La traduction de cette page en français est en cours – this page is being translated into French : Visions d'horreur

Worst cases are bad. They are very bad. They are, by definition, as bad as cases can get. There are no cases that are more bad than the worst ones.

They are not so bad that you don't believe they could happen, though — things so bad you don't believe in them yourself are threats. A worst case is something you can quantify in terms of wasted time, wasted effort, failed visions and many frustrated attempts to reach best cases, which seem to be working and then just fail.

The status quo should be stated in terms of these worst cases first and foremost - the worst form a kind of reporting language in which you can talk about what's going on, commiserate, and find a basis of unity on which to go have a drink. Remember - people look at the status quo report not to satisfy themselves that "things are fine" but rather to find more stuff to complain about. So help them. It all starts here by listing worst cases:



These cases result from the failure of the Wikipedia community. We can mitigate their effects or prevent them altogether.

Tunnel vision


The encyclopedia that Slashdot built


A small editorial clique based in academia always dominates the wikipedia - it never really manages to deal with clandestine literature that's kept off the web, fast-proliferating terminology, populist challenges to academic bias, or fully escape a "mathematics and physics centric" view of the world. Neutral point of view becomes a shallow convention, and self-appointed censors shred everything that disagrees with their own cosmology daily. Talented people avoid wiki, figuring it has no real value system. The three billionth user never arrives.

Two worlds


The board consists only of traditional academics and librarians and a few eager technologists. They express little interest in innovative funding methods, and none in refining the ontology or understanding community problems that are holding back the project. They permit the IP Death Squad to define "vandalism", limit edit wars, and patrol for copyright risk, and no effective control over these activities is ever exercised. The Wikipedia has a mind/body division for board/sysops, in a permanent coma or sleepwalking, with the 'mind' unable to exercise any control over the 'body'.

The size of the Wikipedia stabilizes, but its quality rather sharply declines as other projects (with or without the GFDL) copy the projects' most effective attributes and ignore its mistakes. A responsible board is recruited for these other projects, but it must fork the database and jettison Wikipedia policies. Wikipedia is effectively dead.

Permanent mediocrity


As Wikipedia grows, the overall quality of its content deteriorates. Increasingly it resembles a sea of words that feign information while offering little objective truth, breaking on the shores of islands of factually correct but educationally useless technical information. Due to the encyclopedia's size and growth, more and more dubious "information" in the sea will escape the attention it needs, and the average article will become an unreliable collection of poorly supported facts, inaccuracies, distortions, opinions, and fringe views, indistinguishable from each other. The sea is marred by a wandering blemish of vandalism and POV reflecting the zeitgeist of popular culture. The islands remain in their pristine faux-ivory forms unchanged for indefinite lengths of time, too thinly scattered, too dry, and of too limited interest to attract attention, for good or ill. It is an encyclopedia, but of what use to its readers?

Majority rule


Original research


Some users see Wikipedia as a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. They push their agendas and non-standard terminologies, infesting articles all over the place with half-baked pet theories.

Hostile newbies


People jump into Wikipedia without trying to understand the community that has built up around it or the goals the community has set. They refuse to work with others unless they get to set the terms. They make threats to call in like-minded friends to force their particular agendas, taking advantage of Wikipedia's open participation policy.

Tyranny of the majority


Authors think more about what they can do, rather than what they should do. More and more disputes are resolved by edit wars of attrition. Articles end up being written not from a neutral point of view that is acceptable to almost all readers, but from a partisan point of view that is considered ideal to 51% of the editors. Attempts to resolve such issues by enlarging space are stymmied by the desire to avoid duplication. The victorious majority see no reason to collaborate with the minority, and indeed see such collaboration as "defeat".

Minority rule


Elitist goons


Mild examples of any or all of the above serve as excuses for the various elitist goons composing the IP Death Squad to assume their own virtue exceeds that of their foes. A small group captures sysop privileges and bans all those with varying views. No Board of Trustees structure evolves to put limits on such activities, and "little tin god syndrome" enables a small group of technologists to control what is or is not expressed in the Wikipedia. No funding arrives, due in part to the impossibility of guaranteeing respect for notable talents that would attract it. Wikipedia degrades from an encyclopedia to a big weblog.

Use of force against demonstrators


Sysops and founders use force against demonstrators, claiming "cybercrime" includes responding to the invitation "Anyone, including you can edit an article now" after an admin attempts to selectively exclude some writers. While claiming anyone can contribute, sysops and founders gradually establish who is part of "anyone" and who is not. Disillusioned with being excluded from the meta-human category of "anyone", contributors who sysops have banned decide it is legitimate to protest the actions of dehumanizing sysops. They contribute strictly benign or otherwise relevant political information to articles in flagrant violation of the ban, laying the foundation in the event of a criminal court case. Eventually, sysops succeed in recruiting law enforcement assistance, who conduct a series of early morning armed raids on writers who sysops have banned. One banned writer is suprised when police commit raids and is accidentally killed when local rookie police officer thinks suspect is armed. Jimbo gets world wide reputation for using lethal force against educational and political writers. In court, the criminal suspects disclose the genuinely educational material they contributed as "cybercriminals" leaving sysops and founders to appear as censors. Media feeds on stories of Wikipedia supressing free speech. Suspects file civil suit, alleging entrapment by sysops. Founder appears on media claiming use of force was justified to protect his project from criminals.



Catering to sifters


The sifter becomes the primary consumer of the project, leading to a proliferation of specialist versions which are rubber-stamped by one group or another. These grow steadily distinct, as less effort goes into stabilizing the most common concepts' articles, and more effort goes into specialist 'terms of art', incomprehensible even to practitioners of a closely related discipline. Academic ossification sets in, and nothing that attempts to integrate or cross-examine multiple fields of study from an ethical point of view, nor from an under-represented group's point of view, can break through the academic groupthink that asserts only its own values: knowledge as a universal positive good, academic reputation as a reliable way to gauge trust, challenge to non-academic knowledge as some kind of troll.

The size of the Wikipedia grows exponentially, and integration of multiple points of view into comprehensive articles that say new things is very rare. Wikipedia becomes like the web itself, an easy way to get cheap backup for any foolish thing one might say, as long as it's said in obscure enough language.

Western imperialism


American editors take over the control of Wikipedia, with no reaction whatsoever of other english-speaking editors. They manage to delete every comment and article scratching the pride of America, and stuff the encyclopedia with numerous articles deriding those who dare disagreeing with the U.S.

Wikipedia goes on growing, but non-american editors participation drop. Wikipedia is widely considered as another US propaganda tool, and ends being a biased tool read only by american and pro-america users.

One case being the notoriously pollution-friendly views of the US government(not just Bush, but the issues that went ignored without interruption over the generation).

It is notoriously impossible for example to convince enough wikipedians raised in english not to always delete as "obviously some nutcase - no need to check his links" some information about the USA's various 'completely safe' pollutions that are banned in the rest of the world as 'highly toxic' or 'banned - no safety data'. People aren't willing to even let the highly verifiable "country X banned product Y" listed under some issues that are taken for granted. So USA propaganda issues and pollution are put into the most favorable light possible, lying by omission of every other view.

This isn't a USA-unique trend, nor is it strongest in the USA; wikipedia in other languages have their own cultural dogma and the idea that the dogma might be false doesn't strike everybody so opposing ideas are deleted without hesitation or verification. People part of that culture that realise the dogma is false don't add it back because it isn't *their* edit war. They let someone who has much more time and social respectability than them to lose do it!

For some issues, it's whoever spends the most time deleting other POV or the NPOV who win and adding content can't help you against those people(This would occur even without the NPOV rule). USA obviously has more wikipedians united on some issues than the rest of the english world so of course their dogma has more hold on wikipedia than any other country's dogma...

The three billionth user never arrives.

Perhaps the more relevant worst case of American Imperialism is that Wikipedia is perceived across the world as being too American or too Western.

Wiki community size inherently limited


Draft worst case scenario written from mythical dreary future.

It becomes apparent or "scientifically" or empirically proven that Wikis are inherently not scalable on the web. They tend to stabilize at between 30 and 75 participants. No mechanisms ever evolved, were engineered, or were innovatively applied and improved to usability; that effectively allowed established groups to embrace newcomer's contributions. Above a certain size groups insisted that newcomers self indoctrinate to the existing collective worldview and customs. Below a certain size even fanatics and incurable optimists get bored or discouraged and move on leaving another dead internet stub/domain. This limits the effective size of online "communities" to small teams capable of only small rather insignificant projects.



One of the first data points was the Wikipedia attempt to foster collaboration from a wide diverse group of volunteers to establish and maintain an online summary of human knowledge. As content and usage increased it suddenly became woefully apparent to a few newcomers and oldtimers at a time that insufficient tools or forums existed for newcomers to impact the collective existing "consensus" that was alleged to exist by some but alleged to be insufficient, murky or selectively applied via clique, mob, militia or cabal designation by others. Queries regarding procedures and appropriate usage or contribution often led to troll designation and eventual departure of newcomers. This would of course limit the scalability of wikipedia locally and could lead to a fork, mirror or commercial competitor achieving the greater coveted "mind share".

As potentially valuable contributors departed back to the "communities" elsewhere that previously provided them better reception or on to other alleged communities that embraced and extended their differing opinions into the community; Wikipedia developed a negative reputation on the internet and eventually died out or restricted itself to a small manageable community with insufficient resources to achieve its grandiose goal of an online free encyclopedia.

The internet through myriads of failures such as these above turns out not to be the communications tool enabling the singularity in human history. It turns into a non participatory broadcast medium where a few can control content viewed by the masses for personal agendas or profit. user:mirwin

Foundation or local chapters


Editorial policy driven by Foundation or local chapter


Once upon a time, there was a student, who actually copied a big part of his phD thesis on someone else's work. He has cheated to have his diploma.

Later, this person becomes a famous politician and enters the parliament.

Then, the information about him having cheated to get the diploma somehow in entered in Wikipedia, on the politician article. A little while later, an anonymous ip starts removing this fact (the fact is not controversial, it was rather not very well known, but it is recognised as valid). Of course, editors put back the content, then the anonymous ip removes it again, editors put it back etc... Finally, the article is blocked, and the ip tracked. It leads to the Finnish parliament... Not so suprisingly, it ends in Finnish newspapers. Third page, big wikipedia logo, big picture of the politician.

It may have been the politician himself, or his secretary or just a member of his team wanting to erase the information. Well, that was a bad move.

This story is real, it happened in Finland 2 months ago.

Now, the politician (or the secretary ...) could have followed another move to get the information removed.

Imagine there was a Wikimedia Finland. He would have wrote a mail "please remove this immediately, or I sue you". Of course, board members of Wikimedia Finland would have answered "but it is factual, okay, maybe is it not very interesting, maybe it does not deserve to be in the article, but well, it is true...". Then the politician would call his juridical counsellor, get on the phone with a member of Wikimedia Finland, and say "this is horrible, my wife is now in terrible depression due to this, and maybe I will not be reelected, and someone just tagged my house, and he even had a dog who tried to attack my little girl's leg, and how horrible all this is, you really can't do this and ruin my life this way, do you realise what you are doing, it is sooooo wrong, I am going to sue you if you do not remove this from the article, my wife just swallowed sleeping pills, ohhhhh, my god etc...."

So, the Wikimedia Finland board member dig up in the association bylaws and find the right article saying that the association has the legal right to remove the little part about the politician cheating when he was 25... if this latter has been making a legal request for the association to remove it... even though in front of a tribunal, he would likely be rejected. After all, poor man, yes, his wife to take care of... So, the board member removes the little part and tells the editors they are not to put it back, for it could damage Wikimedia Finland image if there is a lawsuit. There might even be another article in the bylaws saying that if an editor restore it, he could be blocked to protect Wikimedia Finland image.

Of course, Wikimedia Finland is now protected from a lawsuit. The politician is pleased. On the other hand, the information was removed from Wikipedia.

Two years later, the Finnish politician is candidate for Finnish presidency. Any information mentioning that he cheated 20 years ago has been removed from public scrutiny. All is well.



These may arise without warning, regardless of Wikipedians' actions. Thus, they may be much worse than the internal issues if they occur.


Stupid copyright problems kill the wiki dead as soon as it gets to the point of competing with w:commercial encyclopedias. No one can safely use the text in education without being hit by lawsuits based on WTO rules preventing competition with education corporations, which gradually take over the dispensation of all knowledge - and put everyone in deep debt.

Internet worm


An extremely successful internet worm activates on many thousands of computers worldwide, solely targeting Wikipedia. In the following distributed denial of service attack, millions of articles with random names are created which transclude each other recursively, in every Wikipedia domain. Wikipedia is forced to employ strong account validation methods.

Inability to gain donation when telling the truth


For the record, I convinced people at my office not to contribute to wikipedia. Because one article of wikipedia has been speaking some USA dogma rather than easily verifiable truth on some issues.

I however suspect that letting the dogma in will produce more donation than the uncomfortable truth, as many people don't like to hear it!

The worst case scenarios would be either:

  • Telling the whole uncomfortable truth and dying off thru less donation because people prefer dogma (unlikely, but does 'dogma money' have an influence? I think not. Not yet.)
  • Letting the dogma in and being no better than other encyclopedias in regard to scientific truth on some issues. This seems to be the case right now.

See also