back to article Secret mailing list rocks Wikipedia

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 …


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  1. private musings

    Back Channels continue to buzz

    Great article - fair and accurate in my view. I'm the user Durova linked to as being 'unaware' of the existence of the 'sekrit' list - and I'm currently banned from editing for 90 days for various reasons.

    You may be interested to know that the 'back channels' (posh way of referring to emails really) are really still buzzing over this one, and I think there may be more coverage to come - certainly many very well established editors seem to feel that a 'power grab' has been averted - but that further reform may be required.

    The inability of many editors to roundly condemn what Durova was up to (and even Durova's contrition is a little... er.. limited?) and the knee jerk response to shoot the messenger really doesn't bode well for the culture at the encyclopedia anyone can edit (unless you're banned).


  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I am not an expert...

    ...but my understanding of the Wikipedia project is that its strength comes from a vast number of people making small changes.

    However, the process self-selects to self-destruction - to wit, people who have lots of free time get the most power. But those people are usually the ones who are involved in order to gain personal prestige - the antithesis of Wikipedia in the first place. They're experts in the expert-less community.

    So the community automatically becomes run by unstable people who care more about their personal power than the results. And this becomes impossible to stop, because reasonable people by definition will not be obsessed enough to fight the tendency.

    And therein lies the doom of a good idea.

  3. Kristin McKechie

    Witch Hunting...

    Perhaps the admins of Wikipedia need to be directed to the entry for the Salem Witch Hunts... paranoia of that intensity become self perpetuating... it would be a shame to see such a useful project decend into repression and fear....

  4. Jim Westrich

    Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition

    It's chief weapons are fear, surprise and a length bcc: list.

  5. Bryce Prewitt


    (I realize this is off-topic to the article, but I've missed the last few articles and this gives me a chance to bag on them and the REAL problem here on the whole. Wikipedia is only a symptom of the internet disease.)

    Wikipedia - and Jimbo Wales in particular - possess credibility? This is the sort of self-important pompous crap that only Web 2.0 and its associated internet figureheads could believe. I get so tired of reading about the power of the internet. Collective intelligence is one of the biggest scams ever pulled on the global populace. Everyone in the history of the world possessing half a brain knows that evolutionary breakthroughs, engineering marvels, social progress and artistic renaissances work best and most often succeed in tight-knit, less populated groups. Success never comes about as a result of committee.

    The problem here is that, collectively, the general populace is more arrogant, more self-important, more cocksure than any given individual itself. Everyone wishes they had something to say and believes that what they have to say is important. This is why you have entities like Wikipedia, and why it is riddled with paranoid, back-stabbing, pretentious twats that will do anything to ensure their continued importance.

    The internet is single-handedly the worst invention ever. Not because it is lacking in any technical sense or its value to humanity is vastly over-stated. It is one of the most amazing engineering breakthroughs in history both for what it is and for what it allows: near-instantaneous communication across an entire globe and, in the future, providing the blueprint for near-instantaneous communication across our galaxy. You don't get much more important than that.

    The unfortunate bit about it is that previously it was nearly impossible to gather an entire world's worth if stupidity together in a room. Now it is almost a guaranteed hourly phenomenon. All the brilliant minds in the world cannot possibly hope to fight back against the worldwide Idiocracy. Survival of the fittest - mentally, in this case - no longer applies. The world is amusing itself reading Jimbo's Big Bag o' Trivia because of what it promises to be, instead of what it really is. It's socialism all over again and they're getting away with it because of its feel-good marketing.

    Wikipedia, groupthink, hive-mind intelligence, and all the other monikers that the internet's collective intelligence goes by has all ready been addressed by an existing mathematical calculation: the infinite monkey theorem. The infinite monkey theorem states that a single monkey at a typewriter would, given an infinite amount of time, write one of Shakespeare's plays. Put 50,000 of them in a room together and you'll significally cut down either the length of time taken or the probability of a positive outcome during the same length of time. Not exactly a guaranteed outcome, mind you.

    The only difference between the two - worldwide collective intelligence and a room full of monkeys trying to replicate Shakespeare - is that the room full of monkeys lacks the ability to comprehend the futility of their endeavor and the pretentiousness of continuing to try.

    What's humanity's excuse?

  6. Somey

    A note from the so-called "enemy camp"

    It's a fine article, though from a purely selfish perspective it would have been nice if you'd asked for a comment from one of us over at The Wikipedia Review!

    As a humble member of the staff over there, I'd just like to assure everyone that our website is most definitely NOT involved in some sort of well-organized "conspiracy" to "disrupt" Wikipedia - they're perfectly capable of doing that themselves these days. And paranoia has long been a stock-in-trade among Wikipedia's "inner circle," along with the longstanding traditions of self-righteousness, hypocrisy, and revenge. Regardless, Wikipedia Review is just a collection of disparate individuals who are, for the most part, concerned to varying degrees (and with varying levels of anger) about Wikipedia's impact on the internet and society at large, and how its mind-boggling system of rules and policies have been manipulated for the benefit of a fairly small handful of individuals with some rather questionable agendas. And a significant number of our members actually tend to defend Wikipedia, rather than criticize it.

    Still, it would certainly not be fair to characterize Durova as being in any way typical of the average Wikipedia administrator, most of whom are decent people with perfectly benevolent (if misguided) motives. Almost as soon as she gained administrator status, Durova began to exhibit almost shocking levels of self-aggrandizement, vindictiveness, paranoia, and incompetence that are already legendary in the annals of Wikipedian absurdities. The incident you've documented here is hardly isolated - it's just one of a long series of blunders, slanders, and attacks on undeserving volunteers whose only offense, in some cases, was to question her actions or motives. (And, in one particularly galling case, to ask for a simple apology for a statement that could only have been interpreted as outright libel.)

    The Wikipedia Review's purpose is to help expose the corruption, abusiveness, and hypocrisy that exists at the heart of Wikipedia. In a very small number of cases, that has - admittedly - involved exposing some information about the Wikipedians themselves. Ultimately, it's perfectly understandable that the Wikipedia hard-liners would come to despise us, publish all manner of lies and distortions about us, and attempt to censor links to (if not actual mentions of) us. After all, nobody likes being criticized, particularly when they're not being paid for it! But the degree of paranoia and vindictiveness we're now seeing is getting beyond all hope of rationality. Moreover, this is coming long after we've taken significant steps to remove offensive or potentially compromising information from public areas of our own website, if not to delete it altogether. (As it turns out, we don't care so much about our search-engine rankings. *Imagine that!*)

    We can only hope that Wikipedia finds a way to right its ship sooner, rather than later, but history suggests that we're in for a long wait.

  7. Anonymous Coward


    So the question is, "was it such a good idea in the first place?"

    Wikipedia is essentially another in the long list of Utopian

    schemes pursued by humanity. As always happens, the

    revolution against an establishment becomes itself an

    establishment, which is generally no less self-interested or

    moral than what came before. An inner circle that is not self-

    promoting has a competitive disadvantage against one that

    is. The same selection bias explains why popular religions

    need to absorb (or subjugate if necessary) the rest of the world.

    This is just how [groups of] people work.

    "Wikipedia inner circle" has the same ironic ring as "Communist

    party insider".

  8. Ben Shurey

    Obvious really


  9. yeah, right.


    Wikipedia is a fucking fraud. All hype, no substance. Anyone using their stuff for "research" deserved to be laughed at. No rigour. No actual peer review.

    Now this? Fuck 'em. It's a nice scam, but why oh why have so many people fallen for it?

  10. Anonymous Coward

    need t be mentioned?

    A typical fansite would be a better place to get information compared to Wikipedia.

  11. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Well that's a good example

    I have now the perfect example of what I call a Wikinazi. Secret lists, secret tribunals, information on need-to-know basis that you never need to know, all the typical behavioral patterns of an organization that has none of the goals referenced under "freedom of information", "justice", or even plain old "common sense".

    It would appear that common sense is not so common after all.

    In any case, behavior like this is the very reason why I despise Wikipedia : ignoramuses who abuse their powers remove all credibility from anything they touch. I'm sorry for all the people who honestly work to contribute to this failure of a model, but I approach Wikipedia with just as much circumspection as I would approach an angry rattlesnake.

  12. Adrian Midgley

    knitting tightly until recently

    "Tight knit groups". I suspect throughout history most failures have come from small tight knit groups, as well as most successes, because anything bigger was hard to produce.

  13. A. Lewis

    Inevitable result of the psychology of systems.

    In any system for work, the larger the system, the more time and effort it spends on the system, at the expense of the work.

    Or to put it another way: people are a problem.

  14. Smell My Finger

    Wikipedia = rubbish

    Wikipedia is the very worst kind of self-important bollocks you find on the Internet where a select group try to cultivate a media career mostly from the work of other people. Lots of people on the Internet start web sites, forums or mailing lists in the forlorn hope it'll bring them some kind of career. It's become an Internet byword for rubbish.

    Some of the articles I've read on Wikipedia on subjects I have some expertise in are laughably and deeply wrong. I mean not just slightly wrong but profoundly wrong and I'm not correcting this shite because (a) I can't be arsed (b) I have no interest in either their objectives and (c) I'm not correcting the fact they have no editorial control. In olden-day speak it's vanity publishing by any other name.

  15. Duncan Hothersall

    A ripened sock

    Well I usually find stories about Wikipedia entertaining, but there's something especially lovely about an organisation which dismisses its detractors as "ripened socks".

    Nothing new here of course. Plenty of real-world organisations have an idealist basis and an avowed intention to do good, but end up doing nothing but in-fighting because control over what is done has become more important than what is done. Human nature innit.

  16. Ian Dennison

    Technology outgrowing ability to manage it

    Seems Wiki is suffering the same problem as the recording industry - a technology has been introduced that allows free flow of information, yet the security model and user management "science" have not adjusted to best manage the results.

    Kind of a shame that one of the "poster boys" for the new information age hasn;t figured out how manage its technology.

    More research on social science, psychology and trend analysis needed? Better "filters" to remove "false positives"?

    Share and Enjoy!

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Decree from the desk of the Supreme Leader

    It's all going a bit comunist isn't it? How long until Jimbo (The Supreme Leader) starts describing people as lickspittle, reactionary, 'the hated former comrade-contribiter "!!"' etc. etc.

    I think that they should implement a five year plan, or some sort of era of change.

  18. Andrew Moore

    And to bring the discussion into the gutter...

    A user with 100 DYKs. Fnarr fnarr

  19. This post has been deleted by its author

  20. Mage Silver badge

    It's a sect

    I used to edit and my account got "damaged"

    I have experienced that if you add a significant content to any established article it is reverted.

    After annoying myself for a few days again, I not editing again. It's too much hassle.

    The way they implement the NPOV is madness too.

  21. Paul

    Comrade Durova?

    Dose this whole thing remind anyone of the USSR? A bold an laudable Idea, no matter how right or wrong in its basis, brought to its knees by a ruling elite, who were put there to "make sure everything runs smoothly". People who were given power, and when they abuse it they are fine, but when they are caught they are shunned until it all goes away.

    Next thing? They will become so arrogant about there power that they wont care who knows about the abuse, and start ranting that they are doing what they do to "keep the stability of the community" and that they "did nothing wrong. You are listening to the outsiders, who are trying to undermine us".

    They are doomed.

  22. Kevin Johnston

    @AC Revolutions

    From Terry Pratchett....Don't put your trust in revolutions. They

    always come around again. That's why they're called revolutions

  23. Pete Silver badge

    publish this (on Wikipedia)

    This article sounds like it belongs on Wikipedia, as a reminder of what can go wrong when a small number of people assign themselves unaccountable power over others.

  24. Phill

    Something wrong in general

    In Wikipedia (Community Encyclopedia) were seeing secret lists and power-seekers in groups attacking other people. It's sad that community ideas are corrupted by the few.

    We see the exact same thing on (Community Propigated (?) News). Of the million members there are a few people who's submissions are upmodded to fuck. Mr BabyMan springs to mind. Nothing he submits fails anywhere short of popular, all 7 submissions yesterday did.

    Then there's what everyone calls the massive success, the pinicle of sharing, Open Source Software. What's the one thing saving Open Source Software? It's a feature I call "Forkation" that isn't possible with those listed above. That's why they fail where Stallman succeeds. It's not the only argument. Software is measurable against metrics, much more so than the written word so where as your submission seems better than someone elses you can only compare code, not articles.

    In the long run, I think Wiki's reputation will go downhill (And it should. It's full of trolls and empowered idiots) and people will run out of steam for it's development.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Anon Coward

    "ironic ring as "Communist party insider". .. or maybe "fat capitalist whoremonger"

    ahhh .. you pays your money you takes your choice

  26. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    Given Google, Why Wikipedia?

    If have any expertise in a subject and the time and inclination to express that as a web page or two, why would I then place the article under someone else's editorial control, when I could place it on my own site. Search engines will find it and, though they have their own problems with self-publicists trying to bias the results, they are evidently much fairer than *any* human editorial process yet discovered.

  27. Count Ludwig

    Growing Pains

    We are witnessing the development (growing pains) of a democratic experiment. The teenage arrogance of some of the Wiki elite is off-putting, but I persevere and contribute occasionally. When Wiki is 50 there will be a rule that all inner circle members will have to have had the corners rubbed off them e.g. must have visited X countries (or Y continents if countries no longer exist).

  28. Aidan Thornton

    Very nearly official policy

    Shortly before Durova banned !!, there was an attempt to make it official policy that users could be banned forever as sockpuppets for suspicious activities like knowing too much about Wikipedia workings for the amount of time spent on the site, making too many edits, that sort of thing - basically, for being suspiciously good editors. I think it was devised by Durova, and it was supported by admins well-known to WR readers like SlimVirgin.

    Fortunately, it got shot down. Unfortunately, I think it's been effectively unofficial policy for a while know.

  29. The Mighty Spang

    themightyspangs first law of humanity

    asshat+asshat = clique

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Lord Of The Flies 2.0

    I once spent some time updating an article with accurate information. It was an area in which I have considerable experience and knowledge. In the process I corrected a number of basic mistakes in the information already present.

    A few days later I went to add some more information, only to find all my work undone with the explanation "rv" (which I found means reverted vandalism)! I restored the info and added my new updates. Within hours it was once again undone.

    At that point I couldn't be arsed any more. It appeared to be a battle of wills, with the winner being the person with a) the most time and b) the largest ego. Frankly I've got better things to do. I let the incorrect data stand and don't trust anything these days on the consensus reality that is Wikipedia.

    The most annoying thing is the way that it's ranked very highly by Google, and the world at large seems to embrace the truth (Truth?) of Wikipedia without question. I initially found this tedious, now I find it rather worrying. By definition, Reality According To Wikipedia will be written by the biggest, most obsessive control freaks out there, and Google is serving this shit up as fact without question.

    The whole Wikipedia architcture naturally graduates to this state of control freakery and clique power. It seems that the idea of collaberation works with small groups; with large, disparate groups, it becomes much more down to a desire to control.

    Welcome to Lord Of The Flies 2.0

  31. Klaus

    Sometimes wiki is good

    The only time I seem to use wikipedia is to find info from the hard sciences. As far as the posted information for science on wikipedia is concerned it is almost always 100% correct. But maybe that's just because it's such an objective topic it's hard to fudge it up.

  32. Anonymous Coward

    Who cares, use it when needed

    I don't see the problem really, overall I just see this as an encyclopedia just on the internet thats all.

    Its only used to find out information or whatnot.

    You people arguing and moaning over the internet is pretty sad.

  33. Anonymous Coward

    lack of balance

    i think that some of the criticism of wikipedia lacks balance. i havent edited for months now and have no wish to, but my thoughts from when i was there - most people on there, including the admins, are good and mean well and want to do the best by the project, but a few people with serious power ambitions make it their business to have their noses in everyone else's business. i got blocked without even being asked any questions for being a "sockpuppet" of another contributor who i happened to know in real life. after it was lifted some person ran around trying to "investigate" us and it turned out the person wasnt even an admin and had their own skeletons in the closet which came out rather quickly... was quite funny to watch actually and im sure some of the WR guys were watching with some happiness too as this guy went after some of their people too. it seems we have another one whose come unstuck. the crazy bit is you have vandals and people with really distorted points of view running around and you cant get anything done about them (believe me i tried a few times) unless it turns out they are sockpuppeting. thats the magic word. sock... puppet. click. ban.

  34. Maksim

    Wtf is 'sockpuppeting'?

    Wtf is 'sockpuppeting'? Everybody else seem to know :(

  35. Ian

    It's a Cult. Quelle Surprise.

    That the inner workings of Wikipedia has turned into a cult, with obscure language, deified leaders, diabolic opponents and all mod cons, in the manner of Scientology or EST, will make for an interesting sociology PhD in a few years' time.

  36. Anonymous Coward

    The Ultimate Billboard

    The great thing about the internet is that it is the ultimate leveller. If you don't like how something is run or organised, set up an alternative and see if people use it. I've seen this happen several times with other online communities as the start-up costs are small. If people migrate, you know you're doing something right.

    At the end of the day, if you care enough about it, set up an alternative. Wikipedia does not have a monopoly on knowledge.

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    @Wtf is 'sockpuppeting'?

    "Wtf is 'sockpuppeting'? Everybody else seem to know :("

    Here's your answer, straight from the horse's arse....

  38. Francis Fish
    Black Helicopters


    I was going to contribute something along the lines of "a group is its own worst enemy" (have a look at "Best Software Writing" to see a cogent explanation of this) but in the end I couldn't be bothered.

  39. Roger Lee


    I'm astonished that anyone, anywhere, takes wikipaedia seriously. I have never seen a more obvious mutual masturbation club - These saddoes exceed even Mensa in their pompous mediocrity.

    Why is this news? We've all (hopefully) experienced playground politics, but in the PLAYGROUND, which is where it belongs. That these losers would rather flick wet towels at each other than improve the lamentable quality of their "project" says it all for me.

    Sadly, this is typical Web 2.0. It's like the Pajamahadeen who read genuine journalism, where someone has actually done some work, and then bend it around their preconceptions and prejudices and turn it into dishonest and misleading bollocks (allowing for one moment that it wasn't in the first place). Even better, this tripe is then read by other pajamahadeen and, through the twin mechanisms of chinese whispers and profound personal dishonesty, it trancends all reality and even sanity.

    Consider Star Trek's Borg for a moment. Whereas it looks painful, and they obviously don't get out in the sun often enough, these are minor drawbacks compared to having all the dubious nonsense that their entire civilisation is thinking going through all their heads all the time. It seems to me that Web 2.0 has at least closed off that nightmare for us. In spades.

    Do you rate Web 2.0 as anything other than the largest communal waste of time that H. Sapiens (Ho Ho) has yet come up with? Then you're an idiot.

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Examples of bias in wikipedia

    It was quite possible people are being blocked because their world view is not consistent with the majority of people (or people of influence) in wikipedia:

  41. Haku

    External linkage

    Apart from the info that Wikipedia contains, wether there's false information or not, one of the strongest points is one which the editors appear to delight in removing, the external links to sites that often contain better & more detailed info on the subject in question.

    It's like the admins are trying to stop people believing in the internet "nah nah nah nah, you don't want to go searching with Google, we've got all the info you'll ever need right here! We Are Your Internet"

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    A sockpuppet is when you use a second anonymous identity on a forum or website, usually to cause trouble.

  43. Mike Flugennock

    @ Maksim re: "Sockpuppet"

    I first heard it on

    For example, say you're a known, caught red-handed, unrepentant spammer trying stupidly to plead your case or debate the issue on n.a.n-a.e. Needless to say, you get nailed and shitcanned from the group.

    So, you create a new user -- or new users -- with different names who appear to be supporters or associates of yours coming to your defense, but which are, in fact, all you, and crassly, obviously so... you know, like putting socks on your hands and hiding behind a piece of scenery, like Shari Lewis & Lambchop (Shari's "sock puppet").

  44. Jon Awbrey

    Was sind und was sollen ein Sockenmarionette?

    A sockpuppet is an Improvised Entertainment Device (IED) for young moppets, much like Wikipedia itself.

  45. A. Lloyd Flanagan

    Intenet worst invention ever?

    Bryce Prewitt: "The internet is single-handedly the worst invention ever."

    Wow, even worse than democracy? You seem to believe that power should be left in the hands of the Privileged Few who can handle it. Beware the unwashed masses!

  46. Anonymous Coward

    sock puppet

    ; An account on a web forum, or wiki which is created for the purpose of trolling or other misbehavior while still retaining ones good name in the primary account. I suppose it can also be used to hide a known enemy of the site or project but I don't why a site, or project, would have enemies. It seems to me some of the people commenting here have sock puppets for El Reg which is pretty odd considering how little they care what we write . AC is not a sock puppet since the forum knows who you are supposedly anyway. I think that sock puppets are also used for astroturfing creating a false consensus usually for/against a product paid for by a corporation, but others could also be doing it. Finally, if for some reason you get yourself banned you use a sock puppet account to participate anyway.

  47. peter Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    I've seen these kind of tendencies in real organisations...

    There's nothing uniquely Web 2.0 about this. I've seen similar behaviour in Real World 0.9 organisations, as well. And actually, it's a lot more frightening face-to-face.

  48. Joe K

    Always happens

    This is why, once its reached a certain size, your average guild/clan/forum/mailing-list eventually always implodes thanks to a negative chain reaction of backstabbing, paranoia, power-hunger, conspiracies (and accusations of), ect, ect.

    Welcome to the Internet.

  49. Adam Sinclair


    ... is why we can't have nice things.

  50. Larry Gonick
    Jobs Halo


    I think Wikipedia is GREAT. Like almost any other information source, it has omissions and occasional biases, but any reader should be prepared to compare its articles with other sources. The "distortions" are often trivial--like those cited by Anonymous Coward. But where else can you open a series of pages (in tabs, take that, IE users!) that develop an amazingly full account of a subject? By following in-story links, one develops an understanding (let's say of a historical period or episode) based on conceptual threads. Try that with a paper encyclopedia!

    I'm not privy to the thing's inner workings, but based on results I'm inclined to agree w/ Wales: a tempest in a teapot. Please, Wikipedia editors, don't give up!


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