By Cade Metz
'On the surface, all is well in Wikiland. Just last week, a headline from The San Francisco Chronicle told the world that "Wikipedia's Future Is Still Looking Up," as the paper happily announced that founder Jimmy "Jimbo" Wales plans to expand his operation with a high-profile move to the city by the bay.
But underneath, there's trouble brewing
Controversy has erupted among the encyclopedia's core contributors, after a rogue editor revealed that the site's top administrators are using a secret insider mailing list to crackdown on perceived threats to their power.
Many suspected that such a list was in use, as the Wikipedia "ruling clique" grew increasingly concerned with banning editors for the most petty of reasons. But now that the list's existence is confirmed, the rank and file are on the verge of revolt.
Revealed after an uber-admin called "Durova" used it in an attempt to enforce the quixotic ban of a longtime contributor, this secret mailing list seems to undermine the site's famously egalitarian ethos. At the very least, the list allows the ruling clique to push its agenda without scrutiny from the community at large. But clearly, it has also been used to silence the voice of at least one person who was merely trying to improve the encyclopedia's content.
"I've never seen the Wikipedia community as angry as they are with this one," says Charles Ainsworth, a Japan-based editor who's contributed more feature articles to the site than all but six other writers. "I think there was more hidden anger and frustration with the 'ruling clique' than I thought and Durova's heavy-handed action and arrogant refusal to take sufficient accountability for it has released all of it into the open."
Kelly Martin, a former member of Wikipedia's Arbitration Committee, leaves no doubt that this sort of surreptitious communication has gone on for ages. "This particular list is new, but the strategy is old," Martin told us via phone, from outside Chicago. "It's certainly not consistent with the public principles of the site. But in reality, it's standard practice."
Meanwhile, Jimbo Wales has told the community that all this is merely a tempest in a teacup. As he points out, the user that Durova wrongly banned was reinstated after a mere 75 minutes. But it would seem that Jimbo has done his best to suppress any talk of the secret mailing list.
Whatever the case, many longtime editors are up-in-arms. And the site's top administrators seem more concerned with petty site politics than with building a trustworthy encyclopedia. "The problem with Wikipedia is that, for so many in the project, it's no longer about the encyclopedia," Martin wrote in a recent blog post. "The problem is that Wikipedia's community has defined itself not in terms of the encyclopedia it is supposedly producing, but instead of the people it venerates and the people it abhors."'
Labels: censorship, wikipedia