Monday, February 26, 2007


Hey, Stupid!

Working my way thru the discussions around Worldtraveller's "Wikipedia is failing", I was struck by this "modest proposal" by SMcCandlish (quoting his latest version):

I think I have a pretty clear solution for this problem:

1. Flag all articles with their rated Class and Priority (averaged if more than one project has rated them)
2. Flag any unrated article with "Unrated, but presumed a Low-priority Stub-class"
3. Outright warn readers that any article not rated F.A. should be treated with caution.
4. Readers that articles rated below G.A. should be treated with blatant suspicion
5. Have Wikipedia not return searchs results for articles rated below G.A. directly, but with an intermediate page saying basically "we have no good article on this topic, but do have one that is inferior; do you still want to see it?"
6. 1-year limit on every article, to achieve G.A. status, or be auto-deleted (can be recovered to userspace for further work)
7. 1-month warning before this happens.
8. 3-month limit on Stubs to achieve Start class.
9. 1-week warning.
10. Direct advocacy of removing unsourced information from articles; reverting such a deletion will trigger a new 1RR rule with regard to unsourced information. The uw-unsourced tags for warning users against the addition of such material would be used with the same vigor and consequences as the uw-vandalism warnings.

What else tough but quality-reinforcing can be thrown in...?

11. De-sysop every admin, without exception (but maybe a 2-month warning) that does not pass the enhanced Diablo test, and make it part of Policy at RfA.
12. Add fame and importance criteria back into the notability concept, until such time as consensus agrees we have G.A. or better articles on every important topic that should be in an encyclopedia.

How's that? I think every article but maybe 10, maybe even less, that I've spent any significant work on would get nuked under this policy, but I'd sure be working hard to improve those few gems up to better-than-Britannica F.A. standards instead of futzing with 300 stubs of dubious merit here and there! And we'd be rid of the "fancruft" that may complain consumes 90% of WP's human and electronic bandwidth.

I thought this was an extreme response, fixing the problem in the manner burning down a house to rid of cockroaches fixes that problem, but I withheld comment because sometimes the best thing is to just let people vent.

Then after I posted yesterday's post, I happened to find this email from Philip Sandifer to WikiEN-l:

This is a new problem - these are major figures who are sympathetic to Wikipedia but fed up with its operation. And I can tell you, the tone among people I talk to in that real life thing I maintain is pretty similar - great respect for Wikipedia as a concept, reasonable respect for Wikipedia as a resource, no respect for Wikipedia as something anyone would ever want to edit. The actual editorial process of Wikipedia is rightly viewed as a nightmare. Hell, I view it as a nightmare at this point - I've given up editing it because the rules seem to have been written, at this point, with the intention of writing a very bad encyclopedia.

Our efforts to ensure reliability have come at the cost of a great deal of respect - and respect from people we should have respect from. We are losing smart, well-educated people who are sympathetic to Wikipedia's basic principles. That is a disaster.

And it's a disaster that can be laid squarely at the feet of the grotesque axis of [[WP:RS]] and [[WP:N]] - two pages that are eating Wikipedia alive from the inside out. (And I don't mean this in terms of community. I mean that they are systematically being used to turn good articles into crap, and have yet to demonstrate their actual use in turning bad articles into good ones.)

While I admit that I may be using Sandifer's words out of context, I can't help but feel that I have encountered two participants in a shouting match -- even if they don't know that they are shouting at each other. On one side is SMcCandlish, who is shouting (paraphrased for emphasis), "Hey stupid! If you don't follow the rules and add references to your lousy articles, we're going to delete them!" On the other is Sandifer, who is shouting (again paraphrased), "Hey stupid! If you continue to enforce the rules mechanicaly and without thinking, you're going to end up with lots of lousy articles!"

I have added the "Hey stupid!" part because what I hear from both sides is a rant over why Wikipedia is broken and must be fixed -- or else. They are preaching to their own choirs -- McCandlish to one set of Talk pages, Sandifer to the WikiEN-l mailing list -- and not attempting to seek out the other side and engage them with the goal of finding a consensus. I wish that didn't sound like a condemnation, because in part I'm guilty of not seeking out the other side to do just that, also because sometimes I'm certain that if I did go out into the many discussion points of Wikipedia, I'd find more examples of groups separating themselves into their individual defensible strong points within the project.

But I find I repeat myself.


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