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30 August 2009 @ 10:22 am
A story of one Wikipedia edit  
Wikipedia edits per month

Recently, the topic of Wikipedia's decay stagnation got into the mainstream press, mostly thanks to the PR potential of XEROX PARC guys. The often mentioned reasons for decay are:
  1. the rules and guidelines for contributing become more and more elaborated, the learning curve worsens, occasional contributors are scared off, recruitment slows down
  2. contributions of newcomers and outsiders are often reverted by article's "shepherds" or just random passers-by, thus contributing to despair; arguing with anonymouses on the Internet is generally a miserable activity busy people try to avoid
  3. all trivial topics are already covered; due to the "no original research" policy, significant coverage in the mainstream press is necessary to prove a contribution's notability; thus, much less topics might be covered in the future
I'll tell just another embarassing story on how it works in Wikipedia:
  • On 27 Nov 2007, an anonymous with an ip address, resolving to knuth-pbdsl5.Stanford.EDU, edits Wikipedia page "Donald Knuth" to reflect Knuth's actual opinion about Wikipedia: "Knuth is a fan of Wikipedia, but he's a bit leery of the concept, saying that he would not want to have to remain forever on guard after making technically complex contributions, lest his comments be badly reedited." The comment for the edit says: "Somebody thought I was NOT a fan of Wikipedia ... I've tried to characterize my true views -- Don Knuth"
  • On 9 Sep 2008 RJFJR adds the citation-needed mark to that particular passage. RJFJR is a "veteran editor" awarded with a "gold star" (right). The fact practically guarantees that his sphere of control is even more broad than his competence.
  • On 29 Dec 2008 the "uncited claim" is entirely removed by Staecker, one of mid-level administrators. Happy Christmas!

The story is hardly an improbable coincidence. It is more like a predictable outcome of very simple basic rules. The perfect fact delivered right from the ultimate source on that particular topic was washed away, in fact, because it lacked press coverage. on entirely different unexpected reason. Thus, all three mentioned reasons for Wikipedia's decay slowdown are clearly illustrated by this little story.

P.S. 16:32  Check the comments; the story is even more interesting, as it turns out. The passage was marked as uncited, but it was deleted on another reason, namely the "self-reference" policy. P.P.S. 18:20 As it turns out, much more dramatic episodes happened in the past.
P.P.P.S. 18:40 Regarding the "Story is incorrect" argument by gort at HackerNews. The fact the passage was deleted because of "self-reference" even before it could be possibly deleted because of "uncitedness" only makes the point stronger: given that level of complication, it is absolutely no surprise that the growth has leveled off. But instead of the point #3 it puts an accent on points #1 and #2.

P.P.P.S. 23 Nov 2009. The fact of Wikipedia's decline is no longer controversial fearmongering; proven by stats, it hits the mainstream press
P.P.P.P.S. 11 Apr 2011. Wikimedia finally recognizes the obvious.
( 22 comments — Leave a comment )
(Anonymous) on August 30th, 2009 11:36 am (UTC)
A DNS reverse does not constitute a verifiable source (, biographies of living people ( are serious business ( and editing of one's own article is discouraged (

The policies of WP aren't designed for short-term efficiency, so from that perspective, they make little sense.
no_gritzko_hereno_gritzko_here on August 30th, 2009 02:08 pm (UTC)
Nice illustration for point #1 ("the rules and guidelines for contributing become more and more elaborated").
(Anonymous) on August 30th, 2009 05:23 pm (UTC)
(I'm the anonymous above but not below)

Those are all fairly basic policies and guidelines that have been around for quite some time now. Yes, they are elaborate and it takes time to become familiar with them, but you don't have to read every policy to contribute. I certainly haven't. You can get pretty far with the five pillars (

Will your edits get modified or pulled out? Yes, sometimes. More often if you don't know what should go into WP. However, people seem to confuse the right of people to contribute with the right of people to keep their contributions untouched.

Being a gnome, pretty much all I do on WP is tweak other people's contributions according to obscure policy and guideline details, exactly so they don't have to. That's not intended as a criticism of their edits; rather it's a complement to them.

As for a DNS reverse not being a verifiable source, I base that more on knowing blackhats than any WP policy. I just don't know. If Knuth (for whom I have the utmost respect) wants to get something into WP, he should make sure it's verifiable. Science has the same rule. Biographies of living people are also special in that they are far more likely to cause lawsuits, so unverified statements tend to get deleted.

PS: You seem to know your way around WP, so please don't be offended by my linking to stuff you may already know. It's mostly for the benefit of other people reading this.
(Anonymous) on August 30th, 2009 05:26 pm (UTC)

[The policies WP:V and WP:BLP and the guideline WP:AUTO] are all fairly basic policies and guidelines that have been around for quite some time now.

Yes, [the complete set of policies and guidelines on WP] are elaborate and it takes time to become familiar with them
(Anonymous) on August 30th, 2009 07:43 pm (UTC)
re Five Pillars
Elaborate rule sets are an excellent sign that one has not found a solution to the root problem, and in fact probably don't understand the problem in the first place. See

re: "You can get pretty far with the Five Pillars…"

Teamwork, Insight, Brutality, Male Enhancement, and Handshakefullness, I presume?
no_gritzko_hereno_gritzko_here on August 30th, 2009 07:52 pm (UTC)
Re: re Five Pillars
Nice point about the Epicycles. Thought-provoking, I'd say. Thanks!
(Anonymous) on August 30th, 2009 03:11 pm (UTC)
Contradictory Rules
I am sure there are contradictions between wikipedia rules, and depends on what wikipedia groupie (or "bastard") make a claim to make you loose a lot of time.
(Anonymous) on August 30th, 2009 12:06 pm (UTC)
The final removal of the comment was not because it was uncited, but because there's no reason for Knuth's opinion of Wikipedia to be mentioned on an encyclopedia article about Knuth.
(Anonymous) on August 30th, 2009 01:24 pm (UTC)
Wikipedia = faggotry
(Anonymous) on August 30th, 2009 01:31 pm (UTC)
That's a joke?
I even cannot figure out how to describe a person avoding his own opinions...

(Anonymous) on August 30th, 2009 01:57 pm (UTC)
Re: That's a joke?
But why is his opinion of Wikipedia important enough to be in the article? It's no more important than his opinion of Twitter.
no_gritzko_hereno_gritzko_here on August 30th, 2009 02:07 pm (UTC)
Re: That's a joke?
His opinion on e-mail also irrelevant then. :)
no_gritzko_hereno_gritzko_here on August 30th, 2009 02:16 pm (UTC)
You mean this rule
Actually, his opinion on Wikipedia was mentioned in the context of his decision to abandon e-mail. Two topics seem to be somewhat related.
But anyway, it is harder and harder for an outsider to understand the internal logic of wiki-bureaucracy and whether a particular (meaningful) contribution fits or blatantly violates some policy or guideline.
(Anonymous) on August 30th, 2009 02:27 pm (UTC)
Ask yourself this question: if the article had instead been a profile piece in the New York Times, would it have mentioned his view of Wikipedia? Perhaps not. Whereas abandoning email is actually somewhat interesting.
(Anonymous) on September 6th, 2009 11:36 pm (UTC)
Well, the NYT would include it now. :-)
(Anonymous) on August 30th, 2009 02:00 pm (UTC)
wikipedia guys
So, these "wikipedia policy is correct" comments must be the two knuckleheads (editor/admin) mentioned in the story?
(Anonymous) on August 30th, 2009 02:09 pm (UTC)
Re: wikipedia guys
I wrote the anonymous comments above defending Wikipedia, but was not one of the editors involved.

As I've tried to explain, when Bob Smith mentions Wikipedia, that fact in itself usually does not warrant being included in the Wikipedia article on Bob Smith. The exception would be if there was some significant connection between Bob Smith and Wikipedia, e.g. in the article on John Seigenthaler.

This has nothing to do with Knuth's remarks being "uncited".
no_gritzko_hereno_gritzko_here on August 30th, 2009 02:29 pm (UTC)
Re: wikipedia guys
That makes the story even funnier, actually. So, it was uncited, but it was deleted because of another rule. Holy gods! It is hard for an outsider not only to contribute, but to generally understand what is going on.
So, with all the respect, Wikipedia administration is free to enforce any kind of rules. The point is not that "Wikipedia is bad". The point is, it cannot grow given that kind of a learning curve.

To summarize, I have an impression, Wikipedia's "elite" settled on the vision of "Better Britannica". Thus, the growth had stopped by design, in a sense.
(Anonymous) on August 30th, 2009 02:34 pm (UTC)
Re: wikipedia guys
This is Brazil meets Kafka. No sense in trying to understand.
tangurena on August 30th, 2009 05:19 pm (UTC)
Re: wikipedia guys
Most of the super-editors/admins of Wikipedia seem startlingly right-wing. So I try to keep my politics out, even though this is the same handle that I edit wikipedia under. Most of the time, the rules essentially boil down to "because Jimbo Wales said so."
(Anonymous) on August 30th, 2009 04:50 pm (UTC)
Wikipedia long ago became web-nerdy
What stroke me with wikipedia was a whole "minority language" project be created on the internet and promoted up to having it's own wikipedia section.

IMO, it's clear how it works: to have authority in WP one needs to be an internet nerd, make thousands of edits monthly (hence get no life), and this will lead to unlimited power. This defines the wikipedia way of thinking: google and voting take place of expertize. The fake language in question made enough pages on the web to seem real (and of course English-speaking editors have are handicapped when they have to deal with facts and sources that origin form other languages). Nobody of the admins/editors has called the scientific institutes, universities, whatever, in the area in question, and the question was handed over to zombies vote.

It took year and who knows how much stress to vote for it's removal.
no_gritzko_hereno_gritzko_here on August 30th, 2009 05:00 pm (UTC)
Re: Wikipedia long ago became web-nerdy
I remember a story of that kind. The so-called "Siberian Language" was invented and advanced by a single freak.

Indeed, to gain power in Wikipedia a person has to work hard and for free, so motivations are sometimes questionable.
( 22 comments — Leave a comment )