Sunday, November 29, 2009

Where Have We Heard This Story Before....

Wikipedia declares that rumors of its death have been greatly exaggerated. A web designer comments,
I suspect we’re observing a case of diminishing returns. When Wikipedia started, there was just one page so it’s initial growth was exponential. However, now there are 3 million articles in English alone; how easy is it for contributors to find a topic that hasn’t already been covered in considerable depth?

In addition, Wikipedia has evolved from a free-for-all into a more secure information resource. In the early days, it lured spammers and vandals who added or modified a significant number of pages. Those activities have been mostly banished, so frivolous updates are far less likely.
Basically, the pattern works like this: An online collaborative project, open to everybody, begins with pretty much a blank slate and volunteers can do pretty much what they want. Opportunists take advantage of the situation, and the free-for-all environment leads to some very low quality work, and the handful of staff members overseeing the project are overwhelmed.

So staff implements rules on who can edit, and where, and delegates more responsibility for the quality of the project to volunteer editors. The volunteers have little or no say in the direction of the project, and are subject to being overruled by various real or ad hoc committees, community votes or individual staff members. People who have "created" parts of the project don't like changes made by newcomers, newcomers find their work quickly modified or deleted by others, newcomers are suspected of wanting to abuse the project, senior editors are accused of various forms of abuse or conspiracy, and the project's initial fun and energy dissipates into drudgery.

Meanwhile, the owners or founders may appear to have little or no vision of the future of the project - it is to stay pretty much the way it is, even as it's obviously faltering or failing, and editors are expected to pretend that the Internet stands still.

Whether we're talking 80, 90 or 100%, I can't presently think of an online collaborative project of this nature that hasn't followed a similar path.

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