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The WikiPedia is not an encyclopedia. No-one should be offended by that statement, it doesn't mean that it is less or more, it means it is different, something new. The classical encyclopedia was a compendium of knowledge in a limited amount of space, it was not an attempt to gather all knowledge, it was an attempts to compile the important knowledge, the essence of what a knowledgable person might be expected to know. The restriction to - let's say - 25 x 1000 = 25.000 pages was characteristic and important. It meant that any topic had to meet two challenges: (1) is it important enough to make an entry and (2) how much space should be devoted to it. None of these characteristics applies to the WikiPedia, so WikiPedia is something new. Maybe its a try at a new "library of Alexandria" containing all available knowledge.
If it does, then it is bound to walk into big trouble. Such an endeavour is bound to become extremely powerful and a political instrument, in danger of becoming a "truth ministry" as - I think - Orwell described it in BookShelved:NineteenEightyFour. Of course this may be unavoidable, because the technical means for such a library just exist. It will be interesting to see how the communities inside and outside of WikiPedia will cope with the developing situation. -- HelmutLeitner
Not an attempt to collect all knowledge? Britannica felt different when they advertised their encyclopedia:
I disagree with Helmut. It is true that Wikipedia "is not paper", so there can be very fine detail into subjects. However, that does not mean there are no criteria for entry. -- TarQuin
- That may be hard to understand - but this is not about attacking WikiPedia. I've contributed to the German WikiPedia about 30 pages (chemistry, philosophy, translated some core pages) and I'm grateful for the publicity wiki got from WikiPedia. My main point is: "it is something different". I'd like to understand what it is.
- I don't think that the other points are important but I still answer them, Erik, the picture is just marketing. Obviously no encyclopedia ever attempted to put all available knowledge into print form.
- TarQuin, I just stumbled over the German page , a soccer player who is almost 20 years death (there are about 400 more German players - many quite unimportant, women players, women soccer clubs with details of their organization history). Any soap series, any TV moderator, any school seems to qualify - even teachers are found there. Which criteria are met for these entries? -- HelmutLeitner
The thrust of the argument is that traditional encyclopedias have limited space. Wikipedia doesn't. Thus, Wikipedia is not an encyclopedia. The problem with the argument is that it assumes this particular characteristic is vital in determining what is an encyclopedia. It's a mistake to pin the term "encyclopedia" to a single characteristic of current general encyclopedias. In doing so, you are forced to say, for example, that the Chinese WikiPedia:Yongle_Encyclopedia (over 11000 volumes) is also not an encyclopedia, because its space was not limited like a modern 20 volume work.
Or, what if we took a different characteristic? Early encyclopedias were not organized alphabetically, but topically. It wouldn't be hard to compose an argument that topical arrangement is vital to an encyclopedia, and therefore Britannica does't qualify. Or, we could discount electronic encyclopedias like Microsoft Encarta, which are primarly organized to be searched by subject keywords, not by alphabetical or topical indexes.
- I just stumbled over the German page , a soccer player who is almost 20 years death (there are about 400 more German players - many quite unimportant, women players, women soccer clubs with details of their organization history). Any soap series, any TV moderator, any school seems to qualify - even teachers are found there.
You would never find these topics in a general encyclopedia like Britannica. But what about the (fictional) Comprehensive Encyclopedia of German Football? Or an encyclopedia of North American universities? Or a 15 volume encyclopedia of world television programs? What you're noticing, Helmet, is that Wikipedia blurs the line between the general and the specialized encyclopedia.
- Maybe its a try at a new "library of Alexandria" containing all available knowledge.
No, Wikipedia isn't this. All available knowledge includes dictionaries, language grammars, news stories, books, speeches, photo, video and audio collections, and so on. Wikipedia doesn't archive these things (of course, it uses some of them).
Even though there is no space limit, Wikipedia has standards of inclusion (or exclusion, depending on how you look at it). These standards are constantly debated and re-evaluated, so it's difficult to set them down in writing. However, some are well established. Straight dictionary entries, essays, and unverifiable entries are deleted.
Wikipedia articles have a particular encyclopedic style: summarize that information about the subject at hand. An encyclopedia does not give you complete knowledge about any subject; it is simply a starting point for learning, or used when you quickly need some facts. It's still an encyclopedia, albeit one that won't fit on your booksehlf.
However, you do point out the trend of Wikipedia become the "standard" reference on the Internet, and I think this is the most interesting point of discussion. -- StephenGilbert
In Berlin at the Wizards of OS conference, I had a discussion with ErikMoeller about how WikiPedia wasn't really an encyclopaedia in the Victorian sense, but rather it was more like a collective notetaking exercise. The corpus is replete with self-citations (for example WikiPedia:Wiki -- notice Erik self-citing) and Google searches refactored. That's why article quality is so low from an authoritative stance, but that's not really a problem. I think it's a good thing.
I think Wikipedia serves more usefully as a place to dump and collate information as it is gathered, rather than an authority. It's a good place to go to orient yourself, which is the value of an encyclopaedia anyway. The conflation of authority with encylopaedia is something we've learnt from Victorian-era encyclopaedia like Britannica. And I think TheAuthor--a PrintCulture? concept--is bogus. I think Wikipedia could be more honest about how it perceives itself though, but having a goal like being a better Britannica is highly motivating. -- SunirShah
- Well, a single example isn't exactly a good way to make an argument that applies to 800,000 pages, especially when this example is from the wiki world. Of course there is going to be some overlap between experts on the wiki world and people working on WikiPedia. My article series "Tanz der Gehirne", published in early 2003, in four parts and over 160,000 characters discusses Wikipedia and actually examines the quality of the articles by looking at a random sample of articles from Encarta and Wikipedia and comparing them with their equivalents (if any).
- It also describes how Everything2 and H2G2 work and examines their article quality as well as taking a look at the history of hypertext and the future of wikis (from Xanadu to WYSIWYG editing and so on). To my knowledge it is the most detailed actual analysis of the collaborative writing phenomenon to date. Add the fact that all of it is available online, that I have a degree in CS and that I am working on a book on the subject, I think I'm reasonably quotable. So I find your remark about this being a mere "note taking" exercise and "article quality being low" quite condescending. Can you cite better authorities on wikis than the ones cited in the text? If so, please do so. I haven't read much from you on the subject outside MeatballWiki. I for one find the fact that some of the people doing actual research and in-depth analysis point to that research in Wikipedia articles quite advantageous.
- Nor is Wikipedia simply a summarization of Google. I can cite the articles I've worked on as examples, such as WikiPedia:Mother_Teresa and WikiPedia:Library_of_Alexandria. Both of them contain the results of extensive research in books and essays that are not available online. Browse through WikiPedia:Wikipedia:Featured_articles, and you will find many more examples of solid, authoritative research.
- Is WikiPedia authoritative as a whole? Of course not, but it can be. With proper PeerReview, we can make sure that we have all bases covered, both in terms of online and offline sources. We can then flag certain revisions as stable, and point people who want authority to the stable revisions, while people who want a lot of very up-to-date content can browse the unstable sections of the site, with the disadvantage of having to do some of the fact-checking themselves.
- How deeply involved in Wikipedia are you? Do you even have a user page over there? I think it's necessary to get your feet wet in order to make bold claims like "Wikipedia serves more usefully as a place to dump and collate information". There is an incredible amount of very real, very tangible creativity -- people spending many hours going out and taking photos, [some of them excellent], making diagrams, setting mathematic formulas in LaTeX, creating their own graphical timelines, even writing their own software for certain Wikipedia-related purposes. One single individual working on Wikipedia may have taken more time to get a single set of articles right than you have spent on MeatballWiki. We have people who practically breathe wiki. It is just astonishing and amazing in many ways. I don't expect everyone to worship Wikipedia, but I would like people to understand it. 800,000 articles don't just pop up out of nowhere. It's not just a bunch of people using Google a lot to fill up pages. Wikipedia has become in many ways the point of attraction for intellectuals on the Internet. People who previously spent years on Usenet now take their FAQs and turn them into articles.
- Of course we have weaknesses and flaws. But our critics seem to want to portray these weaknesses as unfixable problems. The only weakness which could be an unfixable problem is the NeutralPointOfView, in some ways, as it allows for a lot of claims which are clearly false to be prominently featured as long as they are attributed. I have often asked myself whether it would be possible to build an encyclopedia from a RationalPointOfView? instead. So in some ways you are right -- NPOV will eventually lead to articles being a summary of all views on a subject. But each view will be presented with the maximum of information available, increasingly from offline sources as well. And not everything is about points of view -- many of the articles about the world we live in are and will always be plainly factual. And wherever there is potential for creativity, creativity does flow freely.
- I'm all for constructive criticisms. Wikipedians are some of the most self-critical folks I know. They constantly reflect on what they can do better. Some of them don't even believe that Wikipedia can work and just contribute to see how it turns out. But "WikiPediaIsNotAnEncyclopedia" is not constructive criticism -- it's a verdict. And the verdict is wrong.--ErikMoeller
Erik, we had this exact same discussion on the boat in Berlin where you agreed with me. You are not reading what I wrote word for word.
The article quality is low from an authoritative stance. What does it mean to be authoritative? There is some author that has imparted their signature to it. They have decided what goes in and what goes out, and what spin it will have. They then lend their reputation to the text. Wikipedia is not considered an authority on the subjects it writes about. When evaluating it as an authoritative stance, it is considered to be low quality.
I have always thought Wikipedia would serve better as a collective notepad than an encyclopedia. I have problems with the very philosophical idea of an encyclopedia. That's what I think it should be. This is me openly brainstorming. If you can complain about CamelCase, I can complain about this.
"Can you cite better authorities on wikis than the ones cited in the text?" I certainly qualify. If you feel that I am being condescending, responding with more condescension is pointless.
Your attacks on how involved I am with Wikipedia are bogus.
Finally, if you read what I wrote in context, it was a response to why Wikipedia is not an "encyclopedia" in the sense of Britannica, but is rather something more interesting than an "encyclopedia", and hence it is not hamstrung by the same constraints as Britannica (e.g. having Ph.D.s write the articles vs. anybody write the articles; all articles being of deep quality vs. Google refactorings).
Or in other words, my response was to Helmut. In summary, Encyclopedia is a lame concept, and Wikipedia is more interesting for what it is. -- SunirShah
- Apologies if I came off rude. I felt that you were attacking my work by labeling it not worthy of inclusion in an "authoritative" encyclopedia.
- Labeling Wikipedia as something different than an encyclopedia is a red herring. It reminds me of the attempts to discredit Michael Moore's films by tearing away the "documentary" label. Note that I'm not saying that you're trying to discredit Wikipeda, though the original tone by Helmut was different. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia by any reasonable definition.
- Wikipedia does not make strong value judgments about the views it includes, that is true. It does of course make some value judgments - if you read the full NeutralPointOfView policy then you will find how NPOV deals with matters such as pseudoscience and fringe views. But when we write about history, society, morality, art, whatever, we don't try to emphasize the truth. Instead, we try to collect all reasonable points of view on what the truth is -- by the authorities from different fields and traditions of knowledge (including even religion when appropriate). Again, there's a lot more than Google refactoring going on here. Please stop using this tired cliche.
- Wikipedia itself will become authoritative in the statements that it makes, even if these statements are NPOV statements. It's a different kind of authority, to be sure, but it is authority nevertheless, just like the NewYorkTimes? has authority even when it does not make value judgments. On many if not most articles, there will be no great differences between Wikipedia and traditional encyclopedias - other than that Wikipedia will be more comprehensive. Even if you check controversial moral topics in Britannica etc., you will find that they employ a very similar approach to us. It's the topics where there is a difference of opinion among scholars where Britannica & Co. go with whatever their in-house authority thinks is right (often it's completely wrong).
- So if you phrase it like this: WikiPedia is not an authority on truth where reasonable people differ - then I definitely agree with you. But that's a very narrow statement really, and it does not say anything about Wikipedia being an encyclopedia or not. In fact, many readers and writers of traditional encyclopedias would probably like to see NPOV enforced on some of their articles.--ErikMoeller
Eric, What I wrote here and on BiggestWiki is by no way an attempts to criticize the WikiPedia or its quality. After a pause at WikiPedia I wrote and read a little more during the last two months and I don't remember pages that were not acceptable, the majority were even excellent.
Of course "what is an encyclopedia" may be a bad starting point, but there is no other way to put it. It started by noting that comparing 100.000 WikiPedia pages to 100.000 "encyclopedia" pages (or 3.000 meatball pages) makes little sense. You should feel - although used for marketing - that there is something wrong in the argument. Meatball searches for a small pattern language - the smaller the better, in principle like a scientific theory. An encyclopedia lives in a limited space, any line added to a topic must in a way be justified and reduces some other topic - this creates a special economy. WikiPedia just grows.
I gave some German examples, but yesterday I stumbled over the "middle earth" page, part of the LOTR topic. A good page. One may like Tolkien or not, but describing literary characters like the twarf Gimli or Amon (IIRC) is beyond any traditional encyclopedia (you will soon have hundreds of LOTR pages). This means, that any character from Faulkner or Balzac or any movie will also qualify. I don't mind this, but it is beyond the scope of known encyclopedias. It can't be read sequentially anymore, you can't print it without an additional selection step, it's not a canon of - desirable!!! - human knowledge. Topic counts lose their traditional meaning.
I think there is an air of self-representation. People write about the sports they like, the stars they like, they describe their towns or countries. I did the same. It is nice and human, although NPOV filters the egos out. It is like a reconstruction of the world. A mosaic of individual knowledge and perception elements. A traditional encyclopedia doesn't have this aspect. That's what I mean by WPINAE. -- HelmutLeitner
- But again, this doesn't support the argument that "Wikipedia is not an encyclopedia". The lack of a space economy is not new; all of the (true) points you make about Wikipedia not living in limited space also apply to the Yongle Encyclopedia. And again, it's true your examples would not be included in a traditional, modern, general encyclopedia, but the Tolkien encyclopedia sitting on my bookshelf certainly has them. I think the problem is that you're thinking encyclopedia == Britannica (actually, whatever the German language equivalant is; please excuse my ignorance!). -- StephenGilbert
- Yes, of course I think encyclopedia == Britannica (German equivalent = Brockhaus), over a long time they set the standard. I think the Chinese situation is something beyond our comprehension, I'm sure it is something quite different (maybe it was not about providing knowledge at all). -- HelmutLeitner
- Basically, I'm understanding your argument like this:
- A. An encyclopedia must have a special space economy (as described above).
- B. Wikipedia does not have limited space, and just keeps growing.
- Therefore, Wikipedia is not an encyclopedia.
- Premise B I agree with. I think premise A is incorrect for two reasons. The first is that not all encyclopedias do (or did) have such a space economy, but they are still encyclopedias. The second is, even if every encyclopedia did have such a space economy up until this point, it is an arbitrary charactistic upon which to grant the title of "encyclopedia".
- In support of my first reason, I've offered the example of the Yongle Encyclopedia. Here's another, German this time: WikiPedia:Allgemeine_Encyclopädie_der_Wissenschaften_und_Künste. Never completed, it reached 167 volumes, and only got to letter "P". The article about Greece covered over 3000 pages. Mega-projects like this were still encyclopedias, even though they didn't have space economies like you describe.
- In support of my second reason, I've noted that modern encyclopedias, like Britannica and Brockhaus, lack characteristics of older encyclopedic works. I used topical arrangement as an example. Before John Harris' WikiPedia:Lexicon_technicum, most (all?) encyclopedias were arranged topically. Harris arranged his alphabetically. Using a similiar argument to yours, I could say that the Lexicon technicum is not an encyclopedia, because encyclopedias have always been arranged topically, and this is an important, defining characteristic. This work is arranged alphabetically, and so it is something completely different.
- So, while I agree with your statement that Wikipedia is something new, I'm arguing that it is a new type of encyclopedia, not something fundamentally different from what came before it. Of course, it may become something fundamentally different, but it hasn't yet, and probably won't in the near future. I'm not trying to engage in verbal sparring, but just make my two main points clear so that you can address them. -- StephenGilbert
The "Google refactoring" term applied to Wikipedia is bogus. Many people doing serious work go to an actual bricks-and-mortar library for their research. A significant portion of Wikipedia's information could not be found by a Google search, until it was written up in Wikipedia and indexed. -- StephenGilbert
Not all articles are Google refactorings. That is a form of article writing; summarizing results from Google as a way of stubbing an article. I chose it as a perhaps extreme example of collective notepadery. e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nemesis_%28mythology%29 was at one point in history such an article when I stumbled upon it. It really was, as a trivial search for Nemesis on Google should reveal the sources for the information in the article. -- SunirShah
I mostly agree with that. What it sounded like above is that you were claiming that most, or all, of the activity on Wikipedia was refactoring Google searches. There's nothing wrong with such activity; on the contrary, in fact. But most Wikipedians don't want articles to remain refactored info from search engine results, especially those who haven't fallen for that weird idea that Google is a portal to all human knowledge. -- StephenGilbert
"Sounded" is perhaps an indication of oversensitivity due to insecurity, as I mentioned below. Do you think that is a valid assessement?
- Not for me personally; I often misunderstand what you're trying to say. I see tons of criticism about Wikipedia, especially on a certain other wiki that I keep an eye on, but it doesn't bother me in the slightest, nor do I respond. I don't think I've been "passionate" about (or active in) Wikipedia for quite some time now. I do get involved in Wikipedia discussion here, but that's because of my love and concern for MeatballWiki, and I want it to have a balanced perspective on an important topic that I have quite a bit of knowledge about. The big response is still coming...-- StephenGilbert
Post coffee, if I were to summarize a couple of conclusions I've made about Wikipedia from the outside and the inside and the underside and the backside and the preside (since its conception), and you can react to them. By "Wikipedia", I mean a gross generalization.
- Wikipedia is insecure. Any criticism of Wikipedia will garner a vehement reply by passionate individuals. DefendAgainstPassion a little. I think there are two reasons for this. People are very excited by Wikipedia, and that hurts because ...
- Wikipedia is a FUD target. Wikipedia as one of the poster childs for open collaboration finds itself the victim of a lot of Wiki:FearUncertaintyAndDoubt, and ironically also from the wiki community (including people like me) for making our work a lot more difficult. No really, it does.
- Wikipedia has a sisyphean RoleModel. The obsession with Encyclopedia Britannica that many people inside Wikipedia have, and therefore critics on the outside, is inappropriate. Encyclopedia Britannica has a totally different social model than Wikipedia. Wikipedia will always have articles of low quality because it is completely open, and it will be continuously disrupted because it is completely open. Over time, the quality improves, but it cannot be perfect. A more fun and less stressful approach is to accept the imperfectness and see if you can harness it for your own benefit.
- Wikipedia spends too much time trying to control others. It is an open collaboration, and that means controlling what goes on the site is impossible. It's like trying to control the wind. You can direct the wind, and you can build skyscrapers in a way that make the wind very dangerous, but there will always be wisps and cusps that flow in ways you cannot control. There will always be weirdoes, problematic individuals, newbies, and so on. WabiSabi?. ControlYourself. You cannot be perfect. (I say this recognizing that I have big problems with this concept as well.)
I personally believe there is something endemic to the medium that has not penetrated the collective consciousness of Wikipedia. Some people I have talked to understand Wikipedia very well, but many don't in my view, and I try very hard to explain what I think is a more honest interpretation, except that it's all new to me as well still, seven years later.
The whole comparison then to an encyclopedia like Britannica is a category error, but because of the obsession with "encyclopedia", Wikipedia has different interpretations of the terms and concepts of contemporary encyclopedia, such as the word "authoritative". Its concept of quality is "how does this compare to Britannica." That may be the easy and obvious choice, but I think in the end it is a self-defeating one. Self-accepting goals and measures are harder, but more healthy. Why can't Google refactorings be a good thing? Why can't self-citations be a good thing? Why is authoritativeness so important when reputation and trustworthiness are more valuable?
Now you may kick my ass! ;) -- SunirShah
- I think it's fair to use Britannica as a benchmark in terms of breadth and depth: if Britannica has an article on a topic, we should aim to have one too. Whatever facts are in Britannica we should have too. Beyond that, WP is an entirely new kind of beast because of the way it is accessed, written, and read. But even so, WP can still aim for an academic tone, at least for the academic subjects (it's a bit harder for Spongebob Squarepants episode summaries... ;) - t
- I do not see how ignoring criticism is going to help us. The truth is that Wikipedia is a radically new idea, and we should be passionate in understanding, defending, and improving it. The truth is that we want to be generally accepted as a reference work. The truth is that we do have goals, and we want to reach them. By having discussions like this, we can see what people consider to be the flaws of Wikipedia's working model, and we can contemplate whether we consider them flaws and want to fix them.
- Of course encyclopedias change over time given that the tools with which we create them improve. But it is still our goal to provide authoritative information on various subjects. When there is controversy, we want to provide authoritative information about the controversy. Authoritative is defined by the American Heritage Dictionary as "Of acknowledged accuracy or excellence; highly reliable" (definition 2), and that is certainly something we can accomplish in our stable branch.
- If you want Wikipedia to be something else than an encyclopedia, then you should probably create a fork. SusningNu seems to be very close to what you think it should be - it doesn't call itself an encyclopedia nor does it have strict rules of exclusion.
- Wikipedia does have these rules, Helmut - see WikiPedia:Wikipedia:What_Wikipedia_is_not, for example. But MetaWikiPedia:Wiki_is_not_paper, so we don't have to exclude subjects merely on the grounds that some people do not find them interesting. Having a lot of articles about Middle Earth does not hurt your research about Central America. Of course there should be reasonable limits to everything, so there's a crowd of people including myself who have consistently argued in favor of agglomeration to deal with related fictional articles. FictionWikis? like MemoryAlpha are better for exploring a particular work of fiction in detail.
- Wikipedia's real problems are more concrete - lack of systematic peer review and an insufficient decision making process. NPOV also needs some work to deal with controversies which involve both religion and science.--ErikMoeller
Dictionaries only track usages, not philosophical underpinnings. I remind you what page we are talking on and the context of the concept of authoritative, and the context that led to the creation of Britannica as well. I'm not going to let us equivocate because then it would destroy the meaning of what I wrote. The meaning of authoritative here is one of formally academic authority. Wikipedia is not that, nor could it be. Even pages approved today will lose accreditation if they are significantly edited. That doesn't mean there aren't new interesting models of improving quality, reputation, and trustworthiness, but the Britannica model is not that. -- SunirShah
- As I said, it is not authoritative in the sense of determining truth where there is controversy. This is something academic authorities tend to do, but it is not the only thing they do. Wikipedia is - and can be - authoritative a) in describing non-controversial matters, b) in describing controversies. Even pages approved today will lose accreditation if they are significantly edited. Of course they will. As I said, there will be a stable revision of the page, and if you want the authoritative text, you'll choose that one. When an article has undergone significant changes, the peer review process begins anew.--ErikMoeller
- There's a spectrum of emotions ranging from apathy to fanatism. I do not want to find myself on one of the extreme ends of this spectrum. Being passionate can be good for motivating yourself and others.--ErikMoeller
The first sentence of this page contradicts the welcome page of Wikipedia itself these days, but that does not make it wrong of course --AndrewCates
Disclaimer: I am new to this discussion, and may therefore be missing important context, history, and may be making writing genre mistakes. That said...
There are two arguments being made about why Wikipedia is not an encyclopedia.
The first -- that wikipedia has no page limit, seems silly to me. There were no 50-story buildings in the world until the beginning of the 20th century. (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skyscraper#History_of_tallest_skyscraper). People continued to call skyscrapers "buildings" even though they were much taller than earlier buildings.
The second -- that wikipedia has no externally-bestowed, centrally-authorized formal authority is a much more interesting objection. This argument seems similar to the contention that a democratic government -- since it has no king -- can't be called a government at all. I would argue rather that wikipedia may be evolving an alternative means of creating authoritative information, similar to the way that democracy provides an alternative means of creating authoritative leadership. --AdinaLevin
- But it's not a real alternative if much of the information is wrong, which is definitely the case on Wikipedia. A democratic government without a Monarch actually tends to produce its intended product, reasonably healthy and happy populations with representation. In this case, an online cult, for lack of a more accurate description, produces false documents and calls it an encyclopedia. -GetProteus
No, no, no. WP is not an encyclopedia, but not for any of the reasons so far discussed. WP is not an encyclopedia, first of all, because an encyclopedia is generally understood to be one thing, more or less: a set of books with text and pictures in them. WP is at least five things and any discussion of it gets into dirty water right away because these different things are constantly conflated.
- A Corpus or database. This is independent of its presentation and, for that matter, of which pages have been deleted or edited. A full dump of the database (currently prohibited, by fiat) includes all page history and all deleted pages; and from this point of view, does not include any applied "skin".
- A Website; this is how most people in the world see it. From this point of view, what the database actually contains is not particularly important; only what comes out when you walk up to it and put your quarter in. Elements that are insignificant in the context of the corpus (such as the big puzzle logo) may be huge in this context.
- A Manifesto consisting of endless pages of written policy, proposals, guidelines, and essays. These comprise a formal statement of mission and philosophy that has engulfed all of human experience. The very nature of reality, on every conceivable level, is being hammered out and re-hammered here.
- A Community of people, not including casual readers but including all editors from peons through admins, bureaucrats, and various other officials on up to the Jimbo. This also includes, IMO, a large number of disaffected individuals who spend entirely too much time gaming and subverting everything and everyone else. Their contributions are non-trivial; their efforts have driven much of the character of the community and the project as a whole.
- A Game, specifically an MMORPG or Nomic. Like any such game, the goals are many and diverse and nobody ever really "wins". This aspect also comprises those who participate only to advance external personal, commercial, or religious interests.
These elements sometimes support one another but are often in conflict; they do interact heavily. Of these, the corpus and the website perhaps most closely correspond to what anyone might reasonably think of as an encyclopedia. Some might disagree even with this. It would be hard to stretch the other elements of WP to meet up with "encyclopedia".
Thousands of people interact with WP on a daily basis, not counting the casual readers (who don't do much to alter it). This community has grown so large and so diverse that not one single goal, concept, or axiom is common to all. Some ideas are still shared by some marginal plurality of the group but this set of ideas is on the decline. Thus WP as a whole -- in all its aspects -- is sliding into a state of churn: effective stasis masked by violent activity.
Meanwhile, the corpus grows steadily, no matter what. It seems obvious that as goals become increasingly diffuse and more effort is devoted to battling internal divisions, the cruft outpaces the data of value. It remains to be seen whether overall utility declines or whether the rising noise level can be sufficiently filtered. The time may come when the best way to make use of WP will be to visit a fork that mines the corpus for the "good stuff". Maybe it has already.
Like blind men feeling the elephant, each critic of WP fastens on one aspect of the subject and draws conclusions from this alone. No surprise that everyone disagrees; we don't even agree on what we're discussing. -- XiongChangnian
- I return to this page several years after writing the above. I hope I don't sound arrogant if I say that, until I found my sig at the end, I read the above comment and thought, "Hm, yes; that fellow has a handle on the matter." Today I find myself agreeing with myself; and that's not something I generally do.
- I have elsewhere commented, much more briefly, that the motto, or site subtitle, The Free Encyclopedia is entirely inappropriate. The word "free" (like "love", "good", "save", and "right") is so overused, used in so many different contexts, and applied to so various a number of referents, that it has hardly got any intrinsic meaning any longer. On the other hand, the undeniable popularity of WikiPedia has led to a whole generation coming of age without any real experience of a tangible, paper encyclopedia; WP is the only one they know, so the word is self-referential in practice.
- Today (2010), WikiPedia seems to me to spend an ever-increasing amount of energy on pettifogging process; yet in spite of this (and to be honest, in spite of my doomsaying) it continues to improve, at least in some directions, as a tool. On the gripping hand, I propose XiongsLaw?: As the age of a contribution to WikiPedia increases, the probability that it will be deleted approaches 1. --XiongChangnian
WikiPedia is a product - an important distinction in the discussion. MarkDilley
I am not a very prolific contributor to any Wiki, but I have been a reader for a long while, particularly at SenseisLibrary. I have never been a fan of WikiPedia, for one reason which I feel is very important: Wiki is not the best way to present knowledge to be taken as authoritative, and yet WikiPedia presents itself as a source of knowledge to be taken as authoritative.
Wiki is at its best when it functions as a collaborative, discussion-oriented community. WikiPedia seems more confrontational and territorial than collaborative. I've had grammar corrections reverted before, apparently because editors stake out a page and declare it their own. --BlakeHyde?