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Has Wikipedia editing gone the way of government?

Research at the Palo Alto Research Center suggests that those who edit frequently on Wikipedia don't have their entries challenged, whereas less frequent editors do.

Oh, Wikipedia. Have you really become just another political organization?

I only ask because some clever people with nothing better to do have dedicated their bright gray matter to poring through Wikipedia's pages and drawing conclusions. The members of the Augmented Cognition Research Group at the Palo Alto Research Center could probably solve health care over a nonfat latte and a blueberry scone. Instead, they have examined who makes edits on Wikipedia and whose edits are reversed.

It makes for the same kind of dispiriting reading that you might once have expected from a Politburo travel brochure. You see, it appears that a hierarchy has emerged at Wiki Central, one that seems to have a significant influence in what is published and, indeed, what is removed.

These days, there are between 650,000 and 810,00 active editors of the world's most beloved unofficial encyclopedia, figures that suggest Wikipedia activity has plateaued rather than grown. And this has been accompanied by a jostling for authority that reminds one only of, well, Congress. You know, the place where senior senators seem to be able to get away with, well, I was going to say "murder," but that would be inappropriate until proven.

Has Jimmy Wales become Nancy Pelosi? CC KerryJ.com/Flickr

The researchers seem convinced that editors who make more than 100 edits per month are less likely to have their entries reversed than those who contribute fewer. The group that contributes more than 1,000 edits per month (when was the last time these people saw the sky?) are enthusiastic about acting as the factual bible-writers of our time, to say the least. Between 2005 and 2008, their average number of edits has increased from 1,740 to 2,095.

The boys from Palo Alto seem to believe that those in the editing oligarchy rarely have their contributions deleted, or reverted, as seems to be the parlance. However, those who occasionally take a step away from their normal lives to make an entry are far more likely to have their contributions incised.

The researchers, led by Ed H. Chi, concluded: "We consider this as evidence of growing resistance from the Wikipedia community to new content, especially when the edits come from occasional editors."

It seems, from the Palo Altans' brightly colored graphs, that elite editors only have their work questioned 1 percent of the time, whereas occasional editors can now expect a 15 percent deletion rate.

Oh, Lordy. It's just like the Senate, isn't it? The bigwigs know best, control the most important committees, and generally swan around in limos with the finest companions of the day and night. All the while, the junior senators toil for influence, beg for their voices to be heard, and dream of becoming senior senators.

The Guardian newspaper offered this plaintive quote from a frustrated junior editor, Aaron Schwarz: "There's no place on Wikipedia that says: 'Want to become a Wikipedia editor? Here's how you do it.' Instead, you basically have to really become part of that community and pick it up through osmosis and have the tradition passed down to you."

Oh, why can't people find a more beautiful way to organize themselves? This is the only knowledge our children will ever have. I mean, we don't really expect any of them to read books on a Kindle, do we?