Jimbo Wales

Is Wikipedia dying? Thoughts from an admin and former contributor

Jimbo WalesWikipedia founder Jimmy “Jimbo” Wales recently bemoaned the current state of the site — specifically, he said that the number of contributors is decreasing at a rapid rate. According to an Associated Press article, Wales stated at the most recent Wikipedia conference in Haifa, Israel, “We are not replenishing our ranks. It is not a crisis, but I consider it to be important.”

Wales cited Wikipedia’s Byzantine editorial guidelines and the site’s demographic challenges — the core group of geeky men in the 20s apparently discover women eventually — as the main reasons for the attrition.

To be honest, I can’t even remember the reason why I stopped actively contributing to the project. But there was a time when my involvement with Wikipedia bordered on obsession. I made my first edit just more than six years ago, and have racked up more than 10,000 article edits — large and small — since then. A number of articles I either created or wholly rewrote were given “Good Article” or “Featured Article” status, a badge of honor on the site. I also contributed a small number of pictures for articles. But the “culmination” of my Wiki career came in November 2006, when I was granted Administrator rights by a vote of 64-0. At the time, it seemed like a really huge deal.

But just one year later, my activity dropped off a cliff. By my rough estimation, I made fewer than 30 edits for all of 2008, and kept up the same pace in 2009 and 2010. I have five edits so far in 2011, including one I made today to my own talk page. I still use the site quite often for research and reference, but I don’t really contribute anymore. Why?

I certainly can’t blame women. I had already been married for a few years before getting involved on the site. And my son wasn’t born until last year, long after I had lost interest.

I guess if I had to sum up the reasons I lost interest in contributing to Wikipedia they would include:

Ace Frehley

Kiss album or not? Let's fight about it!

  • I decided if I was going to waste hours of my time writing stuff on the internet, I’d much rather do it for my own site. That way I am guaranteed full editorial control, and can write in any style I want.
  • The massive tide of bored school children vandalizing articles became too much to deal with. You could make a full-time job just out of combating idiotic edits like “brendan says hi and he likes penis.”
  • I found myself actually getting involved in online fights over the dumbest shit imaginable. I had a heated argument with someone over whether or not the four solo albums released in 1978 by the members of Kiss should count as Kiss records. Ridiculous.
  • As with any collective — especially online — there was way too much of a hive mind and way too many cliques. While I did learn some valuable lessons in cooperating with people you’ve never even met (what we call Virtual Teams in the corporate world), mostly I found it a chore to have to negotiate or reason with a lot of the power-hungry types there.
  • I became overwhelmed with the task of keeping the many articles on my watchlist (ones that I had a particular interest in and could flag) clean. I’m not even talking about vandalism, but rather well-meaning (albeit incompetent) editors who could barely string together a coherent sentence.
  • I got tired of dealing with Wikipedia’s convoluted and hyper-reactive policies on images. I get that they want to protect themselves from copyright lawsuits, but I shouldn’t have to fill out a damn form just to add an album cover image to an article about the frigging album. I got tired of logging onto the site, only to be met with a ton of notices about another dozen or so perfectly reasonable images being deleted.
  • It takes an insane amount of focus (or maybe just insanity in general) to remain a dedicated admin. I shudder to think about the hours and hours I spent trying to keep articles about topics I wasn’t even interested in neutral and sourced, in the face of zealous fanboys.
  • More than anything else, I just got bored with Wikipedia and found other ways to spend my time.

Look, I know that Wikipedia takes a lot of flak — and rightly so in many cases — but overall I enjoyed my time as an active contributor there. I ended up learning a great deal of information about some really interesting topics, and sharpened my research and writing skills in the process.

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Interesting stuff I now know thanks to Wikipedia (Vol. 4)

For those new to this series, the premise of this is simple.  I just use the Random Article link on Wikipedia (happy 10th anniversary!) and see if anything good comes up.  More often than not, nothing does.  Here we go!

  • American actress Louan Gideon, whose most notable work was on the Nickelodeon series The Secret World of Alex Mack, has had a host of other memorable roles such as Woman, Grieving Woman, Saleswoman, and Hostess.  But I remember her best from the Seinfeld episode “The Millennium”, when she played the speed-dial obsessed stepmother Mrs Hamilton.
  • The Stock Exchange Luncheon Club was a members-only dining club situated on the seventh floor of the New York Stock Exchange in Manhattan.  It opened in 1898 and closed in 2006.  They admitted their first African-American member, Joseph L. Searles III, in 1970.  Searles sat alone at his own table.  I’m guessing they made him bus his own dishes.
  • Guests at Universal Studios Florida could see the set of the Swamp Thing television show until 1994, when the set was demolished a year after the show’s cancellation.  The set property became the home of Back to the Future III locomotive display until 1998, when that was replaced by the current occupant, Men in Black: Alien Attack.
  • In Hawaiian mythology, Kāne is considered the highest of the four major deities, along with Kanaloa, Kū, and Lono. He represented the god of procreation and was worshipped as ancestor of chiefs and commoners.  No human sacrifice or laborious ritual was needed in the worship of Kāne, which is probably a good thing.  Seems odd to worship a procreation god by throwing all the good virgins into volcanoes.

  • PC-Write, a word processing program, was developed by former Microsoft employee Bob Wallace in 1983.  Wallace, who was Microsoft’s ninth-ever employee (middle of top row in picture), did not sell his software outright.  Rather, he requested donations for it.  He dubbed this distribution method, which had been tried only a few times previously, “shareware.”
  • The Tit Berrypecker (Oreocharis arfaki) is a species of bird in the Paramythiidae family.  It is also one of the most hilarious and fake-sounding bird names ever.
  • Corcovado is the name of the mountain in Brazil that sits underneath the famous Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) statue.  It’s also the name of a song by famed Bossa Nova composer Antônio Carlos Jobim, which appears on the excellent Jobim/Frank Sinatra album released in 1967.
  • Cincinnati, Ohio derives its name from the Society of the Cincinnati, itself named for the famed Roman politician and aristocrat Cincinnatus.  Cincinnatus was named dictator of Rome in the 5th century B.C. during a military crisis, and voluntarily relinquished his power.  For this and other deeds he is regarded as one of the heroes of early Rome.
  • John Henry Pruitt (1896 – 1918) is one of only 19 people to receive two Congressional Medals of Honor.  They were from the Army and the Marines, for the same action in World War I.  Pruitt was killed in action on his 22nd birthday.
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John Shuster, internet darling of the day

Even if you’re not a huge fan of curling, you’re probably familiar by now with John Shuster’s underwhelming performance as captain of the U.S. team at this year’s Winter Olympics.  Through four matches, Shuster and the boys have zero wins.  But what makes this year’s futility especially painful is Shuster’s propensity for coming up short at crucial moments.  Three matches have been lost because he couldn’t make his final stone count.

Well the mob has spoken and they’re not happy.  In addition to the deluge of anti-Shuster Tweets, the captain’s Wikipedia entry has undergone some creative editing.  Luckily it’s all saved in the article history.  Here are a few choice ones just from today (in addition to the edits that show him as deceased):

  • A personal tidbit – “Shuster failed four times to make a game-winning shot in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. He chokes more than a prostitute.”
  • Interesting – “Growing up Shuster was an avid baseball fan. In 2003, he attended a playoff baseball game. When a foul ball was headed towards the stands, he made a play for it but unsurprisingly he couldn’t make the play. Steve Bartman is now blamed for the epic loss because Shuster couldn’t make the play.”
  • Now that’s just mean – “John Shuster has single handedly ruined the USA chances to compete for the gold. He missed 3 final shots that could have been made by a one armed, one legged, brainless monkey”
  • I didn’t know this was his nickname – “John “chokey mcchokestein” Shuster (born November 3, 1982) is an American curler from Chisholm, Minnesota and Olympic medalist.”  (another variation had his occupation as “choker”.)
  • Sorry to hear that – “After the lost to Denmark, Shuster’s fiancee officially denounced their relationship, stating that he would have failed as a husband down the line sooner or later. Shuster’s father is currently disappoint.”
  • Can’t argue there – “Shuster won the 2010 United States Olympic Curling Trials and is destroying the reputation of the United States at the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver.”
  • Here’s a whole bunch of gems:
    • “He currently works as a quality control specialist for Toyota.”
    • “Upon John’s pathetic performance at the 2010 games, he has decided to retire from the sport. And an hero.”
    • “In a side note, in 2008 Shuster attempted to commit suicide. Unsurprisingly to those who know him and have watched him play, he failed at the attempt; Shuster used a gun and once again completely messed up the shot.”
    • “Shuster’s 2005 college roommate stated that he only bought Shuster a shot once. He said that after the first attempt, he never trusted Shuster with a shot ever again.”
    • “Shuster has come to be known as the biggest choke artist of the 2010 Winter Olympics, and is the lone reason the USA curling team has not won a single game this Olympics.”
    • “Shuster said he draws inspiration from Bill Buckner, Brad Lidge, Scott Norwood, and the city of Cleveland.”
    • “Nicknamed “The Largest Choke Artist Alive”, Shuster distracts his opponents with horrible shots and general terrible overall play. He is known for folding under pressure situations and never making clutch, let alone easy, shots.”
  • Of interest to etymologists – “The term “you messed up,” has officially been replaced by “you Shustered it.””
  • Yes, but has he ever vomited during play? – “His inability to hammer out points in clutch situations, such as during the 2010 Olympic games, Shuster has recently become known as the Donovan McNabb of professional curling.”

Anyway, you get the point.  Look on the bright side John – if nobody cared about curling they wouldn’t bother castigating you like this, right?

By the way, what’s Pete Fenson up to these days?

Interesting stuff I now know thanks to Wikipedia (Vol. 3)

As with the first two entries, the premise of this is simple.  I just used the Random Article link on Wikipedia and saw if anything good came up.  (a lot of it is quite useless)

  • The town of Britton, Michigan is named after storekeeper John Britton, who in 1888 paid $500 to rename the town of Balch after himself.
  • There is a variant of Scrabble called Clabbers, whose rules are the same except for one: The letters used must form anagrams of acceptable words.
  • The Grammy Award for Best Gospel Vocal Performance, Female was only given out from 1984 through 1990.  Amy Grant won it four times.
  • The 1968 Cannes Film Festival ended early, without awarding any prizes, due to a French general strike in May.
  • I can’t believe I didn’t know this, but Adolf Hitler had a sister, Paula Hitler.  She was the only one of his full siblings to survive into adulthood.
  • With approximately 23 million adherents, Sikhism is the fifth-largest organized religion in the world.
  • As a result of signing the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty, Egypt’s membership in the Arab League was suspended from 1979 until 1989.
  • Columbia, Tennessee is the self-proclaimed “Mule capital of the world” and celebrates with Mule Day, a large celebration held annually every April.
  • In 1861, competitive walker Edward Payson Weston walked from Boston to Washington, D.C. in 10 days, 10 hours to attend the inauguration of President Lincoln.  He did so after losing a bet.

Interesting stuff I now know thanks to Wikipedia (Vol. 2)

  • The Japanese name for Japan, 日本, can be pronounced either Nihon or Nippon.
  • There are five entries thus far in the Walter the Farting Dog series of children’s books.
  • Thibaw Min was the last king of Burma (aka Myanmar). After the British completed their conquest of Burma in 1885, Thibaw and his family were exiled to India.
  • The Netherlands won two gold medals at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona – one in the Women’s 800m and one in Equestrian Jumping Team competition.
  • New York Airways became the first scheduled helicopter carrier in the United States and the first passenger helicopter carrier in the world when it commenced passenger operations on July 9, 1953. It offered scheduled service from atop the Pan Am Building in Midtown Manhattan (New York City) to other airports in the area.
  • The first modern bail bond system was started in 1898 by Pete McDonough and his brother Tom.
  • Charles Osborne (1894 – 1991) hiccuped continuously for 68 years. It has been estimated that during that span he hiccuped 430 million times; the average human hiccups 2,300 times during an average lifetime.
  • The only native African bear, the Atlas Bear, is believed to have become extinct in the 1870s.
  • Someone actually took the time to compile a list of fictional apes. Wow.
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Interesting stuff I now know thanks to Wikipedia (Vol. 1)

  • Sherlock Holmes has an older brother, and his name is Mycroft.
  • At 727 feet, the Renaissance Center is the tallest building in Michigan (the Empire State Building, by comparison, is 1,250 feet).
  • Geraldine Doyle is the model for the iconic WWII “We Can Do It!” poster, but didn’t even know it until 1984.
  • Gargoyle originates from the French word gargouille, originally “throat” or “gullet”.
  • California currently has 53 congressional districts in the US House of Representatives, the most in the country. Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming each have one. Washington D.C. has one non-voting delegation.
  • The Persian word for snow is rendered in English as barf, and is a product line of soaps in Iran.

Let’s make a band!

Ever notice how most posts that spread internet memes usually start with a proclamation by the author that they don’t usually do memes? Well not me. But seriously, I usually don’t spread memes. I like this recent one I found on Thom’s site, however, so I’ll contribute.

The Rules

1. Go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:Random. The first article title on the page is the name of your band.

2. Go to http://www.quotationspage.com/random.php3. The last four words of the very last quote is the title of your album (you might have to click new random quotes at the bottom).

3. Go to http://www.flickr.com/explore/interesting/7days/. The third picture, no matter what it is, is your album cover.

You then take the pic and add your band name and the album title to it, then post your pic.

The Result

Combine my Wikipedia article, my quote segment, and my photo and we have the stunning debut album from Giancarlo Corradini — Better Opportunity to Win:


I think the band name and photo are a great match – could be some really classy stuff in the mold of Andrea Bocelli. Not a big fan of the album name though. Sounds like the title of a lame motivational seminar.

Edit: Mrs. Suit played along and scored an even better combo (Wiki, photo, quote):


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Are you addicted to the Internet?

There is no shortage of press and academic research covering the topic of so-called Internet Addiction. Of course, the first reaction of any true addict is “not me!” This denial is usually followed by surprise, realization, and then descent into an all-too familiar shame spiral. In the interest of science and self-improvement I’ve spent the last few weeks keeping a meticulous log of my daily activities, in order to better understand just how the Internet fits into my life.

The results, needless to say, confirm that I totally have this thing under control. Just take a look at last Thursday’s log (time spent is total throughout the day, not consecutive):

  • 45 minutes spent updating my Wikipedia watchlist to make sure some snot-nosed high school punk hasn’t vandalized one of my favorite articles.
  • 1 hour 20 minutes spent participating in and refreshing various message board threads to see if anyone was able to recover from any of my scathingly sarcastic rejoinders. (I totally blew away that one jerk with the picture of the Comic Book Guy saying “Worst post ever!”)
  • 15 minutes spent checking to see if my charts on last.fm have been updated.
  • 25 minutes spent reviewing my blog traffic figures, and thinking of ways to increase said traffic. (Note to self: More posts about either Harry Potter or porn. Or Harry Potter porn.)
  • 50 minutes spent scouring the far reaches of the Internet for anything related to David Hasselhoff, William Shatner, and the Burger King.
  • 1 hour spent checking my Yahoo! email account, only to find it full of nothing more than dozens of seemingly legitimate ads for dirt-cheap copies of Photoshop CS3.
  • 2 hours spent reliving my childhood by searching for and reviewing material even tangentially related to it (G.I. Joe, Transformers, Garbage Pail Kids, Atari 2600 games, old issues or Thor and The Avengers, Wacky Packages, V, The Karate Kid, etc.).
  • 35 minutes spent racking my brain for material for this stupid blog.

So how do you stack up? Of course, I don’t expect anyone to display the incredible level of self-restraint I obviously do, but now at least you have something to shoot for. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go see if there are any new lolcats out there.

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