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Wikipedia’s losing contributors? Dip me in axle grease and call me slick!

So, Wikipedia is losing contributors. Cnet says so. People like me already knew it.

I left the place years ago.

Last summer I went back. I chose a subject I had a moderate interest in, but that wasn’t likely to gather much attention. I did my research, made my contributions, and I watched what happened. Fortunately, no overzealous editors took notice. That was good. But I didn’t stay.

They seem to have some idea why. But I’m still not sure how to fix it.

I read somewhere that it takes seven positives to outweigh a negative, but on Wikipedia, compliments for your work are rare. If you’re lucky, your work goes unnoticed. If you’re not so lucky, someone comes and takes you to task for it. You’re more likely to collect seven negatives for every positive.

Besides all that, the standards aren’t well documented, and they’re horribly inconsistent. If the right people like you, pretty much anything goes as long as you’re not regurgitating lorem ipsum. You can do no wrong. But if you don’t have powerful friends, good luck. Someone’s going to find something wrong with that you do. Someone will come along and undo your edits, move stuff around for no reason, or mark it for deletion because it’s not notable enough to them. Eventually you end up spending more time navigating difficult political waters than you spend writing. At least I did.

Meanwhile, people with conflicts of interest seem to get more edits in than you do.

But part of me thinks it’s hilarious that the entry I wrote entitled High rail (a regrettable trend in model railroading) got nominated for deletion because it wasn’t notable enough. Tell that to the people who think there are two approaches to Lionel trains: high rail, or none at all. But hey, that’s less competition for my page about high rail.

Wikipedia has a much stronger emphasis today on citations than it did when I was a top-1,000 contributor, as it should, but the mechanism for making citations is confusing and difficult. The whole reason wikis caught on is because creating documents and linking them was super-easy. The difficulty in creating citations completely goes against the spirit of the medium.

So I moved on. I looked back, briefly. I suppose it would be nice to be able to have “top-1,000 Wikipedia contributor” on my resume, but it’s not worth the trouble. There are places online that make your life happier, and places that make it unhappier. For a time, it made me happier. Then, for a time, it made me unhappier. Eventually, I realized that meant it was time to leave.

I hope Wikipedia manages to fix its problems. I’m on the wrong side of 35 now, so by their own standards I’ve probably outgrown the place anyway. But if it can ever manage to be more about the content and less about its internal politics, I think it stands a real a chance of making the world a better place.

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