Wednesday, January 03, 2007


Another Wikipedian dissatisfied

Last Friday Seattle Wikipedian Jmabel announced that he was cutting back on his involvement on Wikipedia. "For at least the next half year," he wrote in part, "I'll confine myself to doing what I think is fun, not what I think will build the community and the site."

His announcement can be found on his user page, and a more extensive explanation on his talk page, both times explaining himself far for eloquently than I could. (I would have simply written, "It's stopped being fun for me. Goodbye.") And I suspect that had he not written so eloquently, his Talk page would not be full of pleas for him to reconsider.

I won't discuss here the issue that caused him to make his announcement, although I did contribute to the discussion there. Jmabel is an intelligent person, and had only this specific issue been the problem, I suspect that he would have responded in a different way. Rather, one passage in his announcement explained it all for me:
This was not intended as a threat, it was a serious gauge of not becoming overly committed to a collaborative project that was not entirely headed the way I would want it to ... and that was taking itself too damn seriously (while, at the same time, showing far too much toleration for some utter trolls).

The key idea here is that, as a long-term and obviously important contributor, his ideas and hopes were no longer being valued as much as other Wikipedians, some of whom were clearly troublemakers. This is not a case where some Wikipedians deserve more rights or prestige than others, but the simple instance that no matter how much one helps improve Wikipedia, either in content or in community, the next person along can disregard it -- and too often get away with it. One can only ignore this constant friction so many times.

This friction leads to two results. One is a continually high turnover in some areas: comparing the usernames of the people monitoring the Wikipedia: Administrators' Noticeboard (and the related Wikipedia: Administrators' Noticeboard/Incidents) between two moments about a year apart, I'd say about 90% of the Admins at the earlier instant do not appear in the newer one. Dealing with some drawn-out, inconsequential disputes can only lead to burnout. The other is that in some parts of Wikipedia, users who trust one another tend to watch each other's backs: involve one in a dispute, and the other one will eventually enter the dispute in support. While this is not a healthy developemnt, it's hard to fault those who do it: there are an endless supply of obvious troublemakers eagerly pushing their idiosyncracies with their tendentious edits (or simply trolling), which means some days the goodwill account is empty.

Unless this problem is not solved, Wikipedia will fly apart into dozens of pieces. That act of fission will either save the ideal of a free encyclopedia written for and by its users -- or if none of these pieces has sufficient critical mass itself, destroy it.


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