The Role of Larry Sanger in Wikipedia

From Meta, a Wikimedia project coordination wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search

(Disclaimer: By the below I do not mean to attack Larry Sanger personally; I'm just commenting on what he has said.)

On Larry's personal page, he writes (he added this in revision 234, of October 16):

I co-founded Wikipedia, and I am one of a few people who are paid (by Jimbo Wales / Bomis) to help organize this project. I like to think of myself as another soldier, not a general. But I know that this is a simplification of the situation. I have self-consciously rejected, in the Wikipedia project, the title of "editor-in-chief," which is my title in the Nupedia project. I am quite aware that, in order to win as many good people to this project as possible, it is important that I do not try to control people here; it is important, moreover, that people do not feel controlled by me, even if I'm not trying, because they'll resent this just as much. I strongly feel that Wikipedia thrives precisely because it is open and free, and how open and free the project is, is in part a straightforward function of my attitude toward it.

Compare that to what he has recently said in one of his columns (Nov 1):

I need to be granted fairly broad authority by the community--by you, dear reader--if I am going to do my job effectively. Until fairly recently, I was granted such authority by Wikipedians. I was indeed not infrequently called to justify decisions I made, but not constantly and nearly always respectfully and helpfully. This place in the community did not make me an all-powerful editor who must be obeyed on pain of ousting; but it did make me a leader. That's what I want, again. This is my job.

Similarly, he says (see here) :

But when push comes to shove, if a decision must be made and there's a serious controversy, and I'm partaking of it, sorry, but I'm going to get my way. And you'll be expected to hold your tongue after that.

Am I the only person who detects a change in LMS' view of his own position? Am I the only person who fears this is a change for the worse?

Simon James Kissane, Nov 1.

Petty tyrants are not the issue here. Larry is fair and answers email when he has time. He gets dragged into contributors' petty squabbles. ~BF

"My eyes collide head-on with stuffed graveyards
False gods, I scuff
At pettiness which plays so rough
Walk upside-down inside handcuffs
Kick my legs to crash it off
Say okay, I have had enough
What else can you show me?"
~w:Bob Dylan

Yes, Larry's position has changed. No, I don't necessarily think this is a bad thing. I suspect Larry and Jimbo (who own the server and thus control the project's destiny in many ways, ultimately) have decided that arguments that don't end when LMS puts his foot down like they used to are interfering with where they want the project to go. After seeing some of the nonsense of the past few weeks, I tend to agree with that sentiment, and I largely trust their vision for the project (with the proviso that I'm not entirely convinced that the way they interpret/implement the GFDL here makes a fork practical if it ever came to that - I'd like some more clarity there). --w:Robert Merkel
I agree with you, Simon. Larry's vision of his role has changed. The way I understand it, he does what he thinks is best for the health of the encyclopedia. Usually this means that agreement should be reached through discussion; however he has less and less time on his hands and the community is growing. This scale problem means that discussions threaten to slow down the project, insofar as article production is reduced. On the other hand, one has to recognize that discussions (especially public ones) about Wikipedia help refine our definition of the project. So Larry is in a quite difficult position, I think. In cases where disagreement is not resolved, he has to judge which discussions do and which do not promise to help the project. There's a slew of interplaying factors here. Some contributors believe that more freedom can only help the project. Some others think that more freedom can hurt the project because people will spend time and energy visiting and contributing content that is not encyclopedic. Some (I am inclined to believe most) contributors can change their minds concerning this issue through dialogue. Others (I am inclined to believe few) cannot. I think most of us want as few as possible to leave ship. Perhaps establishing a parallel wiki which provides more freedom to wikipedians would help keep the site "clean". But I believe unity should be a definite goal to strive for here, and we need to clearly articulate what the means of attaining that are. --w:Seb

I think it's a little sad that he feels he has to regulate the direction of Wikipedia so strongly; I'd rather he spent more time encouraging what he felt was the correct direction, than discouraging what he felt was the wrong direction. At the moment the technology and his goals are somewhat in conflict--and if neither changed, over time, the technology would win, but the technology can and will be changed (a concrete example is the open-ended blocking of the homepage), and will, over time, come to more strongly reflect and enforce his views.

I only think this is a little sad because it means that he can't fully harness the energy of volunteers. What's so great about the Wikipedia system is that it doesn't have to resort to censorship to moderate idiosyncracy (see how the New Age page has developed, though it at the time needs some re-editing); but that's what Larry feels he has to resort to now. And once the gate is opened, he (and thus others) will continue to do so. Unless he says that he is the only one with that power; that others shouldn't use their judgment to delete information, only himself.

It's better to have one dictator than a dictator plus shock troops. --TheCunctator



Wikipedia does need some discipline in general. If I had just stumbled on this site in the last week, rather than a few months ago, I would have thought Usenet had forked and wikipedia was the result. What's all this squabbling about? What's all the debate? Wikipedia is not your home, though you may have a page on it; it's not your property; outsiders do not have any God-given right to come in and put of pictures of penes and Grimace and gorillas and have their tripe recorded for posterity. All this squabble is missing the point in a big way: yes, it's important to work out community norms in a community-controlled project, but to outsiders you look like a sandbox full of 4th-graders. Do it on the list-serv; put all meta-pages in a separate namespace; and by default have only articles show up in the Recent Changes.

I agree entirely. Thats what I'd have said if I was (a) eloquent (b) not to busy modifying actual articles. Oh, and w:Gareth_Owen/How_to_destroy_Wikipedia, obviously -- w:GWO

By the way, I think it's time we moved pages like this to [1]. --w:LMS

As I said on Wikipedia utilities/Personal subpages to be deleted, I'm happy to see this page get deleted unless anyone else who has commented here really minds. Its not that I've changed my mind about whats said herein, its just that I've come to agree with Larry's view that this sort of nazelgazing is really a distraction from what we are supposed to be doing, and is just going to produce useless friction between people. -- w:SJK

Aha! I just haven't gotten around to deleting those. --w:LMS

I would like to see this page preserved at meta.wikipedia.com until some discussions are complete as per :Discussion on business models and organizational charters applicable to large free wikis user:mirwin