Wednesday, June 06, 2007


"And so the problem remained"

Gosh, has it been truly that long since my last blog entry?

At the last Recent Changes Camp, Ward Cunningham pulled me into a conversation and asked me what I thought might limit the growth of Wikipedia. Always eager to pontificate, I said that it wouldn't be a technological problem -- because the Wikimedia Foundation could always buy a few more servers and solve that problem; it's not as if the average Wikipedia page was graphics-laden and required a couple of minutes to download. Rather, the problem lay in the people:Wikipedia could keep growing in size of articles, and in size of membership, until something came along that decisively fractures the community.

I was thinking about that comment this week, as I read about the struggles around the Bad Jokes and Other Deleted Nonsense pages (or BJAODN for short). This is a selection of the better examples of the deleted material Wikipedians remove from articles on a constant basis. (Yes, most of it is worse than this.) Some of the items are funny, although I'll admit that I failed to find enough of it to read its content more than once or twice. But some of the editors enjoy either reading or contributing to this collection, and since it doesn't either affect what I contribute or bother me I'm quite willing to let it exist.

Then, as the Signpost reports (well, I thought I saw it in the Signpost -- or
did they update pages on me when I wasn't looking?), Jeffrey O. Gustafson announces that he has deleted all of the BJAODN pages because it violates the terms of the Gnu Free Documentation License (GFDL). Actually, there have been a few other reasons given from time to time for deleting all of these pages, but that one seemed to be good enough for Gustafson to act on. As I just said, I don't give a lot of thought to BJAODN, but this seemed like a very callous move, which showed a lot of indifference to just what the rest of the community might think. After all, these pages have been around for as long as Wikipedia has. Further, there have been a number of other unilateral decisions to "tighten up" matters around Wikipedia that have gone unaddressed for "way too long".

After the noise around that act has quieted a little, Sj then decides to undelete these pages. This results in more noise: "Outrageous. Should be taken to ArbCom" says one. "I can see no reason for you not to block him." writes
. The murmuring resumes, discussions about the matter are opened and immediately suppressed, and WikiEN-l has several long threads on the latest developments.

To repeat what I wrote, I don't have a strong opinion on the matter, but looking at just the names of who's involved shows that this is not a case of one identifiable group of editors against another; Wikipedians who have been volunteering for varying periods of time and to varying degrees are lining up on either side of this controversy, and eyeing each other as if considering whether it is time to bring out the knives and guns. As I looked over WP:AN/I earlier today, it looked as if the matter is finding its way to a compromise, but there have been an increasing number of insensitive and unilateral acts on Wikipedia lately, so I wouldn't be surprised if the hostility erupts over something else soon.

Why is it always the silly, trivial matters that lead to conflict?


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Geoff, missed you at the extraordinarily late planned Portland WikiWednesday - maybe next month? Nice post, I hope people can come to some consensus about what to do. We have used a couple of consensus polls at AboutUs, maybe an option? Cheers, Mark
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