Saturday, May 26, 2012

Schools Wikipedia

Jon Davies (Chief Executive of Wikimedia UK) gave me a 'Schools Wikipedia' CD which I gratefully accepted along with a Wikimedia UK coffee mug, which I use for my early morning mug (thank you Jon!).

I didn't look at the disc until today, fearing what horrors there might be, but actually it is quite good. It has clearly been edited to remove the worst of the grammatical abominations. The pictures are a more sensible size so there is none of that ugly white space, and, best of all, no footnotes except where necessary. The links to the very worst article have been removed.

Yet there is one more thing of great significance. When I checked the Age of Enlightenment article, it was much better than the version of the article I criticised here. For example, I criticised the current article (permalink) as stating that the Age of Enlightenment was a movement when, as its name suggests, it is a period. The schools article, by contrast, correctly states that it is a period after all.

Sigh of relief that the corruption of our schoolchildren is not imminent, at least in this case. But why the difference? Had the mistakes been edited out by professionals? Well, probably not. A bit of research shows that the school version dates from around October 2005. Which bears out what I have always said. A lot of reasonably good people were contributing to Wikipedia around that time, then left after a wave of vandalism and trolling hit the project in 2006. The vandalism was like 'drinking water from a firehose'. This was countered by a massive increase in the number of vandal fighters, but at the same time and by that very token the project was turning from building into an encyclopedia, which requires certain skills, to protecting against vandals, as well as running a secret intelligence force that would have made Stalin proud, and this requires different skills.

Very significant that the quality of Wikipedia has got demonstrably worse over 2005-12.


William M. Connolley said...

I think you're missing a lot. The vandalism bit is relatively insignificant. If you look at the reasons why good people leave, it is never that.

Its more something you've alluded to before - the difficulty in keeping a good article good, in the face of people trying to "improve" it without really knowing what they are doing. In the area of GW (or Eastern Europe, or Middle East, or...), there is also the politically motivated interference.

Edward Ockham said...

>>I think you're missing a lot. The vandalism bit is relatively insignificant. If you look at the reasons why good people leave, it is never that.

I agree with your other reason (i.e. the well-meaning but destructive editors).

My point was not about vandalism, but rather the creation of an entire class of 'vandal fighters' whose purpose is defined by fighting vandalism, and who are not, as a group, very sympathetic to education and knowledge and all those good things.

A farmer once told me that there is a fine line between a sheep dog guarding sheep, and killing them. The same DNA that makes them guard sheep or round them up, is closely connected with the hunter killing instinct. Most dogs that attack sheep are ex-sheepdogs (he claimed).

Similarly with 'vandal fighters'. I have the distinct feeling that they view content creators as a special sort of vandal who the farmer says they must protect, but who their natural instinct says they must block and ban.

Edward Ockham said...

Good to see you hear again William. So you've been lurking around reading all this boring stuff about sense and reference, just waiting for a Wikipedia post? Nice to see you anyway.

Edward Ockham said...

Why do have a picture of rowers instead of the one with the children? Do you row?

William M. Connolley said...

> Do you row?

Is the pope Catholic?, etc. etc..

I'm afraid I don't read the stuff about reference. You're on my google reader feed, so I see all and hear all, but only comment sometimes.

Wiki: yes, there is a community of vandal fighters, and yes I agree they sometimes get a touch enthusiastic (partly I think because noobs take it as one of the routes to the top, because it gets you a high edit count quickly which can look good; I've seen people doing this, but it encourages carelessness). There was a study somewhen about std users creating new articles using new accounts, and seeing how quickly people put them up for AFD. The results weren't encouraging. However, as a problem they are fairly minor, and they do good too. The larger "problem" they cause/are is that they effectively dilute the electorate away from content-creators.