Wikipediaâ€™s bureaucracy problem and how to fix it.
Adam Rifkin stashed this in Wikipedia
Geez, is Wikipedia a bureaucratic mess:
Currently, the English Wikipedia has more than 50 official policies with a word count close to 150,000 (enough for a thick book). But thatâ€™s just the tip of the administrative iceberg. In addition to the policies, there are guidelines and essaysâ€”more than 450 devoted solely to proper conduct. You will also find more than 1,200 essays containing comments on the policies and guidelines, advisory notes, and analyses of the community. The total word count for all guidelines and essays can easily be in the magnitude of millions. It is safe to assume that no one in the world knows them all, and that Wikipedians really wallow in creating norms and regulations. I should know -- I am one. But this is madness!
With such a massive amount of rules and regulations to adhere to, how is it not absolutely deterring for newcomers to join Wikipedia? Most likely, because they do not even know these rules exist. Counterintuitive as it may sound, in spite of all the regulations, it is perfectly fine and acceptable to justÂ use common senseÂ when editing Wikipedia, relying on oneâ€™s best judgment on how to make it a better encyclopedia.
In fact, one of the Wikipedia policies goes even further andÂ statesÂ that â€śIf a rule prevents you from improving or maintaining Wikipedia, ignore it,â€ť and one of theÂ five pillars of WikipediaÂ claims that â€śWikipedia has policies and guidelines, but they are not carved in stone; their content and interpretation can evolve over time. Their principles and spirit matter more than their literal wording, and sometimes improving Wikipedia requires making an exception.â€ť
In a similar spirit,Â there is a ruleÂ stating that instruction creep should be avoided and thatÂ pettifoggingÂ is not welcome.Â One policy, which describes what Wikipedia is not, insists that Wikipedia is not a bureaucracy:While Wikipedia has many elements of a bureaucracy, it is not governed by statute: it is not a moot court, and rules are not the purpose of the community. ... Do not follow an overly strict interpretation of theÂ letterÂ of policy without consideration for theÂ principlesÂ of policies. If the rules truly prevent you from improving the encyclopedia, ignore them.
Unfortunately, all these declarations of easy-spiritedness often get knocked over in practice. Ironically, the rule to â€śignore all rulesâ€ť hasÂ severalÂ advisoryÂ essaysÂ and additionalÂ interpretationsÂ describing when it can be invoked. Similarly, there has been a significant increase in proceduralization of conflict resolutionâ€”formal mediation and arbitration are now availableâ€”as well as in procedures for all common tasks on Wikipedia, such as deciding about notability, deletion of articles, etc.
Perhaps as a side effect to advancing formalization, the increase in informal but practically enforced requirements to become an administratorâ€”the most common functionary of Wikipediaâ€”is huge. For instance, the average edit count of a successful candidate for administrator has stayed around 10,000 edits since 2008. Prior to 2008, the number was about 2,000. The success rate of being elected has dropped from nearly 80 percent in 2004 to about 36 percent now. Unsurprisingly, the number of candidates for administrators has been falling steadily since 2007 by about 40 percent per annum, the retention of new editorsÂ is decliningÂ (only about 15 percent of newcomers remain active after a year), and the overall number of active editors is dropping as well. Fixing these problemsâ€”butÂ notÂ be establishing yet more guidelines and procedures!â€”is a must, because the long-term stability of Wikipedia is at stake.
The solution? Wikipedia may need a specialized, volunteer-driven, trusted task force, working to eliminate the bureaucratic creep.