Newsweek this week published “Take This Blog and Shove It!” saying that “Crowd Sourcing Loses Steam” and wondering why people didn’t want to edit Wikipedia anymore. They attributed it, among other things, to laziness. Blogging is down while microblogging is up, which is probably a causal relationship, but Wikipedia is suffering from something else entirely.
Wikipedia used to be fun
I used to make small contributions to Wikipedia frequently. Never with an agenda, but because it was fun. Fun to read, fun to contribute. I found that reading something I knew I was welcomeâ€”even encouragedâ€”to edit to be a very engaging kind of reading. Anyone else have that experience?
At first, when I would find interesting information, or when reading Wikipedia about something I was familiar with, I would make small additions or corrections. If I checked back, I found the information was often left in place. Then it became more common for it to be edited, commented upon or changed. I thought this was good.
Then it became common for it to simply be removed. Quickly. That was no longer fun; I wasn’t being careless or superficial with my adds/changes, so I didn’t understand it at first
But, feeling casual contributors were no longer welcome, I lost interest in making small changes to improve clarity, since the rejections/loss of fun caused me to spend less time on Wikipedia. I still didn’t understand it though.
Wikipedians attack casual contributors
Then one day the real reason became clear. I had been reading about how Wikipedians had become more and more protective of the site, even trying to ban good new contributors, suspicious that they might have been trying to build their reputations just so they could do damaging things later.
In a word, paranoia had taken over.
But when I finally experienced it, it was fairly shocking. I added some information from a large website that was relevant to an article on Wikipedia. I quickly received a notice from a Wikipedian that he would see to it that I was banned if I ever did something like that again. My offense? The information I provided was insufficiently rigorous, and the lack of rigor made him angry and offended. He wasn’t offended at any pattern of behavior on my part, since it was the only thing of substance I had added in a year or so. He just flew off the handle.
Talking to others about this, I found my experience wasn’t uncommon. Wikipedia was now controlled by the extremely intolerant, because there was no barrier to them taking over. They infested the castle and ousted the previous residents. All the arguments about making Widipedia more rigorous, defending against people trying to add misinformation I understand. But the character of the people doing the work became the problem, not the reasons for their actions.
And while Wikipedia is still fun to browse, now it carries the scent of anger for me, of people hiding, waiting to ambush visitors for their offences. And so while I visit Wikipedia from time to time, I rarely browse it anymore. And sadly, I read with far less interest than I used to, looking to see if there is any kind of contribution I could make. Because the Wikidogs have taken their bone and gone home with it, and anyone trying to help is no longer welcome.