Long past time for Wikimedia to grow up

Long past time for Wikimedia to grow up

Summary: It's obvious that, despite the color of the Wikimedia Foundation, policies are still created ad hoc and it is this which has to change.

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Despite its enormous reach, Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Foundation have generally been run out of Jimmy Wales' back pocket.

They're not really institutions, and they're not an entrepreneurial company. They're Jimmy's thing. When the fecal matter hits the rotating blades, it all comes back to one guy.

That's unhealthy.

Now, when the site would most like to talk about its exciting new features, it's embroiled in a controversy over porn. But as with all things Wikipedia this isn't some grand battle over principles. It's a personal spat.

Co-founder Larry Sanger, who has been feuding with Wales for years, deliberately provoked this by giving Fox News and the FBI the two words certain to bring the wrath of God on any site -- child porn.

Wales and company tried to deal with this the way they do, asking that images related to "prurient interest" be deleted. But as is often the case the issue wasn't the issue. Sanger's aim was to knock Wales off his perch. Fox' aim was an easy political hit.

In the short term, both succeeded. A predictable pushback from free speech advocates working the site caused Wales to give up temporary control, an advantage to Sanger's tiny rival Citizendium. Fox continues to flog the "Wikipedia pornographer" story at every opportunity.

Whatever you think of Fox' or Sanger's actions, the important lesson here is that Wikimedia is threatened from all sides by virtue of its size and reach. It's too big to be run out of Jimmy's back pocket any more.

It needs to become a real institution, one with the knowledge and heft to pick its battles carefully, knowing when to hold them and when to fold them, when to walk away and when to run. It's obvious that, despite the color of the Wikimedia Foundation, policies are still created ad hoc and it is this which has to change.

I know John Lilly has just left Mozilla, and is likely looking for a start-up that can make him rich alongside Greylock Partners, not another non-profit kerfluffle.

But this challenge looks right up his alley. Wikipedia needs a for-profit entity whose cash flow can buttress the decisions of the Foundation, and it needs a Foundation that is professional enough to stand the buffeting when, as they say in German, "Uns fliegt gleich eine Menge Scheiße um die Ohren." (The link is not Fox News safe.)

Topic: Collaboration

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23 comments
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  • You want to change it? Start your own.

    Seriously, you sound like just another back seat driver. Or worse, one of those people who is uncomfortable unless some authority like a government or a corporation telling everybody what to do or think.

    Wikipedia got where it is today because of tens of thousands of contributors who put their time and effort in for free. Making it a for-profit company that takes these free contributions and puts the benefits into the pockets of a privileged few would be an insult.

    Because of the way governments react to touchy subjects like terrorism and child porn, all websites need to protect themselves; first from being misused by malicious posters, and then from ham-fisted authorities. Wikipedia is no different that any other website, blog, or forum in that respect. And there are hundreds of thousands of these "run out of somebody's back pocket" but still managing to survive and contribute to the public weal.

    If you want a for-profit Wikipedia with a corporate governance committee, large legal staff and somebody cashing checks in the shadows, then start your own. You say that Wikipedia is being threatened on all sides, and this is partly true. It is being threatened by those classic enemies of public freedom: authoritarians, reactionaries, and profiteers. All of whom either seek to prohibit, pervert or hoard knowledge for their own benefit.
    terry flores
    • "Love it or leave it."

      @terry flores

      Your conclusions are simplistic and juvenile.

      Instead of weighing the validity of the argument and carefully disputing the facts with reason debate, you label everyone who doesn't agree with you with a blanket statement "enemy".

      Your comments are a caricature of the "Ugly American", complete with simplistic "Love it or leave it." truisms and American Civil religious words such as "freedom".

      In online discussions, there is always one person whose comments are so bizarre, so poorly written, that person not only weakens the views they support, but help bolster the argument of those they oppose.
      anno1404
      • RE: Long past time for Wikimedia to grow up

        @anno1404 <br><br>What facts did I dispute? Blankenhorn called for a change in Wikipedia to become a for-profit entity. I think that's a bad idea for a lot of reasons, which I enumerated. I said that ALL websites must protect themselves against both malicious use and authoritarian intervention, the problem is not unique to Wikipedia. And my challenge is that anybody who wants to make a go of a for-profit user-edited encyclopedia should try it, nothing is stopping them.<br><br>Personally I don't care about egos or feuds, these are constants in our world. And yes, freedom is a revered word in American culture. It doesn't make the world any less relevant in Europe or Asia, just ask a person who was born under Franco's regime, or Stalin's. I would point you to a recent editorial written by Bernard Koucher, <a href="http://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/Global-Viewpoint/2010/0511/Stand-up-to-the-enemies-of-Internet-freedom" target="_blank" rel="nofollow"><a href="http://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/Global-Viewpoint/2010/0511/Stand-up-to-the-enemies-of-Internet-freedom" target="_blank" rel="nofollow"><a href="http://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/Global-Viewpoint/2010/0511/Stand-up-to-the-enemies-of-Internet-freedom" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/Global-Viewpoint/2010/0511/Stand-up-to-the-enemies-of-Internet-freedom</a></a></a>. And before you rail on him as an "Ugly American" for espousing freedoms, you might want to know: he is the Foreign Minister of France ...
        terry flores
      • RE: Long past time for Wikimedia to grow up

        and is likely looking for a start-up that<a href="http://studii-romano-americane.com/"><font color="light&amp;height"> about it</font></a> is bank that <a href="http://stromcenterblog.com/"><font color="light&amp;height">website</font></a> attacked from the <a href="http://rslstadium.com/"><font color="light&amp;height">site support</font></a> from any soldier <a href="http://www.shirlawnews.com/"><font color="light&amp;height">site</font></a> to the light <a href="http://ncweddingsongs.com/"><font color="light&amp;height">home page</font></a> is great can
        gorians
    • Non-repressive sentinels

      @terry flores
      <i>I would point you to a recent editorial written by Bernard Koucher...</i>

      <b>Bernard Koucher</b>: <i>Another project is close to my heart. It will be a long and difficult task to implement it, but it is critical. It is to give the Internet a legal status that reflects its universality. One that recognizes it as an international space, so that it will be more difficult for repressive governments to use the sovereignty argument against fundamental freedoms.</i>

      And just what are (these) "fundamental freedoms," if I might be so bold as to inquire? Tell me they're more than merely wishes, hopes and dreams. Or could such freedoms be "sanctified" privileges ensured and enforced by "non-repressive" guns?
      klumper
  • I agree, but...

    Larry Sanger here. I agree with a lot of what you say here, but I have to disagree with you--actually, defend myself--on two points.<br><br>First, you cast aspersions on my motives, implying that I did what I did in order to "get back at" Jimmy Wales. No thought of him entered my mind when I came across the drawings of child sexual molestation, which I reported to the FBI and subsequently publicized. In fact, I felt--once again--personally responsible that something I helped to inflict on the world has come to a very bad pass. I felt that I could, and so should, do something to improve matters. Why is that so hard to believe? Please see these discussions for further on my aims and thoughts: <a href="http://www.larrysanger.org/ReplyToSlashdot.html" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://www.larrysanger.org/ReplyToSlashdot.html</a> and <a href="http://www.larrysanger.org/MoreAboutWikimedia.html" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://www.larrysanger.org/MoreAboutWikimedia.html</a><br><br>The other inaccuracy I see here is that I have a "feud" with Jimmy Wales. That is not how I would characterize it. Jimmy Wales has contradicted his own early press releases about my role in the project (and his own) since 2005, and has in addition spread various lies about me, such as that I was "fired" in 2002. Mr. Blankenhorn, perhaps you can explain: how am I merely feuding with him if I simply want the record set straight?
    LarrySanger
    • Thanks for that, Larry

      @LarrySanger I appreciate your correcting your view of this story very much. I know it's hard to be in the center of controversy, and any characterization of your views in the middle of it appears harmful.

      I don't think Wikipedia is something "you helped inflict on the world," but a site you co-founded. It's clear you have some hard feelings, and I was careful not to say you were fired.

      In the end I had to write something that Wikipedia's proponents as well as opponents would find equally objectionable, which is in the middle of how the two sides view anything. Maybe I didn't succeed entirely, but I will keep trying.

      I'm looking at this from a great distance. It's obvious you and Wales have had hard feelings for a long, long time. I used the word "feud" for that. I'm sorry if you felt harmed by that. And I won't dare defend myself by looking up the word at Wikipedia.

      All the best...stay in touch. Your input into all this is very valuable.
      DanaBlankenhorn
    • Why go to the FBI and Fox

      @LarrySanger Wikipedia policy is cler on this. If you find offensive material on the encyclopedy, you can make the matter clean in a few clicks. I'd go as far as to say that finding offensive material and not removing it, full of the knowledge that this is possible, is not far from participating in the offense.

      @DanaBlankenhorn The center point of wikipedia is that wikipmedia is about running the infrastructure and procedures and not controlling the content. Wikipedia has procedures to remove offensive material and to ban offenders. These procedures only depend on the participation of contributer and readers. But it's far eiasier to remove content than to go to the FBI.


      and if in the end you want to go to the FBI anyway so that child molesters are chased down by authority, you can still do that after the content removal
      s_souche
  • Larry Sanger: Thank God you left Wikipedia

    This scandal reminds me of Stalin's Russian and Hitler's Germany in the Siege of Stalingrad: No heroes and only villains. This makes it impossible to decide who to root for.<br><br>Larry Sanger, practically all the news media feel like this was a piety effort to get back at Wales. You would have to be pretty dense not to foresee this reaction. Have you ever done ANYTHING, ANYTHING before about child pornography before reporting Wikipedia? How convenient that a former disgruntled co-creator suddenly decides to take up the child pornography fight against the company he is estranged from.<br><br>Your argument that your disagreement with Wales is not a feud is semantics. Ironically, in trying to distance yourself from the word, you defined what a feud is. <br><br>To come back to the Stalingrad analogy, the reason you two hate each other so much, is because you are so much alike: You are both ambitious men with talent and vision, who unfortunately both act like dictators and lack fundamental people and managerial skills.<br><br>I have read a lot of your disagreement with Wales over the years (how you always wanted more authoritative rules), and how you recently praised Fox New's response. Thank god you left Wikipedia and Wikipedia kept the more mild dictator, otherwise your management style would have destroyed Wikipedia the same way you have destroyed any chances of Citizendium becoming a success. <br><br>Why is it that so many imaginative, talented, creators make such god awful managers?
    anno1404
    • RE: Long past time for Wikimedia to grow up

      @anno1404 I reject any suggestion that I have acted like a "dictator." I am frankly tired of people saying this; it is in fact an irresponsible smear. I assume you don't know me, or have any history with me; you don't know what you're talking about. The notion that the author of "ignore all rules" wanted "more authoritative rules" is misleading at best. I merely wanted common sense, and still do.

      As to your attempts to characterize my motives: get a life. Again, you don't know me. People who do understand why I did what I did, and they know that my motives are just as I said they were. I support the FoxNews.com reporter for her courage in taking on what has become a completely unaccountable behemoth, full of shills such as yourself who prefer to go on the offensive and smear, rather than engage in a reasoned dialogue. For more on my motives and the first FoxNews.com coverage (April 27 I think it was), see again http://www.larrysanger.org/ReplyToSlashdot.html and http://www.larrysanger.org/MoreAboutWikimedia.html

      I also note that you make no mention whatsoever of the problem that this story is ultimately about. Instead of honestly evaluating your beloved Wikipedia, you pretend that there is no problem. In fact, there are some serious problems. What serious reference work hosts realistic, salacious depictions of children being sexually molested, and proceeds to defend them on grounds that they are "just drawings"? Wikipedia is used by school kids as much as anyone, and very, very few parents or teachers want their kids to be using a resource that is full of porn and other extremely explicit imagery. But Wikipedia is lackadaisical about this and rejects out of hand even perfectly reasonable suggestions that you at least label your adult content as such--as any mature, responsible, professional reference work would do, if it had such content available to the general public. (But, of course, none except Wikipedia does.)
      LarrySanger
      • Wikipedia is better now that Wales lost his powers

        @LarrySanger<br><br>"Instead of honestly evaluating your beloved Wikipedia, you pretend that there is no problem."<br><br>I think you missed my blasting of Wales originally. I am one of Jim Wales harshest critics, I have repeatedly stated that he should step down, because he is central to many of the problems that Wikipedia has now (declining editors, bad press, etc.). I most recently signed the petition to have him step down. Despite all of his major faults, I simply think Wales is a better manager than you are. That does not mean he is not a god awful manager, he is. I haven't edited wikipedia for several months because I am so disgusted with the company culture Wales fosters.<br><br>"As to your attempts to characterize my motives: get a life."<br><br>I guess all of the other journalists who blasted your motives, should also "get a life"? When people independently state the same thing, over and over, it is probably time to start re-evaluating yourself, instead of attacking the messenger. <br><br>"I also note that you make no mention whatsoever of the problem that this story is ultimately about."<br><br>I ask again, is this the first time ever reporting pedophilia?<br><br>I am sure you bristle at comparisons to Jim Wales, but the way you handled this situation is classic Wales.
        anno1404
    • As opposed to..

      @anno1404
      <i>This scandal reminds me of Stalin's Russian and Hitler's Germany in the Siege of Stalingrad: No heroes and only villains. This makes it impossible to decide who to root for.</i>

      As opposed perhaps to the stance our then-administration chose to take in shipping <i>en masse</i> life-saving supplies to keep the Communists afloat, via unconditional lend-lease? Was that heroic or villainous? Inquiring minds would love to know. So would millions of others who ultimately perished as a consequence of it.

      Stalin and Hitler were on the move to forge empires, and ran headlong into each other. Those kinds of conglomerations tend to be cobbled together in rather brutal fashion, if history serves as any sort of measuring stick. We did the same thing in seizing, then expanding and exploiting, the American frontier - only we called our progress "manifest destiny." Nonetheless, our American empire was forged by armies and at the point of the bayonet, far more so than by constitutional mandate or prerogative.

      [Continue below due to inexplicable posting restrictions in trying to string the two parts together!] *Censorship mice at work*
      klumper
    • As opposed to...

      Who one roots for is generally a matter of perspective, in difference to any so called "universal laws" of truth or freedom. In the end, life is a power grab for your body and soul and mind, and largely dictated by the laws of nature. Fight it though we love to do, resistance tends to be futile, except in the fantasies of our mind.

      You see how easy it is to muddy the waters, when one isn't bathing in them?
      klumper
  • Larry Sanger: Thank god you left Wikipedia.

    --
    anno1404
  • Better a bazaar than a cathedral

    Dana, while I agree with many of your points, I have to disagree with you that the Wikimedia Foundation should become a for-profit entity or more aggressively form policy on these sorts of things.<br><br>You're completely right on the Larry Sanger feud thing despite his protestations here, if you do your research you'll find the original thread where he got the idea over on the Edutech mailing list: <a href="http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl?trx=lx&list=EDTECH&user=&pw=&month=1004" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl?trx=lx&list=EDTECH&user=&pw=&month=1004</a><br><br>Read the thread through, and tell me that Sanger *wasn't* trying hard to prove a point, saying essentially "Wikipedia ought to be blocked". And reporting to the FBI? Publicly? Sanger would have to be an idiot to not realize that it would be a sensational story that the press would pick up.<br><br>I don't think it's so much a Sanger vs. Wales feud as a Sanger vs. Wikipedia feud. <br><br>Sanger has consistently said the same sort of thing. He's been pushing the story for a while. Try working backwards through the replies at <a href="http://twitter.com/wikinihiltres/status/7995646531" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://twitter.com/wikinihiltres/status/7995646531</a> , 23 months before he pulled this stunt. (Oh, and he apparently couldn't deal with my comments, so he blocked me on Twitter after that.) Perhaps he ought to also block Nancy Willard, M.S., J.D., who later (independently) echoed ( <a href="http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl?trx=vx&list=EDTECH&month=1004&week=a&msg=SkiWloHO0IQgwj47wP17LQ&user=&pw=" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl?trx=vx&list=EDTECH&month=1004&week=a&msg=SkiWloHO0IQgwj47wP17LQ&user=&pw=</a> ) what I had said earlier when she said "Wikipedia appears to me to be a microcosm of the Internet" (compare with <a href="http://twitter.com/wikinihiltres/status/7995646531" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://twitter.com/wikinihiltres/status/7995646531</a> ). Or sometime try looking through the blog archives for Citizendium ( <a href="http://blog.citizendium.org/" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://blog.citizendium.org/</a> ) and searching for the string "Wikipedia". Don't get me wrong: Sanger was instrumental in starting Wikipedia, and put a good deal of genius into the starting policies of the project, but he's since, evidently, become obsessed with one-upping it somehow. It's unfortunate that he couldn't see the logical *social* path Wikipedia would follow, though perhaps it's better that Wikipedia's not influenced by the sort of policies he's applied to Citizendiumpolicies that have strangled an otherwise promising project.<br><br>Anyway, enough about Sanger. I'm annoyed with him partly for liberally tossing post-digestion waste at the ceiling-mounted ventilation unit, but he's not the ultimate problem. The ultimate problem is more that there's no good solution to Wikimedia's problem. No one is particularly happy with there being explicit content hosted on Wikimedia, except that the alternativecensorshipgoes against the ethos of the site. And that's because people on Wikimedia are having a hard time agreeing what to do. If explicit content (and I think "explicit content" really ought to be distinguished from "porn"context matters!) is censored because Western people often find it offensive, then why not also censor, say, images of Muhammad (because Muslims often find those offensive), or images of Tiananmen Square in 1989 (because the Chinese government finds that unacceptable)? Wikimedia has to deal with these questions because it's a matter of social taboos, and Wikimedia on that level is facing a certain amount of internal discourse because this issue has been kicking around for a while. Eventually, I'm guessing we'll see a system that will let people self-censor (i.e. not see images that offend them), and the rules on explicit content will probably be a touch stricter but I don't predict that these sorts of images will be entirely removed from the project unless they're found to be illegal by some government organization (in which case I imagine those identified would be removed from the site within an hour, and permanently deleted from the servers within a day).<br><br>But in the wider sense, and to more directly address your comment, I don't think that Wikimedia would be best off becoming, as you put it, "a real institution". Many of Wikimedia's greatest successes have come about *precisely because* Wikimedia has avoided much of the organizational centralization and crystallization that blocks innovation. It is also a weakness, truebeing dependent on a large group of mostly-pseudonymous volunteers makes it harder to make strong decisions, to figure out precisely what its goals and policies and even ethos should be. In the long run, however, I think that it is healthier to promote the *discourse*. While the Wikimedia Foundation as an organization does function as a central "cathedral", an incorporate face for the projects like Wikipedia, it's worth remembering that the heart and soul of the operation is still in the "bazaar" of the community, the people who *really* run the Wikimedia projects.<br><br></ramble>
    Nihiltres
    • RE: Long past time for Wikimedia to grow up

      Where I seem to have said "23 months" above I intended to write "2-3 months" or "2 to 3 months"; I used an en dash that seems to have been stripped out by this comment software, and my edits to add a hyphen or spaces and the word "to" seem to not be working. Some other spaces, em dashes have also been removed. Please take the formatting problems in stride. :)
      Nihiltres
  • RE: Long past time for Wikimedia to grow up

    Nihiltres has been following me around and needling me for a long time. I'm not taking the bait this time, although I will say that I agree that a successful wiki needs to be a bazaar--but one governed by the rule of law, as opposed to vicious, insane, mob rule.
    LarrySanger
    • RE: Long past time for Wikimedia to grow up

      @LarrySanger

      Wikimedia Foundation is a US non-profit entity, and as such it is subject to US laws, I cannot see how anyone may dispute this. So if the US government, through regulatory action or court order, says that something must be done, then the operators must do it or face the consequences.

      That said, nothing being done or said here is new; Google faced similar problems and managed to deal with it without resorting to public mudslinging. Hundreds of thousands of websites (including this one) deal with user-provided content every day, I don't know of any that are immune from the problem. So, why it is that Wikipedia gets all the press? Because "schoolkids" access it? Schoolkids access a lot of things far less controlled than Wikipedia, many of which are intended to take advantage of them. Many of which are commercial in nature, and blithely ignored by parents, authorities, and people who should know better.
      terry flores
    • RE: Long past time for Wikimedia to grow up

      @LarrySanger "Needling?", and "for a long time"? While I've certainly been critical of your approach and you in general, I don't often comment on you -- while I don't keep count, I'm sure that I have "needled" you on only a few occasions -- ones that I could count on a single hand, I'd guess. And when I do so, I do so because I'm skeptical of your positions. So please, don't try to paint me as someone who goes around gratuitously criticizing you, because that's simply not true. Let's not make this personal.<br><br>I'm not going to bother with the "vicious, insane, mob rule" flamebait you left at the end. There's no purpose in arguing, since I can't convince you that you're wrong.

      If anyone would like to engage with the community on the sorts of issues discussed in the article above, a good place to start might be the mailing lists, such as Foundation-l (which has been positively boiling with activity since the controversy started!). See <a href="https://lists.wikimedia.org/mailman/listinfo/foundation-l" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">https://lists.wikimedia.org/mailman/listinfo/foundation-l</a>.
      Nihiltres
      • RE: Long past time for Wikimedia to grow up

        @Nihiltres: LOL at the idea of "Foundation-l" being a good place for discussion. Quite literally, multiple critics of the Wikimedia Foundation were shunted off to a "moderation queue" on that list, which effectively means their input to that community of sycophants is stifled. Nihiltres, let us know when you turn 24, when you'll hopefully have grown up enough to recognize that you're a part of a thriving cult that has you brainwashed.
        thekohser