How To Use Wiki / Editing Freedom

Sub-page of HowToUseWiki

This discussion from Metadiscussion 2003-10-29 moved here by Charles Matthews on 2003-10-30.

RobertJasiek: While free editing rights have their merits, IMO there should be two types of pages: 1) free editing by everybody, 2) editing only by the initial author. (2) encourages people to contribute high quality without having to fear it being torn to pieces.

Bill: On Nerai Examples I requested that people, except for additional examples or brief comments, take discussion elsewhere. So far, my requests have been respected. :-)

I agree that the prospect of having one's contribution hacked up or mangled or misrepresented through editing may have a chilling effect upon posting anything you feel a proprietary interest in in the first place. OC, you can always restore your original or make repairs, but that's a bother, to say the least.

(Sebastian, putting Zook's good suggestion back into context with his/her permission:) Nobody here prevents you from making a page Robert Jasiek's introduction to Go. If you are considered to be an authority, then the page will receive many hits and may even supersede Rules of Go - introductory. If you are not, then claiming authorship of a page like Rules is neither justified nor realistic in the long run. The drawback of such an approach may be SL being flooded with Charles' ... Bill's ... Robert's... pages, but for the moment such doesn't seem to be the case.

Charles What Robert suggests wouldn't be a wiki site any more. There is no reason why such a site shouldn't exist; but the principles involved would be different from those with which SL was founded. Reviving pages in earlier versions takes a matter of seconds.

The page at [ext] http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?WalledGarden is relevant.

wms: The walled garden discussion is interesting, but I agree with the people in it who say that a walled garden isn't necessarily bad. As many may have noticed, I've been active on a 3-page walled garden-ish area here, the kgs wishlist/status/plans pages. It is a little different from a true walled garden though, since one of the three pages (the wish list) is mostly edited by other people while the other two of the triptych are mostly edited by me, plus there are a few links in and out of it from the rest of Sensei's. To Robert I say, go ahead and put your pages together here and don't worry about defacement. In the two months that I've had the plans and status up, not a single unwanted edit has happened, only a few nice comments added at the bottom and a few people helpful enough to fix my spelling errors. If you really want a page that only you can edit, there is no need to put it on a Wiki at all! You may as well just put it on your own private web server as a normal web page, then have links between it and the Wiki.

RobertJasiek: Charles, OC it would be different but not much. It would still be possible to have Discussion Of Topic X pages. If page X is bad, then the discussion would include a lot of criticism. Why not.

wms, about 90% of what I have written here has been replaced by much weaker contents. Why? Because very quickly there are people that replace it by weak contents instead of first asking what they might not understand about the initial contents. SL works like discussion that moves from its initial level (whether higher or lower) to 10 kyu, then slowly to 8k, 6k, 4k, 2k, 1d, 3d. So if someone starts with 5d contents, then either he explains everything 8 times (so that every discussion level is reached during the process) or he does not have that much time and accepts that first loss of information or does not offer information at all here. - OC, there are also regular webpages. I just wonder whether SL takes pride in favouring 10k contents more than 5d contents.

Neil: Why should Rules of Go - Introductory be 5d level?

RobertJasiek: Everybody likes rules as a topic, it seems. Nice:) So let me speak about rules: 5d level in go rules explanations is something completely different from 5d go playing strength. "5d" is more a metaphor when used for knowledge of a special topic like rules or CGT.

Charles On the rules stuff: I'm with Neil. On walled gardens: structure is good, but the membranes should in general be semi-permeable. That is, rigidly-enforced structure is deadening. On Robert's comment: yes, I'm in favour of some meta-structure with systematic naming; but it isn't obvious that there is any consensus on conventions. I mean, I would like pages X, X Discussion, X Talk as a three-way division like encyclopedia/dictionary with examples/dictionary etymological. I'd also be very happy to have also X Chat and X Meta as other recognised page types. But what if others think otherwise?

I'd make one point: anyone who thinks that any page is in a 'final' state can under the OCL simply move it onto another web site.

(Sebastian:) I do not share Robert's sentiment at all. Of all the edits I have done only one has been weakened by a new editor. We had a little discussion, and that editor posts good stuff since. (Maybe they're already so bad that they can't deteriorate, you might say ;-)

However, Robert has a point. There is some 5d content that might suffer from a beginner's misunderstanding. For this, we have the page difficulty? field, and we could add an note of caution about editing such pages somewhere. This might encourage creators of advanced topic pages to set that level, which they currently often forget.

John F. Just adding my pepper to the pot, I'm broadly in agreement with Robert. I think some of the editing I have seen lately is awful, and it does inhibit me, at least, from posting. Lack of comment on some of the edits should not be taken as approval. It's not that the concept of editing is wrong - indeed it can be valuable: extra information, other points of view, correction of errors, exposing lacunae in explanations, etc. But the **quality** of the editing is variable, idiosyncratic and often poor. I would favour stronger guidelines. An editor should indicate in some way his grade, his experience or his sources. If none of these can be demonstrated a contributor should simply comment, not edit.

(Sebastian:) Well, John, I must say, this is also partly the responsibility of a good editor. If someone writes something that doesn't seem to make sense, it helps if you try to understand why they wrote it, even if they may have made a mistake. It allows you to reword your contribution such that this misunderstanding will be avoided for future readers. In German, we have a saying: The way you shout into a forest, is the way you will get the echo back. If you assist constructively then you will (on average) receive constructive results.

John F. I'm afraid I don't follow this comment at all. Most of it seems to be saying what I've already said: (1) that editing is valuable for "exposing lacunae in explanations". (2) I think it's **entirely** the responsibility of a good editor, not partly, but that's only a matter of degree, so we are probably on the same side of the table there. I suspect where we may be differing is in one of two areas. One is in the meaning of words like editor. This is a notorious faux ami in European languages. I'm using it not just as a native speaker but as a journalist. The other may lie behind the phrase "if you assist constructively". If a person adds a comment or a question to a previous contribution by clearly marking it as such, it is clear that it falls to the original contributor to reply or clarify. He may not, but then everyone else can see that and draw their own conclusions. In any case, if he does, it's fairly easy to add a paragraph on the end. But if another person edits and in the process obscures or distorts the original contribution, as Bill says above it becomes a big hassle to sort out the mangling. Apart from doing that, the original author often feels obliged to explain why he is sorting it out - so, twice the work and he may end up looking peevish. This is not the way to get constructive assistance.

When I first contributed to SL, editing was quite rare, and was conducted almost with ritual awe - it was even glorified as a "master" edit, and was signalled (and sometimes discussed) in advance, and afterwards. But comments and questions were two-a-penny. I have an impression that nowadays the relative frequencies are almost being reversed. I prefer the old way, BTW. The modern way is much too close to the "broken window" theory - bad editing encourages more bad editing and in the end is not much different from vandalism. It's a different topic, but I also believe there are too many new pages and focus is being lost. Another BTW:I have never edited a page, and I have (I think) only ever started one, to see how it was done. That may disqualify some of my comments. I also don't read many pages - too much lack of focus. I normally only look at a thread if it contains one of a tiny handful of names, such as Charles or Bill. That too may disqualify me.

BobMcGuigan: I like the wiki concept but I sympathize with John and Robert, too. The discussion pages are a great demonstration of the virtue of the wiki since people can post their ideas, see others' reactions, and the whole thing converges to something that can be more valuable for learning than a straight exposition by an expert no matter how eminent. But I would be annoyed if I were an expert on some topic or had special knowledge, had put effort into creating a good, carefully crafted lengthy explanation, and saw it spoiled by an incompetent edit. Granted it only takes a few seconds to restore the page to a previous version but I wouldn't want to have to check frequently to see whether I needed to fix things.

Bill: I think that free editing yields a kind of commons. If we have not experienced a tragedy of the commons on SL, I think it is because people have restrained themselves. (A related reason is that we have not reached the limits of our resources.) There have been cases, though, where the content of pages has changed dramatically. Sometimes I have found that links that I have created make no sense, because the page I linked to has changed. I have even created a new page to link to in such a case. Other times I have found that edits have altered or obscured the meaning of what I have written because of the destruction of the context. I have had to make repairs. In short, free editing by others, even when they did not alter my text, has caused a lot of work for me.

I do not think that we need to have such a stark contrast betweeen laissez faire editing and a walled garden. There is the danger of a false dichotomy there. One of my interests is anthropology, and I find it interesting that, even among tribal peoples who do not own land and share food and shelter, ownership is an important value. "This is mine" is a human universal. Here on SL, I think that ownership or proprietary interest is indicated by signing our names. And that interest is by and large respected.

{Positive example to be added later. Gotta run}

(Sebastian:) As John recognized, we actually agree on basic points. Regardless of my perception, we do have a problem if some of our best contributors feel discouraged. We currently even have a paradox: While rash editors spoil the experience for valuable contributors, sensible editors feel discouraged from the slightest changes that would improve quality. There is a need for action. I would certainly vote against adding bureaucracy, but I can see some steps that would mitigate the problem:

  • Solve the indecision discussed in DocumentModeVsThreadMode and explain it in how to use Sensei's Library?. This would encourage the sensible editors and reduce the ignorants.
  • Make your contributions clear - don't assume your reader has to know.[10291]
  • Help those less experienced editors who, whith the best intentions, want to clean up some messy pages. We can not only rely on experts to do Wiki Master Edits. That's why I created the page Wiki Apprentice Edit. Please help the helpers by filling it with good advice.
  • Learn from others. Why are we putting so much time and energy into a meta discussion? Do other Wikis not have the same problem? Could't we learn from them?
  • Add watchlist functionality to SL. This will make it much easier for authors to take ownership of their contributions.

Patrick Taylor: Since watchlists exist now (see WatchedPages), I figured I could remove the link. Especially since that term might not be unique to SL.

[10291] John, you agreed with me on this one, but it is actually something I notice in some of your discussions. A case in point is your statement above: "This is a notorious faux ami in European languages. I'm using it not just as a native speaker but as a journalist." This omits your main point: What is the difference in meaning? Why is it important in this context? I would love to learn from you, but I feel left out. (Please don't roll your eyes now.) I wouldn't mind if you were a teenager struggling with words, but you are an accomplished writer. So to me, it feels like you're hiding behind your words. Of course that doesn't justify mutilating your contributions. But it may contribute to a mutual frustration between you and some of your readers. (Sorry that I'm writing this here in public. I would have preferred to write this in a personal e-mail, but I don't have your address. Please feel free to delete it after you read it.)

RafaelCaetano: Sebastian, John used "editor" as in "MasterEditor" or "the person who changes the original page written by Bill". Your comment that "this is also partly the responsibility of a good editor" only makes sense (to me) if you mean "editor" as "the original writer", that is, Bill.

(Sebastian:) Oh, yes, that's what I meant. I should correct my above sentence, but then John's comment would be unconnected. Is it good practice to correct discussions at all? (BTW, there's also a definition of the difference in MasterEdit.)

John F. Mainly for Sebastian, but very quickly as I'm on my way to work. To explain absolutely everything would submerge pages in dross. We'd end up with a typical 1500-page tome with 3 billion footnotes as written by an American academic. I prefer the European 200-page model where we treat our readers as similarly educated peers who, if they do not know something, look it up themselves. Go players in my experience are highly educated and intelligent, and don't need much hand-holding. You must also understand that I'm busy. Time spent here is less time spent on GoGoD. Trust me also when I say that I get beleaguered by questions by e-mail, and generally when I get them I either give one acknowledgement or ignore them altogether. I always ignore those where I consider the writer could have looked the answer up himself easily enough. Same applies here. No private correspondence, please.

(Sebastian:) Speaking of billions is an [ext] appeal to ridicule. All I'm asking for is that if you're trying tom make a point, don't stop before you make it. This is one of the first things you learn as a - technical - writer in Europe as well. Regardless of your readers' intelligence: If you observe a confusion about the meaning of a word, just write what you mean by it, or as Rafael did in the case above, just link to it.

John F. You are falsely attributing motives to me. The use of billions was just a way of saying a large number. I've already said elsewhere here that I generally assume readers here are either well informed or can inform themselves. I know nothing about you beyond what I see here. From that I deduced there was a small possibility that you may be using edit in a different way. I politely (I hope) raised the possibility. If you (or anyone else) suspected that it might apply to you, I would expect you to check in a dictionary or to read SL where it says, e.g.: "A Wiki master edit of a page is the act of editing a page which has received various contributions to it to make it more consistent and easier to read afterwards." (Although that is not a straight definition of edit, the meaning is pretty clear implicitly there, isn't it?) You never actually asked me about the meaning of edit. Had I assumed you didn't know and taught you how to suck eggs, chances are you'd be offended. The point I would be seen to be making (to use your terminology) is not "this is how I use edit" - I'd already explained that anyway: as a native speaker and a journalist - but rather "I think this guy's an ignoramus." And since that is not the point I wanted to make, I didn't. We are ultimately writing about people here, not machines, so it's polite to make polite assumptions.
(Sebastian:) I like your last point. Yes, you certainly were polite, and I understand the conflict now from your side. In this case I really was confused, because, as Rafael pointed out, there are conflicting definitions for the word. More generally, this would be an interesting topic for yet another page: How do we best communicate in the grey area between public and private discussions? Which assumptions about knowlege are polite or impolite? Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't this interesting from an anthropological point of view, as well?

Charles Well, I have to say that I find this discussion somewhat alarming. For myself (and I have the most signed edits here at SL), editing of my own contributions is hardly something I notice; and certainly not as a nuisance. Odd, really, if there is an endemic problem. People have added unsigned stuff to my home page on occasion - that's about all that comes to mind.

There seem to be several kinds of argument symphonically interwoven here. Can I try to list some?

  1. Wiki doesn't work, cf. tragedy of the commons
  2. SL isn't that reliable, and may not be getting more so
  3. Expert testimony as sub-edited by non-experts doesn't improve
  4. A page created with one intention may get diverted to another
  5. Problem users mean reversion of pages is sometimes needed
  6. (Hypothetical) What if we had a pro writing here?
  7. Forward links can become gobbledegook after big edits
  8. Watchlists would be good.

So: my views.

On 1: standard argument about wiki; in fact wiki does work on a kind of voluntary work basis, and does so in proportion to its strength as community.

On 2: I think John Fairbairn, who is a journalist by profession, might be right to tell us somewhat doomy things about this. Anyone who cites an SL page at random as authority does a silly thing. But, on the other hand, people cite go books all the time, and they contain plenty of errors of different kinds. And go proverbs are misapplied on a daily basis. I actually think SL is much improved from when I first started coming here, in the sense that some of the misconceptions have been uprooted. I don't doubt there are others.

On 3: Fair point. But, to single out unfairly Robert Jasiek's rules page as an example, most people here hated the page. It was left for months, and then gradually edited. That did include a title change, which brings me on to point 4.

On 4: Quite true, and needs to be watched. On the other hand in this case editing is the solution, not the problem. Contributions in the wrong place can't stay there. Renaming of pages and moving of stuff to somewhere more appropriate must go on.

On 5: Yes, it's a wiki, and there are problem users who infringe against conventions, or manners, or who blunder about, or who are silly and attention-seeking, or are outright vandals. Very few here. Really, this isn't an endemic problem. I find more to irritate me in people who come here only for Hikaru/server gossip/software, and take no interest in the technical go side.[1]

On 6: If we had a pro-level article contributed, it should probably be offered to Gobase as such.

On 7: Fair point, but this is a routine maintenance issue not a crisis. For example, when I spend time editing Wikipedia, quite a high proportion of the edits I make simply fix up links. Believe me, WP has a much worse reliability of forward links (order of magnitude more failures) than SL. I don't like to see this put forward as an argument against editing, on the basis of a few cases. It's inevitable they will occur.

On 8: I agree. Watchlists, ie the capacity for a user to call up a list of recent edits to a personally-nominated list of pages, encourage a sense of ownership. Which doesn't make it look like any part of the wiki is ring-fenced against change.


John F. In view of Charles's "alarm" above, and other comments on ownership, can I clarify my own stance? I have never started more than one trial page. I have therefore never been in the position of ownership in that sense, therefore any objections I have to edits have never been based on that. Some people have posted new pages using my material. I have objected to that on occasion, but not because of editing. There I object because posting on SL undermines my copyright. Sometimes comments I have made on other people's pages have been caught up in edits and have been distorted. I can't pretend to be pleased, but I accept it as part of the Wiki experience.

Rather, my disobliging comments on edits boil down to my experience as a READER not as a contributor. There has been some very poor editing, but a bigger problem is maybe too much editing. What seems to happen a lot nowadays is that a good discussion gets going and before you know it it's been whipped away, renamed and reparcelled. That's very disorienting. It's also being done before all the possible elements have emerged. I have a feeling that potential editors should try harder not to play with their editing toys, but should first let a page stabilise, wait even longer so that possibly related pages stabilise, and wait even longer to think hard about (and possibly pre-discuss) the design of an edit. Charles's Path edits seem to be an exemplary model in this regard. In short, all edits in mid-discussion should be banned.

dnerra: John, I know it might feel like unfairly singeling out specific persons, but nevertheless -- if you could give an example of a page that in your opinion became worse by overeager editing that would make this discussion a lot more constructive.

RobertJasiek: ChineseCounting is an example. It was a page with clear terms and it is a page with unclear terms. Diagrams would be nice but their missing presence does not change this fact.

John F. I'm sorry, but I don't agree that it would make it more constructive. It would probably be destructive. In company such as this I'm happy to believe that all readers will think about the issues objectively. They may then (or may not) change their behaviour or views on rational grounds. Why bring personalities into it?
dnerra I didn't want to bring personalities into it. I was interested in pages that became worse due to ever-eager editing, not in whose fault it was. Then we could work on re-improving those pages. Also, although I follow a lot of stuff on SL (defintely not all, however), I am not aware of a single example that would match your description, so I had a hard time following your point. But of course I understand your reasons.
Bill: Chinese counting is certainly an example of drastic editing. Have a look at version 18, for example. Quite different from the current page.
(Sebastian:) I've been editing a lot lately, so chances are that I screwed something up. I encourage you to take such a case as a bad example, and I promise I won't argue about it (for a change ;-).

TJ: There seems to be a lot of talk about ownership, which is perhaps misplaced when talking about a wiki community. Ownership, as most would think of it, is not a universal concept. Some societies consider ownership to be caretaking of what is "owned" for the future use of all, a responsibility and not a priveledge; a way to give, not to take. I think this applies well to wiki. If you create a page, contribute to a page with comments or questions, or do an edit, you do not own it...you were merely taking care of it as best you could for that moment for the rest of the people here.

Perhaps some sort of elucidation of this philosophy of caretaking for others (contrasted to using wiki edits in order to gain something for yourself only) would be useful to include in a page meant to explain how things are meant to work on SL. This way, people would hopefully edit and MasterEdit respectfully, and others wouldn't take offense at "their" page being reformatted by someone else at an arguably premature time or in an arguably irrelevant or insensitive way. Evolution can be disquieting, but it need not be allowed to take people by surprise, if they can be so forewarned.

Charles Question is, how to avoid it being straight politics. It would be good to start from the assumption that we're all on the same side.

Bill: TJ, suppose that somebody edited your comment to read:

There seems to be a lot of talk about ownership, but a wiki is a community. Ownership may be a universal concept, but rights carry responsibilities along with them. It is important for the SL wiki community to achieve a proper balance between them.

Now, that's not what you wrote, although it has some similarities. You might feel irritated, to say the least, with good reason. What you said has been distorted, misrepresented. I hope that we agree that that kind of edit would not be ok.

Now, SL deshis do not go around doing that. They have too much respect for each other. However, there have been edits on SL that distort the meaning or intent of material, or that treat it with disregard. The first generally results from editing material without due regard to the effect of doing so upon other material. The second seems to result from an "I know better" attitude. Someone might think, "TJ almost has it right. I'll just delete what he said and replace it with something better."

When the topic is go instead of philosophy, the person may be right. Nonetheless, I disagree with the practice. I think that you (as the original author) and the SL community benefit when everyone's views are heard and respected. And that limits the freedom of editing.

Fhayashi: When such bad editing happens, it would be important to notify the editor, who may not realize what they are doing.

Hu: unkx80 removed a note he or she wrote, but it contained the important point that some authors intentions are frustrated by subsequent edits, and there was a plea for a way to avoid this. The easiest way to accomodate authors intentions here is to have a way to put comments into the editable material that would not show on the produced page, but would continue to be available for inspection when editing and viewing Recent Changes. This is technically feasible and just needs some requests for it.

It would be very useful particularly when deleting material, because then the explanation could be given as a comment.


[1] People who are not contributing to the technical go study pages may still be interested in and following them, and might only feel too weak to contribute to them. OC, they are still welcome to contribute to them with questions/comments. dnerra

unkx80: Or to solve the unsolved problems. Only when there is demand, then problem creaters will have the incentive to post more problems. I guess, the process is beneficial to all people in SL. =)

Charles Anyone who plays go, records some position and has a question about it, can contribute to SL (assuming they can post it here somehow, in clear English - which need not be perfect).


How To Use Wiki / Editing Freedom last edited by Warder05 on December 11, 2006 - 08:33
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