I came across Wikipedia in the fall of 2002, just as the online encyclopedia was starting to take off. Today it's in the top 10 of the most popular Web sites in the world – everyone has been to Wikipedia to look something up. And when I discovered it, I was immedately hooked. There was something about this site that kept me coming back, again and again. It's a public-domain encyclopedia that relies on the idea that thousands of Internet users will be kind enough to drop by, add an entry or two, and keep the momentum going. And they DO! Every time you refresh their "recent changes" page at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special%3ARecentchanges , there are several new entries or changes to existing entries. I started added new entries myself for The Dark Knight Returns, Green Lantern, Lex Luthor, Martin Scorsese, The Last Temptation of Christ, an entry on the "end of the world," and little tweaks to about a dozen other different entries. The fun part of this is looking for a subject that interests you, and knowing that if you don't like what it says or you think it needs improvement, you can modify it right there and then, without even having to "register" at this site. It's completely open-source and completely voluntary, and the volunteers work together to keep it from spinning out of control.
I've looked this thing over trying to find the catch. It must take an enormous amount of disk space and bandwidth to archive all of these entries…plus previous copies of every entry. That means if someone pulls a prank and completely re-writes an entry about Communists to compare them with Nazis, then anyone can immediately erase it and replace it with a previous copy of the entry. And chances are, someone will do so very quickly; apparently, there are a few very dedicated "Wikipedians" who maintain law and order there. I've watched them clamp down on arguments involving the Israeli-Palestine conflict, revisions to the pages about Zionism, arguments over pubic lice and Creationism, and more. These law enforcers don't have any special priveleges themselves, and apparently major lawbreakers can only be kicked off after a vote. This kind of system makes it very difficult (if not impossible) to censor entries to the encyclopedia that someone doesn't like. One of the regular members there is apparently a Moonie, yet when I looked at the entry for the Unification Church, it had links to anti-Moonie Web sites displayed prominently, as well as the bullcrap about Rev. Moon declaring himself to be the Messiah. Nothing is hidden from view on this Web site, and that seems to be why it works. And if you have the urge to add a tidbit of information here and there, then you probably will, too! No registration is required, there are no pop-up ads, and it's all free.
So I quickly became hooked on the place…so much so that in 2003, a year after arriving, I became an administrator there. Yes, I'm a member of the infamous Wikipedia control cabal…at least until February of 2005, when Wikipedia inspired me to turn my own Web site into a wiki and found the High Weirdness Project (which has since become Cast Iron Chaos). I've since been devoting my time to managing my own wiki, so I'm nowhere near as active on Wikipedia as I used to be.
As a commentary on Wikipedia, FSK wrote: "Seriously, you haven't noticed? Wikipedia has been totally infiltrated by PR agents and disinformation agents. If you try to edit ANY controversial topic, you will find yourself censored. In fact, all evidence that there even was a controversy is carefully erased unless you look at the edit history. For example, drug companies have PR agents that censor any negative information on drugs. For non-controversial topics, Wikipedia's coverage is excellent. If you want to look up who won the World Series in 1972, Wikipedia is the first place I'd check. For controversial topics, Wikipedia merely repeats the same mainstream bias."
I'll counter this with one glaringly obvious fact that is largely overlooked in nearly every published article and criticism of Wikipedia: the fact that nearly every single one of the millions of articles there include links to outside sources of information, all over the Web. Any topic there – including the controversial ones – will include links to Web sites that offer different points of view, both positive and negative. Wikipedia has been banned in a number of schools because it isn't a reliable source of information, but banning it isn't the answer…rather, schools need to show kids that Wikipedia is an excellent starting point for any research you are doing online.
"Wikipedia is NOT a repository of all human knowledge. It is a repository of all human knowledge according to biased mainstream information sources. The omitted information is the most interesting parts!" – FSK
Five years after Wikipedia inspired me to found this Web site, I found myself with the realization that Wikipedia simply wasn't fun anymore. The catalyst was when the encyclopedia article on the Webcomic Freefall was deleted on May 1, 2010. I wasn't surprised that it was this particular user, "TenPoundHammer," who put the page up for deletion. He has a long-running habit of running around on Wikipedia, looking at a page, and thinking, "Hmmm, this doesn't look important. <SLAP> Deletion Notice."
However, the real problem is that Wikipedia, the "encyclopedia that anyone can edit," is a victim of its own success: there is far more politicking, "discussion," wrangling, arguments, and outright flaming going on rather than actual editing of articles. Furthermore, the "notability" requirement has become an albatross around its neck. In the old days, it was a lot of fun to cruise around on Wikipedia, finding articles at random, and adding a sentence or a paragraph to help make it more interesting and informative. Now, you need to provide a definitive reference for every piece of information you add, no matter how trivial. It's not as easy as it used to be to add a reference, either. Here is a typical reference footnote added to a typical article there now – let's see if you can make heads or tails of it:
Since [[GNOME]] was dropped from Slackware Linux<ref>[http://slackware.mirrors.tds.net/pub/slackware/slackware-10.2/ChangeLog.txt Slackware version 10.2 changelog<!-- Text file --> - see entry dated Sat Mar 26 23:04:41 PST 2005 for Gnome removal from official Slackware tree]</ref>, several community projects now provide GNOME binary packages and Slackbuilds for Slackware Linux. These include ''[[Dropline GNOME]]'' [http://www.droplinegnome.org], ''GSB: GNOME SlackBuild'' [http://gnomeslackbuild.org], ''GWARE'' [http://www.gware.org], ''Gnome-Slacky'' [http://www.slacky.eu/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2475], and ''SlackBot'' [http://slackbot.sourceforge.net].
Yessir, any newcomer to Wikipedia would be able to read that in an instant, wouldn't they?
Furthermore, the editors at Wikipedia now frown upon the pieces of trivia that used to spice up the articles there, deleting many of them because they are not notable. Everyone has their own mental storehouse of assorted facts that they could use to add to Wikipedia, and we used to be able to; but now, if you add something to an article you are likely to find it removed almost immediately due to lack of "notability." Here are two small edits I made to various non-controversial articles, all of which were removed because they were not "notable:"
This sounds like a lot of the whining that's occurred on Wikipedia itself: "Waaahhhh, you're not letting me edit my pet articles the way I want to!" I'm not claiming that my edits are being censored by anyone with some kind of agenda to push. Rather, the incessant politics and hand-wringing over what is "notable" and what is not are making it harder and harder for anyone (other than the hardcore Wikipedians who thrive in this environment) to edit Wikipedia at all. Why would you bother editing your favorite article on rum punch, the Webcomic Freefall, or quasars if you knew your contribution was immediately going to be removed because you did not bother providing a "verifiable reference" for it?
Wikipedia is still an outstanding source of information for just about any subject imaginable. The sad part is that it isn't as friendly to casual users as it used to be. This is why the number of hardcore Wikipedia fanatics may be dropping slowly…but everyday users are less likely to contribute to Wikipedia. And this, in turn, may cause problems when Wikipedia decides to hold another fund-raising drive.