teacher that his mom "worked" for the Wikipedia. Okay, work was not the correct work. His teacher laughed at him, he was telling tales. I put a notice up on my user page for the teacher: Dear Mr. X, yes, I am the Mommy of WiseKid, and he told you the truth. WiseKid tried to get the teacher to look up my user page, but he didn't know what that was. Instead of shaking our heads at the ignorance, we have to let people know. Show them how to use it. Show people how to research, edit, write.

And if they want to make a new Wikipedia, make it, and show us. Maybe we like it so much, we all switch!

Yes, I've given up on the Wikiversity. I personally declared it broken for me in 2007. My attempts to create a new university, a web-based one, were foiled by people re-inventing the broken wheel of German universities. Okay, I turn my attentions elsewhere.

I've not given up on the Wikipedia, Felix. And actually, I'm not currently cutting back. I've started reading the requests for deletion again, and adding my 2 cents worth to the discussions. I am even trying to save a lemma from theoretical computer science. Some guy insists that all lemmata need to be generally understandable. I don't think so. I need to get a general idea of what the concept is. And then I either decide to dive into the literature given in order to understand the maths behind it, or I decide that I don't understand this. It's okay.

I'm an inclusionist.

Oh, and I have papers to grade.....


Anonymous said...

ich glaub mit dem link von fefe ist dein blog nun nicht mehr semi.anonym

Mazbln said...

Danke, Deborah, für die Klarstellung. Das, was du schreibst, kann ich fast komplett unterschreiben. Bei Fefe war ja vor lauter Schaum vorm Mund kaum noch etwas zu verstehen. Ich frage mich schon, wie er mit seinem ganzen Hass auf die Welt überhaupt noch leben kann. Und wie mit dieser Herangehensweise ein Fork erfolgreich sein kann, will mir auch nicht in den Kopf. Mit einer moderneren Software wäre sicher vieles möglich, wenn man da aber von vornherein mit einer solchen Mission rangeht, wird das wohl sehr schnell scheitern.

WiseWoman said...

My blog has not really been anonymous, but I still use the name WiseWoman here ;)

Anonymous said...


kannst du das mit dem von dir beobachteten hass fefes auf die welt etwas genauer erläutern? ich verstehe das nicht ganz.

deine emotionen in allen ehren, aber worauf gründet sich dein entschiedenes urteil? wenn das alle verstehen, kann man ja vielleicht fefes fehler vermeiden - oder deine, meine, unsere...


WiseWoman said...

Ah, people. Could we all cool down, look at things a bit rationally? Yes, people get upset. I do too. I try to avoid ad hominim attacks, because I don't like being the target of such.

I didn't find that Fefe was spewing hate in person. He likes to write that way. I think he also enjoys the reactions he gets.

Can we focus on the task at hand? There are a gazillion suggestions for making the Wikipedia better, easier to use, whatever. Can we get a priority list set up and then get started ticking them off the list? Quit investing all this energy in fighting and get out there, improve and article to save it from a deletion troll, or write a new one. Or go do something else. But quit feeding the trolls.

Sei mutig!

Anonymous said...

I still miss any sign of understanding the truth behind Pavel Mayer's words about the body floating down the river. There is a disgusting tendency to protect each other in Wikipedia, both de and en.

WiseWoman said...

Anonymous 11:05, what do you mean by "truth" behind his words? He demanded a virtual public execution ("Wikipedia-Blockwart als Leiche den Fluss runter geschwommen kommen muss", he calls the people doing excessive deletion "Block captians", a term used in the Third Reich for private persons charged with policing their city block, and demands seeing one of them floating down the river as a body).

I am an opponent of capital punishment, both in the Real World and the virtual world. I realize that the mob cries for public hangings, because they are so entertaining, and people can be happy that they didn't get caught and hanged.

I prefer re-education to hangings. I expect Wikipedians to be open to discussion. And I expect all Wikipedians to accept that if they are in the minority on a question, then they have to accept this and carry on. We can't have anarchy, democracy, and a dictatorship at the same time.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for making my point. Your reply implies the assumption that his words are meant literally, after which you conveniently take umbrage.

Well, they aren't meant literally, and it's very, very easy to see that they aren't.

> I expect Wikipedians to be open to discussion.

Again, they aren't. Off-hand I can point out two examples where Wikipedians fight tooth and nail against documented facts, explicitly just because they don't like them. In both cases, the facts are trivial, ie. there is no room for interpretation.

Again and again, admins are getting away with PAs, harassment, 3RR, etc., just because they are admins. AN:I is a sad joke.

That's what I read from Pavel's words: Until you protect your bad sheep against intruders like some middle-age clan, you won't be taken seriously by anyone who ever got his fingers burned. Which is an ever increasing number.

Do yourself a favor and start working WP as an IP, stay anonymous, and don't change your habits (ie. do not be extra nice all of a sudden). You might be surprised about the level of hate a newcomer has to cope with.