Tuesday, October 16, 2007
As the message mutates
First, I admit I'm peeved that of the three people cited in Sarno's story, I'm the one who is no longer mentioned. Yes, I get jealous over petty things like this. This probably happened because Andrew Lih has the experience to profitably interact with reporters, Kelly Martin can always be counted on to say something worth reapeating -- or both of them write clearer prose with fewer misspellings than me. But what I find ironic is that yours truly is the one who came up with the "generation gap" idea, which is given prominence in The Age article -- yet I'm the one who doesn't get mentioned. Oh well.
But had the reporter from The Age asked me about that idea -- which I created after about 5 minutes of thought -- I would have backtracked from it some, and tried to provide a more nuanced expanation. There are a lot of human dynamics going on here, which I intended to cover with that label. Not all of these dynamics fit under that label.
- New Wikipedians, like new members to any established group, exhibit a tendency to conform to the standards of that group, either consciously or unconsciously. For example, people joining the military are likely to start acting more machismo. It's the same with Wikipedia: people who join Wikipedia study the behavior of the most visible members, and act accordingly, and not all of these most visible members are model members.
- Smart people who want to excel in their chosen field, tend to look for and follow the easiest path of advancement. It's something of a truism that the more recent volunteers or editors have a greater tendency to spend their time in the Articles for Deletion or Vandalism fora than writing articles; management is always a more preferable gig than working on the assembly line. Yet following this line of reasoning further, wouldn't Peer Review -- the section of Wikipedia where article writers post requests for their fellow editors to critique their work -- attract abou tas much attention as these other two areas? Writing a useful critique is hard work -- far harder than deciding whether to keep or delete an article or identifying troublemakers. That is why new members soon end up making most of their edits at the first two fora, and rarely leave any traces at Peer Review -- despite the fact that part of Wikipedia is arguably more important than the other two.
- A last point is that there is a clearly high turnover of volunteers at the English Wikipedia, and perhaps other Wikimedia projects. This means that both expertise and cultural memory is being lost prehaps faster than it is being created. Ten days from now will be the fifth anniversary of having created my user account at Wikipedia, and for at least the last 12 months whenever I post in many of the Wikipedia fora, I am the most senior Wikipedian there. I feel this distinction is unmerited: I haven't been nearly as active in creating or enforcing policy as many volunteers, and I suspect that if I had been, I would have burned out and left Wikipedia long ago. Because I have done so little, I feel that I have now become a community elder with very little -- if any -- wisdom to dispense.
Rather than a conflict between "generations", Wikipedia is faced with a conflict between a large number less experienced members, who find themselves needing to follow the rules more literally and with less confidence, and a smaller number of more experienced ones who understand the rules and know when to break them. Resolving this conflict is a stressful and exhausting activity, which frequently leads to members quitting Wikipedia and leaving angry messages about treating the troublemakers better than the productive members. I have a suspicion that this is a common problem in volunteer organizations, but I don't know where I would start researching how other groups cope with it.
Technocrati tags: Generation gap, Mzoli's Meats, Wikis, wikipedia
I am, however, rather amused that my minirant in the Mzoli's AFD has been picked up and spread far and wide by the media engine. And it's pure chance that I avoided any typos. :)
1) While it is possible to make some kind of predictions, AFAIK, Wiki(m|p)edian community is the first "general purpose" community of such size. Simply, out of Internet it is not possible to make community with 50.000 members. And I don't know for any other Internet community which has so big variety of fields and (at least nominal) one goal.
To be more clear: For example, Debian community is not such kind of community because they have very small scope of work; Facebook is not such kind of community because it is a network of networks, not a community.
Like with the most natural events, enough of quantity is giving some different quality, better or worst. (For example, if you are driving fast enough, you will go out of Earth's gravity. While it is useful when you want to come out of gravity, it is not so useful if you want just to come faster from place one to place two.)
But, we don't know did WM community pass such amount of quantity. We don't know what what are the characteristics of passing that limit.
So, the answers for your last question are: (1) learn social psychology or (2) find some social psychologist (or sociologist) :)
I am at the same dilemma. And I am glad to see that someone else came to the same position. I'll try to find some scientists interested in this phenomenon. But, I think that we should make some organized effort...
2) I am writing now one (I think not so long) post about similarities between Wikimedian community and military structure. It is sad to conclude that there are a number of important common characteristics.
Nevertheless, my point was not that I was left out of the article (although I admit again I'm vain enough to care), but that a cliche I threw out in a moment's haste has come to describe the dynamics of this conflict: "older, wiser Wikipedians" versuses "new, immature ones". There have always been insightful members and dicks in each new wave of people joining Wikipedia; the "inclusionist vs. deletionist" conflict itself first appeared in 2003. My post was an attempt to explain another way to look at this phenomena, and not let this phrase trap us into how we should understand it.
As for your essay (which I recommend to the reader), I'm surprised at how much alike our thinking has been, although at first glance our posts would appear to be very different. I don't know if I agree with everything you say there (I think your conclusion is more pessimistic), but then where I'm writing has not experienced the history that the Balkans has.
Wikimedian community is now somewhere in the middle. We may easily drop into decadency.
I think that I described well lower positions (from recruits to low ranked officers). I know a number of examples for them. But, if we continue in that way, our situation may become completely circled.
And, while my allegory describes a simplified relations, this is not strictly related to Balkans. In a narrower sense, all drafted militaries have similar situation (France, Germany, Russia...). In a broader sense, it may be applied to any empire (cf. Roman empire after August times; late Russian empire, especially Russo-Japanese War; and late British empire).
* * *
We are still not in the "scientific age" of analyzing our community. And as more fiction about our community we have, we would be closer to trigger some scientific researches. (By us or by someone else.)
Once you become an expert on a topic (and we're all experts on wikipedia compared to the general public), it's a lot easier to pinpoint the good news outlets.
If I were to say that your post is too pessimistic, am I actually commenting on your analysis or inadvertently on unvoiced assumptions that you made from your background? And with these different backgrounds, which one of us is looking at the issue through a less distorted lens?
That was my point. I quickly admit that I don't have an answer, only an admission that I know I can't accurately tell -- which makes our agreement on the group dynamics only the more remarkable. And maybe even right!
90s were, at the other side, much worst then in the most other parts of the world. But, more then seven years passed from the time when Milosevic had been overthrown.
(As we started to talk here before my post, I hope that you don't have anything against using your blog for better explanation of my post :) )
Yes, I made a hyperbola. I don't think that we are in deep shit as it may be concluded from my post. As I am writing much brighter pieces, I am writing pessimistic, too.
I didn't say one more thing which is important for understanding my position: If I think that the situation is so dark, I wouldn't be a masochist. There is a very wide range of possible activities for me. I am not doing anything in which I don't believe.
My last example is Creative Commons: I don't believe in their willingness to do right things (at least "right things" as I see them) and I am not participating there anymore. Yes, there are a lot of good people, I know a number of them, but something is wrong with CC. Maybe I am wrong, but I said this as an example for me, not for them.
If I would think that "something is wrong" with Wikimedia, I wouldn't write anything about her. There are a lot of interesting things in the world and it is stupid to waste time on things in which you don't believe.
But, it doesn't mean that we don't have problems. We have a ton of them. And I see that very small number of Wikimedians are thinking about those problems. It is almost a wasting of time to talk about problems at the lists. And this fact is a huge problem.
So, I switched to the fiction. Sometimes fiction produces better responses then pure facts.
* * *
We need an organized work to solve our problems. Even Blogspot comments are not the best choice, I think that it is good enough for the beginning.
Because of that I propose: (1) We should continue to talk here :) (2) To call some more people to join discussion. (3) To try to start with mapping problems. (4) To think what should be the best place for continuing discussion.
It's plain phbb (and I'll have to move it off my server if traffic gets too intense), but it should be alright for now.
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