Editor’s note: Gene McKenna is one of UpTake’s founders and he believes in the power of the Wiki. Gene sees Wikipedia as a solid information source for travelers’ seeking information about other countries, cities and towns they plan to visit. The problem is he fears wikibullies are going to take over and squash the grass roots, open sourced information which is the basis of Wikipedia and the source of its rich information. This essay is his quest to stop wikibullying.
I can hardly claim to be a Wikipedia Newbie – my first edit was Feb 18th, 2004 about Cesar Chavez. I’ve probably done a few hundred edits since then on maybe a dozen or two pages, and I have created several pages.
And that experience has taught me that Wikipedia has become a house of bullies.
Back in 2004 Wikipedia was a very friendly place and contributions from just about anyone were welcome. In 2009, I challenge a newbie to create an article on Wikipedia and have that article exist for an entire week. Guaranteed, your article will be marked for “speedy deletion” within about two minutes of its creation.
I’ve had a page deleted for being ‘too commercial’ even when the page was describing a non-profit group of volunteers that have been operating a ski hill for over fifty years. When I put the page back up some Wiki-bully warned me that putting back a deleted page is “a sure way to piss people off around here”- as if I am I am not a person “around here” and as if I shouldn’t be upset that someone deleted my page!
Now that same page, having survived a month of its second life, is marked as “not notable” and may be deleted soon. Perhaps every elitist Wiki-bully learned to ski at Vail or Aspen, but where I am from, Kettlebowl is a pretty notable ski hill.
So I am learning to be a bully too! My photos were being deleted left and right. It didn’t matter if I checked the box that I totally, ultimately swear that this is my own work and I agree to share it with the world. If some Wiki-bully didn’t like it – poof! It was gone. So I have found that if I put it back with a terse comment in the description like “Don’t delete my photo again!!!!” it is more likely to be left undeleted. Now I’m a bully too!
A good way to tell how bad the bully situation is, is by counting the number of ‘bots’ that edit your page vs the number of humans. A ‘bot’ is a computer program that reads pages and makes changes automatically so a human bully doesn’t even have to bother with you. One bot exists solely to annoy me by changing statements like ’4th of July’ to ’4 July’. The name of this ‘bot’ even indicates that its creator sees himself as a bully – it’s called ‘Smackbot’. I imagine the creator of Smackbot was a kid that no one listened to in high school so now he is going to smack everyone around on Wikipedia. Way to go Smackbot-man!
Part of the problem, to be sure, is not that everyone on Wikipedia is a bully. I am sure that most of the heavy Wikipedia users are great people and they mean well. But they may forget that newbies aren’t born knowing the proper communication protocols of the wiki-community nor are they adept at wikipedia’s ridiculously crazy user interface and syntax.
For a newbie, it is not obvious, for example, that if you have a question about why some ‘smackbot’ changed your page or why your article about the greatest raptor conservationist in America is considered Unambiguous advertising or promotion, that the proper thing to do is to go to that person’s (or robot’s?) talk page, look past all the wonderful awards he has won, and edit his talk page to leave a question. (Actually, I still don’t know if that is the right thing to do.)
And if you do edit someone’s talk page, don’t dare get that process wrong, because some Wikipedians have extensive instructions on their talk page about the correct way to write on their talk page and they will clearly be upset if you don’t write on their talk page correctly. At least one of them made a useful widget to help ensure you can write on his talk page correctly.
Of course, dear Newbie, you know that when you edit someone’s talk page you should sign your name by typing ~~~~ – that is obvious, isn’t it? And when you go to upload that photo (that will soon be deleted) and you first login to wikipedia, you will then be told that you should really be logged in to wiki-MEDIA instead. What’s more inviting than having two make two new online accounts in order to contribute?
Between the learning curve of Wikipedia culture, the Wikipedia UI and the tolerance of some of its bullies for people not already steeped in that culture … who has time for this?
Wikipedia is dead – the Britannica staff has taken over.
Click here to read Gene’s proposal for how to make Wikipedia more inclusive and Newbie-friendly.