BUSI­NESS Wikipedia has been taken over by trolls and mob rule, says co-founder

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - PEOPLE - PAUL GAL­LAGHER

LON­DON: Wikipedia’s co­founder has warned mob rule and anti-elitism are ru­in­ing the web­site – com­par­ing it to “in­mates run­ning the asy­lum”.

Larry Sanger said he walked away from the on­line en­cy­clopae­dia just one year af­ter it be­gan life in 2001 be­cause it quickly be­came “taken over by trolls”.

The 46-year-old went on to es­tab­lish Ci­ti­zendium, a ri­val “free knowl­edge project” where user-gen­er­ated con­tent would have to be ap­proved by ed­i­tors with min­i­mum lev­els of qual­i­fi­ca­tions, such as col­lege diplo­mas or de­grees.

“Wikipedia never solved the prob­lem of how to or­gan­ise it­self in a way that didn’t lead to mob rule,” the Ohio-based de­vel­oper told Vice.com.

“On the one hand, it isn’t a mob at all. It’s highly or­gan­ised and struc­tured and there’s a lot of rules, so it seems like the very op­po­site of that, right?

“But on the other hand, the way that the com­mu­nity is or­gan­ised isn’t cod­i­fied or de­cided upon in any type of con­sti­tu­tional way.

“So there might be some peo­ple who se­lec­tively ap­ply rules ac­cord­ing to po­si­tions that other peo­ple take on their pet is­sues. And that’s in­her­ently un­fair.

“I don’t want to be in the busi­ness of Wikipedia- bash­ing… but I do think it has a root prob­lem that’s so­cial. Peo­ple I would say are trolls sort of took over. The in­mates started run- ning the asy­lum.”

Fel­low Wikipedia co­founder Jimmy Wales, who still over­sees the web­site, was one of three founders of a free on­line en­cy­clopae­dia called Nu­pe­dia when he brought Sanger on board to de­velop the project.

His back­ground in phi­los­o­phy was seen as crit­i­cal to its de­vel­op­ment.

An ex­pert in emerg­ing “wiki” tech­nol­ogy – which al­lowed web­sites to be edited di­rectly by any­one – Sanger came up with the name Wikipedia. He also wrote its found­ing doc­u­ments and spent the next 14 months as the site’s sole paid ed­i­tor and philo­soph­i­cal leader.

If he could go back to his time at Wikipedia again Sanger said he would have in­sisted on a more aca­demic sys­tem of ap­prov­ing ar­ti­cles.

He told Vice.com: “By the time the new re­cruits ar­rived – the an­ar­chist crowd, as I called it at the time… there wasn’t any­one who was really lead­ing the project. There needed to be a way for new ideas to be pro­posed and voted on by the com­mu­nity.

“And right now I think Wikipedia is sort of stuck, and has long been stuck. They’re very slow to adapt, be­cause they don’t have any com­mu­nity-ap­proved mech­a­nism for propos­ing and ap­prov­ing new changes. So there needed to be a con­sti­tu­tional sys­tem for do­ing that. And I think it could have been added, but never was.”

The English Wikipedia has al­most 27 mil­lion users who have reg­is­tered a user­name. Of th­ese al­most 130 000 could be clas­si­fied as “Wikipedi­ans” – vol­un­teer con­trib­u­tors who write and edit Wikipedia ar­ti­cles – hav­ing edited a page over the last 30 days and more than half of them (53 per­cent) are aged 29 or un­der.

Ci­ti­zendium has pub­lished al­most 17 000 ar­ti­cles in English com­pared with Wikipedia’s five mil­lion-plus. – The In­de­pen­dent

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