Danny Sullivan wrote a pretty good blog post about an article getting deleted. You can read it here. I’m not so interested or outraged about it.

This spawned a Hacker News thread. You can read the whole thing here.

The comment I want to draw attention to comes to us from Phil Welch. It’s so good that I’m quoting it below.

“Turns out if you throw together a few thousand neckbeards and convince them to play status games around building an encyclopedia, you get an encyclopedia.

You also get a whole lot of stupid politics, wasted energy, process wanking, flamewars, and acronym-laden cryptic discourses where words like “arbitration” have strange, Orwellian connotations. (“Arbitration” is Wikipedia’s name for the process governing, among other things, removing administrator privileges and banning contributors for long periods of time.) 

Contributing to Wikipedia is a usability disaster because of all the red tape, process, policy, and other crap the core group of contributors has constructed.

But the project is big and popular enough, and the work is easy enough, that people still throw themselves into it. You start by just making a few small edits to something, or adding some sources and information to an article. Then it goes on a bit, and you learn some of the terminology and process, and you start feeling personally invested in it. 

I mean, it’s Wikipedia! 

It has lots of information about everything! 

It’s free! 

The human race needs something like this! 

Before you know it, you’re in a “community” of core contributors. There are people with impressive titles like “arbitrator”, “administrator”, “bureaucrat”. You start playing status games. You worry about your edit count. You try to get an article up to “featured article” status. You network. You try not to make enemies. You try to sound wise on “Articles for Deletion”, or the “Administrator’s Noticeboard”, or a million different talk pages. 

Eventually someone nominates you for administrator. You answer a few questions and other contributors vote for you. 

Let’s assume you played politics well enough leading up to this point. You win! Now in addition to all the crap you were doing before, you get to play with your administrator tools as well. 

Fun, eh? Well, for some people it is. But at that level, Wikipedia is 90% politics. 

There’s an awesome encyclopedia there for sure, but man, you don’t want to see how the sausage is made.”


Phil Welch’s narrative is enlightening and refreshing.

What’s really amazing is how generalizable Phil’s narrative is. The same can go for a number of Toronto’s community of communities.

Wikipedia has power because it’s so heavily trafficked. Quantcast lists it as the seventh most visited website in the United States. The edit wars on some pages is incredible. Wikipedia is widely thought to be ‘collective truth’. It isn’t really. It’s just a good starting point.

Many communities organize themselves around systems. The power of communities is that they can modify those systems. Political scientists recognize this as path dependence. It’s real – just ask Thelen.

Path dependence is measurable and predictable.

What would you use it for? Well, that’s up to you.