Talk:Nature of wikis
I added a citation needed template to the following:
- If there is a "top" (which there actually isn't) of the List of Wikiversity Participants, some might think the list would look like this:
- assigners of rights (bureaucrats)
- custodians (support staff)
- everyone (learning community)
- These "groups" are here simply to maintain a bit of policy and order through different roles. It's really no big deal at all.
I also changed "founders" to "assigners of rights," which is the core function of bureaucrats. Usually initial bureaucrats are those who found the site, but not always. The "structure" described is upside-down, in my opinion. The core and, in theory, authority for the community is "everyone," i.e, the community of users. Unfortunately, that is poorly defined and not necessarily accessible. The task of administrators is to serve the community, not to lead the community.
Consider a brick-and-mortar university. There are actual custodians, who clean up, and campus police, who keep order and enforce law. However, these have nothing to do with educational content. They are "support staff," not professors or, for that matter, university administration, which can decide on what courses are taught, who teaches, etc. In theory, on a wiki, it is the community that does this, and being an administrator or other functionary is not supposed to be a "big deal." But it is, because given the tools to delete content (necessary for order) and expel students (necessary for order), and without restraint, they start to use the tools according to their own vision of the mission of the institution. It's totally normal and to be expected, if practical structures are not in place to restrain it.
Most wikis started with a founder who had a vision and who made all central decisions, and often that included such decisions as deletions and blocks. Large web sites are owned by corporations, and the board of the corporation, and then its delegees, have that authority. However, the Wikimedia Foundation hit upon a formula that allowed them to avoid the enormous cost of actually supervising the project: hands off! The community is in charge! But without setting up structures for the community to coherently deliberate, an adhocracy was created, which will generate its own internal power structures, naturally forming an oligarchy, in practice, even while proclaiming all along that privilege and power are "no big deal."
So, the campus police and custodians expel a student? Fire a professor? Toss their work in the trash (or lock it away where it can't be seen?) No big deal?
In theory, custodians and bureaucrats are not in charge, they merely implement policy and guidelines as developed by the community. However, that development is work. And communities, it turns out, often don't do that work unless they see a critical need. Bureaucrats are, in theory, more highly trusted. However, they commonly become truly uninvolved, not merely neutral. 'Crats only have one remaining function on Wikiversity, assignment of custodian rights, and there is a policy, long-standing, for what is to be done, which often leaves no room for interpretation. But, being human, they interpret anyway. Policy is not always followed, because ... they don't like what it prescribes.
One of the difficulties with administrative rights is that wikis operate on "consensus," and there is a classic problem with consensus organizations, I was working with it long before wikis were created. Consensus organizations, often highly innovative at initiation, can become extremely conservative if any changes require consensus. This problem is exacerbated on Wikipedia, because Wikipedia never became a true consensus organization, it was too much work. Consensus, famously, requires massive conversation and discussion, to expand agreement. Instead, Wikipedia followed "rough consensus," which is not well-defined. Supermajority, often, but, then, well, studying wikipedia, one finds that nothing is necessarily as it seems at first.
So the election of administrators requires high consensus. I think the minimum, as I recall, was north of 70%. Why so high? Well, the problem is that removing administrators is difficult, and so they should have high trust, would be the thinking. However, if there is a "governing elite," and it is elected by supermajority, it's well-known that the elite will not represent the electorate, it will drastically over-represent the largest faction in the electorate. The supermajority requirement insures that most users seeking to become administrators will avoid any controversial actions, because, even if in a normal society, the actions would have the support of a majority, offending some will then make passing RfA impossible.
Then, once they are administrators, they remain so until there is a consensus to remove them, and it is extremely difficult to find it. Hence the Arbitration Committee was formed. It operates by majority vote. However, it is also elected by "approval at large." That is, as I recall, candidates stand, and voters vote on each. The candidates with the most approval are elected. That, to the naive, seems like a great idea. What it does is to suppress minorities. Consider a district government. Suppose the district has a majority of ethnic group or other associating affiliation or condition, it could be political party. To the extent that voters vote according to their affiliation, a representative body elected by approval at large can represent only the majority. This is not what an organization that depends on consensus needs. It needs some kind of proportional representation.
Now, the trope is that if an administrator does their job, they will make enemies, and so they should be protected by requiring consensus to remove. That makes sense. Wikiversity, however, has probationary custodianship, with a later vote for permanent. While a custodian is probationary, they are restrained by two factors: one, their mentor; a mentor can withdraw support and if not replaced promptly, the rights are to be removed. The other, they will face a permanent custodian vote. Maybe they will be especially careful to avoid controversy. However, then, their behavior during the probationary period will not represent how they will behave as a permanent custodian!
The entire structure is defective, and this is what I've seen. Some custodians are inactive, they are inoffensive in the probationary period, they are elected as permanent, then they do little. Others are active. An active custodian may easily think that their job is the "maintenance of the wiki," on their own responsibility and initiative. They become Recent Changes Patrollers, they see all the spam and vandalism and shaky contributions. It becomes a formidable task. In fact, this is an error, it is not the job of administrators to maintain the wiki, except as to technical button-pushing, as guided by the community. However, I've seen this again and again, administrators, once empowered and engaged, no matter how careful they were at the beginning, become attached and involved and start to use the tools extensively, without community involvement, the community, in general, doesn't even know what they are doing. How many follow the deletion log? Very few. What JWSchmidt called the "Wikipedia Disease" arises, a habit of control. The rest of the community hardly thinks about it. They are relieved that someone is handling all that spam and vandalism.
At first, damage done is limited to marginal users. Questionable decisions, they might be right, they might be wrong. But if a page is deleted, ordinary users can't see it. But who wants to take up the time of an administrator to ask for undeletion so they can see the page? And if the administrator is decent, only a few percent of actions might even be questionable. But ... deletions and blocks drive users away. I have seen users who made good-faith contributions, involving many, many hours of work, attempting to improve the project -- and in fact approving it -- who ran afound of an administrator's idea of conflict of interest, because he was adding links to a web site, and his IP address was that of the web site owner. Bad, he? COI violation? Maybe. Maybe no. The web site owner was an academic collaborative, a nonprofit set up in collaboration with the German government and universities. The user was probably not an employee, but a volunteer, though this is not clear. He wasn't asked. He was blocked, the web site was globally blacklisted, even though it was clearly reliable source, the way it ran, and it took years to fix. German administrators asked for the blacklisting to be lifted, that was denied, "because there had been abuse." And then it is claimed, always, there is no problem because any user can request whitelisting of a page locally.
Yes, users can, and I've requested whitelisting here and it is granted routinely, as it should be. Unfortunately, on en.wikipedia and on meta, the whitelistings are done by same admins who blacklist, and who seem to believe that it is their job to determine what is usable or not, entirely aside from spam. I just looked at the whitelisting page there, there were legitimate requests, standing for many months. Yes, you can request whitelisting. I went through the process, and, ultimately, in order to get action I had to go to the Administrator's Noticeboard and request an admin to look at it. I was not popular with the antispam administrators, even though I actually worked to make their job easier. They don't want easier. They want control. They do not know how to engage the community to support them, they like being the specialists who know how to recognize spam quickly and handle it. And the large majority of their actions are correct. It's the exceptions that can be doozies.
This page on the nature of wikis is pap, it has no depth. Wikis have excellent features and terrible possible flaws. Wikipedia developed a culture that is probably not congenial to most people on the planet. It has slogans and then policies and guidelines that are feel-good ideals that can be far from reality.
A quote from Jimbo Wales:
- Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. That's what we're doing.
Doing what? Imagining a world? Great. Nice idea. How do we get there?
What does "sum" mean? The word "all" is in there.
If I have a collection of things, every thing in that collection contributes to the sum of it. "Sum," however, probably means "summary." But then the definite article is used, "the sum." As if there is only one sum.
I guarantee, the "sum" of something is a biased judgement if it is considered unique. What if the ideal were not the sum, but simply "all human knowledge"? Obviously, that's huge.
There are mixed missions. For example, "free access." Great. So there is some knowledge, shown in a picture, and a picture is worth a thousand words, it can summarize knowledge, and with relative neutrality, far better than people chattering. Yet the photo is licenses under a non-commercial license. Free for everyone to access, but not usable on Wikipedia unless necessary, in which case, okay, Fair Use is allowed. But this isn't about Fair Use. What is being protected is not access, but commercial use. Why? Cynics might answer with one word. Wikia.
Those who wrote this page believed what they were writing. And then at least one of them, a founder -- who wasn't a bureaucrat, thinking that it wasn't needed, because bureaucrats actually had few duties, he was an administrator --, ran into the dark side, headlong. It became an ugly mess. Just today I came across a research page that was deleted out of process. By Jimbo Wales. There was clearly no local consensus for deletion, and Jimbo, for his interventions on Wikiversity, actually had his Founder toolset reduced because it caused a firestorm when he did similar on Commons. The RfC that led to that was started on meta by a Wikiversitan, about the actions here, and it was going nowhere, running about two to one against removing his tools, when, hey, dodged that bullet!, he did the same on Commons, deleting unilaterally and out-of-process, according to his own idea.
The votes poured in, it was huge. Had he looked carefully at the votes, he'd have seen that many of those voting to remove the tools were long-term wikipedians of high repute. He'd have seen there was definitely a problem.
He did have local support, from an administrator who proceeded to lose his tools for failing to respect recusal policy, for pushing for his own point of view instead of respecting the community, and using tools to enforce his point of view, tendentiously and with wheel-warring. Power and responsibility become mixed, and are highly tempting.
No big deal? Very big deal.
Jimbo essentially retired from most activity. He got his fingers burnt again and again, even when he was clearly right, clearly standing for policy.
The bottom line is that wiki process, this "self-organization" that the page talks about, is essentially mob rule, unless channeled by deliberative structures and protections. We learned, as humans, to do that centuries ago.
It's part of human knowledge and part of any sane summary of it. Say, w:Robert's Rules of Order or any of the guides to parliamentary procedure. Organizations that do not adopt similar may function very well when small and tight, with high unification of purpose. That fooled the early Wikipedians. Wikiprocess worked on a larger scale; were this a face-to-face organization, it would have broken down without process being established, when much smaller. But the problems of scale still appeared, and quickly. And it was believed that consensus was magic pixie dust, that it would solve all problems, naturally, everything would improve with time.
Consensus is, in fact, powerful. However, Wikipedia abandoned it. Genuine consensus requires full participation, or at least, effective and voluntary representation. There are plenty of signs of the problem. Long term abusers are users who consider themselves unfairly shut out, many or most of them. Humans rebel against that. It's a setup. The practice of exclusion, then creates constant attack.
Most excluded users just go away. However, then, the damage is simply hidden. I found that the reputation of Wikipedia in academic circles was terrible, and this wasn't just about poor content, it was about experts who had tried to edit wikipedia and who were abused and blocked. For a case, take a look at Boubaker Polynomials/Wikipedia. That history is unsurprising. What was unusual is that Team Boubaker persisted for a long time.
What I found amazing was that Team Boubaker actually followed policies, much more than the accusations against them would acknowledge. There were three AfDs on Wikipedia. That fact is often cited as if it proved abusive recreation of deleted material. In fact, the first AfD was a normal deletion of a not-yet-notable topic, based on lack of reliable sources. The author was Boubaker himself, the article was simple truth, an outline of the fact. The other two articles were restored or allowed by an administrator. Then there was a Deletion Review, where the community was snowing support, and it was closed because the nominator was allegedly a sock puppet. That is very questionable, in what I found. And "nominator is a block evader" is not a legitimate reason for a closure, if there has been significant non-evading participation.
The entire affair is a demonstration of how administrators come to control content. It was blatant on fr.wikipedia, because there, they regularly speedy-deleted based on behavior assessments or other non-content reasons, and make personal decisions about notability, etc., which is not allowed -- in theory -- on en.wikipedia. This is all about administrators taking on content responsibility, and there, it was a huge mess, with allegations of racism, threats of lawsuit, etc. In the wiki community, the administrators are almost uniformly seen as the Good Guys, and the Outsiders as Bad. But.... the academic output of Boubaker is astonishing. There is, by now, no doubt about the notability of the topic. But anti-Boubaker forces are still operating. One probably racist comment from an administrator was rev-deleted, at his request, apparently. Gotta protect the administrators!
But who protects the users? Someone who does that can become very unpopular. Mob rule. Wiki!
Can we do better? I think so, or I wouldn't be bothering.