Saturday, June 25, 2011

WikiLove buttons: A weak response to a fundamental problem with Wikipedia's editing policy

Wikipedia is rolling out a new tool called "WikiLove Buttons." The experiment, as explained by Howie Fung, Erik Moeller, and other top editors, is a weak response to a rather significant problem: Ordinary people ("new editors") don't like being shut out of articles, and when their edits are removed (or even savagely put down by experienced editors) they are less likely to want to contribute again. This undermines the crowdsourcing mission upon which Wikipedia was founded, and erodes quality. Unfortunately for Wikimedia, Inc. and its hundreds of millions of users, this roundabout way of showing appreciation for newbie edits by using a love button won't solve the problem of condescending uber-editors putting down perfectly good edits based on misguided policies, poor/incomplete understanding of topic issues, or inflated ego.

Ordinarily I wouldn't bother writing about this, but what prompted me to was the ReadWriteWeb review of the love button by Marshall Kirkpatrick. I generally like Kirkpatrick's writing but I really dislike when Wikipedia is unquestionably held up as a reliable source of information -- especially by people who speak with authority. While it can be considered a starting place for basic facts, it's hardly a reliable or complete source of information, as I described in my comment left at the bottom of the RWW article:

Disagree with the statement that Wikipedia is an "undeniably good source of information on almost any topic." For some topics, yes. But many others are flawed.

For instance, articles about famous living people are often sanitized by their handlers or supporters. Non-Western topics on English-language Wikipedia are shallow and/or unable to cite primary and secondary sources in other languages. Wikipedia editors do not view blogs as reliable sources, even if the authors are experts in said topic. And attempting to correct mistakes or add information to certain articles often brings up an array of badges, warnings, and restrictions that make it practically impossible for "the crowd" to edit.

As for the new feature, the love icons seem to be designed in a way that they make browsing and contributing more difficult. This may make things better for "top nerds at Wikipedia" but I doubt it will lead to a better product or experience for the rest of us.

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