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