Saturday, October 10, 2009

Why Harmil stopped editing Wikipedia

The Wikipedia logo
Harmil was my alter ego on Wikipedia for years. I created dozens of pages and uploaded many of my photographs of wildlife and New England landmarks for articles. But then I stopped. I would still be contributing today if the site hadn't turned into the sprawling bureaucracy that it is today. At first, Wikipedia was a meritocracy like the open source movement from which it derived its initial ethos. The idea was simple: be useful and your work will be respected. Annoy people and you'll be ignored. Get in the way and you'll be moved.

Over time, that changed. Copyright law is a hot issue, and everyone wants to have their say. That lead to some strange policies and a schism between the main site and their image hosting site, Commons that still has strange ramifications to this day (images are routinely moved to Commons from Wikipedia because they are free, but Commons has a stricter definition of "free", so they're then deleted). (more...)



This is frustrating, but even worse is the constant attempts of a few to define "notable" and "encyclopedic" in the most restrictive terms possible. These users will argue with anyone who will listen that every article about anything fictional, entertaining or whimsical, no matter how broadly a part of our culture, is not worthy of a Wikipedia article. One of them, Gavin.collins was the last straw in my contribution to the site. He posted nearly a dozen comments on my talk page within a couple of weeks, listing articles that I'd contributed or re-written for deletion. In the end, the sense that one day I'd tire and he'd be there to delete everything I'd done left me with no desire to continue to contribute.

Recently, I returned to see what was on my talk page. As usual there were a handful of deletion notices for images that I'd contributed (though, hearteningly, most of them appeared to have been kept), but one thing caught my eye. It was a note about an administrative discussion involving Gavin. I went to see what he'd been up to, and found the same thing. He's nothing if not prolific, and it seems that he's chased at least one other contributor into retirement. The problem is that the new bureaucracy of Wikipedia doesn't want to ban people just for disrupting the site and spending all of their time politicking. That, they feel, is too much like censorship. And yet, deletionism at is heart is far more sinister than censorship. If one person who cannot play nice in the sandbox is removed, they'll almost certainly be replaced by someone who has roughly the same opinions but can. When they both chase away other, more reasonable users (who contribute to the site) and remove large swaths of work, the result is far worse.

It's sad. I like to think of myself as apolitical, but of course, that means that at some level I'm averse to conflict. In this case, that means that a bully wins, and I stop doing something that I felt made my time on the Web valuable.