The article contains some interesting facts, some of which you might have heard before. It is specifically about the German Wikipedia site, but I doubt this makes qualitatively much of a difference. While the site is frequently consulted, it's only a small fraction of people, of the order of some promille, that edit articles. Most of the registered users seem to never use their account. The people who contribute frequently seem to be driven to a large extend by the social ranking in that community. This is not very different to other online forums. The number of rules and regulations for editing Wikipedia articles has been steadily increasing. Spiegel online interviewed Henriette Fiebig who works at the German headquarters of Wikipedia. She says
- "Now you need three days just to read all the rules."
Even more interesting is what Elisabeth Bauer, who has played a leading role in the German Wikipedia community from the beginning on, says about these rules:
- "Discussions in those days didn't last long, because there was hardly anyone there to participate. We often just established rules quickly, without giving them a lot of thought. It seems strange to see how some people today are beating themselves up over things that you yourself simply wrote down at some point."
A development that I've seen happen in completely other circumstances as well...
The Spiegel ONLINE article further focuses as example on one particular debate that went on "backstage" in the discussion pages. It features a completely irrelevant detail, a guy who can't admit to be neither wrong nor compromise on that irrelevant detail, and a women who gets angered by that guy and tries to drown him in facts. The detail in this case is the question whether or not the Danube tower is a TV tower. For what I am concerned, as long as you haven't defined what a TV tower is, you can't answer the question, so first thing you should do is to clarify what the issue is about. And arguments about definitions are moot anyway. A definition is never wrong, it's just more or less useful.
But, as you can guess, a guy with a big ego who can't compromise can waste other people's time and in the end often wins just because everybody in their right minds realizes they are wasting their time.
It is a sad story and one that, unfortunately, is very typical for online conversations. It makes me wonder, once again, if not a wide-spread education in how to lead fruitful and constructive arguments would be helpful to alleviate this issue.
If you found that status report from the inner workings of online-communities depressing, I recommend you read this heart-warming NYT story: