Reverence for knowledge and history are two things that are absolutely essential for the continuance of any great civilization. At times in our history we have had emperors, kings and dictators who have seen fit to destroy and control knowledge. The ancient library of Alexandria that was burned comes to mind; the knowledge that was lost there was a travesty for mankind. Sadly the book burners and censors disguised as Utopian crusaders for the democratization of knowledge have descended upon the Internet and are attempting to shape history and knowledge in their own image. Welcome to Wikipedia.
It has come to my attention that the so-called “democratic” information project editable by the public called Wikipedia has seen fit to delete the entry of Threshold RPG. Threshold RPG is a MUD published by Frogdice Games and has been around since June of 1996. During that time it has enjoyed significant critical acclaim and popularity. Even the esteemed Richard Bartle the creator of the original MUD and veteran virtual world guru Raph Koster have voiced their support for the retention of Threshold’s entry in Wikipedia. MMO maven Scott Jennings has also written a great article that illustrates the absurdity that has characterized the Wikipedia editorial process.
Just this week Michael Hartman the CEO of Frogdice wrote a brilliant account of the corruption, treachery and deceit at Wikipedia entitled: Wikipedia’s War on Gaming History and Threshold RPG. In his exposé, he explains the background of how and why a few corrupt individuals at Wikipedia decided to embark on a crusade to essentially remove the existence of Threshold from the history of the web.
In a nutshell Mr. Hartman explains the crux of the matter:
The deletionists’ main argument was that Threshold was not notable enough for Wikipedia – an utterly absurd argument. Threshold has been in operation for almost 13 years, is (to my knowledge) the only role play enforced game EVER commercially available, and is especially unique in areas of in-game politics, law, and religion.
The fact of the matter is that if you go to Google and type in Threshold RPG as a search term, the Wikipedia article is ranked #2 — that alone is proof in the pudding that easily refutes the absurd notion that Threshold is “not notable enough”.
Bartle and Koster to the Rescue
Then in the same piece, he continues describing the depth of support shown to Threshold by virtual world luminaries and the gaming public:
Recognized experts in the field quickly posted about the issue on their blogs, attesting to the notability of Threshold. Among these experts were Dr. Richard Bartle (creator of MUD1 – the first MUD/MMO ever and the most recognized expert in the field) and Raph Koster (a developer on LegendMUD, Ultima Online, Star Wars Galaxies, and more).
This past year I came to the defense of Richard Bartle despite the calls from some in the MMO blogosphere to marginalize him. I have also frequently praised Raph Koster for what he has tried to accomplish in the realm of virtual worlds. I feel it’s important to recognize and revere the contributions of the giants in our field.
It’s a good thing we have elders in the MMO community like Richard Bartle and Raph Koster who remember; they give us a sense of perspective with regard to where we as MMO enthusiasts have come from in the grand scheme of things. Web based media does not have the luxury of print media in that we have no hard copy history of our art form. Without our luminaries MUD, MMO and gaming history could be destroyed by the whim of the deletion crazy admins at Wikipedia. As a gamer, game designer and more importantly a citizen of this thing we call the Internet, this kind of despotic behavior on the part of the volunteer staff at Wikipedia is unacceptable.
As a commentator on MMOs and virtual worlds I find this extremely troubling and upsetting. For the MMO enthusiast, MUDS (multi-user dungeons) are *our* heritage and we need to stand up to the bullies that would try to revise and edit history. For those that want to delve deeper into the particulars on this issue Michael has started a series of articles on his Muckbeast blog.
Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely
The fundamental problem with Wikipedia is that it uses a flawed promotion system whereby volunteers who contribute articles earn points. Eventually they become powerful admins. The problem with having an unpaid volunteer system is that it is essentially “paying” them with titles and power in lieu of money.
The other problem is that the fastest way to earn points is to delete articles, which has the deleterious effect of removing information from Wikipedia instead of adding to it. It is far easier to destroy then it is to create. A project like Wikipedia that deems to hold the public interest with regard to being a virtual library of the “people” like Wikipedia should be held to a higher standard then it currently is. Their current admin policy which incentivizes and rewards destruction and penalizes creation is woefully flawed and should be overhauled immediately.
How Not to Run a Volunteer Program
As a former Senior Guide in the EverQuest Guide Program I am not unfamiliar with the politics of a poorly run volunteer program. Years ago in the infancy of the program the vast majority of the volunteer Guides I came in contact with were good and ethical yet there were a minority of of them that craved status and power. Those people quickly rose in the ranks and become Senior Guides and the very best brown-nosers and ass-kissers became Elder Guides.
Back then, most of the Elder Guides were much like the corrupt admins of the Wikipedia program — ruthless, power hungry, ambitious and willing to crush anyone that stood in their way. Of course this system was nurtured and managed by a certain upwardly mobile person at SOE who shall remain nameless. Nevertheless, volunteer programs need to have a solid system of governance and administration that has checks and balances that can prevent abuses of power.
The Google and Yahoo Connection
Another issue is that Wikipedia is in cahoots with major search engines like Google and Yahoo — both who provide financial and infrastructure support. No matter what you search for both of these search engines give preferential treatment to Wikipedia. The only reason why Wikipedia remains popular is because of it’s hegemonic relationship with Google and Yahoo. Without any disclaimer or warning, Wikipedia is thrust down the throats of unsuspecting people just looking for some factual information on the web. Little do they know that the information on Wikipedia has probably been censored, edited and shaped by self-serving, power hungry volunteer admins with an axe to grind.
Other Problems With Wikipedia
Wikipedia has come under scrutiny in the past few years for a host of problems which are directly attributable to it’s flawed and reckless policy of allowing anyone regardless of knowledge or expertise to edit their pages. Wikipedia Watch hosts an very revealing catalog of some of their most notorious abuses and is well worth checking out.
John Siegenthaler Robert Kennedy’s administrative assistant in the early 1960’s who was the victim of character assassination by Wikipedia vandals makes an interesting comment:
…while Wikipedia may provide a great deal of factual information, it also is a flawed and irresponsible research tool. What purports to be helpful fact may well be harmful fiction. And, there is no way to tell the difference.
In fact even the co-founder of Wikipedia Larry Sanger who is no longer involved with the project realizes that his creation is in trouble.
Nevertheless, everyone familiar with Wikipedia can now see the power of the basic Wikipedia idea and the crying need to get more experts on board and a publicly credible review process in place (so that there is a subset of “approved” articles–not a heavy-handed, complicated process, of course). The only way Wikipedia can achieve these things is to jettison its anti-elitism and to moderate its openness to trolls and fools; but it will almost certainly not do these things. Consequently, as Wikipedia increases in popularity and strength, I do not see how there can not be a more academic fork of the project in the future
The Cult of the Amateur
Andrew Keen in his book The Cult of the Amateur is very critical of the Web 2.0 “revolution” and of course it’s darling: Wikipedia:
Instead of a dictatorship of experts, we’ll have a dictatorship of idiots
Here’s an informative video produced by VPRO the national public television network in the Netherlands called The Truth According to Wikipedia. It explains the rise of Web2.0 and Wikipedia with some great clips featuring the founders of Wikipedia and comments from Andrew Keen.
Warning: this video is very long at 48 minutes but well worth your time and one of the most important videos you’ll ever watch. It has caused me to seriously rethink my view of the lofty promises of Internet.
In the final analysis, the cure of excess administration is worse then the disease of not enough. We need to err on the side of more information rather then less. More choice is good, lack of choice is bad. In the marketplace of ideas we the Web surfing public should be given all points of view if possible and then be allowed to make our own choice as to what we believe. The price of having too much information is caveat emptor — let the buyer beware. Everyone has an axe to grind, so never assume what you are about to read is impartial. On the Internet trust no one, not even me.
Despite the fact that people can say pretty much anything they want and hide behind the cloak of anonymity, more must be done to bring journalistic credibility and scholarly authenticity to self-proclaimed web institutions like Wikipedia. Allowing power hungry volunteer admins at Wikipedia to decide gaming history for us is insanity; their actions are blatant censorship. Therefore due to continued incidents of editorial and administrative abuse, Wikipedia can no longer be trusted as a source of publicly edited history by any reasonable person. Instead go to a real encyclopedia.