Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Register disses Wikipedia, this time with class

I was interviewed last week by a reporter from the Register about this whole Durova thing. The article is out now. It's actually a pretty good read; the Register has a history of, um, poor coverage of Wikipedia and I was a bit hesitant to do the interview at first, but I'm glad that I did. (I'm sure the dedicated Wikipedians are all slamming it; they have to. It's required as part of maintaining their culture of identified external enemies.)

Slashdot ("we haven't broken a new story since 1997!") has, of course, an article about the Register article. Normally I don't read Slashdot, but just this once I did. Most of the comments are crap, of course, but this one was actually insightful:
Most of us have some idea that there is a class of people who, to a varying degree, want to be part of an "in group". To create an in group you also have to create an out group. Then you differentiate the in group and the out group, ascribe exaggerated virtue to the in group and look for scapegoats in the out group. You do this because in this way you focus power into the in group. It's essential to have secret, restricted means of communication between in group members.

These people will of course seek to infiltrate and take over any organization perceived as having any kind of power, whether it is over ideas, money or people. That's because, after all, this is what they are after.

It makes no difference whether it is religion, politics or an Internet encyclopedia, offer an entry for the people with psychopathic tendencies and they will come. The rant quoted in the Register article is simply typical of the breed.

To get people to do moderation work unpaid, you have to offer them something. That something is described above -a small amount of power and the feeling of being in an in-group and privy to secret knowledge. Depressingly, what I conclude from this is that the only real answer is to pay people and have competition. Payment offers rewards to people who do not care about power or exclusivity. Competition means that disgruntled customers and competitors go elsewhere, i.e. they can escape from an abusive in group. What Wikipedia needs is a commercial model and competition. That way, the psychopaths and compulsive neurotics are unlikely to take over the shop (and the ones on the staff can waste their energy litigating, which seems to be the main way we keep psychopaths out of trouble in the English speaking world.)

I don't know who Kupfernigk is, but he (or she) is spot on here. Unfortunately, he doesn't offer a viable solution to the problem. That's been my problem, too: I can readily see that there's a problem (unlike so many Wikipedians, who insist that all is well in Wikiland despite evidence to the contrary) but I have no idea what the solution is. (Well, actually, I have some ideas for solutions, but no idea how to make them happen. The power dynamics of Wikipedia are really deeply entrenched.) What I do know is that the first step to solving a problem is to acknowledge that it exists. So far, Wikipedia refuses to do that. Until it does, there will be no improvement.