I used to be a big believer in wikipedia and looked up references and information on it for, well, just about anything. Up until now, when I experienced firsthand how factual information can be removed and you’re left in the cold when you’ry to do anything about it.

Here is what happened: I’m a member of an official federation (International Krav Maga Federation in Belgium if you must know), so I added a link to the federation’s belgian site on the Krav Maga page on Wikipedia at the end of January. After all, we’re an official federation, so no harm (note: I didn’t remove any links to other federations, not even “competitive” ones. We all want to be known and it’s a free world.). One week later the link was removed (by someone from another KM club in The Netherlands, but that’s beside the point). I mail the owner of the page and the one who deleted it, and asked for explanation. None received. “OK, an error”, I think, and I place the link again (after mailing the helpdesk at wikipedia what to do). It gets deleted again, this time by another user, and I get what seems like an automated comment that I shouldn’t place links, and that if I do it again it will be considered “vandalism” (really!). That kind of puts me off ever wanting to contribute anything there again.

Actually, the exact post is:

“The external link(s) you placed in one or several articles, have been removed. Although we appreciate your contributions to Wikipedia, we strive to keep the number of external links at Wikipedia as low as possible. Wikipedia is first and foremost an encyclopedia, and not a collection of links to other websites. We prefer that you add any relevant encyclopedic information to the articles themselves. Thank you for your understanding. Adding the link again without any discussion in advance may be regarded as vandalism. You may provide links like these to various portals on the internet.

Let me take that reasoning apart.

  • We appreciate your contributions to Wikipedia.” I don’t think you appreciate it at all, because you just delete my contribution without ever inquiring or even pretending to check.
  • Keeping external links as low as possible“. There are four at the moment, including the link to the Dutch IKMF federation and another Belgian federation (VKMF). But yet our link is not allowed. Can someone define what is “as low as possible”?
  • We’re not a collection of links“, translation “we don’t like to send people off to too many other sites that may have information you cannot find here”?
  • “You may provide links like these to various portals on the internet“. Done that already, just thought it would be a good idea to add the information also to wikipedia. You know, people tend to go there because they still believe it’s a good source of unbiased information.
  • We prefer that you add any relevant encyclopedic information to the articles themselves.“Like hell I will mess in that system again. True, I’d prefer to update the article itself with a paragraph of information about the different federations active in the Benelux, but now I won’t because I don’t feel like making the effort to just have my stuff deleted again by someone who doesn’t agree, or being banned from wikipedia for trying to add to the system. Don’t want to be a vandal.

Over at CrunchNotes they seem to have experienced the same:

“While wikipedia appears to be open to all, I’ve seen numerous examples of changes getting immediately deleted for what appears to be political reasons rather than the pursuit of pure knowledge. And I’ve also seen people be attacked for making changes that appear to be factual and correct. The TechCrunch listing on wikipedia has a number of errors. But there is no way in hell I’d ever think about fixing those errors. The wikipedia community has completely intimidated me to the point where making a change to that site is unthinkable. So I do think Wikipedia needs to be fixed.”

I couldn’t agree more with them. Sadly. The system is flawed. Well, maybe not the system, but it has not accounted for human nature.

More on the International Herald Tribune and The Register.