Sunday, January 28, 2007

 

I never thought of myself as a "True Believer"

Which is what the Internet Esquire called me. I'm not sure if that phrase has the same connotations for him as it does for me: I think of a True Believer as someone who has committed all of his faith in some ideal, and is unable to imagine what to do with myself it proves to have been all a waste of time and effort.

For long stretches of my time volunteering with Wikipedia (I believe this started about six months after I registered an account there) I have gone through periods of dissatisfaction with the project, and wondered -- often daily -- if I would be happier quitting. I have often questioned my ability to write, whether anything I write matters to anyone except for me, and even if my disagreements with other Wikipedians was due to my stupidity rather than mere differences of opinion.

This constant struggle with faith (excuse me while I talk like a "True Believer" for a moment) resulted with my participation differing from other veteran Wikipedians, who increasingly discuss -- and actually set -- policy and work to improve the project in other ways than writing articles. I have never quoted the words of Jimbo Wales on my User Page, feeling that deeds speak more accurately than expressions of faith. Finally, I have often felt that I was not a part of the community, that my connection with the project was limited only to the edit window of its articles -- but I suspect that this feeling is more likely due to my own manner of thought, and not to anything other Wikipedians have done or said.

About a year ago, I confronted my true motivation for being part of this project. My answer was simple: I have a need to write, and Wikipedia offers a way for me to get my writing out to other people, who can then read and comment on it. I hope this feedback help me to improve my writing skills. I admit to other motivations -- providing material to people who are interested in teaching themselves but cannot access a library, and making knowledge free of various restrictions to a wide audience -- but I'll discuss those motivations in another post.

So I've reduced my non-writing activies in Wikipedia, and left the work and rewards of setting and enforcing policy to others. (I don't mind helping other people improve Wikipedia, and I am happy to help other, but writing articles is my primary interest.) As long as the people I interact with there are reasonably civil, attempt to be objective and are improving the content, I'm happy and I'll continue to contribute. And as long as the barrier to making contributions are as low as they reasonably can be (which, I admit may be in some instances too low and in others too high), again I'm happy and I'll continue to contribute.

If any of this changes too much, then I'll consider my options. I try to keep informed about similar projects; I have no problem moving to another outlet to satisfy my need to write. If my departure leads to Wikipedia losing momentum and becoming yet another dead website, I can accept that. I have been told that its contents are the largest block of text under the Gnu Free Documentation License, which means if that happens anyone could then resurrect the project, hopefully without the problems that led to its demise; until then, nothing ever posted the the Internet truly ever is lost, so my writing is not in vain.

Despite all I wrote above, I still feel compelled to express opinions about Wikipedia, to offer advice about how members and outsiders can interact with the project in a way that benefits both. I can't stop thinking about it. So I started this blog, not to prove that I am a "True Believer" in Wikipedia, that if it fails I will lose my ability to believe. I just needed one more outlet for my writing. I mention my lengthy relationship with it only as evidence that I know something about how the project works, and what I write about it may be correct.

Geoff

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