Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Editing Wikipedia: Your privilege to grant or deny

Let's call him "Michael." Let's say Michael knows a lot about "1970s American automobiles." For one thing, he has already restored three such cars and is working on a fourth. For some reason I still can't figure out, Michael was very enthusiastic about sharing his deep knowledge of this topic on Wikipedia. Then one day, Michael found himself fingered a sockpuppet of some conservative keyboard warrior who only edited articles about political figures. Michael usually edited late at night, long after having gotten off work. But now all his time stamps were falsified to say that he edited during what would be his working hours. The only computer in Michael's work area can't connect to the Web, it's a very specialized device. Michael would have to leave his work area to go to the front office, hope a computer is available, and from there make detailed edits to several articles about old cars and several articles about politicians and pundits, all within a time span of less than half an hour. I find that a little hard to believe.

Thus, Wikipedia has clearly told Michael that he's not wanted there. And yet, he wants to edit Wikipedia again. He has the deluded notion that if he can prove his time stamps were falsified, he might be given his "editing privileges" again (his phrase, not mine) and be exonerated of the much-dreaded sockpuppet label. It's unlikely he would succeed in that endeavor, because most likely the "little God-king" (to use the Wikitruth phrase) who got him booted is an admin. What Michael could do instead is install and IP thrower on his home computer, as well as an edit scheduler, and carefully build a new persona on Wikipedia, one who would at first work on topics which don't interest Michael very much and gradually find his way back to antique cars, and also one who would edit at all hours of the day and night (Wikipedia winners are often lifeless losers in real life).

But why should Michael go to all that trouble? Shouldn't Wikipedia be falling over itself to recruit and keep people with great practical or academic expertise on specific topics? Since Wikipedia can't pay money to experts, shouldn't Wikipedia try instead to pay them something intangible but perhaps more valuable, instead of treating them like crap?

The moral of the story is this: If you have expertise in a given topic, editing Wikipedia is a privilege that you grant to Wikipedia. Thinking the other way around is incredibly backwards and idiotic, and some pretty smart people have made that mistake. The valuable time you spend editing Wikipedia, which could just as easily be spent doing things that could actually bring you money and/or prestige, that is a privilege you can grant or deny Wikipedia. For now, Wikipedia has shown itself to be completely undeserving of that privilege.

No comments:

Post a Comment