Modest replies

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Our more modest replies to common objections

Because en:Wikipedia:Replies to common objections is a touch arrogant, no?

Letting arbitrary Internet users edit any article at will is absurd![edit]


My prose[edit]

I can't imagine having my golden prose edited by any passer-by. It's mine, so why would I let others touch it?

If you can't think of a good reason, we don't think we'll be able to convince you. Have a nice day. Don't let the door smack you in the arse on the way out.


Cranks are posting ridiculous theories on the Internet all the time. They will come here and ruin everything.

Worst case, they'll ruin a web-based encyclopedia. Wikipedia is not a cure for cancer.

Some cranks are very persistent. Someone could write up a crankish page on the Holocaust, and keep reverting it back to their version.

We try to export these people to other wikis as part of the free market in internet-based weirdos. We trade them for obsessive compulsives and narcissists.

Trolls and flamers[edit]

Wikipedia is going to end up like Usenet--just a bunch of flame wars.

Not just flame wars, we like to mix it up a bit with some revert wars and edit wars. At least it's easy to clear up after. We try to wave "Wikiquette" at the bad folks, but you know what people are like. And when catching fire, the "Wikiquette" burns very well.


There are plenty of ignorant people who think they know stuff: your articles will end up riddled with errors and serious omissions.

Yes. And yes. It's Wikipedia. If you want a work with no errors or serious omissions, we suggest you look elsewhere.


There are plenty of partisans who are all too eager to leave out information that is important to presenting a balanced view. They'll be delighted to post to Wikipedia, and that's going to create huge gaps in your coverage, which will ruin the project.

We wish!

Instead, it creates huge swamps of excessive information full of dubious statistics, dodgy quotes, half-arsed social commentary, and interminable stretches of "some people think... but other people believe... but yet more people feel...". So we just write the neutrality of this page is disputed and move on to more productive areas.


But what about advertisers? Won't those with a product or service to hawk see the opportunity to hit a targeted market and write new articles for their product or worse, edit the article that corresponds to their generic product class (e.g. computer) to an ad for their product?

This happens. We've seen a fair chunk of spam, self-promotion, corporate shills, and so forth, though largely experimental at this stage. We anticipate this becoming a serious problem if people start to take Wikipedia seriously. At least it's a self-limiting problem, though.


You still haven't addressed the real bane of Usenet: massive automated spamming. It would be trivial to write a script to post Viagra ads to all Wikipedia pages, and once spammers or vandals start to use wikibots, you're sitting ducks.

This has happened a number of times, and is probably harder to clean up than to perpetrate. Still, the sky hasn't fallen and the wiki is still here.

What do you do if people start running scripts to repost their own bit of vandalism or spam, and from different locations so you can't just block their IP address?

I've heard that cowering under a desk is a good response for anything.

Let's just hope it doesn't happen, eh?

Systemic bias[edit]

Wikipedia coverage is heavily biased by the sorts of people who want to contribute to it.

Yes. Completely, utterly, irredeemably so. Coverage in Wikipedia has little or no correlation with real world importance. Trivial topics get covered in great detail, while vital matters don't get an article.

Please don't judge the importance of things by the size of their Wikipedia article. Really.

Many Wikipedia articles are of poor quality, and there isn't a peer-review process; no self-respecting intellectual would be associated with it[edit]

It seems like there should be a giant "under construction" sign on every page of the website. It seems worthless as a reference. I don't see what the point is.

Yes. Yes. If you don't see the point, don't bother contributing, and find something more productive to spend your time on.

Surely it's not possible that very many upstanding intellectuals will want to participate in Wikipedia. After all, wiki software must be the most promiscuous form of publishing there is--Wikipedia will take anything from anybody!

Well, there are lots of Wikipedians who fancy themselves to be intellectual, but that's not your question, is it?

I looked at an area that I know something about, and I found all sorts of errors and omissions. I was surprised and amused. I obviously don't want to be associated with something of this low quality.

Obviously. Bye now.

Maybe it will improve, and maybe it won't, but currently it's pretty lame. I looked up a topic I know something about and found just a few words, just a stub. That's ridiculous!

Are you still here? You could quit whining and improve the article, you know.

It seems Britannica has extremely high standards for what they put into their publications, both online and offline. Wikipedia has no such standards. It's bound to be of shoddy quality.

Not sure I'm getting through here. Door, meet critic. Critic, meet door. If it's so shoddy, we'd be pleased if you could go away. We've got work to do.

Good quality requires peer review and expertise, which Wikipedia doesn't have.[edit]

Britannica is good not only because it is big. If that were the case, there would be no reason not to be satisfied with World Book or something of that sort. When it is good, Britannica is so partly because it is authoritative, and it got that way by being selective. Wikipedia isn't selective; hence it will never be authoritative.

Yes, and if you want Britannica, go buy a copy. We aren't Britannica. We don't want to be authoritative. We'll leave that to primary sources, and settle for being marginally useful and good value for money.

Good quality requires peer review and expertise. Why should we care about the products of an arbitrary group of people whose knowledge and ability could range from expertise to hopeless ignorance? Ignorance mixed with knowledge does not benefit knowledge.

Well, nobody's forcing you to mix with us. Hang on, are you the ignorant or the knowledgeable side of that equation?

You can't really evaluate the validity of a piece of nonfiction writing unless you know something about the author and his/her qualifications to speak on the topic--or at least you are provided with the appropriate references to support his/her claims.

Most Wikipedia authors are unqualified. Many are students of one form or another. It's safe to say you wouldn't gain a lot from knowing the qualifications of the average Wikipedian. You have to trust the process, because you sure as hell won't trust the individuals.

I want to see some means of peer review before edits are accepted on articles which have already been approved by some similar process of peer review.

I want a pony.

Wikipedia's extrapolation to continued growth is dubious[edit]

Many of your replies seem to assume that quality will improve as the website grows. But quantity doesn't always beget quality. There is simply no reason to suppose that more articles is automatically better.

Correct. It is possible to have a continuously increasing function that has a maximum value. Wikipedia could be like that. Or it could actually get worse as it gets bigger, as the tiny amount of expertise is diluted over a million articles. Only one way to find out, though.

It seems pretty foolish to make a simple extrapolation from past growth to future growth. It's easy to grow at a 20% growth rate for a few months, or even for a few years--but, of course, not indefinitely. More generally, it's surely fallacious to suppose that the growth rate in the past is any very good indication of what will happen in the future.

Yes. We're encyclopedia writers, not futurologists.

You say Wikipedia is growing rapidly. Suppose it gets really big. Then you'll start to attract the attention of more malicious elements. All the noise will eventually be larger than any group of editors can handle.

We can always block the googlebot. That'll slow down our growth soon enough.

Miscellaneous concerns[edit]


Why is there a need for an encyclopedia at all? Why not just go to your favorite search engine and search for whatever topic on which you're looking for information? You're more likely to find it, and it'll be more interesting and more current.

Good point. Off you go.


Oh, you're back again. Perhaps you got directed here from a search engine? That or we're talking to ourselves here...

Markup and Display[edit]

Wikipedia software is inadequate to the task of collaboratively writing an encyclopedia. It is hard to collaboratively edit images, there is no WYSIWYG editing, and anything complex requires reams of HTML.

It's a bit retro, isn't it? Still, if we stop pestering our developers to support ever more exotic forms of time format, then maybe they'll improve matters.

Perhaps you could just write simple stuff while you're waiting for the software to improve?