Why there will always be debate in this project

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Larry,
some moment you will have to face fact that the nature of Wikipedia is open to styles and purposes wich differ from yours. And that that is a good thing!

that has nothing to do with neutrality or objectivity, but with the simple fact that people differ in style. I think you throw away the child with the bathwater (Dutch saying) if you are so judgemental about this. Pretty sharp through the corner (another Dutch saying): even the vandals are committed to this project

You wrote to Seb:
If you're really here mainly for the talk page discussions, I think that's a serious problem. Why not just go to Usenet? Why bother us here on Wikipedia with it?
why is that a problem? why is it a bother?
I think you are missing out on people in this way because, if you like it or not, Seb, and people like me and Cunctator, are committed, very committed. It's quite evidently not your style, you are even personally offended by it. I think that that is unneccesary and a pity.

Larry, please believe me that I fully support your role in the Wikipedia - I even believe that Seb and the Cunctator support you in this. I ask you please to reconsider the way you judge and ostracise other styles. Some people (like me and Cunctator) won't be trolled away, but I think other 'trolls' (as you like to consider them) will lose gusto, while they might have been valuable contributors (like Jzcool who started as a 'vandal', but now is highly regarded)

Sincerely --Mathijs


I made this new page because my browser won't allow me to edit the Should_talk_pages_be_used_for_debating?-page


Mathijs, you seem to want to take me to task for failing to face up to the fact "that the nature of Wikipedia is open to styles and purposes wich differ from yours." As a generality, I know this and have cheerfully accepted it from the beginning. But it is clear that you are trying to make a comment about Should_talk_pages_be_used_for_debating?, and in this I think you have widely missed the mark. My point of view expressed on that page is clear and delimited: talk pages, generally speaking, should not be used for debate-for-its-own-sake. Now, if you would like to discuss that claim, feel free. But that claim obviously does not entail that I am closed to styles different from my own, and your suggestion that I am is, frankly, insulting.

I hope you will reconsider your attitude and approach, Mathijs. It is hard to take you seriously when you write things like this. --Larry_Sanger

I know allready that it's hard for you to take styles different from your own seriously. It is evident from your ad hominem attacks on several people and the terminology you use. I don't ask you to change your personality and purpose. I ask you to reconsider your attitude and approach. There is no such thing as 'debate-for-its-own-sake'. Everybody has his motivation for his actions. Maybe it's hard for you to fathom, but I've got the highest respect for you and I'm putting serious effort into this. All the better that it is insulting to you for perhaps some will pour through into your self-righteous, bony brain. Allthough in your case you will be more concerned with your ego and image, than what the 'insult' may give you as a feedback to grow up. Wich would be a missed chance, because you are a public figure in this project (like a mayor or another politician). Again, in other words, we don't need to agree to support eachother, we don't need te be nice to give an opportunity to better the world we live in. I'd like you to have some respect, maybe you'll get it. Good luck --Mathijs

I'd be happy to lob some epithets your way in return, but I'm rather tired of that. --LMS

LMS: you ask: If you're really here mainly for the talk page discussions, I think that's a serious problem. Why not just go to Usenet? Why bother us here on Wikipedia with it?

Well, Usenet discussions are harder to follow; they cannot provide neat links the way Talk pages can; and the fact that Talk pages are subordinate to a specific item helps keep the discussion on-topic. But I agree that discussions that are not directly relevant to the goal of improving the article should be kept separate from those that are. Having something like a /Debate page could be useful in that respect.

All right, I know what you're going to tell me: Our goal here is to build an encyclopedia. Anything that does not serve that goal should be weeded out, lest it encourage others to indulge in activities that do not serve our goal. Well, I think it is definitely clear that your goal here is to build an encyclopedia. But I think each person has his or her own personal goal in being here that may be different from yours. And they should be allowed to pursue those goals here, provided that it does not interfere with the overall goal of the project.

People are going to choose what they're going to do here. Those who like to input article content will do so; those who like to argue will do so. And those who like both will do both. Now if we want to keep the valuable ones who contribute to articles, shouldn't we try to find ways to keep them coming back?

Finally, one cannot help but wonder how the wealth of valuable knowledge that is getting poured into the Wiki came into being in the first place. I'd like to venture a guess. I think a lot of it came from debate, coupled with careful thinking and checking of facts. I value age-old, distilled, consensual knowledge as much as you do; but what I'm thinking is, if debate can make some of us wiser/more knowledgeable and possibly generate new, useful knowledge, and if the Wikipedia community can find ways to allow (and perhaps even cultivate) such intellectual activity, then in the long term it may well turn out to be one of its finest contributions to the resolution of humanity's ever-more pressing unsolved problems. (I know, it sounds grandiloquent, but everyone here thinks big, eh?) Seb


Seb, arguing with me is unfair to a certain extent :-) because I can make certain premises of my arguments true by decree. I have decreed, and do decree, that our purpose is building an encyclopedia. This is one thing that I have said pretty much from the beginning; in fact, I've been saying for a long time that it is one of a very few aspects of Wikipedia policy that is not under public debate or consideration. It is one of the things that defines this project. So, when you say,

each person has his or her own personal goal in being here that may be different from yours. And they should be allowed to pursue those goals here, provided that it does not interfere with the overall goal of the project.

I reply: while people might have different motivations in participating, and it'd would be pointless and meaningless to try to control that, it is the essence of leadership to make sure that we are all engaged in the same task. So, no. People cannot come here and decide, without general community consent, that it's going to be a poetry forum and abortion debate club as well as an encyclopedia project. There are other places on the Internet for that. There is no good reason that Wikipedia should open its doors wide for people with all different sorts of purposes in mind for the project.

You seem to imply that we should tolerate lengthy, acrimonious, Usenet-style talk page debates because they attract people to the project; or, trying to get people to stop will lead them to leave the project. First, I doubt this. I think even those people love the idea of working on the encyclopedia, and would do so even if there were a strict rule against Usenet-style debates (it's hard to think of a better description of what I dislike). But y'know, most of the people who engage in such debates endlessly are also the sort of people who write not-very-long but extremely biased texts. I think the most productive members of the project do use talk pages, but they use them strategically, and they generally do not get drawn into debates that have little to do with improving the text of a page. So, I'm sorry to say it, but on the whole, I suspect (I don't claim to know) that the project in general would be better off without these people. I'd rather they change their behavior than leave, of course, and I'm certainly not suggesting that we kick them out.

I would disagree with you when you say that "a lot of" information poured into Wikipedia came from debate, if by that you mean anything like a majority of the information, the "facts," cited in articles. If you'll look at random pages, most of them are written with relatively little comment. Huge long tracts are written--usually from a neutral point of view or something like it--with very little comment. Have a look around--not just at topics like Christian anti-Semitism, abortion, God, etc.--and I think you will see that this is so.

But some--a very modest amount--of information that is exchanged in debates does find its way into articles. Not very much, but some.

--Larry_Sanger


I was asking how that knowledge originally came into existence, not how it got poured into Wikipedia. Seb


Larry: I agree with you that the primary purpose of Wikipedia is to produce an encyclopedia. However, I think that there is no reason why we can't use Wikipedia for other (secondary) purposes as well, so long as it doesn't interfere with its primary one.

Now, I know you are going to say "why waste all this time engaging in pointless discussions that never go anywhere when you could be writing articles?". You may consider them pointless, or a waste of time. I'm sure you wish everyone spent every minute of their day writing articles :) But if people want to do things other than write articles, that's their right--its their time, and they can spend it how they please. The thing you can ask though, is that they do it in such a way that doesn't interfere with Wikipedia's primary purpose, making an encyclopedia.

So, basically, if you don't want people to debate on Wikipedia, you have to do more than just say "this isn't what we are here for, guys" -- you have to produce some evidence that it significantly gets in the way of people who just want to write articles. You have to show it has some significant detrimental effect on the project's primary purpose -- and that detrimental effect has to be more than just the fact that people debating could be writing articles instead. -- SJK_


What he said. That's actually how I would have liked to write what I was thinking. -- Seb


First, I'm that you do agree with me that our purpose is to create an encyclopedia.

Second, I deny your premise, which seems to be something like this: unless I produce some (scientifically persuasive?) evidence that debate gets in the way of article-creation, then I am (what?) morally obligated not to complain about it. (Or is it that I am not allowed by you to say others are disallowed? :-) ) Well, I can complain all I want, and I will continue to do so, for reasons I have rambled on and on about above and on other pages. Of course, I'm not sure you're denying this, but then, I'm not sure what you are denying.

Anyway, sure, there's excellent evidence, perhaps not scientific evidence but evidence of a sort, that Usenet-style debate hurts the project. It dilutes our sense of purpose. When people come here to get their fix of partisan rancor, rather than their fix of knowledge-contributing, it is a bit like a group of people coming here regularly to add dictionary definitions rather than encyclopedia articles. Of course, the dictionary definition-writers are abusing our articles, and the Usenet-style debaters aren't, so you'd be right to point out that disanalogy; but where the analogy does hold, it's important. Namely, both definition-writers and Usenet-style debaters are, by their behavior, giving others the idea, and reinforcing the idea in themselves, that the Wikipedia project might exist for some reason other than the creation of articles.

It's also not unlike why we delete entries that consist of single external links: failure to do so would make it seem acceptable that people add such entries; which in turn would lead people to adding many such entries; which in turn would lead to the content of Wikipedia being far too much like a web directory for any self-respecting encyclopedia project to want to be. In this case, the analogy goes like this: people start debating on /Talk pages instead of working on articles; suppose nobody speaks out about it; then more and more people start debating rather than talking; then the project has become yet-another-debate-forum, rather than something really special, a bona fide collaborative encyclopedia project.

You might, I imagine, want to reply to this by saying that we should try and see whether this would happen or not. But see here, it is obvious to anyone such as myself who has been on the Internet for very long that when you get people chatting, then unless you restrain them (or they have an unusual amount of self-restraint), they will go at it hard and fast. I don't want to do the experiment, thank you very much.

One of the things that makes Wikipedia great, and it is something that I have worked very hard to foster, is the fact that it is focused on a particular goal. I think a lot of people underestimate the importance of our being so focused.

And, by the way, I regard it as one of my most important jobs, to keep us on track. --Larry_Sanger


I completely agree with Larry here. In addition to his arguments, I add this: we don't need to try it here as an experiment, as we can simply draw on the experience of the wider (and older) wiki community. On MeatBallWiki, there's this page which explores whether the original WikiWikiWeb is failing, and if so, why. Here's a particularly relevant quotation by Randy Stafford:

I'd suggest a couple of causative factors. First has to be loss of focus (I know Sunir has pointed this out somewhere on Meatball before). The w:WikiWikiWeb was originally about people, projects, and patterns. It's not clear what it's about now. The pattern stuff that was on wiki's mind circa '95-'97 was pretty groovy. Then it took a turn for XP. Then it just kind of turned into a free-for-all.

Outside of the wiki world, I direct your attention to w:Everything2, which also started out a user-written encyclopedia. Now it's... well, something rather different, to say the least.

Don't get me wrong; I'm very big on the importance of dialectic. But there are plenty of places on the Internet, including other wikis, where one can engage others in debate. Let's reserve this portion of the Internet for encyclopedia-building. --Stephen Gilbert


Y'know what? If there were a small link at the bottom of articles or talk pages that said something like: "Debate on <article title> (offsite)" and led to a page in another Wiki-type site, I'd be happy to cut whatever I think constitutes debate stuff out from Talk or article pages, and paste it over there. I think it many of us would do it, because it would help us keep focus in a relatively smooth manner. Seb


As I've said before, I think that that, or something like it, is something that I could support. I'd want to talk about it quite a bit more first, though. You could set up a Meta-Wikipedia page to debate about it, Seb, or post to Wikipedia-L about it (or both). --Larry_Sanger



debate sites[edit]

The above discussion alludes to "wiki-type sites" where debate is on-topic -- "where one can engage others in debate.". Some specific examples, in no particular order: