Shii's Solution to the Problem of Wikipedia

From Everything Shii Knows, the only reliable source

This website is an archive. It ran from 2006-2010. Virtually everything on here is outdated or inaccurate.

What is the Problem of Wikipedia? It is not often labelled as a single problem, because Wikipedia has several problems, but here is the basic summary: Wikipedia itself is important because it has basically replaced all other encyclopedias. It is always growing and becoming more accurate. However, this is the problem: Wikipedia can never become a complete, accurate encyclopedia of human knowledge. Why? There are three simple reasons.

  1. Nobody is accountable for Wikipedia. Nobody owns it; there is no responsibility, except for its generally pseudonymous editors, and usually you can do nothing more than ban them from the website and tell them not to come back. When Wikipedia makes a Seigenthaler-style mistake, it is absolutely correct to blame the site model itself for this information, not just the prankster who introduced it. You cannot trust Wikipedia because there is nobody to trust.
  2. The day when Wikipedia is 100% accurate will be a startling day indeed. Not only unnoticed vandalism, but also subtler manipulation is going on all the time. The system is constantly being gamed and issues can take a long time to resolve even as new ones are appearing. Thus, Wikipedia will never be totally reliable. It cannot be cited as a source, and indeed it does not allow its users to cite other wikis as sources.
  3. Because of its reliable source policy which makes it reasonably sane, Wikipedia is forced to tell a "winner's history" which can only be based on whatever information actually made it to a reliable source. Reliable sources do not always reflect the truth. It's the only way to construct a coherent entry that nobody can simply tear down and rewrite to reflect a different version of events, and I agree that without it there can only be chaos and misery on a website such as Wikipedia, but reliable sources are not the same thing as truth. The reliable source policy also shuts out non-notable but occasionally useful information.

So, to summarize, Wikipedia lacks:

  1. Accountablility
  2. Reliability
  3. Truth

And these are the three arguments reposted over and over on websites such as Wikipedia Review.


How would you fix Wikipedia?

I would not fix Wikipedia. Wikipedia is being the best Wikipedia it can be right now. So many stupid solutions have been proposed, and none of them work.

"Require editors to use real names."
As the Essjay fiasco has proven, it is easy to make up a fake identity and apparently people do it all the time and rationalize their actions after the fact. Citizendium is trying a stricter way of proving identity, but it's not going to work, and as I argued way back in 2004, making things more difficult for evil people only adds to the thrill of the challenge for them. There is no way for a single, centralized website to have perfect accountability.
"Prevent articles from being shown to the public until they have been reviewed."
On an encyclopedia of one million articles, edited a zillion times a day? Who's going to review the changes, the magic sleepless Wikipedia fairies? This will either slow everything to a crawl (there goes the benefit of using a wiki; let's go back to Nupedia) or just be totally useless as a way of screening things, since everything will go through.
"Forget the reliable source policy. Let's write things we know are the truth."
As Conservapedia shows, "truth" is a rather subjective thing without reliable sources! This will cause chaos on the wiki and endless edit wars by "personal eyewitnesses" with bad memories.
"The NPOV policy is the cause of the whole mess. Let's write things from a Positive Point of View."
No. No no no no. Write an article about Hitler describing him as a brlliant leader? How about we write things from a sane point of view?
"It's all because of the cabal!"
The "cabal" is made up of well-intentioned people trying to keep the encyclopedia clean and free of craziness and drama. Their impact on the encyclopedia articles is minimal. Banning all the "cabal" leaders would only make the articles a little messier.

If you want one big encyclopedia there can be no better model than Wikipedia. But Wikipedia's limits have been reached. There are now so many people on it that the flaws of its model have been made very visible. The idea is broken, however slightly, and it is impossible to fix.

That's too bad. Is it totally hopeless, then?


But you just said Wikipedia is unfixable.

I said Wikipedia was unfixable. I didn't say access to total knowledge was unachievable.

Then what's to be done?

If Wikipedia is broken and can't be fixed, then it goes without saying, it's time to start over.

But wait! Don't make Wikipedia all over again. That would simply be history repeating itself. You can kill three birds with one stone:

  1. Accountability: Write the entire wiki yourself. Don't let anyone else edit it. Take total responsibility for everything you write. It doesn't matter if you're using a pseudonym or your real name; it is all your text, not a mishmash, and if you've made a mistake your readers know who to talk to.
  2. Reliability: You will not have to worry about trolls, vandals, and biased editors if you are the only author.
  3. Truth: Don't worry about reliable sources or NPOV if you know what you're writing is correct. This means you can introduce your own opinion into articles, as long as you feel it is informative.

Voila! You have created the perfect encyclopedia. Of course, it's kind of small. It only contains articles you have written in your own free time, about subjects you know about. But you can link to your friends who also have mini-encyclopedias and have written articles about subjects of their expertise, on totally different servers even.

Your articles will be more interesting than Wikipedia; you can spice them up however you like. You won't have to worry about Wiki-idiots coming in two weeks later and inserting lies, foolishness, or badly spelled criticism. You will trust your own articles and the articles your friends write. Best of all, you can screw with the wiki to your heart's delight, making cute templates, readable styles, and all the barnstars and userboxes you've ever wanted.

I call my invention the personal wiki. Well, originally I just called it the World Wide Web, but most people have forgotten what that was meant to be.

Issues with the personal wiki model

No rules, anything goes
So you'll have to choose who you trust. Isn't that what you do already? The Internet is changing a lot of things, but I don't think people are happy with having a "partial trust" in Wikipedia. They want to either get the facts or discard nonsense, not look at a mish-mash of memories and speculation and confirm somewhere else if it's right.
Requires a lot of free time
So does Wikipedia. In all honesty, Wikipedia requires far more free time because of all the arguing you have to do to make simple changes. And what's more, this solution can grow out of Wikipedia. Let's actually use that GFDL for something more than spammy mirrors! Steal the text of that controversial article you've been arguing about and finally fix it!
Wikipedia has all the Googlejuice and brand-name model
Agreed. Something like half of Wikipedia's page views come from search engines. But I think we just agreed that Wikipedia is not reliable, accountable, or truthful, correct? Then all that Googlejuice is an artifact of the era of Wikipedia's peak, when it was considered the best of all possible websites for various subjects. The centralized model is over, and the method of writing articles simply needs to be updated to reflect that. You can earn your Googlejuice the same way blogs do; by writing good articles.
Requires infinite hosting
There's actually an interesting solution to this. Whoever has acquired hosting gets to be a local God-King, and his friends without hosting can be invited to work on his wiki (their articles, of course, will be properly attributed) or they get their own wikis to work under his rules. If you don't like the way he's running the place, then fork.
You can't put it on DVDs and give it to African children
Of course you can. You can distribute anything with a free license on a DVD. It's just that under this model, the DVD editor will have to pick and choose what he wants to include. And of course, you can't call this selection "Wikipedia," but again, we don't necessarily want to be caught handing out Wikipedia to children.
Makes it too difficult to find a good article on something
Admittedly, this model is not entirely perfect. Wikipedia Review user Somey suggests a middle ground: Wikipedia is obviously far too large, but dividing it up by each individual user might make things to small. In that case, Wikipedia could be divided up into a confederation of wikis which are all large enough to be useful, but small enough to be able to manage their own subjects and control the content of all their articles without having to give up the ghost and surrender to the propaganda pushers and Wiki-fiddlers. The only sure thing is that Wikipedia as it is right now needs to be divided up. Start your own wiki and see where things go!

Technical implementation

See the How to make a personal wiki article.

What happens next?

Indeed, what next?

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