Wikipedia Needs Benevolent Dictators

The controversy over the quality of Wikipedia articles continues. It seems that many contributors prefer to add sentences and make fiddling edits rather than trying to get an article to cohere stylistically. In response, Wikipedians have started “Project Galatea“, which encourages people to rewrite articles with a consistent style. Their philosophy says:

For every Galatea, there is one Pygmalion. While Project Galatea members are highly encouraged to work together with both the article’s regular contributors and the other project members (see below), the usual Wikipedia method of collaborative, incremental edits simply does not lend itself to proper stylistic rewrites. When all is said and done, for every problematic article there needs to be one Project Galatea member who is willing and able to bring it to life.

They are right; and I think Wikipedia needs to go further. Every article of any significance (perhaps measured by hits) needs a Benevolent Dictator, just like a minature free software project. That person would be responsible for the overall quality of the article, and would have more authority than the average Wikipedian over edits. There would need to be a removal/replacement mechanism which could not be trivially invoked; perhaps it would require other senior contributors to agree that the person was either a terrible author or wasn’t writing the article with a NPOV.

Perhaps this is moving away from the principle of “everyone is equal” but, to be honest, I’d rather have an expert in control of an article on their subject than a level playing field.

8 thoughts on “Wikipedia Needs Benevolent Dictators

  1. I don’t know, having 1 single person in charge of an article may not be so good. Even if the author tries to be NPOV, articles may be intentionally biased. Also it’s doubtful that many of them would be experts on their subject, except for the tech related subjects.

  2. Given the number of articles, I cannot even begin to imagine the bureaucratic disaster that would ensue as various “leaders” wandered off when they found something more interesting to do. Managing it would be at utter nightmare. I think Wikipedia is an example of the 80/20 rule in bright living colour — they got 80% of the result with 20% of the effort, but the last 20% (taking WP from “awfully good” to “authoritatively perfect”) is going to be hell on wheels and, plausibly, not worth it. You want authoritative, you might have to pay for it. There’s a reason the OED is ridiculously expensive, after all.

  3. Can anyone think of a community/collaborative website that didn’t eventually start using a system that had multiple levels of users?

    Slashdot has higher level moderators.
    Every small time Drupal/Forum site I know of has power users.
    Open Directory got power users

    Once the project gets big enough it needs to have power users. And you can let the community give each other juju to determine who the admins are.

  4. Hmm. I wonder if there’s a business model in selling hard copies or CD-ROMs of verified Wikipedia-based content, where what you are paying for is that someone has fact-checked each entry, or some popular subset of them?

  5. Gerv: I -think- the MediaWiki Foundation (or is it Wikipedia Foundation? I always forget) has plans along those lines. I know that what you’re proposing is possible, I just think it would escalate the required bureaucracy and financial costs extremely rapidly. I’m interested to see how they deal with it.

  6. Gerv: I dunno. There are quite a lot of articles, even in just a “popular subset”…

    dria: Wikimedia Foundation. :P

  7. Greg, Wikipedia was never intended to be an anarchy. Wikimedia projects already have multiple levels of users: there are anonymous users, registered users, administrators (sysops), bureaucrats, stewards, and developers. The thing is, with the exception of protected (locked) pages, your status isn’t really intended to give you greater rights over the content of each article.

    Gerv, I’m not sure I understand what you’re calling for: locking down the more well-known entries and only allowing these “Benevolent Dictators” to edit entries? Otherwise, how would these BDs (as we might start calling them) have more authority over the content of these entries than the ordinary user, who can already add, modify, and remove text? Locking down more articles would detract from Wikipedia’s main “killer feature” of allowing anyone to edit, and having their edits appear immediately. After all, you can always contribute to Encarta instead.

  8. I don’t think thats a good idea. I’d point directly to Getting to be a dmoz editor is very difficult. It takes months and sometimes years to get your site approved. At one time I was a dmoz editor and I found the other editors to be extremeley terroritorial and resistant to change but they were the “appointed leaders” and there was nobody to unappoint them.