In terms of on-line encyclopedias Wikipedia has no effective competition. If
you sit to research, you'll look at Wikipedia. If you want to contribute it
will be Wikipedia.
But..... where we are in competition with others is for the time of the
undergraduate/graduate who sits down to squander some time on the internet.
He's got any number of choices - what we draw him to Wikipedia and make him
stick around? I wonder that the downturn in Wikipedia contributions is due
largely to their being more "grown up" social networking phenomena than
there were in 2004. Now, it is tempting to say that the fact that the
"myspacers" have buggered off is not bad thing - but I wonder how many
intelligent, educated people are now squandering time on Facebook who once
might have been Wikipedia contributors? As Facebook adds bells and whistles
and Wikipedia's interface becomes more tired and (relatively) less friendly
to new users - does this continue?
How much is the Foundation investing in software development? I was appalled
last year to discover that the flagship of flagged revisions had been
entrusted to some guy named Aaron who was doing it between exams! How do you
ever hope to keep up if that's the level of commitment to development? (No
disrespect to Aaron who was probably working his butt off!)
On ability to adapt:
I could not disagree more with GWH here. I think en.wp greatest weakness is
that it is largely leaderless, and tied to a consensus model that simply
doesn't allow for change much at all.
To quote myself (a real sign of vanity) "Wikipedia isn't governed by the
thoughtful or the informed - it is governed by anyone who turns up. ...
There are a larger group who are too immature or lazy to think straight. And
then there are all those who recognise "something must be done", but
perpetually oppose the something that's being proposed in favour of a
"better idea". The mechanism is rather like using a chatshow phone-in to
manage the intricacies of a federal budget - it does not work for issues
that need time, thought, responsibility and attention. I doubt this problem
can be fixed - since it needs structural change to decision making - which
is impossible for precisely the same reasons."
[mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org] On Behalf Of George Herbert
Sent: 21 December 2010 22:09
To: English Wikipedia
Subject: Re: [WikiEN-l] Eschatology and Wikipedia
There are two schools of thought here -
One, that competition is always great and effective.
Two, that sometimes a natural monopoly develops of some sort, and that
for the time that the paradigm remains valid there's really only one
player of note.
The Internet sees examples of both types of activity.
Google has search competitors, by dint of Yahoo not having gone
bankrupt quite yet and Microsoft having thrown Bing in as the default
search engine for the OS of choice for 90% plus of the computers sold
today (plus a lot of phones). A lot of people want it to be in
Category One, but it seems to be at least marginally a Category Two
Craigslist killed a whole paradigm (classified ads in print
newspapers) and has not evolved any useful competition. Ebay took the
rest of that market, and invented a new market, and has not had any
credible competitor. Both are Category Two.
Amazon invented its field, but has active competition (Borders, B&N at
least). Clearly Category One.
The Internet Archive has no (public) competition. Nobody's even interested.
The social network website arena has had intense competition, which is
settling down into a Category Two monopoly around Facebook. Twitter
fused SMS with broadcast and has not evolved any competition; Category
Skype is only one of many internet phone services now.
For nonprofit / public service organizations, there's an ulterior
motive in any case. Two, actually... The exterior ulterior motive is
helping other people, and the not-so-secret personal or interior
ulterior motive, that people enjoy being seen as contributors and
participants, it's an ego boost.
Neither of those ulterior motives is like the motives for a business,
which are primarily to make money (preserve and gain market share and
We have analogs to "market share" and "margins" but they're not
Because they're not the same, some of the inertial resistance to
change is different and operates in different mechanisms. Wikipedia
remakes itself regularly, though there are longterm participants,
rules, and goals. We change the software, editing standards, our IP
license, community membership and active editors set, community
participation and rules. We actively and moderately skeptically
review all the policy and core values in the community.
Because of that, I think we're more effective at responding to
pressure to change than a typical business. In some ways we aren't -
we lack "leadership" in many senses of the word, though we have
leaders who people listen to and who focus discussion and debate. But
we aren't institutionally opposed to changing things to make them
better. We don't need an external competitor to tell us that we have
problems, to the degree businesses often do.
I won't pretend that we're really good at it; the community is
analagous to herding cats in many ways, and people are resistant to
change at times and in some ways. But I think we're better enough, in
some key ways.
-george william herbert
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