Friends in a mailing list were characterizing the articles they had seen, without understanding how Wikipedia's work is done. I decided to spice my explanation with a little humor:
- SF> Wikipedia sometimes tries to collect all information - maybe
- > at least when it is variant names. (I suppose the editors are
- > less prone to take out variant names tahn anything else)
- One of the pleasures of being a Wikidpedia editor is seeing the precision with which we illustrate the poetic hypothesis of the million monkeys. There really are a million editors, or a few million. We aren't trying to produce something as difficult as poetry, but on the other hand we aren't as polite as monkeys, so it evens out. Instead of each sitting quietly at our own keyboard blithely tapping out gibberish, we're all shrieking, constantly correcting each other, shoving each other around, biting our neighbor's fingers, frantically banging several keyboards as though one weren't enough, and generally getting a lot of exercise. Somehow out of all this comes a very large encyclopedia, and sometimes good in parts.
- We like to think of ourselves as lone wolves, but really we've got all the fierce independence of a herd of sheep. When one of us puts "zip tie" as an alternate name in the Cable tie article, another has to add "tie wrap" and then comes "mouse belt" and "rat belt" and every other pleasantly silly nickname a work crew invented on their lunch break.
- One might think when we reporters get too silly, a sober editor would come in and crack down on us, but remember we aren't reporters; we are the editors and there isn't much of anyone to crack down on us except each other. It's kind of like a computer that has installed too many "security" programs downloaded from Internet and all of them hitting each other on the head instead of looking for real viruses, except it works better than an overly "secured" computer. There are a couple thousand "Admins" who have powers such as banning an editor and locking an article from tampering by newbie editors, but they operate more like policemen than like newspaper editors; besides defining policy (theoretically not their job) they keep busy chasing genuinely malicious contributors, and have little time to worry about the merely incompetent majority.
- And yet, it works. At least, often it works. The encyclopedia says much, seldom says things that aren't true, and sometimes says something intelligible; even useful.