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The wikisphere is made up of all wikis and their interconnections.
Wikis and wiki farms
The following is a small selection of the wikis in the wikisphere:
|Wiki||Owner||Point of view||Date founded||URL|
|Conservapedia||Andy Schlafly||Conservative||21 November 2006||http://www.conservapedia.com/|
|Liberapedia||WillH||Leftist||16 May 2008||http://liberapedia.wikia.com/|
|Libertapedia||Nathan Larson||Libertarian||28 February 2004||http://libertapedia.org/|
|Metapedia||Anders Lagerström||European racialist||28 April 2007||http://en.metapedia.org/|
|Mises Wiki||Ludwig von Mises Institute||Austrian school||3 July 2008||http://wiki.mises.org/|
|RationalWiki||RationalWiki Foundation||Snarky||22 May 2007||http://rationalwiki.org/|
|Wikipedia||Wikimedia Foundation||Neutral||15 January 2001||http://en.wikipedia.org/|
Points of view
Several wikis and wiki farms ostensibly promote a "neutral point of view" in their encyclopedias. The Wikimedia Foundation operates Wikipedia, the largest wiki in the world, and many smaller wikis (e.g. Wiktionary, Wikiquote, etc.) Citizendium was launched by Larry Sanger in an attempt to compete with Wikipedia. Wikinfo, operated by Fred Bauder, supplements Wikipedia. It adheres to a "sympathetic point of view" except with regard to "manifestly evil concepts, people, or events". Many wikis openly adhere to a particular philosophical or religious point of view. Examples include Conservapedia, Liberapedia, Libertapedia, Metapedia, and Mises Wiki.
Sometimes wikis are launched as a reaction to their points of views not being allowed free expression on other wikis. For example, many conservative, Young Earth Creationist editors who didn't get along with the leaders of Conservapedia went to Ameriwiki, while many other (mostly non-Christian) editors banned from Conservapedia went to RationalWiki. Some sites, such as BoyWiki/NewgonWiki and Metapedia, cater to very specific editor populations that are typically persona non grata, and whose views are typically suppressed, virtually everywhere else in the wikisphere.
RationalWiki is a site whose stated purpose consists of analyzing and refuting pseudoscience and the anti-science movement; documenting the full range of crank ideas; explorations of authoritarianism and fundamentalism; and analysis and criticism of how these subjects are handled in the media. RationalWiki invites users to engage in "constructive dialog." In practice, "users, by bickering, shouting, unilateral actions, complaints about unilateral actions, and ad hoc voting eventually reach a mass consensus" in a mobocratic process. RationalWiki was supposedly intended to counter the flawed thinking and argumentation of some believers in theism, creationism, and other mainstream philosophies. However, the editors are typically happy to engage in the same sort of flawed reasoning, or lazy unwillingness to consider opposing arguments, as their opponents, when it comes to their own beliefs.
Editors frequently resort to fallacies such as straw man arguments, ad hominem attacks, argumentum ad populum, argumentum ad verecundiam, argumentum ad lapidem, appeals to emotion (including loaded language), thought-terminating clichés, and argumentum ad baculum (e.g. statements to the effect of "refrain from expressing dissident views on controversial topics, or we will ban you"). Articles and talk page discussions typically (and often summarily) dismiss adherents to minority viewpoints as cranks and pseudoscientists. A prime example would be the RationalWiki article on the Austrian school, which refers to Austrians as "a small group of cranks funded by even richer cranks through the von Mises Institute looking for self-serving rationalizations couched in the form of economic theory."
The site's unwillingness to adopt unpopular positions that are supported by facts and logic, or even in some cases to engage in argumentation about the factual and logical issues at hand, could be accurately described as pseudoskeptical. It is also noteworthy that, when the editors encounter a portion of an edit that they disagree with, they will often perform a wholesale revert (typically without providing any explanation), including eliminating proven and relevant facts, rather than reverting selectively. Restoring the facts is then considered disruptive edit-warring.
In some cases, RationalWikians deem a topic too controversial for discussion from every possible angle, and only allow one viewpoint, or a narrow range of viewpoints, on the matter to be expressed on the site. The list of forbidden viewpoints is not codified in any policy, but rather is decided on an ad hoc basis. Users who transgress these unwritten bounds are subject to being banned without warning, and those who attempt to debate whether the banning or the suppression of the opposing viewpoint were proper are also subject to being banned. This allows the elected moderators who do the banning to exercise a significant amount of control over their electorate, by ejecting dissidents from it and stifling criticism of moderation decisions.
The burden of proof in argumentation is generally placed on the person who wishes to challenge the community consensus opinions currently expressed in RationalWiki's articles, rather than on the person who argues for constraining individual liberty in society. If a person wishes to challenge an opinion strongly felt by RationalWiki editors, then he is expected to provide "extraordinary evidence" from a source that the community deems acceptable; however, even credentialed sources (such as university professors) are deemed disqualified to express a credible opinion if their opinion differs from the RationalWiki community's. Those professionals are viewed as "crackpots," and the lay scholars who adhere to those same dissident views are "quacks," regardless of what evidence they might put forth.
Users sometimes point out that for a site called "RationalWiki," its commitment to reasonable argumentation appears shaky at best. RationalWikians respond by refuting a straw man argument that anyone who disagrees with crank opinions must not be "rational." Actually, in many cases what users take issue with concerning RationalWiki is not necessarily the conclusions reached through argumentation but the employment of flawed logic to reach those conclusions. Reasonable people can and do disagree about which arguments concerning a given topic are supported by a preponderance of evidence. But disputes concerning logic are more clear-cut; the rules of logic and the methods of logical argumentation are well-established, and there is little excuse to persist in fallacious reasoning when it has been exposed as such.
The fact that the RationalWiki community often condones such faulty argumentation by allowing articles to continue reflecting those flawed lines of reasoning is why many users find the site's name ironic. In some cases, users even admit that they are abandoning reason in favor of emotion, and do not see a problem with this. As Mises pointed out, this sort of approach is problematic; he warns, "If man reconsiders freeing himself from the supremacy of reason, he must know what he will have to forsake."
A great deal of joking and pranking occurs on RationalWiki, and the site adheres to a "snarky point of view" policy. It is difficult to say whether RationalWiki is primarily a joke wiki with some serious content or vice versa. Despite all of its flaws, RationalWiki is notable for its unusual practice of promoting almost all editors to sysop status. This produces greater transparency by enabling most editors to view deleted articles. It also produces a more egalitarian atmosphere than is seen on typical wikis, since most RationalWiki editors are able to exercise sysop functions such as blocking users, and to revert sysop actions taken by others.
RationalWikiWiki, RationalWikiWikiWiki, and RationalWikiWikiWikisWiki
RationalWikiWiki was created on 27 December 2007 supposedly to critique, and often mock, the many missteps made by the RationalWiki community. However, that site tends to be no more tolerant of divergent thought than RationalWiki itself, and editors can be blocked for contesting conventional wisdom on certain issues. This has led to criticisms that the site is little more than a "branch office" for RationalWiki, mirroring its opinions and actions.
For this reason, several RationalWikiWikiWikis have been set up over the years, although most stagnated. The most recent RationalWikiWikiWiki, created to provide a venue for discussions deemed too controversial for RationalWiki, lasted from 1 September to 11 September 2012, when it was shut down after an RWW user's report to the Provo, Utah-based webhost resulted in a terms of service warning demanding that text containing "adult content" (viz., polemics concerning sex law reform and the harmfulness, or lack thereof, of certain sexual conduct) be removed within 48 hours. This was deemed to require abandoning the site's goal because the terms of service specified prohibited content in terms so nebulous as to make it impossible to know whether one was in violation or not, if even political expression were to be declared too racy.
The RWW user who made the report described the RWWW site owner as "morally bankrupt" and stated, "I do not believe in 'freedom of speech', when it could be used against the innocent", a reference to the perceived need to protect minors not only by forcibly preventing them from implementing their own decisions concerning use of their own bodies, but by suppressing any speech that would oppose the laws authorizing and mandating such government intervention. This argument for censorship ignored the fact that the point of a discussion concerning ethics is to determine what is right and wrong, and therefore who is innocent or guilty of wrongdoing. Arguably, if a proscribed behavior should not be proscribed, and if the free expression of opinions is necessary to repeal that proscription, then the suppression of speech is harmful to the innocent. One method of determining what should or should not be proscribed is reasoned argumentation, in which each side has an opportunity to fully present its views, critique opposing viewpoints, critique opponents' critiques of its own viewpoints, etc. This interaction among people who disagree is often more productive than merely setting up echo chambers that allow like-minded people to express agreement with one another's beliefs.
Some RWW users had also criticized the RWWW site owner for using a CC-by-SA-licensed image from their site without their permission and for giving the site a name that was a derivative of RationalWikiWiki's. They complained that this was inappropriate since the site was used for the voicing of opinions not representative of the views of RWW editors. The irony of a site whose own name was a derivative of "RationalWiki," and which devoted itself to critiquing and mocking that wiki, complaining about another site doing the same to it, seemed to escape them, as did the fact that the creation of an independent wiki for the purpose of agreeing with RWW would be pointless. The necessity of a fork arises when there are irreconcilable disagreements about site policy or content, and someone wants to break free of the restrictions imposed by those in control of a wiki by establishing a new wiki.
Furthermore, there is a long history of organizations critical of other organizations or movements incorporating the name of the criticized organizations or movements in their own names. Examples would include Wikipedia Review, Right Wing Watch, School of the Americas Watch, and so on. Such names help the reader by making it immediately evident to him what organization or movement the group is devoted to criticizing. In the wake of the RW and RWW users' refusing to debate the RWWW users in any debate forum, under any set of rules, with any moderator, under any circumstances, on certain subjects of controversy; and the RW and RWW users' efforts to suppress expression of dissident viewpoints on not only their own sites but on other sites; the RWWWians declared victory, noting that their opponents had effectively forfeited. However, they left the RWWW site in place as a memorial to the achievement. On 15 September 2012, the site was resurrected at NearlyFreeSpeech.NET, a free speech webhost; due to NFSN's technical difficulties and limitations, the site was subsequently moved on 22 September 2012 to DreamHost.
Another site, RationalWikiWikiWikisWiki, provides commentary and meta-meta-meta-analysis on the various RationalWikiWikiWikis, past and present. Presently, there is only one RationalWikiWikiWiki remaining, so RationalWikiWikiWikisWiki's name is a bit of a misnomer.
Joke wikis include Uncyclopedia and Encyclopedia Dramatica. Wikis can serve a number of different purposes other than hosting encyclopedias; for example, wiki software can be used as a content management system for a blog. Such blogs are called "blikis."
For-profit and nonprofit
The only major for-profit wiki farm in the wikisphere is Wikia, run by Jimbo Wales. Wikia uses a forked version of MediaWiki that is not known to be in production use anywhere else. Much of Wikia's core community (the "civil society" of the wiki farm, as it were) was alienated by various policies that were imposed in a top-down manner. Wikia sites are covered with distracting advertisements, with a high ratio of screen devoted to advertising vs. screen space devoted to content.
Corporate or public relations wikis can sometimes be considered "for profit," in that they help the company either organize its activities (e.g. by assisting inter-employee communication) or provide information to the public. There are wikis owned by sole proprietors, but typically these operate at a loss. Usually the focus is more on mission than on profits.
Wikis, like any other website, are owned by some person or entity with a legal right to access to the server and therefore the ability to take control of the wiki. Some owners, such as Wikimedia Foundation, take a relatively hands-off approach, allowing their communities to operate as they see fit after the initial structure and culture has been established. Sanger's Law, so-named because of a comment made by Larry Sanger circa 2005, states that online communities' cultures generally are established quickly and then become very resistant to change, because they are self-selecting. Those users who are attracted to the existing culture join (and may even be given sysop powers) and help reinforce that culture. Those users who are repelled by the culture leave (or are banned) and no longer directly influence the site. This is especially true on sites such as Wikipedia whose policies and leaders are chosen by the community rather than by a corporate or nonprofit CEO and his staff.
Mass hysterias sometimes sweep across wikis. On RationalWiki, this is referred to as "headless chicken mode." Much as in off-wiki governments, existing laws can be difficult to get off the books, but an impassioned debate leading to reform may be spurred by some incident that catches people's attention and prompts an emotional response. On Wikipedia, Biographies of Living Persons and anonymous editing reforms were prompted by the Wikipedia biography controversy (also known as the Seigenthaler incident). An image purge was prompted by the reporting of child pornography images on Wikimedia Commons.
- Mises, Ludwig von. "The Case for Reason". Human Action. http://mises.org/humanaction/chap3sec6.asp.
- Sanger, Larry (2005). "The Early History of Nupedia and Wikipedia: A Memoir". http://features.slashdot.org/story/05/04/18/164213/the-early-history-of-nupedia-and-wikipedia-a-memoir. "[P]rovisional 'hands off' management policy had the effect of creating a difficult-to-change tradition . . . I suspect that the cultures of online communities generally are established pretty quickly and then very resistant to change, because they are self-selecting; that was certainly the case with Wikipedia, anyway."
- WikiIndex — A wiki about wikis.