back to article How to save Wikipedia: Start paying editors ... or write for machines

Imagine that one giant manufacturer dominated the car market. The cars it made weren’t very good, but they were much cheaper and easier to buy than cars from anyone else, so the car company had ended up dominating the market. These cars would often break down, spew noxious gasses, and a lot of the time, didn’t go where you …

  1. graeme leggett

    Is it a monopoly?

    It's an easy to get to one-stop for digital knowledge. But if you go to the bottom of articles, you will often see that they are consolidating (regurgitating) information from other online sources.

    Treat Wikipedia as the start of your journey to find out about a topic, not the final destination.

    1. Lusty Silver badge
      Holmes

      Re: Is it a monopoly?

      Agreed, the article only makes sense is either Wikipedia is the whole internet or the Reg has some kind of weird vendetta against Wikipedia. Given the number of anti Wikipedia articles recently from the Reg and the obvious existence of other knowledge sources online, the latter would appear to be true.

      Anyone know what Wikipedia has done to Vulture Central?

      1. ZSn

        Re: Is it a monopoly?

        Perhaps they wrote that they were a bunch of closet vegisexuals (ooh-err looks at the mellons on that!)

        The spirit of Benny Hill is strong in that one.

      2. graeme leggett

        Re: Is it a monopoly?

        Looking at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Register

        "It has been suggested that Andrew Orlowski be merged into this article."

        I guess them's fighting words...

        or perhaps "In April 2015, following a redesign of the website, Alexa reported that the site ranking dropped to #3,430 in the world, and traffic had dropped by over 6%" (cite needed)

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: ...the Reg has some kind of weird vendetta...

        Ah. Say no more.

        (not that I see any problem with that!)

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Is it a monopoly?

          Off topic but...

          The register site ranking peaked in october 2015 at #3000 in the world and since then has dropped to #4500.

    2. Kurt Meyer

      Re: Is it a monopoly?

      "Treat Wikipedia as the start of your journey to find out about a topic, not the final destination."

      I agree with this wholeheartedly. Very often the bibliography is more useful than the article itself.

      1. Mark 85 Silver badge

        Re: Is it a monopoly?

        I think that is very true, however, most (for some value of "most") users won't bother. They'll take the first paragraph and call it good. I don't know how many times I've heard Wikipeadia referred to as the source and the user didn't go down through the whole article, much less read any of the cited references. Talk about the dumbing down of the population... the info is there and still no one uses it to it's full potential.

        1. DropBear Silver badge

          Re: Is it a monopoly?

          "They'll take the first paragraph and call it good."

          And I don't see why that would be a problem. It means they only wanted a very general idea on a subject they probably knew nothing about, and they're not interested in the finer points; and again, there's nothing wrong with that, considering that in my experience the number of articles getting the general idea completely wrong is vanishingly small. One can safely go even further and assert that getting educated about the details of the subject is perfectly possible on Wikipedia, for the exact same reasons - mistakes, accidental or deliberate are far from unheard of, but are exceedingly rarely overwhelming the bulk of an article. It is only foolish to take _everything_ you read there as absolute truth - but hey, if you're citing Wikipedia as a source in your research paper you deserve absolutely all you gonna get...

    3. Michael M

      Re: Is it a monopoly?

      "Treat encyclopaedias as the start of your journey to find out about a topic, not the final destination" is a wider truth.

  2. TRT Silver badge

    Not quite getting the WikiCar bit...

    Do you mean a virtually free car that's engineered by eager hobbyists as well as "experts" during their spare time driving on roads created in the same way?

    1. Spoonguard
      FAIL

      Re: Not quite getting the WikiCar bit...

      IT'S_A_CAR_ANALOGY

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: Not quite getting the WikiCar bit...

        Cars cost quite a bit though. And if they are poor quality, lives are at stake.

        Wikipedia is free and any inaccuracies are hardly life threatening - a bit of slanging off at a pub quiz and some rogue statistics in news articles. It's not like Mr Thompson-Smythe, registrar surgeon at St Mary's is going to be hauled before the BMA and offer as a defence "But the Wikipedia article said to make a MEDIAL incision into the lower aorta..."

        It's hardly analogous. I know what an analogy is... I looked it up in Wikipedia.

    2. veti Silver badge

      Re: Not quite getting the WikiCar bit...

      Yeah, I was thinking: if there was a car you could get FOR FREE, then just pay to insure and tax it, and most of the time it worked pretty well even if occasionally it had problems - then yes, I'm pretty sure it would be a monopoly, and rightly too. I know I'd take two.

      Because the cars you pay $50,000 for also aren't exempt from problems. Except that in their case, it'll cost you another $5k to get them fixed. And the insurance will be more.

      1. D-Coder

        Re: Not quite getting the WikiCar bit...

        "Car analogies are the Rolls-Royces of analogies."

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Remove anonymity

    Wikipedia editors should not be allowed to hide anonymity. They should be proud of their work.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Remove anonymity

      Hear, hear!

      Non-anonymous Wikipedia could be sort of fun, imagine the competition between two editors for the coveted prize "Knows More about Star Wars than anyone else".

      True story (slightly modified to protect the not-so-innocent): I was interviewing someone for a job who mentioned that he was "one of the most knowledgeable programmers in X'. When I asked for proof he told me to check the archives for the X mailing list, he was one of the top posters. I've never bothered to read all messages to see if they were really helpful.

    2. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Remove anonymity

      Upvoted for having the chutzpah to post anonymously.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Remove anonymity

        > Upvoted for having the chutzpah to post anonymously.

        Oh, is that you, Mr. Angle-Grinder? How are you today?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Remove anonymity

      Some editors are not anonymous (me for instance), some are only pseudonymous (editing under a handle but with their name on their personal page), and some are completely anonymous.

      I think it depends how much they like to keep a separation between work and wiki or wiki and other activities, or if they have concerns about harassment off-wiki.

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge

        Re: Remove anonymity

        my experience with wikipedia suggests that, in many cases, the topics are "controlled" more or less by people with a particular mindset. Opposing something like 'man made global warming' is a great way to get your posts and modifications edited away, if not worse. That's just ONE possible topic that's met with apparent opposition, and one-sided activism.

        Given that it's citizen supported, I can see that "lefties" and "socialists" apparently have more spare time to do this [as 'media matters' employees maybe?] than the "somewhat silent" majority who get along with our daily lives and are more concerned about paying the rent and buying food than being on-line activists.

        So "big disclaimer" to wikipedia, as anyone can say anything, and yet I find it to be EXTREMELY useful for a lot of things, particularly engineering and math subjects, things that can't have politics and agendas injected.

        1. TRT Silver badge

          Re: Remove anonymity

          As WikiWheaton might say, "Don't be a wikidick."

  4. Lamont Cranston

    Start charging for Wikipedia,

    and people would quickly stop using it, and it would be replaced by another freebie. People aren't paying for on-line encyclopaedias, and they won't pay for online encyclopaedias. Authoritative reference sources still exist, and Wikipedia won't put them out of business, so long as people still need them - Wikipedia is just a convenient resource that can be dipped into to get a quick primer on a given subject, or get a bit of trivia.

    Yes, it's a monopoly, but I'm not going to lose any sleep over someone having a monopoly over trivia. It's only a problem if you believe Wikipedia is as important as Jimmy Wales seems to think it is.

  5. Chuunen Baka

    Style over content

    WP is effectively run by a bunch of people enforcing the manual of style. Experts are frozen out because every time there is a dispute, the old hands come down heavy spouting chapter and verse from thousands of pages in the talk: namespace. I used to do a lot of editing in a subject area that now has tumbleweed blowing through its talk pages. Most of the knowledgeable editors have been bullied out or just got plain fed up with the bad vibe.

  6. SimonC

    Horrifically immoral since most of wikipedia is 'adapted' (i.e. pinched) from other people's sites/work and reworded, but turning it into a subscription model would easily solve their problems.

    What person wouldn't pay a few quid for access to wikipedia? Assuming it's non-profit and no fat cats are scooping off half the money for themselves a la the Susan G. Komen Foundation (pink ribbon) that only donates 10% or so of its donations.

  7. Rol Silver badge

    The Facebook of things?

    When it comes to indisputable facts, like the height of Everest, Wikipedia excels more often than not. It is only the subjective material, like Ronald Reagan, where as many opinions exist as there are people on the planet. For some, just stating the facts is not enough, they want comment, and they want it to agree with their own opinion and hence the last word ping pong turns a useful resource into a mire of controversy as self interested parties attempt to write their version into the history books.

    I have no answers to this calamity, but I still think it important that knowledge is freely accessible, and as long as you realise many inclusions must be double checked, you won't go too far wrong.

    Perhaps, in attempting to describe subjects beyond the most solid of facts, Wikipedia has overstepped it's remit and should leave such highly subjective material to the biographers, bloggers, tweeters and pokers of this world to wrangle over in a more suitable environment, like the pub, just not mine, thank you.

    1. Kurt Meyer

      @SimonC

      "What person wouldn't pay a few quid for access to wikipedia?"

      I, for one, wouldn't pay a brass farthing (or a plugged nickel) for Wikipedia's "content". There are far too many inaccuracies, in subjects that I have knowledge of, for me to ever consider paying.

    2. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
      Paris Hilton

      Re: Start charging for Wikipedia,

      "People aren't paying for on-line encyclopaedias, and they won't pay for online encyclopaedias."

      What's, pray tell, is the difference, besides a hyphen?

      1. Old Handle
        Headmaster

        Re: Start charging for Wikipedia,

        The hyphen was a clever misdirection. The difference is the tense.

    3. Francis Boyle Silver badge

      "most of wikipedia is 'adapted' (i.e. pinched) from other people's sites/work and reworded"

      Er, that's how information works. Always and thankfully still.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Start charging for Wikipedia,

      Start charging? If the well-paid bureaucrats at the Wikimedia Foundation cut back their piggy bank spending, the Foundation could invest its millions and run the site indefinitely.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'll wouldn't mind paying for it

    But then I would demand that Wiki takes responsibility for the accuracy of the information.

    To continue the car analogy : the way things stand now is that there are a number of cars spread out around your area. you can make use of them whenever you want, for free. But if they break down, the GPS sends you the wrong way, or the tires are bald, the risk of using them is yours.

    If I have to pay for the privilege of using it, I want the maintenance book duly stamped, tire pressure checked, petrol in the tank and the in-sewer-ants paid up.

  9. Louis Schreurs BEng

    love the reg. now this is the second useless article I read. the first being on the Dell EMC merger/buyout, wich wasn't helpfull or insightfull at all.

  10. Sean Timarco Baggaley

    Wikipedia...

    ... is what Yahoo! wanted to be when it grew up.

    It's a glorified search engine with knobs on. It only pretends to be an encyclopaedia on the Internet, but it is, at its core, a curated catalogue of links with an executive summary of the topic those links relate to.

    This is why Google have been so intent on co-opting it for their own ends: they're using Wikipedia to paper over the increasingly large cracks in their own search engine.

  11. BobRocket

    Not a monopoly

    but lacking competition.

    Just had a quick look at Encyclopedia Brittanica online, it is terrible.

    Pears Cyclopaedia doesn't have an online version (despite having a paper based hypertext format).

    If Penguin published the Pears online with sensible adverts (including ones for their other books) then I would use it in preference to the Wiki.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Jenkem

    I first encountered citogenisis on the jenkem article. The media was hoaxed, and wikipedia slavishly followed suit, completing the loop.

    If the encyclopedia can't even handle an article about huffing shit, what hope does it have.

  13. Dan 55 Silver badge

    How about two Wikipedias?

    The free-for-all one now and a paid-for one (reductions for students) written by paid staff who can take freely from the free one. Donating would give you access to the paid one.

    Some people might take it upon themselves to bring content back to the free one, it doesn't matter, it'd be an improvement feedback loop.

  14. Rande Knight

    I wouldn't pay for it

    If I had to sign in to get the data, I simply would move down to the next entry in google search results which quite often is the source material for what has been reformatted into an easily digestible version on wikipedia.

    (I donate once every couple of years as the 5 minutes is worth it to me)

  15. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

    In as much as there's a problem with Wikipedia, it's a cultural problem; it's the culture of the editors that's got to be changed. That could, perhaps, be done by bringing in new people. And paying editors might be one way to get those people. Or it could just end up attracting authors who are interested in earning cash.

    But the kind of problems prevalent on Wikipedia also exist in academia, government departments, private institutions, charities and website comment threads. It's just human beings at work and play.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      > In as much as there's a problem with Wikipedia, it's a cultural problem; it's the culture of the editors that's got to be changed.

      It would also help to get the WMF leeches back where they belong: in the street.

    2. elDog Silver badge

      And I would (and do) pay for it

      The ability to find peer-reviewed articles with a 90+% accuracy is well worth a few quid per year for me. I understand that nothing is perfect, not even the Academie Francaise. However having a somewhat vetted starting point and just using that as a reference has been well worth my donations over the last 10-15 years.

    3. DropBear Silver badge

      Paying the editors would kill Wikipedia more effectively than anything else possibly could. It only works as long as people do it because they care and they happen to have the knowledge; as soon as you give them secondary motives, those that care only about the reward quickly outnumber those that care about the work - not to even mention you couldn't possibly pay the massive amount of people making edits today, or what only paying _some_ people would do to the motivations of the rest. And at the end of the day, you would STILL have zero guarantees that there are no errors. No. Just... NO.

      1. JN

        "You couldn't possibly pay the massive amount of people making edits today"

        That assertion is worth looking at, because the number of people editing Wikipedia is actually fairly small. The English Wikipedia's core community for example is a little over 3,000 people; another 30,000 people or so make perhaps one edit a week.

        The total number of edits made in all Wikimedia projects together (Wikipedia, Wikidata, Wikimedia Commons, Wiktionary, Wikisource etc.) over the past 15 years is about 2.5 billion at the time of writing. That sounds a lot, until you remember that Google's ad revenue alone is $17bn a quarter. Google's Wikimedia-based Answer Boxes and Knowledge Graph panels are an important factor driving that revenue. They train you to look at and click in those areas of the search engine results page where the paying ads are.

        Now, if Google gave just a single day's ad revenue (about $200m) to Wikipedia editors, each Wikipedia edit would average out at $200m/2.5bn = $0.08. For a Wikipedia editor who's made 150,000 edits over the past 10 years or so, that would be $12,000.

        And while Google is the biggest player leveraging Wikimedia content to get eyeballs on paying ads, they're by no means the only one. Bing, Facebook (which contains a complete copy of Wikipedia) and others do the same.

        That's not to say that I couldn't imagine other problems arising, along the lines you are describing, but given the scale of the economies involved, the problem isn't that there isn't enough money in the system. The people who profit most from "free knowledge" are mega-rich corporations, and they're keeping their profits to themselves.

    4. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: How about two Wikipedias?

      Five downvotes but I still don't know why it's such a bad idea. Maybe someone could spell it out for me?

  16. captain veg

    Car analogy

    As is almost always the case, the car analogy is misleading at best. But...

    "cars would often break down, spew noxious gasses, and a lot of the time, didn’t go where you wanted them to go"

    That is exactly what they were like when I started to drive. And they rusted away quicker than you could say "underseal". And yet they were still the second most expensive purchase in most people's lives. More expensive compared to incomes than today's long-lived reliable and accident-survivable consumer durables.

    By comparison, Wikipedia is a bargain. And no one is forced to use it.

    -A.

  17. MalIlluminated

    Textbooks are NSFS

    Look, I'll agree that Wikipedia is biased, fraught with errors, and generally unsuitable for consumption by impressionable minds. I wonder why people think the textbooks being issued primary school students are so much better? Perhaps it's because adults have some exposure to the clusterfsck that is Wikipedia but don't bother to crack open their children's textbooks to see what they're learning?

  18. jobardu

    Off the tracks

    The author lost me when he started going off on gender, race and general political correctness. Political correctness is a pile of blame, guilt and shame. It adds nothing to life nor solves any problems.

    If Wikipedia is of sub par quality then some analysis and metrics would make that clear. If the author, or the Register, wants a PC wiki then create one staffed by blacks, feminists and Muslims. That will be above criticism so it will automatically receive high grades. In fact, the Wikipedia Foundation could probably receive considerable Government funding for setting up a parallel race, gender and religion based online encyclopedia. It is more efficient for Wikipedia to do this than someone else without the experience.

    For me, Wikipedia is a good entry point into subjects I am interested in but not working on for my livelihood. I accept the errors as long as they are errors of omission and not comission. The PC media, by way of contrast, see no difference between the two. .

    1. Drewc (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

      @jobardu: You are inferring a helluva lot from one sentence in this article.

      That is all.

    2. Steven Roper

      Re: Off the tracks

      Unfortunately it's starting to look like the Socjus army has discovered El Reg. If they follow the same pattern as on every other site I've seen them infest, more and more articles will start preaching about the evil white male hegemony and how it's oh-so important that women and specially selected minorities must, repeat must, be represented by quotas in all fields of advantage.

      Gradually the existing writers will be replaced with SJWs, and as a result the preaching will intensify to Jezebel-like levels. There will be a certain tension arising in the byplay between writers and commenters. People will start to become afraid to speak their minds for fear of offending anyone, and comments will start to be sanitised.

      Next will come the censorship; any comments bitching about SJW preaching (like this one) will end up being rejected for not being in accord with "house rules" - which will now include compliance with the doctrine of political correctness. Our usual innuendoes and sketchy asides that litter the comments threads will be pulled as "inappropriate" - that favourite buzzword of the Socjus crusaders to describe anything not in accord with their Anglophobic misandrist (see? I can use buzzwords too!) agenda.

      That will be my signal for exodus, as it has been on many other sites that have fallen victim to these fucking maggots. The day I get a comment censored on the grounds of political incorrectness will be the day I end my more-than-10-year tenure of El Reg, and I will be sad to see it go, since it has been a part of my life for so long. I'm hoping against hope this won't happen, but I've seen these sanctimonious fuckwits destroy too many other fora to believe that the El Reg we've come to know and love will hold out against them forever. They're like a bloody incurable disease.

      Anyone know where Lewis Page and Tim Worstall went? If they're writing for another IT rag that could well be the next place to head for...

      1. Drewc (Written by Reg staff) Gold badge

        Re: Re: Off the tracks

        That is so far off-beam, Stephen. that I don't know where to begin - so I won't, except to say that Andrew has been a prominent writer at The Register for 15 years, all the time that you have been reading us.

        1. Steven Roper

          @Drewc Re: Off the tracks

          Yes, I know he has, and while I might not always see eye to eye with him on copyright issues, Andrew generally writes quite informative articles. This is the first time I'd seen him preach PC though, and from past experience on other sites this wasn't a good sign. I know Andrew isn't an SJW so I'm hoping he won't start caving in to their pressure.

          I very much enjoy reading El Reg, in particular because of your dry and sarcastic sense of humour, and your willingness not to pull punches. I'm just worried that this might suffer if the humourless SJW squad get their way, because I've seen it happen elsewhere and I certainly would be upset if it happened here!

      2. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

        Re: Off the tracks

        @Steven Roper

        Jezebel is a heck of a lot better written, funnier and on point than your tedious and massively exaggerated post.

        1. Steven Roper

          Re: Off the tracks

          "Jezebel is a heck of a lot better written, funnier and on point than your tedious and massively exaggerated post."

          Good, then why don't you head on over there. If that's the sort of site you like then this isn't the place for such as you.

      3. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
        Mushroom

        Re: Off the tracks

        To summarize: boo-hoo, I'm so oppressed by people disagreeing with me.

        "That will be my signal for exodus,"

        Well, bye.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Mushroom

    It cannot be saved

    Wikipedia and cloned pages dominate the search results for any sufficiently obscure subject. The articles are sloppy and factually suspect [try it yourself]. It's not even a useful starting point when it lacks important citations. But it's all you'll get. Wikipedia is turning the 'serious' side of the internet into an echo chamber. It's knowledge-spam.

    What I really want to see, in general, are different opinions on a subject, not Wikipedia's synthesized 'consensus facts'.

    Where objective facts are concerned, I want a Git-style distributed knowledgebase with a robust chain of attribution - links to sources, copies of content, and change history.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Meh

    I wouldn't pay for access.

    The weaknesses of Wikipedia for me are:

    A good many technical/scientific articles contain errors that tend to show the editors don't really understand the the subject, or the content from the sources they are citing.

    An advantage Britannica had was that the actual content provided was often by people considered the authority in their field.

    The more controversial a subject, the less reliable the content is.

    It seems there is a constant battle going on between parties who see Wikipedia as a vehicle for their particular form of propaganda.

    1. TRT Silver badge

      Re: Meh

      But WITIKIpedia* isn't as catchy.

      *What I Think I Know Is..."

  21. Phil Lord

    Paying the authors

    Of course, paying the authors and content creators is a nice idea, but there is plenty of evidence out there to show that this does not necessarily produce good content. I would imagine that most Fox News reporters are paid; their content is high quality in some senses, just not in the sense of being informative.

    Overall, wikipedia has its problems, but it is and remains a pretty good resource for many things.

  22. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
    FAIL

    However bad it

    is, it does serve a very useful purpose

    In finding out the lazy students who cant be bothered to do their own research or write up their own assignments and just copy/paste the article on wikipedia that refers to their subject.

    Thus making it really easy to spot them and give them an F-.... thus the icon

  23. Mage Silver badge

    People kept using them hoping that the crashes would happen to somebody else ...

    I thought this was going to be a stunning exposé of Windows 10 and MS Office.

    Really Wikipedia has pretty much put many Encyclopedia compilers out of the business. MS claimed that's why they were shuttering Encarta, not that it was much good. Actually, very many encyclopedias 19th & 20th Century were not brilliant, Arthur Me, World of Knowledge, Crompton, Pears, Harmsworth etc.

  24. Paul Cooper

    Catch 22

    Wikipedia's rules on content sometimes mean that someone with expert knowledge of a small subject area cannot post their knowledge. I've fallen foul of this one myself; it was removed under the "no original research" rule - but in a small field, someone sufficiently expert to write an encyclopedia page is almost certainly going to be reporting their own work!

    There are also problems when the best source for a particular topic does not comply with their rules on "free" source data; even if the unfreedom is purely concerned with commercial exploitation.

    1. Mage Silver badge

      Re: Catch 22

      Make a few websites ...*

      write the wiki article citing the sites (it really does happen, it's not just an XKCD cartoon).

      The information may not actually be real

      (* use Anoymisation of Whois data ...)

    2. Wensleydale Cheese Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Re: Catch 22

      I've fallen foul of this one myself; it was removed under the "no original research" rule

      The Wikipedia:No original research rule:

      "Wikipedia articles must not contain original research. The phrase "original research" (OR) is used on Wikipedia to refer to material—such as facts, allegations, and ideas—for which no reliable, published sources exist"

      My example is an entry written by someone about a village. Someone has clearly gone to some considerable effort to write about a place they are familiar with, yet it falls foul of this rule.

      Idle, West Yorkshire

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    damn white males

    As a white male (so white I'm almost see through) I apologise for my part in this outrage.

    Now to go on to wikipedia and make my first edits...

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