How old are the Wikipedia administrators?

An interesting article at Wikipediocracy makes some interesting points:

Who writes Wikipedia? … In a recent op-ed published in the Los Angeles Times, Wikimedia Foundation executive director Sue Gardner proudly highlighted the fact that the Wikimedia community includes many very young contributors:

The youngest Wikipedian I’ve met was 7 … There’s a recurring motif inside Wikipedia of preteen editors who’ve spent their lives so far having their opinions and ideas discounted because of their age, but who have nonetheless worked their way into positions of real authority on Wikipedia. They love Wikipedia fiercely because it’s a meritocracy: the only place in their lives where their age doesn’t matter.

In fact, many Wikipedia administrators are school-going teenagers. The youngest I personally am aware of was 11 years old when he won administrator rights; at 12, he became a bureaucrat, which means he had the ability to close requests for adminship and appoint other editors as administrators.

Wikipedia has a well publicised shortageof contributors.

Minors have time to edit. They do not have jobs, families and children to worry about.

However, while the experience Gardner describes may be a very validating and confidence-building one to the child or teenager in question, it does not necessarily make for mature decision-making, nor is it likely to attract the most capable writers. A veteran Wikimedian with more than 200,000 contributions to Wikimedia projects recently expressed the following sentiments, illustrating the resulting tensions within the community:

Under the current system, any little ignoramus who has chatted on IRC for ten days can amass enough support to become an admin, and attack long-standing editors of the highest calibre, driving them away from Wikipedia. That these people (who universities would fight to employ) are treated with such disdain by a pack of semiliterate high school kids is depressing, because it spells the writing on the wall for Wikipedia. As a result, the vast majority of currently active sysops appear to be teens who, judging by their lack of interest in contributing content, fail at school and can’t do Pythagoras theorem. Some seem to hate learning and hate knowledge. They spend most of their time chatting on IRC making infrequent appearances on Wikipedia only when rallied by other IRC admins to add their voices to a chorus of support. Hence my contempt for the Wikipedia officialdom.

Regular readers may recall the incident where the academic authors of the Acta Pauli blog were harassed by an administrator whom they discovered was 14 years old.

Another interesting statistic is how many active editors there are in Wikipedia.  The answer, curiously, is only about 3,000 as of December 2012.  This statistic defines “active” as making more than 100 edits a month, or 4 a day; not hard to exceed, as any Wikipedian will know.

It is impossible to say whether any of this will affect the rise and progress of Wikipedia as the main online reference source used by hundreds of millions.  Probably it will not, at least until an alternative is available.  But it does highlight on what a fragile base this information source rests; child-administrators and a small hard core of dedicated, but not very educated, people.

8 thoughts on “How old are the Wikipedia administrators?”

  1. Well said, Roger.

    I was an enthusiastic contributor to Wikipedia between 2008 and 2011, but I have virtually dropped out now because defending my edits against the ignorant distortions of teenage editors was taking up far too much of my time. Rather than arguing with opponents incapable of observing the simplest courtesies of debate, I felt that my time was better spent in writing books for a readership that valued scholarship over shrillness. We only have a finite amount of time at our disposal, and should not waste it.

    I estimate that I spent about as much time during those same three years in writing ‘The Martyred Church’ as I did on composing Wikipedia articles on the Church of the East, and writing that book was a far more profitable use of my time. I now only make perfunctory tweaks to existing Wikipedia articles about once a month, when I can do so without spending more than a minute or two. I much prefer suggesting amendments to Encyclopedia Iranica articles, because I know that my suggestions will be considered by scholars who know what they are talking about; in short, that I will not be wasting my time.

    I am a democrat by conviction, but even the radical Athenian democracy needed the services of a Council to rein in unconsidered enthusiasm and impose order on daily business. A Wikipedia Council of Elders, now there’s an idea …

  2. I’m loathe to defend Wikipedia but, believe it or not, there is a rationale to all this. Wiki resists being used as a pointer to personal sites; they do this for good reason – think what would happen if everyone did it; scholars, new age spiritualists, cranks, hacks, fools, whatever. It’s a constant temptation on the part of bloggers and people with their own sites; they know perfectly well that if they can get into a reference on Wikipedia their site traffic would pick up tremendously. This sounds like what the Acta Pauli people were trying to do. The fact that this admin was 12, 13, or 14 really is incidental; he was carrying out Wiki policy which is not to serve as an advertising platform for private sites or blogs. They may be inconsistent about this and it may take them a while to catch up with offenders but in the end this is what seems to have happened here – you can’t use Wikipedia for personal advertising or at least not if they catch you. This is very different from what happened to Roger with respect to the Mithras pages. The Mithras affair simply underlines what every scholar should already know: because it’s anonymous and because it can be quickly changed Wiki has and can have no serious scholarly purpose. Period.

  3. David, I feared the last time we spoke that this would be the outcome. The work you did on the Church of the East articles was generous; but almost certainly futile. And Wikipedia doesn’t value experts, doesn’t value our generosity. Any troll is more than our equal. It is, as you say, simply a waste of time in the end.

    Editing Wikipedia is compulsive, I know. It is *designed* to be so. But sooner or later one realises one is being used.

  4. Hi Robert,

    Have a read of the Wikipediocracy website. You will find in there a great deal of truth about what happens on Wikipedia. The picture you present is what *should* happen. In reality the edit wars between morons go on, backed by the administrator users of each faction. It is the real contributors who are squeezed out. Ignore the Wikipedia PR – it’s not what actually happens on the talk pages and Arbcom and ANI and all that (for which, tellingly, Wikipedia has set its robots.txt, so as to ensure Google doesn’t index them and thereby reveal the nastiness going on).

  5. Granted all that you say is true. So what? Why flog a dead horse? You, Roger, have influence and reach. Where is OUR wiki? One with authors whose names are signed to their articles and with editors who enforce standards and weed out bad submissions. A wiki where no one can change a submission without agreement between the editors and the original authors. It’s the easiest thing in the world to create and with hardly any start-up cost. Where is the organization which will do this? Whom do you want to be in charge of this? Name someone. Who will the contributors be? What will the first articles be? Name someone to do this that you all will support. I challenge you.

    If we don’t do this then the situation won’t improve. What’s happening now is that slightly less inferior wikis devoted to classical history and art history are springing up. Where is the world-class Wiki?

    Best, etc.

  6. My university does not allow Wikipedia to be quoted at all, the reason being it is so unreliable and the information is almost certainly wrong. I generally never use Wikipedia because of these reason.
    The content should be written by people who are actually involved in the subjects on the site.

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