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Copied from different sections of ForkingOfOnlineCommunities. Should be refactored (partly into WikipediaFork).

Contributors: AlexSchroeder, HelmutLeitner, StephenGilbert

Background: Today, most people's first experience with a wiki is with the WikiPedia or another Wikimedia project. This was not always the case, because there were many thriving wikis before Wikipedia became the world's BiggestWiki -- indeed, many thrived before Wikipedia even existed. MeatballWiki itself began operation on April 24, 2000, prior to the launch of Wikipedia in January 2001. Accordingly, MeatballWiki has had a WikiWorldView? that is not WikiPediaCentric?; instead being influenced by WardsWiki and other smaller Wikis.

As a result, pages like SeedPosting, RightToFork and ForkingOfOnlineCommunities contain our views based on experience with these smaller wiki communities. They contain the good advice that we try to give to founders of new wiki communities. They are about protection of interests: those of founders, those of the communities, those of members that might want to start their own systems. But sometimes these interests are conflicting and can't all be protected perfectly at the same time. As a base for our understanding we usually take our experiences with existing wikis and generalize them. If we consider WikiPedia as typical we might recommend the RightToFork (if it works there, what can be wrong?).

But perhaps WikiPedia, despite the definitional role it now plays due to its size and prominence, is not a typical wiki. Perhaps the RightToFork is generally not a good idea. This is an analysis of some specific aspects of the WikiPedia. It should not be taken as attempt to criticize, because any wiki has the right to create its own specific CommunityExpectations and regulations (within certain boundaries, that might be derived from NonProfitWiki).

I am in complete agreement with the statement WikiPediaIsNotTypical. It started as an experiment: using wiki software to create content for an encyclopedia. Most people outside the wiki world focused their criticism on the "anyone can edit" nature of wikis. However, people within the wiki world recognized that WikiPedia was trying to do something that changed the culture of a wiki. You can see Sunir's early musings at MetaWikiPedia:WikiPediaReasonable, and some discussion at Wiki:WikiPedia. -- StephenGilbert

Actually, I no longer agree with the above. I think it's more accurate to say that Wikipedia wasn't typical. Wikipedia has spawned and/or inspired various other encyclopedic wiki projects. Not only is Wikipedia typical in this sense, but it is the architype of an entire class of wikis. -- StephenGilbert

The typical wiki and WikiPedia

The typical wiki will define a mission that opens a space for its members. The mission of WikiPedia is extreme in this respect: the production of content that is free to use and free of ego. A typical wiki would at least provide a way to identify with content ("signature" or "contributors").

WikiPedia isn't free from ego; there are some conflicting forces at work. Claiming "ownership" of an article is discouraged and signatures are promptly removed. However, while many articles are the work of many people, others are widely regarded as the work of primarily one person. For example, WikiPedia:Poker and it's related pages are unofficially credited to Mr. Lee Danial Crocker. WikiPedia also keeps a complete page history, identifying each and every contributor to the page (logged in contributors, that is). Finally, people tend to keep track of the articles they've put major work into on their personal pages.

WikiPedia is schizophrenic in this respect: while in-text signatures and "ownership" are actively discouraged in article pages, they are actively encouraged in discussion pages and users' personal pages. You "own" your comments there, and it's considered quite rude to delete or alter other people's commentary.

Uh, so you're saying that the two totally different areas of WikiPedia with different purposes, different readerships, and different exposures are, um, different? Fancy that. Calling that "schizophrenic" is like saying that someone with both a brain and a stomach is schizophrenic. -- anon

The point is that on the so-called typical wiki (i.e., wikis before Wikipedia), there were no "article", "discussion" and "user" pages. All pages in a wiki were in the same space. The Wikipedia community created these distinctions for encyclopedia work. -- StephenGilbert

The typical wiki has official representatives (founders, developers) and the situation is obvious. The WikiPedia situation in this respect is quite unclear to me. The German WikiPedia for example doesn't have a person that represents the community. (when I tried to contact them, I had to look into the access statistics and chose the member with the top access count, but Kurt Jansson felt like a "senior member". -- hl)

It's important to remember that, until recently, the non-English Wikipedias were pretty much on their own. Jimbo Wales simply set up some UseModWikis and reserved them for other language projects. There was no real planning. This is changing; there is a growing concern for incorporating other languages into the overall WikiPedia picture, rather than having a group of loosely related wiki-encyclopedias shooting off in all directions.

The English WikiPedia, however, had Larry Sanger as its official representitive from its founding until March 2002. Now, that role has been assumed by Jimmy Wales. Ultimately, though, you must ask yourself, "Why do I want to talk to an official representitive?" If it's for a media interview, Jimmy's the person to see. However, if it's for purposes such as settting up a TourBusStop, what you really want is to talk to the community. The best place to get everyone's attention is to drop a note on the WikiPedia:Wikipedia-l mailing list.

Or, in a more WikiWay, on the WikiPedia:Wikipedia:Village_pump

The typical wiki has little protection against forking, so it will use copyright. The WikiPedia has other means of protection (non-trivial size of content, "energy of workgroup", special software, unclear commercial backing).

Size and energy are on target. See below for comments on "Special software". As for "unclear commercial backing", I'm uncertain what is meant. Can you clarify how this is protection against forking?

In a "full fork" (emacs, xemacs) the new community will try to improve the system to show superiority, the old commnunity will defend its leading position. The results will depend on the amount of energy that both sides can put into their systems. If the old community is split or attacked by a "workgroup", this energy may be calculated. The WikiPedia might get temporary support from its commercial background, which makes its energy unpredictable. This has the effect of protecting against a fork.

I'm not sure the "typical" wiki must use copyright in this way. EmacsWiki and GreenCheese both use the FreeDocumentationLicense, while InfoAnarchy is PublicDomain. Are these wikis somehow atypical?

The typical wiki uses one of a number of widely-used wiki software packages, each of which is more or less intended to be general-purpose (usemod, moinmoin, ...). In contrast, the Wikipedia uses software developed from scratch specifically with Wikipedia in mind. The software, recently renamed "mediawiki", is open source. Though used by a handful of other sites, it is not intended to be general purpose and is unlikely to see widespread use. The software contains several unusual features: free links to the exclusion of CamelCase, multiple namespaces, a "watchlist" feature, stronger abilities to view pages edited by a specific user, and an SQL back end.

You are correct in saying that there are special features, but many of these (such as namespaces) are already present in "standard" wiki software. Most of the special features are nothing more that SQL querries encoded into the user interface. The wiki syntax is based on UseModWiki, with few changes.

Overall, the only thing that makes Phase III seem like non-standard software is we are the only project using it. :)

At least one person has reported adapting it for internal use on their company's intranet... and of course EnciclopediaLibre is running the closely related Phase II.

Yes, various projects have decided to use it, despite our warnings. :) See WikiPedia:Wikipedia:Projects_using_Wikipedia_software (my, but InterWiki links to non-article namespaces are UgLy...) -- StephenGilbert

I think this point amongst them all is probably the most egregious. There cannot nor should there be "standard" wiki software. One of the joys of wikis is that they are so simple to write, so many people do. This encourages experimentation (e.g. StrikiWiki), and I support that. If there were standard wiki software, there would be no Wikipedia, and probably no MeatballWiki to talk about it on.

By the way, Ward expressed to me discontent that wikis have fragmented into thousands of different implementations instead of standardizing on WikiBase as he intended. I disagreed fragmentation was a bad thing. -- SunirShah

I don't understand the word egregious in this context. It's natural that the wiki inspires software developers, but more and more people just want to use the "tool wiki" without developing it. The lack of standardisation is no problem for us, but for making the wiki popular among normal people. I don't speak for standardization, but I think that standardization will become important in a few years. It's inevitable. The wiki run by a developer is an "expensive" special case. I agree with you that fragmentation is good, because it creates freedom and space for exploration. I agree with Ward that fragmentation is bad, because it creates borders between the different systems (there is a cost for people and data to pass them). This is one of the paradoxes that allow the wiki to be such an interesting and lively phenomenon. -- HelmutLeitner

You implied (well, stated) there is a standard. That is a dangerous road to walk down.

Some questions to consider: What makes UseModWiki and MoinMoin standard? What make Wikipedia Phase III non-standard? Is SeedWiki standard? How about Wiki:AwkiAwki? If these questions can't be answered, one would have to conclude that there is no standard for wiki software. Thus, the statement "The typical wiki uses a standard software" becomes meaningless. -- StephenGilbert

Is there something like a typical wiki?

I don't understand the title of this page "Wikipedia is not typical". It assumes that there is something typical about other wikis, and I don't know if we can assume so. I think many of the points mentioned in this page are typical of any sufficiently big wiki. A big wiki that has grown organically is the same as one with many users, which requires its operator to devote much time to it, and probably tailor its software. The websites listed on the BiggestWiki page are either encyclopedic (WikiPedia, EnciclopediaLibre, SusningNu) or the home base of new software versions (WikiWiki, Twiki) or wiki hotels (FoxWiki, Twiki). I think a categorization into encyclopedic wikis, wiki hotels, and smaller community wikis is justified. But calling either of these "typical"? --LarsAronsson

I think that encyclopedic wikis are a special group of wikis that have certain characteristics deviating from the mainstream. Currently they look more important than they are, because they can grow very quickly in page count and it's easy to contribute. The (potential) number of wikis for special topics is much larger. To look for typical attributes means that we try to abstract and try to understand what is going on. The question: "How does a wiki differ from a "typical wiki" and what is the effect?" is a kind of scientific question. There may be different "standard" wikis, like a "community wiki" (software developers, community founders) or a "special topic wiki" (patterns, linux, religion), but that changes only the reference point of this question, not the question itself. -- HelmutLeitner

The wikis meant to discuss the various WikiEngine implementations are also different from the mainstream. The wikis supporting the guerilla wireless projects are different from the mainstream. The wikis for children are different from the mainstream.

Is this true? What makes them different? If they are different, are they individual mutations or can we see different species? How can wikis be classified and how many species can be distinguished?

Why this need to harp on differences? When Wikipedia does something different, why talk about the deviation from some arbitrary norm? Something new is something interesting, and because it's working means it is something to learn from. It's not unlikely that what they do will change what people might consider "typical". I think it's important to remain fluid. -- SunirShah

This is paradox. Please remember that I started ForkingOfOnlineCommunities and WikiPediaIsNotTypical when Alex argued that the RightToFork and FreeDocumentationLicense is the "standard" way to go. By the way some says that learning is about the ability to understand differences. -- HelmutLeitner

[...to be refactored...]

The WikiPedia could be considered a bad example for this, because it originated in the earlier and commercial Nupedia project and used its infrastructure. So it was clear, that the contributors wanted a special protection against this commercial influence. Furthermore, Wikipedia is not nearly a typical wiki community. It has neither a real host, nor a design or infrastructure for its community. Its goal is content alone, which usually doesn't work out.

I do not understand this argument. WikiPedia has content, it has contributors, it has a license -- it has exactly the kind of problems we are talking about. -- AlexSchroeder

I think the Wikipedia has a very special situation that almost no other wiki will have. It is "content only" and "document mode only". I has "commercial history". Its defense seems to be "forking impossible because of high volume" and "needs special wiki software". That's the reason why the Wikipedia is not a good example for other wikis founded in totally different situations. -- HelmutLeitner

By the way, I don't think that the Wikipedia can't be forked technically (or because one couldn't afford it). The new software has an incredibly bad usability and they have hardly thought about their community, which makes them quite vulnerable to attack. -- HelmutLeitner

Well, if they publish under the FreeDocumentationLicense, then they can be forced to provide a usable source of their content (a "Transparent Copy"). -- AlexSchroeder


All of the comments and examples using WikiPedia sound like they were written by an outsider to the community. Some corrections and disagreements (that should probably be integrated with the above document):

Those comments are mine and I think they are correct although they are based on my experiences with the German WikiPedia community only. I'm aware that I will have to justify them. But it will only make sense if you don't see it as a discussion about a relative evaluation of the wikipedia but as a user feedback. If you are hurt by those comments, feel free to delete them. -- HelmutLeitner

Why would I be hurt? No need to project feelings onto me! As I said, I'm simply confused; I can't relate to most of your comments. However, if you only have experience in the German WikiPedia, it's starting to make a little more sense. The "non-English" projects were founded with little to no planning, and it showed. It's only now that the entire WikiPedia community is really discussing how all the different language projects fit together. In any case, I look forward to a more detailed explanation. --StephenGilbert

Ok, there are quite a few points. Where to you want to start? Should we do this here, or on a separate page? -- HelmutLeitner

I recommend discussing WikiPedia on the page WikiPedia. Makes sense, eh? ;) --ss

Even better, discuss Wikipedia at Wikipedia itself ... ;-)

Nah, that's no fun. We can glean some case histories from them. --ss

Yes, I think the WikiPedia page would be the best place. Fire the first shot, Helmut! (Er, so to speak...) --StephenGilbert

I hope to make clear, that I don't and didn't intend to shoot at the WikiPedia. -- HelmutLeitner

I know, Helmut. It was a joke. Lighten up. :) -- StephenGilbert

Given that WikiPedia and MetaPedia are the only wikis with which I have much experience, it's hard for me to agree or disagree with the proposition that WikiPediaIsNotTypical. Indeed, given that WikiPedia is the largest wiki in existence, its nature may come to define what a wiki is, much like the OpenDirectoryProject has come to define what OpenContent is, even though ODP is not really open. In other words, Wikipedia will become typical; this concerns me because I can no longer say in good faith that WikiPedia is a truly OpenCommunity. -- DavidPrenatt

Given that the elephant is the largest land animal in existence, its nature may come to define what a land animal is? Sorry, I can't agree with your argument. -- HelmutLeitner

You are a victim of the LogicalFallacyOfAmbiguity?. To wit, in this context, "largest" means "most successful." In the context of biology, the most successful land animal in existence would be HomoSapiens?, as humans are the species of land animal with the most ubiquitous distribution (i.e., polar, arctic, temperate, and tropic zones), and their success has driven many other species into extinction. -- NetEsq? / DavidPrenatt

You are a perpetrator of a FallacyOfHumptyDumpty? -- "largest" means "largest", it does not mean "most successful". And spiders and insects are considerably more widespread than humans, not that that is in any way a valid biological measure of "success". And of course if we go beyond "animal", bacteria are by far the most ubiqitous and generally evolutionarily successful. When it comes right down to it, there is no useful logical content in your statements, just a string of ad hoc claims employed to support a position independent of its actual merit. -- anon

I'm not quite sure who is the victim of what. If you think that humans are most successful: do you think they define what a land animal is? - - - DseWiki is similar (a little younger and smaller) to MeatBall, currently about 80 people have written about 1500+ topics within 20 months. I couldn't just sit and add 5 topics today, because they just aren't in my mind. But I once sat and wrote 1000+ pages for a semantic dictionary wiki in a day. Numbers just don't tell the story. - - - WikiPedia can never be typical because there will be thousands of wikis for all thinkable purposes (projects, corporations, organizations, ...), but only a few of them (in each language) will be encyclopedias. --hl

No, *I* do not think that humans define what a land animal is, any more than I think that the OpenDirectoryProject defines what OpenContent is. However, I do think that the success of HomoSapiens? has had a profoundly bad impact on other land animals, just as the OpenDirectoryProject has had a profoundly bad impact on the OpenContent movement. My point was (and is) that the success of a special case tends to make the nature of the general case irrelevant. There are many examples of this phenomenon in cyberculture, such as the special case of PCs overshadowing the general case of mainframe computers. In the context of WikiPedia, its success may come to overshadow other wikis, which (as I said previously) concerns me because I can no longer say in good conscience that WikiPedia is an OpenCommunity. Rather, many WikiPedians? are now extolling the virtues of GroupThink and GodKings. -- DavidPrenatt

Do you want to do a WikiPediaAnalysis? or speculate about the FutureImpactsOfWikiPedia?? -- hl

Was Wikipedia ever intended to be an open community? IIRC it was begun by Larry Sanger as a sort of "chalkboard" area for Nupedia.

Whatever Larry Sanger may or may not have intended WikiPedia to be is now irrelevant. It has evolved into a community led by Jimbo Wales, and Jimbo's vision -- i.e., the vision that made me feel comfortable joining and contributing to WikiPedia -- was set forth in WikiPedia's Statement of Principles - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Jimbo_Wales/Statement_of_principles -. And as I stated previously, I can no longer say in good conscience that WikiPedia is a truly OpenCommunity. -- DavidPrenatt

Very well, let's quote from that very page: This community will continue to live and breathe and grow only so long as those of us who participate in it continue to Do The Right Thing. -- and I must not let the "squeaky wheel" be greased just for being a jerk. I take it your statement that Wikipedia is no longer truly open is based largely on the recent treatment of the user who called him/herself "Throbbing Monster Cock". Of course, Sunir might jump on this as an example of a reason for UseRealNames. But where there are fewer rules, there is greater individual responsibility. One is free to choose a nickname on Wikipedia, but CommonSense? would seem to indicate that it's best not to pick a nickname that offends. Saying there is no DressCode does not mean you can wear anything. It means use your head. BeGood?. BeResponsible? for your own actions and PoliceYourself?. Mr Throbbing wasn't doing this, and steadfastly refused to do this, and when asked nicely to consider changing his nickname, denounce the CommunityExpectation as a use of force against him/her.

<< I take it your statement that Wikipedia is no longer truly open is based largely on the recent treatment of the user who called him/herself "Throbbing Monster Cock". >>

No, my statement is not based upon the recent treatment of the user who called himself "Throbbing Monster Cock," although the treatment he received brought into clear focus the bizarre mindset of some Wikipedians. To wit, there are principled arguments to be made about the prohibition of offensive usernames on a wiki, or even the prescription to use real names. "Because I said so" is not among those principled arguments. Simply put, the controversy surrounding "Throbbing Monster Cock" is symptomatic of much more serious and systemic problems with WikiPedia, problems that I am just now beginning to appreciate. -- DavidPrenatt

DavidPrenatt - you have repetedly mentioned serious problems with WikiPedia, but have never explained or mentioned any specifically. Would you be willing to do so? -- WikiPedia:User:JesseW

But Wikipedia is still not typical, because it has such a different goal to other wikis. Ward's Wiki still defines a wiki as an open forum, a place to discuss and formulate ideas, and a community. Wikipedia uses wiki software to build an encyclopedia, and while Ward's is certainly a useful place to read about programming ideas, it is not striving to become a concrete work of reference.

The old style Wiki culture was a reflection that all the contributors knew each other from the Pattern community, and the Pattern community was devoted to teaching and learning. Newer projects like WikiPedia often are more "OpenSource" and thus militant. This is not limited to Wikipedia, but that is certainly how it differs from the older wikis which are perhaps more relaxed.

The Pattern culture was far from mainstream as well, we shall remember. It was mostly Smalltalk and Lisp cultures, both highly refined elite cultures more interested in doing the right thing than doing something boisterous. Hence boredom, refactoring, clarity, and the desire to bounce people who are generally useless. UseRealNames is another example; if you know everyone from the PLoP? conference, using a pseudonym looks stupid.

As I am a smalltalk wannabe and Pattern wannabe, I identify with this other elitist "better is better" culture more than I identify with the mainstream "laissez faire" Internet culture. I argue that Wikipedia is typical; it is Wiki and Meatball that are atypical, and proudly so. It's the classic Internet culture clash. -- SunirShah

I always get a lot of animosity when I do anything with Wikipedia. That has something to do with my style, which is often prescriptive, but also something else. -- SunirShah

Last night on IRC was a pretty good example. StephenGilbert says: we don't have any effective means of dealing with problem "contributors"., and I agree. Our high profile not only attracts problem users, but it also makes it hard for us to deal with them. - t

Typical is a very strange critique for an early genre. It is like saying "this is not a novel" or "this is not a movie." AdinaLevin



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