Why I’ve (mostly) retired from Wikipedia

Thursday, March 13th, 2008

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.

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Jimmy Wales still in the crosshairs

Wednesday, March 5th, 2008

Jimmy “Jimbo” Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia, is still in the crosshairs. When I last I wrote the story of his messy break-up with Rachel Marsden was hitting major media outlets. But I lamented that they weren’t tackling the conflict of interest and misuse of financial resources angle. Well, now the San Francisco Chronicle is.

This story definitely has legs on it, and the inconsistencies between what members of the Wikimedia Board of Trustees are saying to each other and then what they’re saying to the media really isn’t helping. Everyone knows the Wikimedia Foundation leaks like a sieve, so why in the world are you writing completely incriminating emails revealing that you know the categorical denials given to the media aren’t true? Just be honest with everyone. Stop circling the wagons around Jimmy Wales — he may have co-founded Wikipedia, but he doesn’t have much to do with it anymore. Don’t insist on bringing down Wikipedia with his ship.

Jimmy Wales tangles with the wrong woman

Monday, March 3rd, 2008

If you haven’t been following the ongoing breakup saga between Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales and Rachel “Canada’s Ann Coulter” Marsden, then you’re really missing out on a lot of drama. The Sydney Morning Herald article does a good job of explaining what’s going on, though it does kind of miss the conflict of interest angle that Valleywag covers.

All I can say is Jimmy’s relationship with Rachel definitely ended in much lulz, complete with his dirty clothes being auctioned off on eBay. Now that is quality. Oh, for such a “great” man to confront such pedestrian troubles, and then get steamrolled by them.

Jimbo Wales asks Essjay to resign

Saturday, March 3rd, 2007

It looks like the Essjay situation is finally coming to a resolution, after generating enormous levels of fallout. Jimbo Wales, founder of Wikipedia and resident God-king of the English Wikipedia, has asked Essjay to resign. Here’s the text of his statement:

I have blanked my entire talk page to make sure this statement gets adequate attention. Hopefully someone more clueful than me :-) can archive things properly.

I have been for several days in a remote part of India with little or no Internet access. I only learned this morning that EssJay used his false credentials in content disputes. I understood this to be primarily the matter of a pseudonymous identity (something very mild and completely understandable given the personal dangers possible on the Internet) and not a matter of violation of people’s trust. I want to make it perfectly clear that my past support of EssJay in this matter was fully based on a lack of knowledge about what has been going on. Even now, I have not been able to check diffs, etc.

I have asked EssJay to resign his positions of trust within the community. In terms of the full parameters of what happens next, I advise (as usual) that we take a calm, loving, and reasonable approach. From the moment this whole thing became known, EssJay has been contrite and apologetic. People who characterize him as being “proud” of it or “bragging” are badly mistaken.

On a personal level, EssJay has apologized to me, and I have accepted his apology on a personal level, and I think this is the right thing to do. If anyone else feels that they need or want a personal apology, please ask him for it. And if you find it to be sincere, then I hope you will accept it too, but each person must make their own judgments. Despite my personal forgiveness, I hope that he will accept my resignation request, because forgiveness or not, these positions are not appropriate for him now.

I still have limited net access… for a couple of hours here I will be online, and then I am offline until I am in Japan tomorrow morning. I believe I will have a fast and stable Internet connection at that time, and I will deal with this further at that time.

Wikipedia is built on (among other things) twin pillars of trust and tolerance. The integrity of the project depends on the core community being passionate about quality and integrity, so that we can trust each other. The harmony of our work depends on human understanding and forgiveness of errors.

–Jimbo Wales 06:42, 3 March 2007 (UTC)

So there you have it. It looks like Jimbo simply wasn’t aware of the magnitude of the lies that had been thrown around, and was prepared to accept Essjay’s false identity, but not the way he used it to his advantage in content disputes. Jimbo’s a very busy guy, and he can’t really keep up-to-date on internal wiki matters too well. One thing that worries me, however, is this statement: “I understood this to be primarily the matter of a pseudonymous identity (something very mild and completely understandable given the personal dangers possible on the Internet) and not a matter of violation of people’s trust.”

I’m going to have to disagree on that mark. Even if someone wasn’t using fake credentials in content disputes, I still think it’s wrong. The possession of PhDs automatically gives you a higher level of respect on-wiki even if you don’t throw their weight around, and claiming to have degrees that one doesn’t is wrong no matter the situation. If you’re worried about protecting your identity, either don’t reveal any personal information at all, or make up something discreet, like, “I’m a plumber in Florida.” I could live with someone lying about being a plumber. I can’t really accept someone lying about being a professor.

One thing I was saying yesterday was that Essjay should tender his resignation immediately before he loses the chance to do so. Well, it would appear that that window has closed. If he tenders his resignation now, it won’t be of his own recognizance, but rather, because Jimbo forced him to do it. And if he still doesn’t resign he’s simply going to find himself fired.

Update: See here for a follow-up post; Essjay has resigned.