Wikipedia is a web-based encyclopedia written and presented through the use of wiki technology. It is continuously maintained, and updated through collaborative efforts of volunteers from all over the world who are able to freely edit the articles contained in the project (with some restrictions). The encyclopedia currently contains over 19 million articles (over 4 million in English). Wikipedia has been a quite influential part of the wikisphere, establishing norms that have copied by many other wikis.
In the late 2000s, its editorship began declining. It appears that new users are having a particularly hard time successfully joining the community. Jeffrey Tucker and Dick Clark have agreed that Wikipedia has more gatekeepers than it used to and that some of these gatekeepers attempt to bias the encyclopedia by keeping out content that does not coincide with their views. One of the more famous examples of this was the William Connolley incident, in which the British blogger spent years creating and rewriting articles — mostly on the topic of climate change — to fit his personal global warming views, while using his administrator privileges to squelch any dissenting information, even to the effect of blocking more than 2,000 Wikipedia editors from making further contributions. One of the main controversies on Wikipedia is between inclusionists and deletionists, opposing factions on the issue of the merits of deleting articles for the subject's lack of notability.
It has been said that "Wikipedia is a small society that is mirroring life's larger society" and that "Once life's larger society is corrected then sooner or later so will Wikipedia's." There is probably some truth to this, because the same clashing mentalities and ideologies that have produced ever-shifting boundaries between liberty and statism in the political landscape, and which have thereby make the economy a mix of great potential and frustrating impediments, has also impacted Wikipedia. The copyright laws, for instance, greatly restrict what can be posted to Wikipedia, and copyright paranoia is a major reason why certain proposals for greater transparency (e.g. a pure wiki deletion system that would have made deleted revisions viewable) have been rejected. Also, mistrust of capitalist markets is one reason why Wikipedia and WMF were established as bureaucratic nonprofit entities.
Wikipedia is owned by the Wikimedia Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded in Florida in 2003 (and still governed by Florida law), and headquartered in San Francisco, California. It is led by a ten-member board of trustees, three of which are community-elected, two of which are selected by chapters, one is a board-appointed "community founder" seat occupied by Jimbo Wales, and four are board-appointed "specific expertise" seats. The rationale for an Internet-focused organization having chapters has always been suspect, but the WMF claims they are useful for negotiating moral and financial partnerships, setting up Wikipedia parties, communicating with the press in the local language, etc. Participation in the chapter selection of WMF board seats is limited to members of chapter boards. This process has in some cases not been particularly transparent, with confidentiality rules prohibiting the distribution of a list of candidates, or the provision of direct question-and-answer sessions between the candidates and chapter members.
Some of the major Wikipedias have a community-elected Arbitration Community that serves as a court of final appeal on matters such as conduct disputes, blocks and bans, removal of administrative tools, and granting and removal of CheckUser and Oversight tools. The ArbCom also sometimes decides matters involving child protection, mental health problems, suicide threats, defamation, certain kinds of real life harassment, or other situations in which privacy and legal concerns prevent open discussion on-wiki. Usually no rationale for these decisions is published to the community. The WMF staff manual has an "On-Wiki Threat Protocol" for dealing with such situations.
The private handling of such matters by the ArbCom without any community scrutiny is controversial. The ArbCom has also controversially assumed jurisdiction to ban users for certain conduct that occurs off-wiki. In some cases, simply identifying oneself as an adherent to a controversial viewpoint, or as a person who feels certain desires, can be considered grounds for being indefinitely blocked by the ArbCom. A notable example would be those users who are found guilty of "expressing the view that inappropriate relationships are not harmful to children" "or who identify themselves as pedophiles". There is some question as to whether the nature of the ArbCom members' duties tends to select for good candidates; as one user asked, "if they had brains, would they be wasting their time hiding behind pseudonyms on a make-believe Sanhedrin?"
Decisions on Wikipedia that fall outside the purview of the ArbCom are generally made by "rough consensus," a rather nebulous term referring to some sort of supermajority. Early in Wikipedia's history, these were called "votes for deletion," but the terminology was changed to "articles for deletion" to emphasize that the strength of arguments, rather than number of votes in favor, is what counts the most in these discussions. This would seem to be contradictory to the concept of decision-making by rough consensus, unless the rough consensus in question was that which established a particular deletion policy. Even then, the policies are vague enough that some discretion must be left to participants in individual deletion debates, unless a higher authority is to be allowed to decide. Policies can be changed by direct edits to the pages that no one reverts, or they can be made by formal proposal. Formal proposals tend to have a very low pass rate.
Wikipedia has sysops who have power to protect and delete pages, block users, and perform other administrative functions. Wikipedia also has bureaucrats who have power to promote to sysop those users who receive approximately 80% support in a weeklong discussion. Because Wikipedia is structured as a democratic republic, it suffers many of the same governance problems as other democracies. The bulk of the community has, however, repeatedly rejected proposals for commercialization. Commercialization would create a profit motive and eliminate the one-man one-vote system, replacing it with an investor democracy instead in which those who buy more shares can cast plural votes. Those with the ability to make such stock purchases would, for the most part, be those whose who have demonstrated skill and insight in the financial marketplace, in business management, and in general efficiently providing products that customers value.
Neutrality or lack thereof
Wikipedia claims to adhere to a "neutral point of view" policy. However, it would be more accurate to say that it follows a majoritarian policy: "Wikipedia should not present a dispute as if a view held by a small minority deserved as much attention overall as the majority view." Thus, for example, a section on Austrian economic perspectives concerning the article's subject might not receive as much space or prominence in an article as a more mainstream Keynesian viewpoint. If an editor attempts to write an article on "Austrian perspectives on x," that may be deleted as a "point of view fork."
Wikipedia's editor base probably consists of a greater proportion of academics than the general population. University students tend to make frequent reference to Wikipedia as a place to gain an overview of a subject and find leads to other sources of information, and some of them are assigned by their professors to edit Wikipedia articles. Those with access to academic databases have an advantage at editing Wikipedia articles, because such resources are likely to be regarded as reliable sources. Any content that is not deemed to be "reliably sourced" is subject to removal, even if the material is true.
Wikipedia's editor demographics are probably the reason why the political bias of its articles tends to be slightly leftist-leaning. However, it also means that Wikipedia tends to have a greater proportion of Austrian economists among its editor base than one would expect from an extrapolation from the generic population. Mises Wiki was created partly to allow editors to create content without worrying about the cumbersomely voluminous rules and procedures; "neutral point of view" expectations; and editors and sysops who may be (overtly or covertly) hostile to Austrian economics and therefore attempt to manipulate the system to eliminate Austrian-sympathetic content, and possibly even Austrian-sympathetic editors, from the wiki.
In a situation of mob rule, the "rough consensus" of editors is in a position to call content it dislikes "biased," or selectively enforce or otherwise misuse rules to suit its agenda. As in other democracies, a vocal and dedicated minority can sometimes prevail over a relatively disinterested or distracted majority. Editing and conduct disputes can become complex, and many editors engage in rational ignorance rather than invest the time needed to sort out the facts. The usual problem applies that, just as the hardest-working citizens in a democracy may be too busy to pay much attention to politics, the most productive editors may be precisely those who have a distaste for getting involved in group decision-making processes.
Comparison to other wikis and to politics
Wikipedia could be considered a more inherently collectivist system than, say, MediaWiki.org. At the latter, users are allowed to create and distribute whatever extensions, patches, etc. they wish, as long as potential downloaders are warned of its instability, security flaws, etc. . There are several dozen hooks that enable developers to customize the functioning of the software how they wish. If two developers disagree on how an extension should be coded, they can fork the code. It is not necessary to reach consensus. Moreover, the functionality of an extension can be quite minimal or even frivolous without putting it in danger of deletion. Part of the idea is that even a useless extension can serve to teach other developers how to code, and a simple extension can later be enhanced by other developers.
In contrast, at Wikipedia, only one version of an article is allowed to be the current revision. And if users feel that an article is not useful, they can seek its deletion. It is assumed that the community can exercise enough wisdom to tell articles with potential from articles without, and that the benefits of empowering supermajorities to delete articles outweighs the advantages of leaving the articles there for someone to improve later.
This is much like how, in a communist society, the dictator or electorate can decree that any business be closed so that resources can be devoted elsewhere; the person who took the initiative in founding and operating the business has no greater say than anyone else, despite his greater familiarity with the subject matter. Furthermore, it is not always true that labor freed from a business (or article) that is forcibly abolished will automatically flow into the channels that other members of society would like it to. Sometimes the individual can become too discouraged or angry at such a turn of events to put forth his full effort at something else. Or his labor may not be a fully convertible resource.
The only area on Wikipedia that a user is deemed to have something akin to an ownership interest is his own userspace, but even this can be abrogated if those in power (e.g. the masses voting at Miscellany for Deletion) take offense. It is assumed that giving users too much autonomy to devote resources to their userspace will detract from encyclopedia-building. This is the same reasoning sometimes used against allowing people to opt out of public school taxes and instead purchase education from private schools. People fear that this will hurt educational options for the poor, when actually it will help it. Freedom enhances incentives to be a part of that community and to invest in it, which benefits everyone.
It is possible that, much as there was a brain drain from communist countries to the freer West, Wikipedia is experiencing a similar phenomenon. Perhaps some users are fleeing unfavorable conditions for the freer world of the blogosphere or friendlier portions of the wikisphere, where they can be more productive. There are many outlets available for self-expression, and it appears many people have decided that the advantages of secession (e.g. by exporting Wikipedia articles and importing them into one's own wiki, and getting some Wikipedia editors to divert their activities away from Wikipedia to work on those smaller wikis) outweigh the disadvantages of being a part of that large but oppressively and arbitrarily regulated community.
A large enough secessionist effort can be successful, an example being the Enciclopedia Libre Universal. It is also possible for small secessionist groups to engage in trade with one another, and even with those they seceded from, without being completely governed by them. For example, Wikipedia and Mises Wiki having compatible licenses, each can borrow from the other while remaining independent.
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- Tony1 and Skomorokh (19 December 2011). "The Gardner interview". The Signpost. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Wikipedia_Signpost/2012-01-02/Interview.
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- "The Mises Wiki Dick Clark". YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FR2LWUM8in8#t=11m45s.
- "The Mises Wiki Dick Clark". YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FR2LWUM8in8#t=14m19s.
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- Tucker, Jeffrey (2009-12-28). "Potentional Problem with the Wikipedia Oligarchy". Mises Blog. Ludwig von Mises Institute. http://archive.mises.org/11338/. Retrieved 2012-07-25.
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- It should be noted, incidentally, that by dictionary definition, a "pedophile" is merely someone who feels sexual attraction to prepubescent children. A pedophile is not necessarily someone who advocates or even condones sexual contact with such children. Nor is a pedophile necessarily someone who has had in the past, or intends to have in the future, such contact. The mental health community views the matter differently, stating that "If a person does not act on the fantasies or urges of pedophilia, he is not a pedophile. A person not distressed over the urges or fantasies and who just repeatedly masturbates to them has no disorder. But a person who is not distressed over them and has sexual contact with a child does have a mental disorder." Blanchard, Ray (2009). "The DSM Diagnostic Criteria for Pedophilia". Arch Sex Behav (American Psychiatric Association). doi:10.1007/s10508-009-9536-0. http://www.dsm5.org/Documents/Sex%20and%20GID%20Lit%20Reviews/Paraphilias/DSMV.PEDO.pdf.
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- Nathaniel Tkacz (20 January 11). "The Spanish Fork: Wikipedia's ad-fuelled mutiny". Wired.