Friday, January 19, 2007


A new year, a new Wikipedia crisis

Due to all of other things on my mind, I've stopped followingWikipedia:Administrators' Noticeboardon a daily basis for some time. So when I looked in today, I found out long after it appeared to have run its course (which is the usual time frame for me) that there had been a vicious flamewar over the IRC admin channel. (I'll add a link once the discussion has been archived.)

My first reaction was something flippant -- I can be, since I know I'm not a great conversationist and I don't need the fact proved to me with Yet Another Internet Medium. For several screenfuls, the conversation seemed to be one-sided: most of the people were complaining about incivility on the channel, and the rest were just trying to understand what the fuss was about. Then some folks entered the conversation to try to present another side of the matter, and it no longer seemed to be a case of this Wikipedia faction ranting about another Wikipedia faction. And since the latest timestamps on the thread were over 24 hours old, and I don't do IRC, I didn't bother to figure out who was right.

Yet the more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that there was something here, a dynamic that should be worrisome. Some of the critics of the IRC channel complained about the opaqueness that using IRC throws over at least part of the Wiki process, and it was hard not to see this concern was part of the subtext in the messages of other critical posters. Those who had entered the conversation to defend the channel (which is outside of Wikipedia's purview), used this subtext to dismiss the concerns of the critics; yes, the word "cabal" was used.

All of which seemed to miss the point: a number of Wikipedians, all of whom have contributed to the project for at least a year, most well over two, felt that they were somehow left out of the decision-making process. I've seen a few Wikipedians who begin to feel this way become embittered, strike out against the project, then are shown the door. It's easy for someone like me who spends most of his time with Wikipedia working on content and not on people or policy issues, to feel left out; ever increasing numbers of things are changing on Wikipedia and for most of my four plus years with this project I have always felt as if I'm just not paying enough attention to developments. A flamewar like this proves to me that I'm not the only one who feels this way.

I can't help thinking that you're truly part of the Wikipedia community when you share in a common feeling of being excluded.


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