by Timothy Lee
Wed, Dec 5th 2007 1:18pm
The Register has a breathless write-up of a recent dispute among administrators on Wikipedia. Apparently, one Wikipedia administrator tried to ban another editor based on secret evidence, sparking widespread outrage among rank and file Wikipedians. The Register paints this as a grave crisis for the world's most popular encyclopedia. The rogue editor is apparently part of a secretive Wikipedia cabal that is fighting to maintain control of the site from outsiders, and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales is apparently "not admitting how deep this controversy goes." Mathew Ingram points out that the apocalyptic rhetoric is rather silly. Wikipedia, like every large organization—and especially like every organization run predominantly by volunteers—has a considerable amount of internal politics. Senior Wikipedians spend a lot of time on the site, and so naturally they have strong opinions about the way it should be run. The "rogue editor" appears to have drastically over-stepped her bounds and has been reprimanded. I don't follow Wikipedia's internal politics closely enough to know if the reprimand fit the crime, or if it would have been appropriate to strip her of her administrative privileges as some Wikipedians were demanding. But I think it's a mistake to think that this incident reflects some kind of crippling flaw in Wikipedia. The site has hundreds of passionate volunteers dedicated to making it better, and it has an open dispute-resolution process that makes it harder for under-handed tactics to stay undetected. The fact that senior Wikipedians have vehement disagreements is not an indictment of the site. Most organizations have these sorts of disagreements behind closed doors, while Wikipedia makes them public for everyone to see. In the long run, that's going to prove one of Wikipedia's strengths, not a weakness.
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