‘Shit yourself!’ Wikipedia behaviour in real life

So who or what is 'shit' here?

Once upon a time, I argued with a Wikipedian, let’s call him Johnny. As some German (and certainly also other) Wikipedians believe, it is okay to call an article ‘shit’ if that is their judgement.

I, on the contrary, think that this is a personal attack against the writer of the article; it is just two small steps from ‘this article is shit’ via ‘you are the author of a shit article’ to ‘you are shit’.

But Johnny contested that and held up the freedom of speech. Calling an article ‘shit’ can never be a personal attack, it is a proper judgment about an article, not about the author. The author cannot feel being attacked at all. It’s simply a different opinion about article quality.

So what, I insisted, if you are visiting a friend? You can’t say ‘your curtains look shit’ either. But why not, Johnny answered. The friend could never be attacked by such a statement, maybe the producer of the curtain, and even he couldn’t. You simply have a different taste, then.

I gave up. It would not have helped to explain to him that a person is defined by his or her actions, tastes, opinions. The link between these things and the person is always there and should be considered when criticising.

Some time later, I met Johnny again. We had a nice conversation, and suddenly I said: ‘Hey, your glasses look really shit!’ He saw my serious face and wanted to know: ‘Wh-what? Do you think they are dirty?’ – ‘No, that’s not the point. But they are so old-fashioned and stupid. Did you choose them by yourself?’

Johnny became quite upset, and finally shouted at me: ‘Shit yourself!’

Then I found it more than necessary to tell him that I was just trying out his reaction, referring to our argument about the phrase ‘this article is shit’. He smiled like a farmer with tooth ache and declared his reaction wrong, that he should have taken my alleged opinion more relaxed, yeah.

Well. I know that this is Panzerfaust pedagogics. I apologised, and I promise that I’ll never do this again. I just enjoyed the satisfaction so much.

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Less is more… up-to-date

Today I read the article Ehud on Wikipedia in German. The article told me that Ehud is not only a person from the Bible, but also the first name of Ehud Barak, Israel’s prime minister from 1999 to 2001, and Ehud Olmert, prime minister from 2006 on.

Of course, Olmert is no longer prime minister since March 2009. The last editor, in November 2009, did not notice that, or at least did not change it.

When I edited the article now, I made the two gentlemen “Israeli politicians”. This will stay valid even when one of them should become prime minister again, or another Ehud becomes prime minister.

When writing articles, we should be more conscious about our sustainability problem.  I am now regretting that sometimes I put in more details than necessary, making an article too vulnerable to ageing.

Poor little article – a glimpse to our future?

From time to time I notice odd artefacts in our encyclopedic playground. Articles that exist for years but have hardly been altered. One example is Regionalrat in German Wikipedia.

The article has been createad in May 2006. In the beginning there was an uncertainly whether to use the lemma for a redirect to the regional councils of Namibia or those of France. A view edits and one year later, the present day text appeared in one edit, by an user who later did not alter the article again and indeed after 2007 only rarely uses this account anymore. Since then, the article is about the regional councils of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia (17 million inhabitants).

The text is okay in general, but entailed bold letters for a few key words. Only today I deleted the bold markers. In total, there have been 14 edits, and, as far I can see, 13 different editors. A similar number of other pages link to this article, some of them actually to the French councils. But the article is visited relatively often, 150-200 times a month (comparable to “Nick Clegg” in January 2010).

In three years time, nobody made an essential edit, nobody deleted the unwanted bold markers.

Is this a glimpse to Wikipedia’s future? Of course, popular and controversial articles will always be edited and altered significantly or even radically. But what about that huge number of other articles?