Thursday, February 15, 2007

Gaming Wikipedia

Wikipedia works pretty well when you are popular, established, and provable. It works, with a fair degree of success, for things like games, TV, books, medical terms, and even politics, debates, and history. Of course it fails as a system of information cataloging on a much broader scale. Which makes it useless as a source of information. By design it cannot even be trusted as a reliable source. In fact, it has more elements of social game than serious reference about it.

Take for instance Wikipedia's user structure. A large user base accesses information via the free and open portals. This information is easily searched and accessed by the public with no restriction. The information is provided by a content generating subset of the total user community. This subset is primarily responsible for addition of content, modification and editing of content, and the discussion and possible nomination for deletion of content. Of that subset, a smaller set of administrators determine final importance of content and can subsequently delete content not deemed significant.

So, while a lot of people (including myself) rely on Wikipedia for information, trivia, insight, and source points for further research, it by design will only ever cater towards the desires of the minority of content creators and managers. While major topics of interest can be easily covered, it lacks the agility and finesse to tackle topics of wide controversy or emerging content. Even if something is verifiable as information, written in a neutral form, and conforms to the other content rules, it can still be removed if a vocal minority of active players deem it insignificant.

This has cropped up most significantly (for me, at least) in the area of Webcomics. For more than two decades intrepid artists have been creating comic content and publishing via various forms of distributed network communication, even prior to the popularized internet. There are hundreds, nay thousands, of comics in constant inception, production, hiatus, or archival states. Many consistent comics have readerships in the thousands themselves. Each of these comics have histories, characters, story lines, and other verifiable data associated with them. Data that could be collected and entered into Wikipedia.

Except that since the vocal minority of players and administrators consider many of these comics unknown or insignificant they are removed from the content base. In fact, the social bias of the minority is adversely affecting the ability for webcomics to enter the wiki-world and become standard and significant. This feedback loop leads the wiki system to a state of game-ability. If one player was intent enough, they could significantly alter or delete an entry based on spurious information by playing to the bias or ignorance of the minority.

The proof is here:
As it turns out, it’s not hard to get something deleted from Wikipedia, especially if it’s on some ice-blasted, barren frontier land on the internet like webcomics, where no one really knows what’s important and what isn’t, and no one really cares to make sure. That’s pretty goddamn weak.
The feedback of the system leads it to a game of social ladder-climbing and self-important watchdogging. New players interested in adding content have to butt heads with established players who can gainsay information based on rank and community influence. Griefing even rears its ugly head, with users who are dedicated to causing damage, inciting argument, and establishing personal prestige. Articles about arguably insignificant TV, Sci-Fi, fantasy, game, and movie trivia are widely available and strongly supported by the vocal few while fresh content trying to gain a foothold in the larger consciousness is shoved aside as weak and ill-defined.

How could the game be changed to encourage unbiased, factual, and complete information from all areas of interest? How could the game be changed to respect and support expert knowledge (another large wiki-complaint)? How could the game be changed to draw a larger percentage of the participating players into creating and managing interesting content without needing to be obsessive about editing? How can we make Wikipedia a better social knowledge game?

1 comment:

  1. I'm doubtful that we can. In essence, I see this as a site that will inevitably be managed by a certain personality (in Temperament Theory, Rational with Guardian and vice versa) - that is, obsessive compulsive geeks and their allies. :D

    It will always be a better source of trivia than of insight by my reckoning. Anyone with genuine talent in a subject will presumably write a book where they can make some money from their skills. :)

    I'm particularly struck, in respect of the limitations of the Wikipedia, as to how many philosophy pages devolve into summaries of the names of the different schools of thought in that area but contain no insight or helpful information at all!

    It's an odd social game, but it's the number one source for trivia at the moment! :D

    Take care!