Talk:Is Wikipedia an experiment in anarchy

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LMS writes:

I need to be granted fairly broad authority by the community--by you, dear reader--if I am going to do my job effectively. Until fairly recently, I was granted such authority by Wikipedians. I was indeed not infrequently called to justify decisions I made, but not constantly and nearly always respectfully and helpfully. This place in the community did not make me an all-powerful editor who must be obeyed on pain of ousting; but it did make me a leader. That's what I want, again. This is my job.
Now if, as I have been recently, I am constantly forced to justify my every action, I can act far less, and my effectiveness as a leader of the project becomes much less effective. This is precisely what has been happening recently. Instead of writing this essay, for example, I could have been doing some much-needed weeding on the wiki, designing a Wikipedia-Nupedia interface proposal, or any of a zillion other things I am paid to do.

Larry, I think part of the reason may be that Wikipedia is getting older, and more maturer. When I for instance first started out here, I gave more heed to what you said, since I hadn't learned the ropes yet; now I've been around long enough, I certaintly consider your opinions, but I don't feel as bound to go along with you as I used to. I think that is just historically inevitable. I guess other people around would be the same.

I think with any collaborative project, inevitably participants will a lot of time discussing policy issues. And besides, Wikipedia is a community -- we are writing an encyclopedia, which will always remain our central goal, but so long as we don't loose sight of that goal (and I don't see any signs we are) we should be free to take short diversions now and then. I think that these tangents, and also internal Wikipedia politics, are important for creating a sense of Wikipedia-community, since they constitute shared experiences; and shared experiences are the foundation on which any community is built. -- SJK

I am of the opinion, as a user, not as master of all that I survey, that meta-discussion mostly belongs off the wikipedia and in the mailing list or elsewhere. One of the things that's important is that we don't get involved here on the Wikipedia in excessive navel-gazing. As we can see from Usenet, people can spend a lifetime arguing without accomplishing anything very useful. (And don't get me wrong, I love Usenet.)

I would gladly donate space to anyone who wants to preserve some vandalism for the sake of "history", on a different server. But Geocities offers free web space already, so that's probably a good place for it. --Jimbo Wales

There are some other UseModWikis where cruft can be deposited. I found,, and in a quick Google search. <>< tbc

Most of the other wikis usually suggest depositing their cruft onto Wikipedia. Don't be so arrogant.

I don't much like Usenet and I think we should avoid both navelgazing, original research, and fiction writing (Ova Prima! Please!). It's hard to quantify, but fiddling with stuff does slow down writing new entries, and edit wars and essay writing are the worst kind of fiddling. --MichaelTinkler

Simon, I'm not going to comment on your first paragraph right now--maybe later.

As to the second, I think we have spent way too much time on Wikipedia politics lately, frankly. That's one main reason why I wrote this essay. Experience with multitudinous failed projects and poisoned communities points up the truth of this. I don't think we have gotten sidetracked by projects so much as by attitudes and personal politics.

As you can see, I share Jimbo's view of navel-gazing. --LMS

But "building a community" is a subsidiary goal as well. We want to build the kind of community that will produce a good encyclopedia; if that means losing a few folks who don't support that goal, so be it. I admit that I have a radical individualist political bias here: to me, nothing worthwhile was ever created by a committee. All the great works of history were the vision of one man or a small group, regardless of how many people were doing the grunt work. I happen to think Jimbo and Larry's vision of this project is a good one, so I'm happy to be one of the grunts. But if they sacrifice their control and their vision to some egalitarian nonsense of "community", they'll fail, and I'll go find some other project that has a clearer vision. Look at open-source software projects as an example; all of the successful ones (Linux, Perl, etc.) had one man or a small group (Apache, Mozilla) leading the project and clearly setting policy. Sure, they listened to the community and sometimes changed their minds, but they were still in control, and had a single vision. So to me, the one "community value" I want most retained is that Jimbo and Larry win. Period. And I think that should be more clearly expressed as Wikipedia policy. Have some balls, guys: you're in charge, don't be afraid to say so. Anyone who can't handle that isn't part of the community. --Lee Daniel Crocker

Counter-example to your statement that no great work has ever been created by a committee, Lee: The King James version of the Bible. I'm not even a Christian and I still consider it one of the three most important pieces of literature in the English language.

On the other hand, that's the only example (unless I'm allowed to include the OED and the Britannica too). But it can be done, and it's worth noting that we have a tool unlike any in history at our disposal: Wiki. -- Paul Drye

LDC: What you say about Linux etc. is right, but an encyclopedia is very different from software -- fifty programmers each independently designing and writing a module of a program will produce a program that is very unlikely to work. Fifty authors each writing an encyclopedia article is much more likely to work; human language doesn't need to be as precise and closely integrated as software.

Also, while I'm quite happy with Larry & Jimbo having some sort of leadership role, I don't like the idea of a Wikipedia policy of "...Jimbo and Larry win. Period... Have some balls, guys: you're in charge, don't be afraid to say so. Anyone who can't handle that isn't part of the community." They have a special status of leadership, but I'd view it more as primus inter pares (first among equals) than as some kind of authority to tell us what to do. (Jimbo has a special kind of authority insofar as its his server and domain name we are using, but that isn't quite what I am talking about.) -- SJK

I'm a bit uncomfortable with Lee's characterization, too, but I'm feeling a lot more comfortable with it now than I would have several months ago. Here's a way to think about what "first among equals" means. Typically, controversies are left to work themselves out by the people who care. But when push comes to shove, if a decision must be made and there's a serious controversy, and I'm partaking of it, sorry, but I'm going to get my way. And you'll be expected to hold your tongue after that. Bear in mind that I am going to listen to you, I have the best interests of Wikipedia at heart, and I am almost never going to contradict a majority. --LMS

LMS: I recognize that might be how things will work in practice, but I don't like the idea of it being mentioned officially; it just goes against my egalatarian and democratic bent to grant anyone an official "last word", no matter how deserving they might be of it. And I think we need some checks and balances -- you may think you can be trusted to use your powers wisely, but not everyone may be so sure. (I'm not saying you can't be trusted -- I'm simply saying no single individual can be absolutely trusted.) I might feel a lot more comfortable if your position in relation to Wikipedia was subject to some sort of election. (I don't expect anyone other than you would win, but one would be important nonetheless, for reasons of democratic legitimacy.) -- SJK (P.S. sorry if I misinterpreted your position re Wikipedia-L).

The ultimate check-and-balance is the threat of a fork. If Jimbo and/or Larry get entirely out of hand, anyone is free to take the GFDL-licensed content of Wikipedia and start another project (with appropriate link-backs to the source until such articles are rewritten). Until then, leaving the ultimate decisions for this project in one or two people is entirely appropriate. Server space is pretty cheap.

I do, by the way, concede your points that the KJV Bible is a marvellous work by committee, and that an encyclopedia project is inherently more distributable than a piece of software. The "vision" of the KJV, though, was already constrained by the nature of the project, so it would have been difficult for too many differences to arise there. It wasn't really a "creative" work at all. I suspect, further, that anyone who had a major disagreement with the King himself quickly found himself off the committee. :-) --LDC

Simon, I am paid to organize Wikipedia, and I founded the project. So I hereby declare that I am dictator for life, until Jimbo fires me.  :-)

This isn't an issue about who's right and who's wrong. It's an issue about who makes the decisions and how long I ought to engage in a debate in order to justify a controversial decision. You can, theoretically, debate points ad nauseam I've given up discussing. This is basically how I've approached the NPOV debates. --LMS

LDC: Yes, I agree that forking is an ultimate check and balance, supposing Larry and Jimbo did go haywire (not implying for a moment that they are likely to), but shouldn't we permit something less drastic than that? Saying we should have forking as the only alternative is like saying that revolution or emmigration should be the only solutions to misrule?

In the real world, the reason we have democratic means for removing people in charge is to stop any damage they might do to the community without the cost of revolution. Supposing Jimbo/Larry did go haywire, the negative effect on Wikipedia would be much less if they were voted out than if the project forked. (Of course, since Jimbo owns the servers he could just ignore the vote, but at least it might serve as some sort of 'official censure'; i.e. it would be more likely that people would accept it than if some faction just decided for forking...) -- SJK

I think this suggestion is far more trouble than it's worth. If we screw up too badly, there's all sorts of things people can do to raise hell. Just act like TheCunctator, for instance. --LMS

Larry, you are paid to do a job here. So do it. If vandalism is a problem, get rid of it. When there is a clear troublemaker wasting your time and Jimbo's money, block them. Not every is going to like that, but ya know, not everyone likes you here anyway. I am not sure I like you :) So whats the difference? Why lose any more sleep over it? Do what you're paid to do so that the rest of us can enjoy this place. And if it forks, whoopdedoo. Good luck to them. You do what you are paid to do here, which includes laying down the law from time to time, and wikipedia will continue to thrive. In closing, let me remind you that "work is work", and sometimes its just that. Not always fun.

Thanks for that firm support, I think!

For the record, I'm not sure I like you either--since you're anonymous.  :-) --LMS

heh... it is firm support. You are doing pretty darn good job overall. And you probably don't like me very much, because I pick on you sometimes. =)

LMS said: "If push come to shove, I'm going to get my way. And you'll be expected to hold your tongue."

I have no problem with the first part (provided we can fork the project if things get really out of hand), but I think the second part makes no sense. Look, I've been the leader of several volunteer based organizations, and my experience is that leaders are criticized, leaders are vulcanized, and leaders have to take shit the grunt's don't have to. From my perspective, that's just what is to be expected since they actions of leaders affect lots of people important ways. If you want to be a leader, you are going to have to deal with people calling you a dick, and even making up egregious lies about you. You don't have to like it, but you can't stop it, and you shouldn't even try, because you?ll only make things worse. That said, I think lots of people should cut you and Jimbo some slack, you are both clearly trying to do the "right thing" and for that you deserve congratulations.

I'd also like to ask some folks who support Jimbo and Larry to deal appropriately with attacks against them.

As far as elections are concerned -- come on now, this is a commercial project run by a company owned by Jimbo. Perhaps it would be better if it were a non-profit, but it is what it is, and nobody elects the owner of the company, and no election dictates how he should spend his money or even how he should delegate his authority. Even if elections were held, we'd all know that at bottom they don't really mean anything, as Bomis pays the darned bills.

I should have clarified, if I didn't, what I meant by "hold your tongue." I didn't mean that you'd be kicked off the project (somehow) if you didn't. I meant that that behavior would be more or less generally expected, a community norm that most people would respect. Short of kicking people out for speaking their mind, which I don't propose (my comments in the essay notwithstanding), this is all I could have reasonably meant by that. --LMS

Who are these people who you say are attacking Jimbo or Larry? I hope you don't mean me, because I'm not, and I don't intend to. Larry and Jimbo have done a wonderful job with Wikipedia, which doubtless wouldn't exist without them. However, they don't own Wikipedia (for one thing, the vast majority of the content was written by other people). Which is why I still think some form of election or something would be useful.

Is this a commercial project run by Jimbo/Bomis? I don't really think so -- sure, they might make some money out of it eventually, and good luck to them, but I don't believe that at the moment they are earning a cent. I suspect that wanting Wikipedia/Nupedia to succeed in itself, even if they don't make money out of it, is at least as important.

And I'd myself admit that since Bomis pays the bills, ultimately they are in control (unless one can find someone else willing to pay for them...) But that doesn't mean elections are useless.

Elections give moral authority to the one elected. And since I'm not proposing we elect anyone other than Larry or Larry/Jimbo, they would add to their authority, not decrease it. The other point is that it would make some people (e.g. me) more happy with the idea of them exercising some kind of authority if they were elected. (Finally, I'm getting sick of that word -- authority! -- it just sounds so ugly.) -- SJK

Simon, we aren't going to have an election. What would happen if someone other than me were elected? Would I lose my job? Look, neither Jimbo or I would support it. So forget it. Besides, since I have already appointed myself dictator-for-life, it would be a mockery of elections. If you want to give me a vote of confidence, write an article. If you want to express the opposite sentiment, raise hell. --LMS

LMS wrote:

I think this suggestion [being able to vote out LMS] is far more trouble than it's worth. If we screw up too badly, there's all sorts of things people can do to raise hell. Just act like TheCunctator, for instance.

I may have raised a little hell, but I've been trying to do a lot more constructive work (like The Cunctator/How to build Wikipedia, The Wikipedia Community, GNU Free Documentation License, comments on mailing lists, and my continued editing work--look how defensive I am!). And for those who think that discussion is stoopid (like MichaelTinkler) I have no defense, but I actually think that it's better to discuss issues when they're young than when they're out of hand or utterly done deals.

And it should be noted that LMS has requested that I delete the Destroy article, so he feels that the raising of hell should not necessarily be preserved.

I disagree strongly with Jimbo that the Wikipedia interface is inappropriate for meta-discussion, and I'm glad that Larry disagrees (at least in action; his essays are great). One of the great things about Wikipedia is that it's naturally inclusive; mailing lists are naturally exclusive. In fact, I'm thinking of working on ways to better integrate the mailing list with Wikipedia, so that we may be able to get the best of both worlds.

In regards to the essay; I think Larry has a bad habit of resorting to rhetorical sloppiness, using loaded terms like "anarchy" and "partisan" to paint the actions of others with a wide brush. Wikipedia had been an experiment in limited anarchism, in regards to Larry's original conception of his role (see Simon J Kissane/Role of Larry Sanger). I had been operating under the assumption that was how he still saw his role. Now that change has been clarified, and Wikipedia is an experiment in some other system.

It seems that the title is a deliberate rewording of a phrase I used on Destroy and Build: "Wikipedia is a noble attempt at a limited anarchistic society". People, including Larry and Gareth Owen, have construed this to call me an anarchist. I'm not. I think anarchism is too idealized to work in the real world, though I appreciate the basic principles of anarchism (see this definition--an anarcho-capitalist has dominated the Wikipedian pages).

As I discuss this, it may make it seem like I have a strong antipathy toward LMS and Jimbo; rather, I have a deep respect for them. They're both intelligent, principled, and idealistic. My criticisms are not criticisms of them or their motives but simply of certain actions or consequences of such actions. --TheCunctator

I started to reply to this, but halfway through realized that it was pretty self-evidently a series of nonsequiturs, ignoratio elenchis, misattributions and misunderstandings, and other problems. Correcting all this is precisely the sort of thing that I don't have time for. --LMS

I guess it does take less time to just call me an anarchist, write a few vague dismissive comments, and delete content because you don't like it. It would be interesting if you ever bothered to back up your attacks ("nonsequiturs, ignoratio elenchis, misattributions and misunderstandings, and other problems") with specifics. --TheCunctator

In the case of someone putting up copies of vandalism on his personal pages, and my removal thereof, the usual suspects have lined up on the side of anarchism and freedom and against abuse of authority.

I utterly reject your assertion that I am one of the "usual suspects" who defends anarchy, and who constantly calls your actions into question. I strongly believe that a project like Wikipedia needs a leader who keeps things running and makes the final decision on important matters, and you, Mr. Sanger, are that leader. So let's not make false characterisations here.

In this particular case, I simply questioned the wisdom of deleting content on a personal page without any discussion. Let me be clear on this: I do not hold the position that personal pages are the property of their creators and are completely off-limits to editing. If someone starts throwing up copyrighted material, or starts posting essays on why every other person on Wikipedia is an idiot, I have no problem with removing that material. If the person doesn't like it, he can get his own server; we're making an encyclopedia here. The material that you deleted didn't fall into that extreme a catagory (although I do believe that it serves no useful purpose, and is very likely harmful); a simple request to remove it, along with the reasons why, should have been given directly to the poster before removing it by force.

More generally, you run the show. That's your job, and I'm glad that you've come to realize your position (as opposed to your "I'm just an ordinary Wikipedian" view a month or two ago). Make no mistake, without you (or someone capable and empowered to do your job), Wikipedia would fall flat on its face. As leader, you can't brush off issues you personally don't consider important with the excuse that you have real work to do. You have to herd the cats, and since we're a pretty diverse bunch of felines, it's not an easy job. Of course, you also have to pick your battles. I encourage you to pick the issue of personal page deletion as one of those battles. My suggestion is that we draw up some guidelines for personal pages; nothing elaborate, but something along the lines of your page isn't yours in an absolute sense, no copyrighted material, blah blah blah. You, of course, have the final word (so to speak) on what violates these guidelines. --STG

Thanks, and I am sorry for the "usual suspects" remark. --LMS

Larry, I will support you in making decisions for Wikipedia. A project must have leadership. Because the content is under the GFDL, we have no need to fear your abusing it. The GFDL is the contract between you and us, and that guarantees the ultimate freedom of the information, and that's what matters to me. --Dmerrill

Who cares whether wikipedia is anarchic or not? The goal of the folks running the server is to create a great encyclopedia. The method is to let anyone, even an amateur like me, contribute.

The "vandalism" issue is best resolved by reference to the goal (great encyclopedia) and the standard (neutral point of view). I cannot recall even a single case of an IDEA being excluded, only that its presentation conform to NPOV. My own ideas have often been shot down for being wrong, imprecise, shoddily presented, etc., but I have managed to wedge nearly all of them in anyway, by conforming to the goal and the standard. At first my edits were called vandalism so frequently that I suspected others of unfairness, but now that I (mostly) have learned the ropes, I've become a respected contributor. Or else I've grown awfully thick skin! --Ed Poor

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