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Author Topic: Would you contribute more if the wiki were blank?  (Read 86942 times)
Larry Sanger
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« on: January 17, 2007, 06:50:59 UTC »

I have a simple, "dangerous" question: would you contribute more if the wiki were blank?  That is, if we hadn't copied over all those Wikipedia articles?

I just asked myself that question and I had to admit that I would in fact contribute more to the wiki--I would feel more motivated to do so--if there were wide swathes of open space.  One thing that I think I didn't realize sufficiently, when writing about this question a few months ago (at embarrassing length, before the pilot project was well under way), is that the very presence of fair-to-middling articles from WP is actually a strong disincentive for people to get to work.

It's like this: when you get down to brass tacks, it's no fun to clean up the mediocre work of Wikipedians.  It might be a hell of a lot more fun to start over from scratch.

As you can see, I am willing to revisit my old decisions and, if necessary, admit that I was wrong.  For me, as project leader, my top priority is to make sure that people are motivated to get involved.  I have been wondering why we have had only 10-20 (very) active people out of 500 accounts created.  I think we can do much better, and I think there might well be a huge amount more activity on the wiki if, basically, we could go where our fancies took us, starting over and doing it right from scratch.

I say all this without having revisited my own arguments against the position I'm suggesting here, and without considering other arguments in favor of the position.  It's just one point that I think has tremendous force:

We will work much more on the wiki if we have to fill it up with content according to our own standards, instead of the much duller task of cleaning up mediocre Wikipedia content.

What do you think?
« Last Edit: January 17, 2007, 06:53:17 UTC by Larry Sanger » Logged

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Nicholas Kaye-Smith
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« Reply #1 on: January 17, 2007, 07:32:03 UTC »

How about allowing contributors to blank Wikipedia articles they want to work on from scratch?
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Zachary Pruckowski
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« Reply #2 on: January 17, 2007, 07:45:31 UTC »

My immediate concern is that we'd be re-inventing the wheel in many cases.  There are thousands of articles that could be blanked and rewritten to be better easily, but the entire WP database isn't pure crap.

How about allowing contributors to blank Wikipedia articles they want to work on from scratch?

If you want to completely rewrite an article, there's nothing stopping you from doing so already.
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Joe Quick
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« Reply #3 on: January 17, 2007, 07:50:33 UTC »

Me might work harder to fill empty space than to modify mediocre content, but to blank everything out is to dump a lot of good content. 

I doubt that, as a group, we have the expertise to write from scratch many of the good articles that are already on Wikipedia.  I doubt that we would even think to write a great many of the articles that are there, and mediocre coverage is generally better than nothing at all.

On a tangential thought, it might be good to have authors and editors tag articles that migrated from Wikipedia which they find to be complete and not in need of revision.  For example, I feel like the "Boy Scouts of America" page could hardly be improved and the same is true of many of the other Scouting pages.  I know that the original plan was to continue to use the Wikipedia content until someone makes an edit here, but if we think about throwing out Wikipedia content altogether, there are a few pages we should probably hold onto.

Perhaps a grading system for Wikipedia pages is in order so that we can alert the community to where the most work is needed.  If a page gets an "F" or a "D", then we might as well dump the content and start over.  If it gets an "A," then we keep it.  If it gets a "B," then we just touch it up a bit.  A "C" might go either way, depending on the ambitions of the author(s).
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Nereo Preto
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« Reply #4 on: January 17, 2007, 08:46:37 UTC »

If you want to completely rewrite an article, there's nothing stopping you from doing so already.

This is true, of course, and I actually did it once. But people that see a page already filled might think they shouldn't screw all up by blanking it.
Perhaps we should stress, in the "instruction for authors" (or whatever is the name of it, I forgot), that starting over from a blanked page is ENCOURAGED, if the author thinks is a good idea, so people feels it safe to do it and may contribute more often?

I'm not for blanking all non-live pages, however, because WP is a great source most of the times.
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David Tribe
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« Reply #5 on: January 17, 2007, 08:50:01 UTC »

I think the question should be how can we be most productive.

Two counter aspects

We can take very good WP articles and quickly improve ans approve them ( eg Barbara McClintock)

and take mediocre but important one ( like Cell (Biology)) and fairly quckly get them right.


In working on existing article I keep on finding a need to create new wikis.

In short total blankness is counterproductive.


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My User page  where you will find more:

"http://pilot.citizendium.org/wiki/User:David_Tribe"

but more useful is my talk page:

"http://pilot.citizendium.org/wiki/User_talk:David_Tribe"

See you there
 :0)
Konstantin Tchernov
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« Reply #6 on: January 17, 2007, 08:55:53 UTC »

Wikipedia does have a lot of good content, I have seen some pretty amazing Featured Articles.  I don't think it would be wise to disregard that just for the sake of getting higher edit #s.  It is much easier and faster to clean up an article, than to write one from scratch.  Especially since most Wikipedia articles have already been written and discussed by many different authors (even if not nearly as many experts as we have here) - to include many different points of views and details that one person probably would not come up with.  It would have some benefits to write everything from scratch, but I don't think there would be a future in that.
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Versuri
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« Reply #7 on: January 17, 2007, 11:25:14 UTC »

As English is not my language, I don't have much to do, but if it was in my language I would contribute much more and if it was for "non-commercial" purposes (CC-BY-NC), I would contribute with much much more pleasure.
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Celia Chazelle
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« Reply #8 on: January 17, 2007, 13:35:08 UTC »

Dear Larry, I have been looking closely at a range of Wikipedia articles in my fields of expertise, medieval studies. I actually think they are not bad. They are not badly written or structured and although they all have points where I disagree, this is true with any encyclopedia article. Every historian has a different take on the issues; if I were to write such an article others would raise legitimate disagreements.

A major value of Wikipedia is that since it is the product of so many, it has incredible volume. It covers a huge number of topics, far more than does any other kind of encyclopedia. A select group of specialists cannot match the quantity and it is not clear - at least in the articles in my field - that the quality would be significantly higher. Moreover, these are not research articles, the  kind of work where we can argue for new theories based on our own investigations of frequently obscure evidence. (In medieval studies, a lot of the evidence on which I would draw is unpublished or consists of untranslated primary sources that other historians have little studied.) So I don't think it's worthwhile investing a lot of time into editing the Wikipedia articles. I think a much more useful contribution would be to the bibliography: providing more extended lists of secondary literature, both peer-reviewed online publications and printed ones, that would be appended to the existing articles. Experts know this material much better than do many of the Wikipedia authors. These works would ideally be in all languages and the lists could be kept up to date, with additions made as books and articles appear. The interested reader who wants an expert opinion would be directed to those works. The Wikipedia article could then be left alone to be edited in the usual manner. 

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Laurent Vermeersch
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« Reply #9 on: January 17, 2007, 14:22:30 UTC »

If one feels he or she could work more by starting from scratch, that's possible. Anyone can start writing an article on any subject. When that's finished, the community or the editors of that specific field, can easily compare it with the one from WP and take the best of both versions. It doesn't mean we have to get rid of WP alltogether...

Of course we have to adress the lack of activity from our dear contributors (I plead guilty!). I think we have to get the word out to more people, for starters. Beyond that, I believe people are a bit frightened by the idea that 'we' have to do better than WP (the pressure!). People are often not sure if it is possible to do better, so they just don't do anything. Anyway that's my feeling. It is obvious that in most fields, truth is so subjective that it is impossible to please everyone. We should accept that and start working!
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Larry Sanger
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« Reply #10 on: January 17, 2007, 14:44:12 UTC »

How about allowing contributors to blank Wikipedia articles they want to work on from scratch?

They already can, and this is something we've actually encouraged in some cases.  Our first approved article, "Biology," was blanked.

My immediate concern is that we'd be re-inventing the wheel in many cases.  There are thousands of articles that could be blanked and rewritten to be better easily, but the entire WP database isn't pure crap.

Me might work harder to fill empty space than to modify mediocre content, but to blank everything out is to dump a lot of good content. 

I'm not for blanking all non-live pages, however, because WP is a great source most of the times.

In short total blankness is counterproductive.

Wikipedia does have a lot of good content, I have seen some pretty amazing Featured Articles.  I don't think it would be wise to disregard that just for the sake of getting higher edit #s.

There is a pattern here Smiley and the point sounds quite solid: why would we delete (or ignore) enormous amounts of perfectly good content?  When you put it that way, that does sound counterproductive and unwise.  But let me remind you of our aim, which is for us to produce a credible, expert-guided (but not experts-only!) free encyclopedia.  No matter how good the content on Wikipedia is, if people were significantly more motivated to work on our project if they were always encouraged to start from scratch, then why shouldn't they start from scratch?

We do have a healthy number of contributors, and with more recruitment (and openness) we will get many more.  So this is not a make-or-break case, it is what we used to call in high school debate a "comparative advantage" case.  Would CZ be better off without all the WP articles?  I am leaning toward saying yes, for the simple reason that the community would be more vibrant and motivated.  If the main response, as the above quotes indicate, is not to deny my point, but just to say that we would be getting rid of tons of great content, this simply raises a question:

What's more important for CZ: a significantly more motivated and thriving community, or tons of great content on which we have not yet worked?

I know my answer.  If we don't value our community over Wikipedia's content, then what are we doing here at all?

Besides, a thriving CZ community can create tons of content, and far better content, than WP.  And I suspect that we'll do it faster than WP did.  Instead of 20,000 articles in our first year, we might very easily have more like 50,000 or 100,000.  I suspect the total number of approved articles would be much higher if we started from scratch.
« Last Edit: January 17, 2007, 14:47:04 UTC by Larry Sanger » Logged

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PeterNeuhäusler
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« Reply #11 on: January 17, 2007, 15:47:16 UTC »

I know that this question does not really fit here. But is it possible to "copy" information or add information to an existing Wikipedia article if you know that this information is true, cited and so on? I mean, it is possible that someone doesn't have that much information about a topic but knows a lot about a specific subtopic. Is he then able to just add his specific info to the Wikipedia article and leave the rest untouched so that it becomes a "LiveArcticle".

If this is possible I don't think that the information from the Wikipedia articles should be deleted. There's too much of information that just needs to be verified and there would be no need to write a hole new article.

If it is not possible then the former Wikipedia information has to be deleted anyway, if someone begins editing an article. If this is the case, there could be really more motivation if the Wiki were blank.
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Larry Sanger
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« Reply #12 on: January 17, 2007, 16:13:40 UTC »

I used to dismiss the non-forking option as contrary to the purpose of CZ: https://lists.purdue.edu/pipermail/citizendium-l/2006-September/000483.html

See the section "Why fork Wikipedia?"  I'm going to reply to what I wrote there here--just to see if I can. Smiley

(1) I argued that academics are increasingly motivated to improve on Wikipedia, so we should give them a fork of Wikipedia to work on.  But I see now that this is a non sequitur.  I mean, the research community generally is increasingly motivated to work on a free wiki encyclopedia--but it might turn out that they would be less motivated to work on a project if it were already exhaustively worked out, than if they could start over from scratch.

(2) I argued that Wikipedia's content would help us bootstrap the CZ community into existence.  More articles to work on, I argued, would attract more people to work on them.  I now see that this prediction (because it was a prediction, you know) was probably incorrect.  The mere presence of a set of articles from WP on CZ doesn't act as a special incentive to work.  In fact, I now think they may be a disincentive, as I will explain below in more detail.

(3) WP is "the only game in town," I argued, and so people we would try to recruit would say: "Well, that [CZ] is a worthy effort, but Wikipedia is what people are using.  Why can't we try to improve that?"  In other words, I thought that people would be demoralized about working on CZ if it weren't a copy of WP, because work on CZ wouldn't seem to matter.  Well, I now have a different perspective.  In fact, it's precisely the work that we do that is distinguishable from WP that matters, because, to have value, our work has to be different from Wikipedia's.  More on this below.

My main error was in thinking that all-at-once forking would have special attractions and motivations for people.  I was wrong.  I suspect that we should see whether, in fact, not forking at all would lead to more motivated contribution
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Larry Sanger
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« Reply #13 on: January 17, 2007, 16:19:32 UTC »

A major value of Wikipedia is that since it is the product of so many, it has incredible volume. It covers a huge number of topics, far more than does any other kind of encyclopedia. A select group of specialists cannot match the quantity and it is not clear - at least in the articles in my field - that the quality would be significantly higher. Moreover, these are not research articles, the  kind of work where we can argue for new theories based on our own investigations of frequently obscure evidence. (In medieval studies, a lot of the evidence on which I would draw is unpublished or consists of untranslated primary sources that other historians have little studied.) So I don't think it's worthwhile investing a lot of time into editing the Wikipedia articles. I think a much more useful contribution would be to the bibliography: providing more extended lists of secondary literature, both peer-reviewed online publications and printed ones, that would be appended to the existing articles. Experts know this material much better than do many of the Wikipedia authors. These works would ideally be in all languages and the lists could be kept up to date, with additions made as books and articles appear. The interested reader who wants an expert opinion would be directed to those works. The Wikipedia article could then be left alone to be edited in the usual manner. 

Hi Celia, thanks--well, perhaps we disagree about the merits of Wikipedia.  Having gotten our hands dirty with various Wikipedia articles, I think our editors and authors have found that they really aren't all they're cracked up to be, and if we really roll up our sleeves and get to work, we find that we can do a much, much better job than the Wikipedians have done.  I'm told by a few different people that it's often more productive simply to scrap an article.  Combine that insight with the fact that people are much less likely to work on the article at all if a mediocre but usable article is in the database, and one has to wonder whether more damage is being done by keeping the WP articles around.
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Nancy Sculerati
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« Reply #14 on: January 17, 2007, 16:42:22 UTC »

I was just e-mailed and asked to reply to the question: would you contribute more if the wiki was blank? I don't know, I contribute a fair amount as it is and I have never hesitated to cut whole sections or whole articles. For me, like in [[Snake venom]], I often keep what's there (in this case an excellent, but truly ancient -1910 or 1920, article) around to use the concepts raised as notes for the new work in progress. I cut as I go. In [[Biology]] I was oppressed by the density of the style and so I cut everything and started fresh. In my mind, none of us need permission to blank out anything from Wikipedia, after all the Wikipedian version is always available on Wikipedia and so I guess I don't understand the question.

In Citizendium, by the way, where we are dealing with named authors who are fellow workers in the enterprise,I  always accompany major changes with explanations of my view in the talk page of the article and make a note as I saved the new article version as well. That kind of communication has been key on those articles where many authors have been involved and not only have led to 'making friends' instead of enemies, but led to the writing of a citizendium article being a great learning experience.

As CZ live articles increase, it may come up that I -and others - am confused about WP holdovers- this did happen in [[Wheat]] as you will see from the discussion page. In other words, where there was confusing language in a CZ Live article that had received extensive CZ work, there was hesitation by any of us to revise language that we didn't understand, probably because we figured somebody who knew what they were talking about had put it there! Then it would finally turn out that nobody understood it and it was a "WP holdover" So maybe blanking is a good idea. Wink
« Last Edit: January 30, 2007, 00:46:41 UTC by Nancy Sculerati » Logged
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