Citation needed?

Information is the bedrock of Wikipedia. This is such a basic principle that there is an essay, “Citation needed“, to explain the need for accountability.  When the facts are missing, there a template to use, invoked by typing {{citation needed}}. An XKCD cartoon immortalized the template with their webcomic “Wikipedian protester“. The cartoon is available from Commons in multiple languages.

There is also a template to count templates.  At the moment there are over 322,831 articles with “Citation needed” statements.  This is a reminder that with or without information, we will still have to proceed into the future.  It would be better to do so with eyes open.

Wikipedia is now 16 years old.  It has passed through an awkward adolescence, and is on the brink of maturity.  The next challenge will be to see Wikipedia mature into an organization, a boring bureaucracy, if you will, with a structure that will enable it to survive into adulthood and beyond.

While much of Wikipedia is in a state of disruption, there are pockets of sanity, areas of Wikipedia that work.   It is our goal to work in that zone, figure out how these zones work, and connect more of those zones to each other.

Originally this newsletter was meant to fill in for the missing Signpost. But it seems that people with limited time who want to keep up with the movement do not read the Signpost.  At this point, a monthly publication schedule is anticipated, with the possibility of additional issues as needed.

It is sort of a truism of Wikipedia that everything takes longer than you think.   This, the third issue of The Citation, has been slow to come out, but we do intend to be around for a while.


1 Comment

  1. Wikipedia is a million miles from maturity. The number of articles, even entire topics, which are either not covered at all, or not even close to a worthwhile state, is remarkable. There is essentially a collective blindness to this basic fact among many, if not most, Wikipedians. You will even hear it said by some that Wikipedia is almost finished, and thus it is now just in need of continual maintenance and a polish up. The people who say that, are clearly not the same people who actually need to look for information that does not come under the usual sphere of interest of most editors – current events and popular culture. And as is alluded to here, a heck of a lot of what is there, dumped in over sixteen years now, is lacking a citation. Which, if the general public knew anything about Wikipedia, is equivalent to information that might as well not be there at all as far as their risk/reward ratio for their visit goes – because the work required to properly find out if it is either simply true, or otherwise as expected for an encyclopedia, is equivalent to the effort required to put it into Wikipedia in the first place, properly. The {citation needed} template should frankly be on the verge of obsolescence now, if Wikipedia editors were, as a collective, remotely interested in bringing their chosen hobby to maturity. The general public needs to be educated on what are some basic, very basic, facts about Wikipedia. As well as all this, one of these is the horrific realisation that, due to the phenomena of citogenisis (also helpfully described by XYCD), that even information on Wikipedia that appears to have a citation, one which when read actually supports the information given by Wikipedia, even that cannot be trusted, and to be trusted, you need to put in the same effort required to write it properly into Wikipedia in the first place. Not only does every fact need a citation, every citation needs to be shown not to be the product of citogenisis. And the article then needs to have some way of showing these checks have been made, against an identified version of the article. If we are to assume this is what the Wikipedia “Good Article” designation means, and I think all Wikipedia experts know in reality it probably falls short, then the true reality of just how far from maturity Wikipedia is, becomes clear. But all this is a bit of a waste of time, because if sixteen years have proven anything, it is that readers of Wikipedia aren’t all that interested in being served with accurate information. Vaguely plausible will do, probably because what they are using it for, is inconsequential. Like cheating in quizzes. Wikipedia’s essential deceit, the big con trick it has pulled to hoodwink money from donors, is that it is basically used by people who don’t read the citations, where provided, and wouldn’t do so even if they understood why they need to. And yet they are at pains to cover themselves any time the subject comes up, and remind readers Wikipedia is not meant to be read like that. The prevalence of the {citation needed} template shows these cautions to be empty. If they cared about it, they would make removing these tags as high a priority as removing libel and illegal content. It is telling that unverified and unverifiable information is not given this same level of urgency.

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