Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Sneaky Peak

Here is a sneak peak of some diss content. I picked this because it speaks to some issues raised at a recent conference:

Thus, we can see how the adoption of the GFDL was a Wikipedia policy choice guided by the need to secure and retain free labor. Wikipedia's most important content policy, the Neutral Point of View (NPOV), was shaped not only by the need to recruit this labor but by its collective nature as well. The NPOV was one of the first Wikipedia policies to be put in place, and was based on Nupedia's "Non-bias" content policy. However, a comparison of early versions of the NPOV to the Non-bias policy shows how the NPOV quickly evolved to meet the particularly collective needs of labor on Wikipedia. The Nupedia Non-bias policy images lack of bias as the function of a single article author erasing his or her own particular bias in the interest of writing an objective article. It reads, in part, "This question is a good (albeit not infallible) test of a lack of bias: 'On every issue about which there might be even minor dispute among experts on this subject, is it very difficult or impossible for the reader to determine what the view is to which the author adheres?'" ("Nupedia Editorial Policy Guidelines"). From a very early stage, the NPOV reflects Wikipedia's need, not to erase or obscure the bias of a single author, but rather to build consensus and enable cooperation among multiple authors. The earliest revision of the NPOV still retained on the English Wikipedia, dated to November 10, 2001, reads in part: "The neutral point of view attempts to present ideas and facts in such a fashion that both supporters and opponents can agree. Of course, 100% agreement is not possible; there are ideologues in the world who will not concede to any presentation other than a forceful statement of their own point of view. We can only seek a type of writing that is agreeable to essentially rational people who may differ on particular points" (
Furthermore, textual evidence from later versions of the NPOV, as well as early Wikipedia press releases, demonstrates that this consensus building feature of the NPOV was seen by Larry Sanger and others as a key to ensuring Wikipedia would attract, retain, and use collective labor effectively. By December of 2001, the NPOV had been extensively updated and expanded. In a large edit dated December 24, a Wikipedia user known by the alias The Cunctator, who had been a vocal advocate for decentralized processes in Wikipedia governance and against the editorial authority exercised by Sanger, revises the NPOV to remove policy discussion from the page itself (Wikipedia had included discussion of content on content pages, prior to the creation of separate talk pages for discussion) while adding extensive language explaining the policy and what he sees as the reasoning behind it to the page. Among the added content is a section entitled, "Why should Wikipedia be unbiased?" which reads, in part:

Wikipedia is a general encyclopedia, which means it is a representation of human knowledge at some level of generality. But we (humans) disagree about specific cases; for any topic on which there are competing views, each view represents a different theory of what the truth is, and insofar as that view contradicts other views, its adherents believe that the other views are false, and therefore not knowledge. Indeed, Wikipedia, there are many opinionated people who often disagree with each other. Where there is disagreement about what is true, there's disagreement about what constitutes knowledge. Wikipedia works because it's a collaborative effort; but, whilst collaborating, how can we solve the problem of endless 'edit wars' in which one person asserts that p, whereupon the next person changes the text so that it asserts that not-p? (

The Cunctators addition to the language of the NPOV shows how the policy was understood as a means to ensure that Wikipedia was able to recruit the labor needed to build and maintain the site from a diverse pool of potential contributors, and that "collaborative effort" needed to build Wikipedia functioned smoothly, and was not wasted in "endless 'edit wars'." Sanger, who had clashed with The Cunctator frequently and sometimes bitterly in discussions on the Wikipedia-L list and Wikipedia itself, effectively endorsed this language when he proceeded to make an extensive set of copy edits to the page over the course of December 27 without substantially changing the content. Furthermore, Wikipedia's first press release, dated January 15, 2002, quotes Sanger as saying: "If contributors took controversial stands, it would be virtually impossible for people of many different viewpoints to collaborate. Because of the neutrality policy, we have partisans working together on the same articles. It's quite remarkable" ( Like The Cunctators additions to the NPOV, Sanger's language here shows how the policy helped Wikipedia attract, maintain, and coordinate its labor supply. Together, the GFDL and the NPOV helped to ensure that Wikipedia enjoy the large pool of collective "free labor" it needed to grow and thrive, and thus addressed the clear anxieties about attracting and retaining volunteer labor that both Wales and Sanger express in their interventions in the GNUpedia and Spanish Fork incidents.


sanger said...

Andy: I am pretty sure the part that you have quoted from The Cunctator was actually written by me. Check the logs again; it seems you have misinterpreted them.

The Cunctator was just one of several annoying trolls, and not an especially subtle thinker. He had pretty much zero influence on my thinking about Wikipedia.

--Larry Sanger

Andy said...

Larry: Thank you for your note! I went back and checked the logs, and they seem to be behaving strangely. Stepping from one edit to the next reveals versions that aren't showing up on the main history page. As you can see the list of revisions the history page displays seems to have a hole in it from around December 9 to around December 24: That makes it appear that the cunctator added the text I credited him with. However, using the "previous revision" link on that version sends you to a page from 2002, a clear error. I'll try to track down the actual origin of the text using

Failing that, I'll note the uncertainty of the logs and your claim to authorship. The prose sounds like you to me, I was actually expecting to find that you had written it when I consulted the history. All I need to show, for the purposes of my argument, was that the text in question was accepted by a broad cross-section of the Wikipedia community.

Thanks again for your input!