Why Wikipedia Will Fail
by E. A. Barbour
For months, Mr. Strelnikov has begged me to write a fully honest essay on where Wikipedia is going. Having just spent FOUR YEARS studying and taking notes on the internal culture of Wikipedia, as well as its content, and having helped to produce a website containing more than two million words of notes, I daresay that most people would likely conclude that I can actually sit in judgement of the Wiki-world with some accuracy. In fact, the only hard conclusion I can reach is rather simple: that Wikipedia as an active community is dying, and no one can stop it. Because it is based on lies. The content? Hell with that. It was just the "honeypot" to build the community.
In 2011 and 2012 I performed statistical analyses of editing patterns, administration actions, article content biases, and a variety of other quantifiable patterns. One thing that stood out was a repeated pattern of percentages of good work vs. bad work; in general, roughly 15% of Wikipedia work is valuable, and the other 85% is either of dubious value or is complete garbage. This percentage appears in all kinds of unrelated analytic areas. And yet, the Internet-using public sees absolutely nothing wrong with it. Least of all its alleged "founder", the ever-dubious Jimmy "Jimbooboo" Wales.
Understand the worst thing about the perception of Wikipedia: it is not one thing, it is many many things. It is a scattered gigantic mess of hundreds of websites, with tens of thousands of people editing bits of it every day. The general public does not see the massive and lumbering bureaucracy behind the scenes, nor do they see the mind-blowingly stupid fights on hundreds of noticeboards, arbitration boards, mediation boards, or special areas like the ever-broken "Manual of Style". For fools, perception is truth, and these ugly places are not perceived because they are not easy to find. Not to mention the considerable amount of traffic on private Wikipedia IRC channels, which only insiders see. This is an archaic Internet protocol that very few people use anymore -- even IT professionals. It is "invisible" to average folks, therefore it does not exist.
Another part of WP's warped public perception is that average users automatically assume the administration is "reliable" and "trustworthy". Because of course, in their ignorance, the hoi polloi deludes themselves into thinking "as above, so below". And what they see (all they see) is "loads of interesting and probably-reliable info". When in fact, Wikipedia is the same 85% dubious/rotten, above AND below. Some of the administrators are good and honest people, some of them are average, and some are deeply arrogant and incompetent. Some are completely crazy and should be medicated forcibly. But they aren't controlled in any way. Again, this returns to Jimbooboo's incompetent oversight of the people he installed. And their subsequent evolution into a kind of obsessive, intolerant cult organization.
No one else but Wales can be blamed for the presence of "The Cunctator". Or of David Gerard, or of Tony Sidaway, or of Mark "Raul654" Pellegrini, or of "Essjay", or of Fred Bauder, or of a litany of other early administrators. Incompetent or not, they licked Jimmy's ballsack, so he put them in and insisted they have power, whereupon they caused total chaos. Some of them were placed on the early Arbitration Committee, simply because "Jimbo Sez So". The early history of Arbcom is full of dirty tricks and favoritism done by these fine people, to protect their friends and whatever biased Wikipedia content was involved. Arbcom eventually became a little more egalitarian yet still suffers from bloviation and uselessness. The rot set in back in 2005-2007 and all the chlorine bleach in the world won't remove it. Their "Mediation" system, which was supposed to prevent arbitrations and editor restrictions, was a massive failure.
And because Jimmy was a lazy and cowardly dictator, adminship was assumed to be "for life". Until recently, when administrators started to be removed for inactivity, the only way to get rid of one was for proven and outrageous acts of abuse for years. Even this was often not enough; several high-ranking Wikipedians who stuck their noses into the Israel/Palestine editwarring and other areas have yet to be punished for playing favorites. (Ironically I found that the administrators who were quitting or being pushed out for inactivity tended to be content contributors. The remaining sysops are mostly bot-operating drones, vandalism patrollers, and nut cases. Drug addicts, in other words. Wikipedia is their cult and their heroin. For some of them, Wikipedia is a source of income. Of course, no one wants to talk about this or admit it.) Wikipedia was set up in a broken way, we know exactly who was responsible, and yet it is clear it can never be repaired.
Back in 2012 when the now-failed criticism website Wikipediocracy was started, the sysops started a companion wiki for use by journalists and outsiders, to be a repository of hard information about WP internal operations that were difficult to find or verify. I wrote an article about Wikipedia's "death spiral" for it, liberally punctuated with charts from my previous analyses. It was completely disturbing information. And yet it was completely ignored. The Wikipedians ignored it, Wikipediocracy ignored it, and the journalists Wikipediocracy tried to attract ignored it. I've since realized why journalists rarely run critiques of Wikipedia: they use it routinely for background information, themselves, without further checking of facts. In short, they love it, have assumed that it is "accurate", and are fearful of damaging their favorite online general reference with bad publicity. I suspect this is why real criticism of WP, no matter how well justified, falls on deaf ears and is forgotten. Wikipediocracy's asinine sysops have deleted the "death spiral" article, along with considerable other content on their wiki. So an archive.org copy will have to do.
One of the "best" things Jimbooboo ever did for the Wikimedia Foundation was to put Sue Gardner in charge. And the only important thing she accomplished was to make the WMF into an effective fundraising organization. Mostly by begging directly to the general public, and by ass-kissing wealthy people in the Internet industry such as Google's management and Craig Newmark of Craigslist. Otherwise, she hired incompetent lunatics from the insider corps, lied about Wikipedia's quality and value, and otherwise played along with the "cult". She grew the organization from a few paid workers into hundreds, many chosen from the cultic insider ranks. Thanks to their cultic intolerance of criticism or outsider commentary, they refused to admit that Wikipedia's editing community was deeply flawed and declining. Not until Gardner admitted they had a problem in 2010, and was subsequently replaced in 2014 by Lila Tretikov, did any major changes occur at the WMF, as Tretikov started to push out some of the organization's incompetent dead weight (Erik Möller, former "Deputy Director", widely rumored to have had an affair with his boss Gardner) and liars (Steven Walling, Sarah Stierch and others). But she can't fix the community's male bias, paid editing issues, copyright-problem backlogs, and large quantities of crackpots, and she doesn't appear to be trying. Possibly she realizes how hopeless it is.
There are many other disturbing aspects to the handling of WP's decline. The all-important number of articles, or "content pages" is rapidly approaching the 5 million mark, despite a large number of these articles being generated by bots that scrape other websites, or by obsessive nutcases. Or sometimes by paid editors; especially in corporate areas and biographies. That 5 million number is bandied about as if it were magic. There is no talk, no measure of the QUALITY of these articles. Plus, this listing of statistical figures about English Wikipedia has numerous columns that stop in January 2010. No explanation. Are they so embarrassing? The "official page" about administrators lists 1,343 of them (whoops, it dropped to 1,342 while I was writing this paragraph), yet if you dig a little deeper , you learn that only 582 of them are currently "active". It hasn't been this low since 2005. As I said, those vanished administrators tended to be content writers and most of them appear to be quite disgusted with the way Wikipedia is operating today. New-article quantities per month are declining, new editor accounts are declining (they now have 26 million of them, even though most are unused sockpuppets and only a tiny fraction do something regularly), and many other indicia of the "health" of Wikipedia editing are either declining or static. You won't see anything about this on the front page, nor in any Wikimedia promotional materials.
Next time I'll comment on Wikipedia's tiny and pseudo-effective community of critics. They enjoy similar levels of competence/incompetence and outright lunacy, and are also declining as Wikipedia declines. And will deny it just as strenuously as Jimbo denies any problems with his "great creation" -- because most of them are either maniac Wikipedian fans who want to "save" it, or are secretly making money editing it. I've got some really negative things to say about Wikipediocracy, in fact.