Saturday, March 27, 2010

Learning about Wikipedia

Two weeks ago a learning project about why people edit Wikipedia was deleted from Wikiversity out of fear that it would undermine Wikipedia's credibility as a reliable source of information. Why does this matter? Wikipedia has managed to drown out Wikiversity's side of the story, and in some cases even ignored it completely.

  • Wikiversity was in the midst of reviewing the work when it was deleted out from underneath everyone.
  • When a fresh review was started asking the community to examine whether the work was within scope and whether Wikipedia Co-founder Jimmy Wales had acted appropriately by deleting the work, Jimmy Wales responded by writing that he was discussing the possability of closing Wikiversity with the Wikimedia Foundation Board of Trustees. Luckily the Trustees quickly agreed that closing Wikiversity was unnecessary.
  • Mr. Wales called on the Wikiversity community to create a process for reviewing works which Wikiversity already has in abundance, and in fact Mr. Wales had interrupted.
  • Mr. Wales called on the Wikiversity community to stand up against trolls. Anytime the word "troll" is mentioned any hope for a mature and reasonable conversation usually goes out the door. A troll is someone that deliberately and intentionally attempts to disrupt. Instead of a mature and reasonable conversation to understand how and why Mr. Wales thinks the work is deliberately and intentionally disruptive, the Wikiversity community had to play 20 questions to get any answers.
  • Mr. Wales and some users of Wikipedia seem to think that restoring a controversial work and allowing people a chance to view and change the work as it is being discussed is inappropriate. Without a means for Wikiversity to accurately and constructively make a decision about a unknown work this leaves Wikiversity in a bind.
  • The Wikiversity community thinks the work is within scope and just needs to be heavily edited. This was the direction the first review was headed in before it was interrupted and is the conclusion that was drawn after the fresh review.
  • The Wikiversity community thinks that Mr. Wales created more drama than was necessary by interrupting the first review through deletion of the work, and by using the ugly troll word.
  • Mr. Wales is insistent that the work remain deleted rather than heavily edited, and that the author of the work avoid writing anything like it again.
  • The Wikiversity community believes the work was about understanding why people edit Wikipedia and what motivates them to disrupt Wikipedia.
  • The Wikiversity community agrees that running experiments on websites without permission from the owner is unethical and should not be hosted on Wikiversity. Unfortunately some users of Wikipedia have concluded that by Wikiversity disagreeing with the nature of the deleted work Wikiversity supports undermining Wikipedia and as a result have mislead other users into believing that this is true. Where will this lead and when will it end? Your guess is as good as mine.
  • To Mr. Wales credit he does believe that Wikipedia is in general an acceptable topic to learn about. Is Wikipedia of the same mind as Mr. Wales though?
How will Wikiversity deal with the cards it has been dealt? Well so far Wikiversity is seeking to have the global founder group removed from Mr. Wales so he cannot cause Wikiversity problems again for a 3rd time, some users of Wikiversity are writing an open letter asking for clarification in what role the Wikimedia Foundation plans to take in daily management of Wikiversity, some users have left Wikiversity, some users have moved on to doing other things on Wikiversity, and some users have began work to try to clarify Wikiversity policy in hopes of avoiding a return visit from Mr. Wales.

If Mr. Wales last visit to Wikiversity is any indication of what to expect, Wikiversity will need a year or more to recover from Mr. Wales' visit and Wikiversity policy will not have changed much or at all. I hope that Wikiversity will see more learning projects about Wikipedia in the future that do not end up in the trash bin.


  1. "The Wikiversity community agrees that running experiments on websites without permission from the owner is unethical" <-- The stated goal of the project was to search for an ethical experiment that would do no harm and help improve Wikipedia. Every time a wiki participant follows the "Be Bold" approach to editing, they are performing an experiment.

  2. Do you think the outcome would of been different if the words "help improve Wikipedia" had been used in the work to describe the goal?

  3. The deleted project stated the goal as finding an "experiment which causes no harm in its execution, whilst yielding results useful for the greater good, or which inspire positive change". Judging by comments left at Wikiversity after the deletion, the people who believe that the project was an attack on Wikipedia never read and understood the project. In some cases "ethical breaching experiment" was assumed to mean that ethics were to be breached. A big "help improve Wikipedia" at the top of the project page might have been noticed, but I'm skeptical that it would have changed how the project was treated by Wikipedians who tend to assume bad faith.

  4. I meant even to the extent that Jimbo may not have deleted the work in the first place had the words "help improve Wikipedia" been used.

    I think most Wikipedians relied on blind faith in Jimmy Wales ability to do the right thing to protect the interests of the Wikimedia projects in the absence of the work and its complete revision history to look at. If not blind faith, than maybe their high respect for him.


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