Thursday, April 12, 2007


A followup: An essay worth reading

I promised I'd write more about Durova's essay "The dark side", and here it is.

The difference between this essay and the one David Gerard referenced, "Don't be a dick", is subtle but important. That essay is a warning about stupid behavior; Durova's is a guarrantee that one's stupid behavior will be uncovered and come back to haunt that person. The two essays compliment each other.

This ties back to the Essjay affair. From what I know of his record, in the beginning he pretended to have credentials that he actually did not have, and later was uncovered. Had Essjay, at some point after he proved to the community that he was capable in the areas he worked in (or even before), simply admitted that he made a mistake by misrepresenting himself -- all would be good. The problem was that after he lied, he couldn't help but lie more -- and to a reporter who was very concerned about credentials. His stupid behavior came back to bite him; I only hope that he has learned from this -- and so have anyone who might be misrepresenting her or his credentials.

Another example is a case (which Jonathan Stokes at Valuewiki drew my attention to) where someone stupidly offers $1500.-- to a blogger for writing a puff-piece about her/his product. Now about the only thing a blogger has of value (besides the ability to write intelligible English) is her/his credibility, and the moment a blogger accepts money for a pre-fabricated opinion is the moment that blogger loses credibility. So, is $1500.-- really a decent price for one's credibility? It's just a stupid offer, and can only embarass the person making that offer.

(I won't claim that I can't be bought; if I could find a way to make money from blogging without giving up my credibility, I'd do it. However, even considering the small audience my log attracts, my price for a pre-fabricated opinion is many multiples of that sum that person offered. And if I took that cash, the post they bought would be one of the last I'd add to the blog.)

Most people who attempt to bend a Wikipedia article to their way of thinking aren't very smart about it. They do things like insist on the same version of an article, typos and grammatical errors and all, without ever bothering to explain their reasons. When challenged, they resort to logical fallicies like ad hominem arguments. Or they force-feed links to their website into countless articles, whether or not what's on that website is relevant or even worth linking to. In other words, most of these people obviously act stupidly.

So let's say that someone wants to bend Wikipedia to their way of thinking. They do their homework, argue their opinions on Talk pages with eloquence, and perhaps even send small tokens of appreciation to various like-minded Wikipedians. By "small tokens", I'm thinking of $50.-- gift certificates to various retailers, say Amazon or a chain restaurant like Olive Garden; most devoted Wikipedians don't have alot of money, and I doubt very many would turn down a gift like that, offered without any strings attached. Is that unfairly bending Wikipedia to a specific way of thinking?

I say no. Debating your opinions -- even if you aren't a Wikipedian -- is not something the Wikipedia community is worried about. There are a wide spectrum of opinions on Wikipedia, and if you can present yours in an articulate and persuasive manner, well, that's what we want to see. If you want to send small tokens of appreciation to various Wikipedians, I can't see why anyone will complain; it's a very visible way a Wikipedian can prove to friends or family that her or his work is important. Lastly, anyone who will sell her or his credibility for $50.-- doesn't have much to begin with; and anyone who sells it for less than the equivalent of a couple years' income is stupid.

BTW, constantly using the word "stupid" -- as I have here -- is not usually condoned on Wikipedia. Even if everyone agrees with the opinion. But that is why I am writing this on my blog, and not in an essay on Wikipedia.


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"argue their opinions on Talk pages with eloquence"

First read as "argue their opinions on Talk pages with Eloquence" ;-p
Hi, I'm the pseudonymous Durova from Wikipedia and I'm flattered by the attention you've given that essay. I wrote very little about specific methods of disruption there because of a consistent dynamic: if the wrong kind of person becomes aware of Exploit X and it's flaws, he or she will go off and attempt Exploit Y - regardless of how many other people already stumbled at Exploit Y before. Then when the disruptive type figures out the flaws of Exploit Y he or she trods the well-worn road to Exploit Z while supposing this amounts to bushwhacking a new trail.

All the obvious exploitation methods have already been tried and the seductive thing about them is that sometimes they seem to work just long enough to become major embarrassments for their perpetrators if and when they become generally known - and people who attempt to manipulate the site create a perilous situation for themselves because the trail of evidence is already public information.

Once every three or four months I encounter a genuinely new tactic, but that sort of thing happens on a level that really takes a great deal of time and effort for a low payoff. Wikipedia didn't become such a successful website by being excessively gameable.
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