Thursday, November 1, 2007

Old timers

By Wikipedia standards I'm a mere pup. I didn't start editing much under my real name until late 2005, well after the website started on Wikipedia day, January 15, 2001. Sure, it's only a few years, but WP "old-timers" tend to consider themselves privileged on the encyclopedia.

This became painfully apparent when Jimbo Wales recently decided to throw his Wikipedia weight around. Last week, just before he left on a camping trip, Jimbo permanently banned an editor named Miltopia. The banning was somewhat controversial because Miltopia has made some useful contributions to WP. He's also questioned the Wikipedia poobahs about some of their policies and decisions. To at least a few editors, it looked like Jimbo was trying to squelch dissent.

So a brave-to-the-point-of-foolhardiness admin named Zscout370 (why can't people just use their real names?) reverted the ban. Jimbo got back from the camping trip, was not amused, and promptly kicked Zscout370 off the admin list. This produced enormous wailing and gnashing of teeth. You can witness some of the ruckus here. To give Jimbo credit, he buckled under the hollering and restored Zscout370's admin status.

Another ancient Wikipedian named Greg Maxwell casually announced the other day that anonymous editors - who edit under their IP addresses without user names - would be allowed to start creating new articles again. After the Seigenthaler oopsie-doopsie, anons weren't allowed to begin new entries, but only to edit existing articles. This always seemed like a stupid PR ploy to me. Why should an oddball user name suddenly entitle an editor to write new articles?

So I agreed with Maxwell's decision, but the decision-making process was the height of autocratic presumption. Apparently Maxwell got together with a couple other poobahs and decided to make the change, after no consultation at all with the broader range of Wikipedia editors. Gee, us broader-range types only write the damn encyclopedia, Greg.

I really don't buy the constant whines about an evil WP "cabal" that supposedly controls all aspects of the encyclopedia. But when old-timers like Wales and Maxwell start acting like they own the site, I almost want to decamp to Wikipedia Review and yelp. Which is exactly what Miltopia and Zscout370 did.

Wikipedia is a top ten Internet site now. It's no longer a tiny club where the old-timers can casually dictate to everybody and expect quiet obedience. If WP can have a bloated $4.6 million budget, the project can also start respecting its editors a little more, even if they question the sacred decisions of an old-timer or three.

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