Creating addiction – are there links between Wikipedia and the techniques used by online computer game sites?

I read today a troubling article about online “free-to-play” games, which instantly reminded me of Wikipedia, and the way in which people become hooked on participating in it.  Chasing the whale: examining the ethics of free-to-play games is about online games, that encourage addiction in order to profit from the vulnerable.

“I’d use birthday money, I’d eat cheaper lunches, I’d ask my wife to pay for dinner so I’d have a spare $10-$20 to spend in the store. Which does mean, I guess, that I was thinking about it even away from the game.”

Chris was in his mid-20s when he began spending a few dollars here and there on Team Fortress 2. All of his friends had recently moved out of town, and his wife was now working a nighttime job, leading him to take solace in an online TF2 community.   …

“I’ve never really been addicted to anything else, so I can’t say for certain whether a ‘real’ addiction would be stronger,” he notes. “I would say that it felt akin to what I’d expect a compulsive gambling addiction would feel like — social pressures reinforced a behavior that kept me searching for an adrenaline rush I’d never be able to recapture, even as it kept me from making progress in life.”

“There were nights where I’d be up until 3 am drinking beer and playing Team Fortress and chasing those silly hats with purple text, ignoring the gambler’s fallacy and swearing that if I dropped another $50 I’d be sure to win this time,” he adds. “Then I’d wake up the next morning and see that I’d not only spent over a hundred dollars on digital hats, but failed my only objective by uncrating a bunch of junk.” …

Chris’ behavior during this time is how people in the video game industry would describe a “whale”– someone who spends large amounts on free-to-play games, and essentially makes the business model viable by balancing out the 99 percent of players who don’t ever fork out a dime.

And while Chris is happy to admit that a portion of his addiction was no doubt down to his own silly mistakes, he reasons, “I have to question whether a business model built on exploiting ‘whales’ like me isn’t somewhat to blame. Free-to-play games aren’t after everyone for a few dollars — they’re after weak people in vulnerable states for hundreds, if not thousands.”

But what causes people to do this?  Well, it isn’t entirely voluntary; not unless we presume that businesses merely hope for the best in such situations.

I also received messages from people who claimed to be ex-employees at free-to-play companies, and who told me that their respective employers would often build games purposely to entrap these “whales.”  …

“I used to work at [company], and it paid well and advanced my career,” the person told me. “But I recognize that [company]’s games cause great harm to people’s lives. They are designed for addiction. [company] chooses what to add to their games based on metrics that maximize players’ investments of time and money. [company]’s games find and exploit the right people, and then suck everything they can out of them, without giving much in return. It’s not hard to see the parallels to the tobacco industry.  ….

The ex-employee says that it all comes down to one main point: “Enabling self-destructive behavior is wrong.”

“It’s wrong when the tobacco and gambling industries do it, and it’s a shame that portions of the game industry do it too,” they added.

There is some research coming into being, and I highlight a couple of passages:

Dr. Mark D. Griffiths is a psychologist and director of the International Gaming Research Unit in the psychology department at Nottingham Trent University. The professor is well known for his research in the field of video game addiction and gambling.

Griffiths published a paper last year in which he argued that social games have gambling-like elements, even when there is no money involved whatsoever — rather, they introduce the principles of gambling through in-app purchases.

“On first look, games like FarmVille may not seem to have much connection to gambling, but the psychology behind such activities is very similar,” he argues. “Even when games do not involve money, they introduce players to the principles and excitement of gambling. Companies like Zynga have been accused of leveraging the mechanics of gambling to build their empire.”

One element that Griffiths has found to be particularly key in encouraging gambling-like behavior in free-to-play games is the act of random reinforcement — that is, the unpredictability of winning or getting other types of intermittent rewards.

“Small unpredictable rewards lead to highly engaged and repetitive behavior,” he says. “In a minority of cases, this may lead to addiction.”  …

Isn’t the goal of every social media site to get people “highly engaged”?  Isn’t that what Wikipedia seeks to do to visitors?

In another paper published earlier this year with his colleague Michael Auer, Griffiths argues that “the most important factors along with individual susceptibility and risk factors of the individual gambler are the structural characteristics relating to the speed and frequency of the game rather than the type of game.”

“The general rule is that the higher the event frequency, the more likely it is that the gambling activity will cause problems for the individual (particularly if the individual is susceptible and vulnerable),” he adds. “Problem and pathological gambling are essentially about rewards, and the speed and frequency of those rewards. Almost any game could be designed to either have high event frequencies or low event frequencies.” ….

Griffiths is keen to stress that, as of yet, the psychosocial impact of free-to-play games are only just beginning to be investigated by people in the field of games.

“Empirically, we know almost nothing about the psychosocial impact of gambling via social networking sites, although research suggests the playing of free games among adolescents is one of the risk factors for both the uptake of real gambling and problem gambling,” he adds.

Of course the extraction of money is not a feature of Wikipedia.  But inducing people to spend time contributing emphatically is.

I’m not suggesting  that the owners of Wikipedia are setting out to do harm to their contributors.  My impression is that they are instead largely indifferent to the welfare of contributors, and enjoying creating their encyclopedia.

But the sort of motivators, which we see being exploited and described in the article, may well be happening in Wikipedia also.

I wonder how many “whales” there are, among Wikipedia contributors, getting that “buzz” by spending time on the site?

Church of Scotland trying to hide a scandal by editing Wikipedia?

A few months ago I mentioned a very odd story from Scotland, where, in 2012, the Glasgow Presbytery of the Church of Scotland drove one of its largest congregations out of their own building, which they had just contributed $5m to refurbish, under threat of lawsuit.  There were many evil deeds by the church officials, all reported in the national Scottish press.  The church bureaucrats even sent bailiffs to a prayer meething, to seize the hymnbooks, paid for by the worshippers, from the hands of the worshippers.  There was a scandal, the Church of Scotland was covered with obliquy, and the same officials released a very tetchy and less-than-honest press release which was duly savaged by the press.  The church building was empty and the officials prepared to dispose of it; the congregation had started a new free church; and the church officials looked like fools and liars.

Such stories have happened before.  They happen whenever a church ceases to exist for its principles and becomes governed by bureaucrats concerned only with “business as usual”.  When the parishes come into conflict with the church bureaucracy, the latter invariably behave very badly.  But I thought that this was the end of the story.

It would seem not.  Today I happened to look at the Wikipedia page for the church, St Georges Tron, which I last looked at back in 2012.  And … miraculously, the story had vanished!  There was a bland paragraph about how the congregation had “seceded”, and that was it.  The paragraphs, with references, that described what had happened and why the church was now empty, had all vanished.

A little investigation revealed that someone had created an account, “User:BigAl246”, and used it solely to do those edits to that article.  It had also made an edit to the article the minister of the church, William Phillips.

It is pretty difficult to think of anybody outside of the Glasgow Presbytery of the Church of Scotland who would have a motive.  Who else would want to conceal the facts?  The editor is, presumably, a press officer for the Church of Scotland, or one of the guilty men behind the scandal.

I do wish we knew the name of the wicked man in the Glasgow Presbytery who orchestrated all this evil.  I suppose it comes as no surprise that this man and his friends are willing to try deception afterwards.

It is always curious to see a rotter at work.   Apart from anything else, it is amusing to see someone willing to do something wicked, and ashamed of the bad publicity, but not of his evildoing.

It will be interesting to see if anyone at Wikipedia cares.

Dishonesty at Wikipedia: “they don’t like it up ’em, sir”

An amusing story from Wikipediocracy, the Wikipedia criticism site.  A user at Wikipedia has now banned any link to Wikipediocracy from Wikipedia, by adding the site to the “spam” blacklist.  Of course Wikipediocracy is not spam; this is censorship of an external site.

Since Google privileges Wikipedia so much, this reduces traffic to Wikipediocracy and therefore reduces the number of people who are aware of the criticism site.  Which is, of course, terribly convenient to evildoers at Wikipedia, of whom there are rather a lot these days.

And why, we may ask, was it felt acceptable for Wikipedia to impose a ban on another legitimate internet site?

WO has regrettably decided to out a Wikipedia user on its pages (the link is available from its main page, and several sub-pages that link to what’s on the front page) and several en-Wikipedia users have gone on a crusade to mention this site as much as possible to push drama and in some cases to further the outing.

That’s right.  Someone in Wikipediocracy dared to mention the real name of one of the editors hiding behind a pseudonym in Wikipedia.  This is strictly forbidden in Wikipedia — where abuse is so endemic that it is unsafe to use your own name — and, apparently, Wikipedia feels that it has the right to forbid any other internet site to do it either.  Or else.

Dear me.  And I thought Wikipedia was all about sharing knowledge?

The serious point is that the people in power in Wikipedia today are unfit to hold such a role, as such impudence demonstrates.  Wikipedia is too important to the internet, and has too much power over Google ranking, to be left to the administration of fools, trolls and children.  It’s got to stop, and needs regulation now.

Yes, crowdsourcing content is a marvellous idea, and I have used it myself for translation projects.  But there is no point whatsoever in trying to “crowd-source” control of such projects.  Doing so merely allows the most determined trolls to self-select themselves as kings and lords of the project.  Rarely will such people be fit to hold such a role.  What follows will be mainly a “Lord of the Flies” experience. 

It is now time for the administrators of Wikipedia to be retired.  Instead a group of paid administrators should be introduced, with transparent, fair and adult administration. 

Until this happens, sleazy events like anonymous users banning other internet sites for daring to leak information will continue to occur.

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.

Wiki-nonsense – material about Mithras of very dubious standing

I have been looking at a section of the article at the new Mithras pages on the initiation process into the cult.  This section is copied from the Wikipedia Mithras article as it was at the start of 2011, before the article was deliberately poisoned.  But that doesn’t mean, necessarily, that it is sound.  I’ve been looking at some of the material, and getting ever more suspicious.

Elsewhere, as at Dura Europos, Mithraic graffiti survive giving membership lists, in which initiates of a Mithraeum are named with their Mithraic grades. At Virunum, the membership list or album sacratorum was maintained as an inscribed plaque, updated year by year as new members were initiated.  By cross-referencing these lists it is sometimes possible to track initiates from one Mithraeum to another; and also speculatively to identify Mithraic initiates with persons on other contemporary lists – such as military service rolls, of lists of devotees of non-Mithraic religious sanctuaries.

These are authoritative-sounding claims.  But … there isn’t a single reference for any of them.  Continuing…

Names of initiates are also found in the dedication inscriptions of altars and other cult objects.  Clauss noted in 1990 that overall, only about 14% of Mithriac names inscribed before 250 identify the initiates’ grade – and hence questioned that the traditional view that all initiates belonged to one of the seven grades. [=Manfred Clauss, “Die sieben Grade des Mithras-Kultes”, ZPE 82, 1990, p.183-194]

That’s the only reference.  The paragraph continues:

Clauss argues that the grades represented a distinct class of priests, sacerdotes.  Gordon maintains the former theory of Merkelbach and others, especially noting such examples as Dura where all names are associated with a Mithraic grade.  Some scholars maintain that practice may have differed over time, or from one Mithraea to another.

And there it ends, again without a reference.

Now doesn’t that all sound authoritative?  It does, even to someone like myself who has read a lot of Mithras material.  But … I have been looking at this stuff, and getting less and less happy.

Firstly, Clauss’ article from the ZPE is actually accessible online here, although the Wikipedia article quietly fails to link to it.   Now German is not one of my better languages, but even I can find the numeral “14 %” in a PDF file.  And it occurs, not as above, but in this context:

Umgekehrt stammen aus den Provinzen, die 66% des Gesamtmaterials der Namen beisteuern, lediglich 29% der Inhaber von Graden. Besonders kraß ist das Mißverhältnis in den Donauprovinzen, aus denen über 43% aller Kult-Anhänger bekannt sind, aber nicht einmal 14% der in die Grade Eingeweihten.

Conversely from the provinces, which account for 66% of the total material with names, come only 29% of the holders of grades of initiation.  The disproportion is particularly glaring in the Danube provinces, from which around 43% of all cult followers are known, but less than 14% of the known initiates.

That’s not what Wikipedia says.  In fact a few pages further on I find this summary of the epigraphic evidence:

Damit ergibt die Auswertung des epigraphischen Materials folgendes Bild: Innerhalb der Anhängerschaft des Mithras-Kultes gab es zwei Gruppierungen. Die überwiegende Mehrzahl der Mitglieder begnügte sich mit einer Einweihung in den Kult, engagierte sich darüber hinaus finanziell an dem Bau der Heiligtümer wie an ihrer Ausgestaltung durch Altäre, Reliefs und Statuen. Wie bei vielen uns unbekannten Kult-Anhängern werden sie sich auch an der Beschaffung der Verbrauchsmaterialien wie Kerzen, Weihrauch, Pinienzapfen und vor allem an den Lebensmitteln für die Kultmahle beteiligt haben.

Von dieser großen Gruppe läßt sich eine Minderheit abheben. Sie brachte das Engagement auf, sich der sicherlich langwierigen Prozedur der stufenweisen Initiation in die sieben Grade zu unterziehen, um dann die Opfer, den Kultvollzug und die Deutung der Kultlegende durchführen zu können. Dieses Engagement war vor allem dort vorhanden, wo der Mithras-Kult länger verankert war, also in Rom und Italien.

Thus the evaluation of the epigraphic material gives us the following picture: Within the followers of Mithras cult, there were two groups. The vast majority of the members were content with an initiation into the cult, were involved also in funding the construction of sanctuaries and their design, with altars, statues and reliefs. Like many cult followers unknown to us, they were also involved in the procurement of supplies such as candles, incense, pine cones and especially the food for the cult feast.

Out of this large group a minority sought elevation. They had the commitment to undergo the certainly lengthy procedure of the gradual initiation into seven grades, in order to perform the sacrifice, the cult implementation and interpretation of the cult legend. This commitment mainly existed where the Mithras cult was longer established, so in Rome and Italy.

There’s nothing in there about cult members who were not initiates.  Am I blind?  Or is this material really complete rubbish?

Secondly, what’s this about an album sacratorum at Virunum?  I’ve looked at the Virunum entries in the CIMRM.  There’s no such item there.  The only use of the term, indeed, is CIMRM 325, a marble tablet from Portus in Italy, reprinted from the CIL and obviously long lost.  This does indeed give a list of names, and mentions a “pater” and a “leo” (and that’s all).

What about Dura Europos?  I find a graffito in CIMRM 54, which gives names.  But the CIMRM entry doesn’t describe it in these terms.  It reads: “On behalf of the victory of our Imperial Lord, NAMA THEO MITHRAI, NAMA to the fathers Libeianos and Theodorus, NAMA also to Marinus the PETITOR, NAMA to all the SYNDEXIOI in the presence of the god.”[1]  Is that what most of us would understand from the Wikipedia article?

I don’t know who wrote this stuff, why, or when.  Yet, if it fails these simple tests of verification, this very authoritative-looking stuff has to be considered as rubbish.  All that stuff about cross-referencing lists of members … erm, how?  What lists?

Wikipedia has no mechanism to detect rubbish of this sort.  Nor can such a mechanism be devised.  It is only possible to fix this, through sheer human effort.  It is likely, therefore, that much of the material in the site is similarly dubious, and impossible to detect.  I certainly never was moved to check any of this, in the two years that I worked on that article.  The troll who currently owns it wouldn’t dream of doing such a task as verifying anything unless he disagreed with it.  So … whoever could do so?

  1. [1] Leroy A. Campbell, Mithraic iconography and ideology, Brill, 1969.  He adds, “Here Mithras is still Theos Mithras, as on the Zenobios relief of A. D. 170/171 (40*), and not Helios Mithras.”

Wikipedia and the hoax articles

You learn a great deal from a forum like Wikipediocracy.  A correspondent reminded me of this article today.  The Daily Dot gives the story in less abbreviated form here:

From 1640 to 1641 the might of colonial Portugal clashed with India’s massive Maratha Empire in an undeclared war that would later be known as the Bicholim Conflict. Named after the northern Indian region where most of the fighting took place, the conflict ended with a peace treaty that would later help cement Goa as an independent Indian state.

Except none of this ever actually happened.

What actually happened is that some anonymous person in July 2007 wrote an article on Wikipedia about it, complete with fake references.  It was rated as a “good article”, and nearly became a featured article.  And it was all fake.

The hoax was unmasked by another anonymous user in December 2012, who for some undisclosed reason started to verify the references, and found that none of them were real.  He nominated it for deletion, six other random people agreed, and it was deleted.  Which, somehow, is just as troubling as the manner in which it was created.

The Daily Dot also have another one.  Wikipedia told us:

Gaius Flavius Antoninus
(88 BC – 44 BC) was a Roman general who helped in the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC. He was later murdered by a male prostitute hired by Mark Antony.

This too is apparently a hoax.  Deleted, therefore, based on … erm, some bunch of nobodies’ opinion that they don’t know for sure.

Now it would be easy to overreact.  The criminal element is well and truly busy on the internet these days.  Vandalism and hoaxes are normal now.  Any crowd-sourced project must expect these, and must handle them.

But a delay of 6 years, before someone able to perform a 5 minute sanity check does so, just isn’t good enough.  Wikipedia is too important a part of the web for this to be acceptable.  In 2004, perhaps it would have been considered unavoidable.  But now?

Wikipedia needs to have some professional reviewers.  There seems no obvious reason why it couldn’t hire a few.  Most journals manage to do this.  But professionals would probably volunteer; except that they are treated like dirt if they do.  At the moment any professional will find himself run out of the project by “Randy from Boise” or some other child.  The project needs to create a cadre of contributors who are named, and known, and valued, and who have the backing of the Wikipedia board if they find themselves being harassed by Randy or his chums.  It’s not hard to do this.  But the will is lacking.

Another Wikipedia murder

One of the pleasures of reading the Wikipediocracy forum, as I do from time to time, is to see hard evidence of what I experienced myself, that it is very dangerous for ordinary people to attempt to contribute to Wikipedia.

Today’s thread discusses a long term editor hiding behind the name “MaterialScientist”.  This post comments:

You should talk to Artem R. Oganov about his long running dispute with Materialscientist. He got indefinitely blocked, then unblocked on the condition he didn’t edit subjects of his expertise. He decided to wash his hands and walk away.

“Some time ago I entered Wikipedia using my own name, which was a mistake. Now, due to the continuing smear campaign by the user Materialscientist, I want to completely withdraw from Wikipedia both my account an any mentions of my former relations to it. Now I know the identity of the user Materialscientist, and have proofs that he does not act as an impartial editor, but instead is involved in a conflict of interest with my group. Moreover, he uses every opportunity to attack my real name …”

Dr Oganov is a professor of Geosciences at Stony Brook University, and is responsible for breakthrough discoveries in Boron science (link to New York Times article).  “MaterialScientist” is … well, someone who doesn’t care to put his name to his work.

Dr Oganov was accused of “sock-puppeting”.  The real meaning of this term is someone who uses several accounts to give the false impression of multiple people.  However in Wikipedia it gets used for anyone who someone doesn’t like who has used more than one account on the system; say, perhaps, if he has edited under his own name and then found himself the target of a vicious campaign of personal attacks designed to ruin his real-world reputation. 

The disgusting “trial” is here.  The accusation was made by “MaterialScientist”, who submitted “evidence” under his alternative account “NIMSOffice”.  Likewise it is fairly obvious that “Uncle G” is a pawn of “MaterialScientist”, rather than an unbiased bystander; using one minor account to shriek accusations, and the main account to pretend to be calm and unbiased.  I have myself been the victim of just this techniqe.

No doubt MaterialScientist maneouvred cleverly, and played the game to win.  Bait your foe into hiding behind a false identity, use obvious socks and tempt him to respond in kind; and then accuse him of sock-puppeting with some pre-warned friends to implement a ban … nice.  

I have no doubt that Dr Oganov was very hurt by the treatment he received.  And … what kind of morons, finding that they have a world-expert on hand, issue him a  ban from editing on the topic of his expertise?!  You couldn’t make it up.

The end result was that one of the major scientists in Boron studies was forced out of Wikipedia.  And I suspect that this happens quite a lot.

Don’t contribute to Wikipedia.  The owners do not care what happens to any of the contributors, while the place is overrun with low-lifes, who will, coldly and deliberately, do you an injury while remaining anonymous themselves.

Reading what ex-Wikipedians have to say

Regular readers will know that I had a very bad experience attempting to contribute to the Mithras article on Wikipedia, when I was the target of a deliberate campaign of violence and defamation by an obvious troll operating at least two accounts, who simply wanted to own my work and push a falsehood.  It ended with a corrupt administrator blocking me on a false accusation of sock puppeting.  I disabled my account and I’ve not been back, needless to say. 

But the experience left me wondering how many other honest contributors have had the same experience.  Today I’ve been reading around the entries on the Wikipediocracy blog.  They are well-written and well thought-out. 

I’ve also spent some time reading material at the Wikipedia Review forum, which contains more of the same, and there is also a Wikipediocracy forum, much of it written by people who are obviously still bleeding from the beatings they received.  

All this makes sad reading.  Out of it emerges a picture of a cess-pit full of vipers, in which, to change metaphors, ordinary contributors are little more than meat for the grinder. 

I’ve written there a short account myself of my own evil experience of Wikipedia administration (here).

Obviously the articles on these sites are very much the work of the disillusioned ex-Wikipedians; but none the less they represent a valuable corrective to the quite misleadingly positive impression that many people have of Wikipedia.  Most people suppose that the way Wikipedia represents itself is accurate.  Even those who have enough experience to realise that this presentation is not how things actually work, and that there is endless fighting involved, nevertheless tend to suppose (as I did) that the administration is honest at least in intent.  The testimonies of the ex-Wikipedians suggest very strongly otherwise. 

It is, of course, necessary to treat all these narratives with a degree of scepticism.  All these people are exiles; and, notoriously, the exile’s perspective on his homeland is distorted by his exile.  There is an undue willingness to believe evil of the ruling faction, and an undue willingness to suppose that anyone else notices.  Memory deceives, and, without any intention to mislead, a narrative can be constructed which is unbalanced.

But that said, it is quite eye-opening to see what is said there.

Wikipediocracy: a Wikipedia-watch site

Incoming links revealed to me the existence of the Wikipediocracy site this weekend.

Our Mission: We exist to shine the light of scrutiny into the dark crevices of Wikipedia and its related projects; to examine the corruption there, along with the structural flaws; and to inoculate the unsuspecting public against the torrent of misinformation, defamation, and general nonsense that issues forth from one of the world’s most frequently visited websites, the “encyclopedia that anyone can edit.”

I wish them well.  Wikipedia presents itself as the encyclopedia that anyone can edit.  But a very large number of people have found themselves drawn into disputes with anonymous trolls there, and then found that Wikipedia’s processes are opaque, arbitary, unfair, administered by children and more trolls, and most of these ordinary people have been forced out or been left bruised and upset.  It’s not a safe place.  And it’s very hard to get past the puff to the reality, not least because Wikipedia policy is to hide information critical of Wikipedia. 

Inevitably the forum contains a certain amount of complaining.  People are likely to arrive here bleeding, after all.  But I have already learned of various meta- and para-wikipedia organisations, chapters, mailing lists and so forth, the existence of which is probably known to a tiny handful.  Most of those who contribute to Wikipedia will not realise that their fate will be decided, not openly, but by one of these backstairs methods.


An amusing critique of Wikipedia and the people who run it

Quite by accident I found myself looking at this page (not safe for work), which calls itself “Encyclopedia Dramatica”.  It has some pithy (and very rude) things to say about Wikipedia.  The format would tend to make most of us dismiss it, but much of it is at least half true, and will bring a smile to anyone who has tried to improve Wikipedia.

The average age of a Wikipedia admin is 17. WTF? And that, buddy, is skewed upwards by the presence of a handful of degenerates whose only social outlet is their band of fellow children. Yes, one of the world’s largest Internet communities is run by cliquey kids! As one would expect, leaving day-to-day operations to a bunch of greasy-palmed kids is a recipe for full-scale faggotry. Imagine the biggest losers and social misfits from high school — the hormonal angst, the zit cases, the dateless geeks, the fatties and dorks — and ponder their collective teeny-angst and anger. Now give them the power to run a massive online community and create their own governance with no oversight. When even nominal editing on Wikipedia results in user flame wars that bring in heavy-handed “administrator” attention, the question potential wiki-users should ask themselves is, Do I really want my knowledge, even my person, to be judged, juried, and executed by Piggy, Roger and Jack with his choirboys? (That’s a Lord of the Flies reference. Look it up. Or watch the movie, which was pretty cool too).

The Wikimedia Foundation is just peachy with this jacked-up state of affairs, going so far as to brag about it. As John Seigenthaler found out, they believe themselves immune to legal threats. As a non-profit, they have no assets (although Jimmy Wales has a collection of sports cars). While they claim immunity as an “Internet Host”, some would argue that the foundation’s structure makes them liable as publishers. The next step would be to pass the buck to their contributors and operations, who are suit-immune minors or anonymous.

This is only part of it.  The article at the site on Wikipedia (think very hard before clicking on this link at all — lots of porn and abuse in it) contains further gems:

World of Wikipædia?, or Wikipedia, is a massive multiplayer online role-playing game …

During gameplay, Wikipedia players can gain more authority as they progress, with “Administrator” and “Double-O Licensed” rankings granting them access to GOD MODE. While the rules for winning the game are a tightly-kept secret, it is believed that the winner is treated to a night of accolades and praise from Wikipedia overlord Jimbo Wales. …

A common misconception is that “Wikipedia is never finished.” Remember that whenever you come by a Wikipedia article was forged from the blood of thousands of angsty teenagers edit warring over really important facts about the world. Information on Wikipedia topics could generally be found through Google (that is, unless a Wikipedia article is the first hit) and other forms of reference material like books my senile uncle’s war stories, but Americ**** are too busy … to be bothered with education. …

The real problem with Wikipedia is the Wikipedians. From players to sysops, every member of its community is the scum of the internets – worse than spammers, worse than script kiddies and Nigerian scammers, and worse than IRCers. An average Wikipedia user has the intelligence of a seal…

Wikipedia is full of people with no desire to improve what it is intended for, information. Instead, they want to grow their e-***** and one day become a mod.

Well, it made me smile.  There’s much truth in all that, mixed with a substantial portion of exaggeration and one-sidedness, of course.

I wonder whether the average age of a Wikipedia admin really IS seventeen?  And how one would know?

UPDATE:  I have been looking around the web for some statistics, and finding nothing very definitive.  There’s a 2009 PDF based on a questionaire, which tells us that the average age of participants in the survey is 25.8; 25% are younger than 18, 25% are between 18-22, 25% are between 23 and 30, and the rest of us are in the remaining 25%.  But … this does not discriminate between users and editors.  Readers average 25.3, editors 26.8.  There’s no indication as to admin age. The actual number of respondents was only about 130,000.

The Wikipedia stats site does not collect this kind of information, unfortunately.

UPDATE: An interesting critique here: “The closed, unfriendly world of Wikipedia.”