News flash: Wikipedia is run by people!

by Mathew on December 4, 2007 · 49 comments

It’s been awhile since we had any Wikipedia controversy, so maybe it’s about time for a pile-on — you know, something about how Jimmy Wales doesn’t care about quality, or how he runs the “open source” encyclopedia as his own personal fiefdom, or how people run around using strange technical terms that no one outside the Wikipedia cabal can understand (okay, that last one is totally true). This time it’s the revelation of a top-secret… wait for it… mailing list only for insiders! According to a breathless piece in The Register:

“Controversy has erupted among the encyclopedia’s core contributors, after a rogue editor revealed that the site’s top administrators are using a secret insider mailing list to crackdown on perceived threats to their power.”

I just love the language throughout this story: words like “erupted” and “rogue editor,” combined with phrases like “ruling clique” and talk about how the “rank and file” are in revolt. It sounds like the author is describing France in the 1600s — with Jimmy Wales (presumably) playing the role of Cardinal Richelieu. Wikipedia is said to rife with dissent and “tearing at the seams.” Insiders are quoted by The Register as saying that senior editors are enraged, and that Jimmy is playing down the whole matter as a tempest in a teacup (in other words, failing to act).

Wow. I’m gobsmacked. Wikipedia has an internal mailing list for senior editors? Quelle horreur. Despite the attempt by places like The Register and perennial gadfly Seth Finkelstein to turn this into some kind of scandal, I just don’t see what the big deal is. Wikipedia has editors — pretty well everyone knows that by now. They ban people and edit things, and occasionally make mistakes, as the editor in this particular situation has admitted. This is no Essjay controversy, that’s for sure.

As for the “cabal” comments, Wikipedia knows that it has a cabal — insiders even call it that, in a gesture of self-referential irony. There’s also this entry on the topic, among others. As Stan Schroeder at Mashable notes in his post on the subject, this kind of phenomenon is endemic in almost any large, self-organizing social group. Does Wikipedia have problems? Sure. But a secret mailing list isn’t one of them.

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