Why I’ve (mostly) retired from Wikipedia

A week ago, Newyorkbrad of English Wikipedia Arbitration Committee fame (and if you don’t know what that means already, it’s not worth your time to delve into the intricate internal workings of Wikipedia to find out) asked me why I retired from Wikipedia. It’s a question I get asked fairly often and I’ve even heard it was being discussed on one of the ex-Wikipedian forums. So here’s my well put together answer that I can proceed to link to from now on whenever the question is raised again.

First of all, the basic presupposition of the question is false. I have not retired from Wikipedia. I still retain all access levels and keep in constant contact with many Wikipedians. I still run all the same bots. What is true to say is that I have “mostly” retired. If you look at my contributions, you’ll see that they’ve drastically decreased from their once high former levels.

The simple reason is that I’ve become bored with managing the inner workings of Wikipedia. Too much drudgery, not enough fun. Even the drama, which used to captivate me, has simply grown lame. I have some form of long-term ADD that leaves me progressively more and more bored with any single activity. Any sort of online community has a very limited shelf life for me. I can’t even remember all of the online communities I’ve been part of, including various newsgroups, web forums, chat rooms, online games, clans, etc., that I departed from just as quickly as I got involved in in the first place. Most of them I never look back at.

But Wikipedia is different. The reason I came to Wikipedia in the first place — that it is a great source of knowledge — hasn’t changed in the least, so I still find myself using Wikipedia every day on a purely educational basis. Wikipedia thus has some intrinsic value to it that everything else I’ve abandoned doesn’t, so I cannot foresee ever leaving permanently. So while I don’t go seeking out administrative tasks to perform anymore, I still reply to messages on my talk page within a reasonable amount of time. And if I come across an error while reading a Wikipedia article, I fix it. This level of activity probably puts me in the same boat as most Wikipedia users, but compared to my previous highs, it is a precipitous decline, leading people to ask the question why I quit Wikipedia.

And then there’s the ugly part of it. I’ve become disillusioned. Once you’ve been on the inside, you see more and more ugly stuff that rattles your conscience, and you either end up accepting it or getting repelled by it. I could not accept it, so I chose the latter route. It’s funny what a lot of the Wikipedia onlookers focus on as being the worst examples of what happens behind the scenes at Wikipedia, because most of it doesn’t even register on the worst offenses list of those in the know. The recent Jimmy Wales funds and affairs scandal and the nature of Elevation Partners’ “gifts” (and the Foundation’s curious move to San Francisco, where EP is based) are pretty much the exceptions that did manage to get into the public view. But there’s lots more waiting to be discovered.

Here’s a hint: Stop focusing on inconsequential little editors and administrators on the English Wikipedia (SlimVirgin doesn’t even matter in the grand scheme of how the Foundation is run). Instead, focus on the Wikimedia Foundation: Who runs it, who works for it, and where it gets its money from. If you keep wasting your attention on insignificant administrators abusing their privileges on a piddling handful of articles, you won’t see the forest for the trees.

4 Responses to “Why I’ve (mostly) retired from Wikipedia”

  1. Ben Yates Says:

    Are these problems solvable — that is, are they pretty much confined to jimmy? More specifics would really help.

  2. Anthony Says:

    How do the shenanigans on the foundation board affect what people find when they look something up in Wikipedia? I can see that if the WMF stuff is bad enough, it could present an existential threat to Wikipedia (though not necessarily to the information – hopefully someone is doing occasional database dumps), but except for the occasional sanitized biography, how are the WMF problems going to impact the casual reader of Wikipedia?

  3. Cyde Weys Says:

    Ben: Yes, the problems are solvable, and yes, the official removal of any sort of God-king would be a good start. The Foundation is becoming a more professional organization over time and the misuse of funds that used to occur have been cracked down on by the new staff. But they really need to stop lying to cover each other. Not everyone is worth defending, especially not when the truth has to be distorted to do it.

    Anthony: Any individual bad admin would only severely affect a maximum of a dozen articles or so. It’s hard work consistently being abusive and imposing a POV. However, existential WMF problems would affect every article (in that, if nobody is paying for the servers, they cannot be read). And forking isn’t as guaranteed as you might hope; it was only recently that a complete dump of en-wiki was published, after year(s) of the dumps failing. Who knows when the next one will come?

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