Saturday, January 15, 2011

Wikipedia hard to edit

Jimmy Wales says Wikipedia too complicated for many ...from the article:
He said a lot of people were "afraid" to contribute to the site by the sometimes complicated code - known as Wiki mark-up - needed to format entries.

"If you click edit and you see some Wiki syntax and some bizarre table structure - a lot of people are literally afraid.

and a good thing too! The last thing Wikipedia needs is to get hacked about by people who are too clueless to figure out a bit of syntax.

(And congrats to Wikipedia on reaching age 10.)


Michele said...

Some people have the special skill to spoil things that work. At least we know which signs to look for when this happens!

Protonk said...

I'm not so sure it is a good thing. First, the level of complexity is not due to a force of nature and it certainly isn't equal to the level of complexity that wikipedia had in 2001-2003. Most of the complexity which is largely unavoidable comes from the referencing system but the rest comes from a panoply of templates and tables created by users in order to pretty the page up. They are (by and large) not standardized and pretty intrusive on the editing screen.

Another thing to consider is that wikipedia thrives on anonymous editors making individual beneficial edits. Not everyone is cut out to be a long term wikipedia editor but plenty of people have expertise on a subject and if that expertise can be leveraged in a frictionless manner, wikipedia benefits. Sure, some people who don't have the necessary expertise in a subject may be put off by the complexity of the syntax but wikimedia syntax and subject matter expertise are different spheres of knowledge. there is little to no transitivity between them. I have no expectation that a theoretical physicist has the time or inclination to learn how the tag works in order to correct an article about quarks. I only hope that my article on quarks allows him to make such a correction without worrying about the particulars.

Beyond the notion of technical barriers there are social barriers as well. Wikipedia has formed a cosy (but insular) community and is distrustful of outsiders for the same reason you are distrustful of people who don't have the skillset to edit wikipedia. They tend to make a mess of things, they don't understand the customs (arcane or simple) and they don't respect process (which is king). anyone who can navigate both the social and technical elements has basically selected themselves as a wikipedia editor, which brings us all right back to square one because we want a broad editing base of people who haven't self selected as wikipedia editors (mostly because the lot of us are WEIRD).

Protonk said...

Derp. Seems I missed the "tongue in cheek" tag because I was looking at this via an RSS reader. Whoops!

Paul Goldberg said...

Thanks for the comments. Yes, it was indeed tongue in cheek, my sincere opinion (from having done a bit of Wikipedia editing myself) is that the syntax ought to be improved, or at least made more standard.

I like the idea you touched on, that someone should be able to come along and add content with bad syntax, and then someone else might come along and fix the syntax.