Netflix couldn’t possibly screw up any more…oh wait, it just did

I want to like Netflix. I’ve been a loyal customer since 2002, but they’re making it hard to like them these days.

When the company announced the price hike earlier this year, I balked like every other customer. Not because I don’t want to pay more (I don’t) – I realize there are economic reasons behind the decision – but because the company no longer seems to care about its customers wants. The rate increase forced me to drop from three to two DVDs a month to maintain our budget; no big deal. But like so many others, it really forced me to consider staying with Netflix or finding alternatives.

Which is what Netflix still has going for it – viable alternatives simply don’t exist. Amazon streaming doesn’t have as mature a catalog and costs more. Redbox still requires you to leave the house and hope a movie you want is available.

And that’s where Netflix had the model nailed: The queueby-mail-without-late-fees, and streaming features at its core are what made Netflix pure gold in a media-consumption service. I can set up a list of movies that I want to watch, wait for them to come in the mailbox, then hold on to them for as long as it took me to watch or re-watch them. In some cases, I could watch them instantly on my computer, TV, iPod, or Android devices. These features are starting to flag, however.

I remember years ago getting regular emails from Netflix happily announcing price decreases. Then came messages about the new streaming services, and Blu-ray disc availability. But every message I’ve gotten recently from (or about) Netflix has been bad news. Monthly rate increases. No more Starz streaming movies. Just today, I received an email from Netflix in which Reed Hastings announced that the DVD service would now be named “Quixster” (ugh) while “Netflix” would refer to the non-integrated streaming service. Two services. Two credit card charges. No integration.

Qwikster will be the same website and DVD service that everyone is used to. It is just a new name, and DVD members will go to to access their DVD queues and choose movies…A negative of the renaming and separation is that the and websites will not be integrated.

Apparently, the folks at Netflix don’t understand the mind of their customer. I don’t care if a movie is streaming or DVD, I just want to put on a managed list and watch it, sooner than later if possible. If I have to manage two separate queues, that simply requires too much of my time and it will no longer offer me the value it once did.

And at 14 years old, the Netflix DVD service hasn’t changed much; truthfully, it doesn’t really need to. With the focus on streaming, however, that service needs to mature in some very critical ways to convince customers like me to stay. And, with their unsurprising recent earning report that showed a huge dip in membership, I’m not alone.

For example:

  • Let’s face it, the streaming library still sucks compared to the DVD availability.
  • Streaming titles are often mediocre or poor quality on an HDTV.
  • Licensing deals for streaming titles is flaky, causing titles to disappear and reappear like whack-a-moles.
  • Netflix is opaque with its customers about which streaming titles are about to disappear; without warning, titles are just – poof! – gone. Services like Feedfliks helpfully fill in this gap, but shouldn’t have to.
  • My instant queue is often reordered randomly – system bugs like this are inexcusable.
  • The ability to add and remove specific seasons of a television show to my queue.
I’m interested to see what the two-website split will look like, but I’m increasingly preparing myself and my family to dump the service altogether. It’ll be a difficult transition, but I’m starting to doubt the company is going in the right direction with its customers.

Wednesday quarterback: Super Bowl XLV commercial losers

This week featured posts on the “best of” Super Bowl ads as well as the runners-up. In this final chapter, the truly stand-out losers are critiqued and lampooned.

Some ads you fondly remember for years. Some you forget seconds after you watch them. And some are remembered even though you want to forget them.

Put aside the strange etrade talking baby spots, the meaningless ads, and the offensive-yet-underpromising godaddy commercials. Those were bad. But the ads featured here were so twisted and offensive that no exec  should have approved them. But they did. So for your viewing horror, presents the worst of the worst ads from the game.

Read More

The new Facebook privacy settings suck

If you haven’t heard by now, Facebook recently modified the default privacy settings for all accounts. I paid this little heed, since, when I was prompted to, I merely accepted my previous privacy settings. Which were pretty good.

Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that Facebook had removed some items out from my control. The one that bothered me the most is that I no longer have an option to control who sees my friend list. Now, I’m no paranoid recluse, but I think this change is an affront to my privacy. Plain and simple.

Fortunately, the “crowd” was there to help. A quick Google search led me to hundreds of pages of people asking the same question:

“With the new privacy settings, how do I prevent others from seeing my Facebook friend list?

A short and sweet comment on Yahoo! Answers gave me what I believe is the only solution under the current privacy rules. On your profile page, scroll down to your friend list. Look for the pencil icon and click it. Modify the settings to suit your privacy needs (the screen capture below shows what I decided was best for me).

new fb privacy friend settings

What’s a shame about having to do this is that now nobody (even friends) can see my friend list. This eliminates the ability for one of my friends to find new contacts based on my friend list. But this is a necessary casualty of what I hope are temporary limits on Facebook’s privacy controls.

Update: I also discovered that CNET published a blog earlier today with similar instructions.

SharePoint is not enterprise 2.0 [a zen moment]

Update 9 Sept: This post refers to the out of the box version of SharePoint. It does not apply to highly customized deployments which basically use SharePoint as the content management system backend.

That’s right. No bolding. No ALL CAPS. Just a simple statement of fact: SharePoint is not enterprise 2.0. I reached this zen moment and it only took six hours of exploring a test site alongside a SharePoint expert for me to get there. At hour six, I realized two things:

  1. The structure of SharePoint is based on the fact that people within an organization inherently do not trust one another.
  2. SharePoint plays by the Vegas mantra: What goes on in SharePoint stays in SharePoint.

While it is fine for some types of file management and communication, organizations wanting to evolve to more efficient knowledge management processes should not use SharePoint as the primary platform. “Enterprise 2.0” is supposed to be different from its “1.0” predecessor. It should help transform and evolve the way an organization’s approach to knowledge management and collaboration. Instead, SharePoint enables the old and broken ways of doing business.

It’s not that I don’t trust you…oh wait, yes it is.

It took two hours for me to fully explore and understand the convoluted permissions structure. I’m tech savvy and have worked with a number of platforms that include permissions management, but none have offered as robust a way to micromanage an individual’s every move in the space. There’s something wrong with the design of a supposed enterprise 2.0 application if that much time is devoted to teaching how to keep people out.

Back in March, Thomas Vander Wal wrote about how SharePoint is a “Gateway Drug to Enterprise Social Tools” in which he pointed out

SharePoint does some things rather well, but it is not a great tool (or even passable tool) for broad social interaction inside enterprise related to the focus of Enterprise 2.0. SharePoint works well for organization prescribed groups that live in hierarchies…this is not where organizations are moving to and trying to get to with Enterprise 2.0 mindsets and tools. The new approach is toward embracing the shift toward horizontal organizations, open sharing, self-organizing groups around subjects that matter to individuals as well as the organization.

SharePoint typifies the conundrum many organizations face when looking to improve their knowledge management sharing across groups: Do you want to harness the collective wisdom of your organization OR do you want to keep your information locked down? Logically, you can’t have both.

One size fits…none.

Dion Hinchcliff, in a 2007 post on the state of enterprise 2.0 states, “Enterprise 2.0 is more a state of mind than a product you can purchase” and emphasizes that a solid strategy can include but not be limited to the use of SharePoint.

Microsoft markets SharePoint as a “one stop shop”  for the social enterprise needs. Like other one stop shops, this one promises more than it can deliver. Far from being everything to everyone, the standard out-of-the-box SharePoint is nothing more than a file manager, calendar, workflow manager, and discussion board. Where’s the wiki? The blogs (yes, plural)? (Update 10 September: I have since re-discovered the suboptimal wiki and blog functionality that is prepackaged with SharePoint.) Since the plugins are expensive and cumbersome to integrate, you’d think it would be easy to create links to knowledge in other collaborative platforms. But no,  SharePoint…

penaltyDoesn’t play well with others.

Beyond this human approach to choosing and using a knowledge platform, however, is the technical limitations of SharePoint. Because it works only within its own ecosystem, SharePoint essentially keeps your data hostage. This alone can’t discredit it as being non-2.0 since other commercial platforms like Traction TeamPage do the same thing. Heck, even Facebook is an all-in-nothing-out kind of site, but there’s no way the Facebook isn’t 2.0, right? (right?)

This is antithetical to the way the web works and the way intranet should work. I should be allowed to create interdependencies between various social enterprise tools rather than have to only choose from a limited menu of plugins.

Again, Vander Wal pointed out that

…information is locked in SharePoint micro-silos and it is nearly impossible to easily reuse that information and share it. Not only is the information difficult to get at by people desiring to collaborate … it is not easily unlocked so that it can benefit from found in search.

As SP began as a web-based file manager, it shocked me to learn that when you edit or move a document loaded onto a SP site, the links are only updated from within SharePoint. Any links to documents from outside the SP site – say, from a blog, wiki page, or even an email – will be broken the first time the document is edited.

Microsoft – as is it’s style – even engages in monopolistic behavior since SharePoint is all but useless when using any web browser besides Internet Explorer. Gone are the days when proprietary standards were in vogue (were they ever, really?). Microsoft doesn’t seem to get that browser interoperability is what is needed and wanted, even at the enterprise level.

Let’s review, shall we?

To avoid seeming like I’m bashing poor SharePoint, let me quickly review what I’ve learned about the platform and compare it against what many still point to as the standards for judging enterprise 2.0 options: Andrew McAfee’s SLATES model:

  • Search. Good for local sites but fail enterprise-wide. Since SP excels at establishing (or maintaining) stovepipes, even discovering that the information exists is near to completely impossible.
  • Links. Nope, not from outside the SP site anyway.
  • Authorship. Nuh-uh. The key words here are “every” and “easy,” neither of which apply to working with SP.
  • Tags. Complete fail. SP is hierarchical and rigid when it comes to putting data in. And since the SP admins dictate the structure, if you’re a user, you’re stuck.
  • Extensions. Hmm, sort of, but only within your SP fiefdom.
  • Signals. Again, if you’re in, you’re in. Notifications are sent to other users of the same SP site.

So here’s your challenge: prove me wrong. Explain why SharePoint in your organization is the best thing since sliced bread. Tell me how it has transformed knowledge sharing, expert finding, reduced redundancy, increased creativity, and generally jazzes your workforce about using it.


I thought so.

Are netbooks worth the hype? [rant/rave]

The recent netbook trend fascinates me. It simultaneously goes against all technology trends toward bigger/faster while reflecting the actual needs of most consumers. Unlike Apple execs who think these are a big waste of time and money, I think there’s some real value from these below entry-level notebooks (which, I might add, are far superior to the OLPC laptop I almost ordered around Christmas before thinking better).

To get a better insight into the appeal of these new low-powered computers, I decided to get some hands-on experience. My criteria were simple:

  1. Cost under $300. I know most reviewers say under $500, but for that kind of money, I can get a nicely equipped full-size refurbed laptop.
  2. Comfortable form factor. If I can’t type at least close to my normal speed, it isn’t going to work for me.
  3. Very portable. While this conflicts a bit with #2, there are subtle design differences that make some netbooks more portable than others.
  4. Fast boot and wake times. This requirement evolved after my experience with the Dell.
  5. Decent battery life. I’ve been disappointed in this area, but consistently so.

Contestant #1: Dell Inspirion Mini 9

dell_inspiron_mini_9_netbookSpecs: Atom 1GHz processor, 16 GB SSD, 1GB RAM, webcam, WinXP
$293 (

After reading dozens of reviews online, I decided to start with the Dell Mini 9. This device seemed to have the best blend of features and at an incredible post-Christmas refurb price blitz that I couldn’t pass up. It’s compact size, lightning-fast boot and sleep recovery times were impressive. It handled Windows XP and typical tasks like word processing and web surfing with admirable aplomb.The 16GB onboard SSD was sufficient, especially when coupled with an additional 16GB SD card, off which I ran Portable Apps. And the 9″ screen seems, to me, to be the perfect size for maximal readability and maximal portability.

I took this to a tech conference to test it in a real life situation and was happy not to have to lug around my Thinkpad. I thought I’d use the built-in webcam to capture a couple sessions, but the resolution is terrible and since it’s fixed pointing at the user, I could not simultaneously type on the Mini and record a presneter.

However, the keyboard is the Dell’s fatal flaw. It’s misplaced apostrophe key increased my typo rate to an unacceptable level, never mind the number of tweets that were sent off mid-thought because I hit the return key by accident. While I could have tried remapping the keyboard, the limited screen rotation angle and stiff mouse buttons made me wonder if there weren’t better options out there. Before its value dropped below what I bought it for, I sold it on eBay…for a nice profit!

Next up…the Acer Aspire One


Specs: Atom 1GHz processor, 8/8 GB SSD, 1GB RAM, webcam; WinXP
$257 (eBay)

The Acer gets rave reviews so once the price came down a bit, I was really looking forward to this being “the one” (pun intended). Out of the box, I could tell the build was slightly cheaper than the Dell, but it was still a good-looking machine. Then I booted it up. And waited. And waited. This thing took nearly three minutes to go from cold to being able to do anything in Windows and even then it was sluggish.

The keyboard was more comfortable to use (the One is a bit wider than the Dell) but there were a few poor design issues. For example, the One is stated to have a “16GB SSD,” but what it really has is an 8GB SSD and an external 8GB SD card. This was perhaps part of the slowness issue, as it worked between the two storage devices. An additional SD card slot was handy except, unlike the Dell which allowed the inserted SD card to be enclosed flush with the outside of the device, the SD card on the One stuck out an 1/8 inch. Lastly, and this is really getting picky, I didn’t like the three-pronged AC cord. What could I possibly not like about it? I wouldn’t have even thought about it had the Dell not come with a two-pronged cord which fit neatly into the dash of my Toyota Matrix. This lack of flexibility was a minor annoyance, but still annoying.

Due to the various design flaws, I didn’t use this long enough to test the battery capacity. Instead, I returned it and started to wonder if there was not yet a decent netbook on the market.

Third time’s a charm?: Asus EeePC 900A


Specs: Atom 1GHz processor, 4 GB SSD (upgraded to 32GB, $71), 1GB RAM (upgraded to 2GB, $20); Linux
$180 + 71 + 20 = $271 total cost

There was something enjoyable about getting my hands on the netbook that started it all. After purchasing the 900 for $160 which came with a 900MHz processor and 512MB RAM, I came across a deal for the 900A for $170 which had the Intel Atom 1GHz processor and 1GB of RAM for just $30 more.

Since the prices were so low, I ordered a 2GB RAM module and 32GB SSD from newegg and put both in the 900A. I then put the 1GB RAM in the 900 (and I put it on eBay). This involved simply removing a two screws for a panel on the bottom, popping out the existing components and plugging in the new ones.

The ease at which any user can mod this netbook indicates Asus designed the EeePC for what it is: a low-cost machine that can be upgraded up with very little money or effort. This is in stark contrast to the other netbooks on the market which requires a high level of technical skill and accepting a huge degree of risk as you immediately void your warranty. I’ve read a few how-tos which seem to indicate adding a $50 touch screen to the Asus is a fairly easy procedure as well so I’m seriously considering that mod!

This was my first foray with Linux (which partly explained the low price – no Windows license). Even though I had no prior experience with Linux, based on several resources and recommendations I decided to replace the default Xanadu with Eeebuntu (an Ubuntu build specifically for the EeePC) on both machines. This was a piece of cake as well: after downloading the image file and using a free utility to load it on a USB drive, I booted off the USB drive and the installation process took care of itself. The Eeebuntu interface is much nicer to use and seems to work much faster than the original OS. In addition, it’s based on Ubuntu and, since Ubuntu recently released an upgrade, I was happy to see that the core OS was upgradable while retaining the specific EeePC modules that make Ubuntu run smoothly on this machine.

The keyboard on the Asus is smaller than either the Dell or Acer but still usable. One startling issue I noticed with the 900 was the heat produced by it. The 900A does not seem to have this same problem.

One fantastic feature is the multi-touch touchpad (similar to Macbooks) which accepts two- and three-finger gestures to scroll and activate context-sensitive menus (like right-clicking). Linux does not provide as much support for this feature as Windows, but it’s still very cool.

Bottom Line: Wait for now

Of all the options, I’m most pleased with the EeePC for a couple of reasons: 1) the low base price means that I could try out a netbook with minimal investment. The ability to easily upgrade the memory and SDD is a huge benefit to me.

So why wait? While the overall design is satisfactory, the keyboard could be improved. The price, while low, didn’t include Windows. While I’m still getting used to Linux, I’m enjoying it so far. The Gnome interface isn’t very different from Windows and the OS runs very quickly on the EeePC. Since nearly every application that I typically use is either available for Linux or has a free alternative, I’m very satisfied with it so far. But…most buyers will still want to opt for Windows since it’s familiar.

I realize that I didn’t test every netbook on the market, mostly since others fail to meet one or more of my criteria. For example, the HP netbook has unacceptable design features like an integrated microphone/headphone jack and the Samsung and MSI Wind are still too expensive for me to seriously consider them “low cost” notebooks. Others include a 10″ screen, which makes the keyboard easier to use but also makes the device a bit too bulky for me to consider it “ultra portable.”

I think the perfect design is still lurking out there and I would encourage anyone who isn’t an “early adopter” to hold off until the market matures a bit.

Banned from Wikipedia: The Aftermath [reconsideration]

As a follow-up to the first post here at, I thought I’d post some additional observations about my experiences with the Wikipedia “admin” community and a “rebel underground” that I learned is moving against the cynical majority. Perhaps there is hope yet for Wikipedia.

reconsidering wikipedia

reconsidering wikipedia

Not one to back down from a confrontation, I continued to press the issue on a Wikipedia administrative page, seeking to get my account unblocked. As I expected, I immediately encountered resistance. What surprised me, though, were how many individuals and how much dialog (mostly rude and condescending) went into my eventual reinstatement (under a new account). However, one (later, two) individuals with credibility within the Wikipedia community had the courage to come to my defense. In conversations with this individual – let’s use the name “Rebel” – I learned that my experience was not unusual and that there are some serious problems with the community.

  • Wikipedians, like many people online, hide behind their virtual identities. The disconnect between a real person and their virtual identity provides a feeling of anonymity which alters behaviors and lowers inhibitions. The Wikipedia gardeners who provided the terse and rude comments I received would likely not have the guts (or good sense) to do so face-to-face. If these same individuals did interact with friends, family, coworkers, or ANYone in the same manner, they would be alienated and/or fired. (Which, ironically, would then support my assertion that they have no life outside of Wikipedia.)
  • Wikipedia senior gardeners should follow their own rules. The hypocrisy I encountered during this experience was perhaps the most appalling aspect of it. Here’s what Rebel had to say:
I believe your experiences are unfortunately fairly representative for quite a few people who try to come here and edit. I think this is a huge problem. It’s gotten very difficult, you’re expected to spend a lot of time knowing tons of policies (our collective policies amount to about 1/4 the size of a bible) before you’re “allowed” (in the social sense) to edit. We’ve in some ways gotten to be a bureaucracy in every sense of the word, often more interested in enforcing the rules than listening to users or even writing the encyclopedia.
At the same time, most of the changes, policies and rules were put there with good intentions: they solve or have solved real problems – but collectively they’re a big burden and drive away tons of interested contributors. 
do i like you? i'm undecided for now

do i like you? i'm undecided for now

I understand the need for rules within a community the size of Wikipedia and the threats that it faces. However, while insisting that I follow voluminous and cumbersome guidelines, the admins/gardeners themselves did not follow the very rules they themselves created. Consider, for a moment, that one of the philosophies is “Don’t bite the newcomer” (I would extend this to cover “infrequent contributors” as well). Or how about “Stay cool” when resolving disputes over articles. How can you expect the less experienced folks to contribute if you are not?

  • The Community is dying. While Wikipedia has grown incredibly for years, that growth has slowed and the number of core users has grown stagnant. According to Rebel:

Wikipedia:WikiProject Editing trends shows that we’ve stopped growing (edits per day remaining constant) and that the number of active admins actually peaked in 2007. The barriers of entry to start editing wikipedia get higher all the time, which is probably one of the reasons for this. I’m interested in finding out ways to become more friendly and approchable [sic] to non-hardcore users.

  • If you’re not “in,” you’re “out.” While being the subject of intense scrutiny, I realized that the admins quickly formed a groupthink about the decision to ban me which was difficult to break. This is typical of old, stagnant groups as evidently Wikipedia has become. Several times, acronyms like AGF (I had to Google that one) and IAR (even Google couldn’t help me figure that one out) were used with no apparent context. Behavior like this is also typical of a close group to “ward off” outsiders; basically, it says, “If you can’t understand our language, you don’t belong here.”From Rebel:

…the insider/outsider problem gets worse with a stagnating userbase in which everybody starts knowing each other and distrusting new users or starting to see them mainly as problems. In some other aspects, it’s a natural sign of an evolving community…

  • Are Wikipedia’s standards for new articles too high? At one point, I read thorugh the notability requirements for Wikipedia articles. These set the bar very high for creating a new article, yet I have since found several existing articles that have not met this requirement since 2007 (as shown by a banner notice). Rebel supported my own hypothesis:

There used to be huge swaths of knowledge missing from wikipedia. Now we’ve covered quite a bit of human knowledge and the focus has shifted from increasing to maintaining it. The likelihood that an edit will improve a well-developed article is lower than the chance it will improve a new stub.

I would recommend that the Wikipedia community rethink its standards. What’s wrong with including knowledge that is peripheral or temporal? Isn’t that adaptability and flexibility partly what sets Wikipedia apart from Brittanica?

So where does this leave me? After much debate (and internal disagreements amongst the Wikipedia admins), I was allowed to start a new account and continue contributing…with Rebel acting as my wiki-chaperone (I did mention the condescension ripe within these folks, right?). So, for now, I will continue to edit periodically. However, I most likely will never start a new page again. The headache and hassle involved in doing it right the first time so either A) my initial hard work doesn’t get destroyed or B) I don’t get in another drag out fight are just not worth it. But I may make the occasional edit now and again to various pages I come across.

As a final thought, I’d like to encourage the admin community to rethink their approach to new and infrequent users. If the community is to continue growing and thriving, long-time editors need to take the time to shepherd junior users like myself. One guideline I push within the enterprise wiki community I help to manage is “garden right or don’t garden at all.” By this, I mean that when editing a new page or leaving messages on talk pages, be courteous, be instructive, and remember that most contributors do not have the expertise and experience of working in the platform as you do. Demanding that every rule be followed dogmatically will only end in Wikipedia’s slow, painful demise as the world’s encyclopedia that, in it’s prime, “anyone could edit.”

Saving the planet one binky at a time [funny]

This morning, as a footnote to Earth Day yesterday, I received the following in an email from a colleague who knows I have kids:

ideal bite's eco pacifiers

ideal bite's eco pacifiers

While I’m all about “saving the planet,” I’ve come up with a much better solution that I’ve used for years and that I think I’ll bring to market soon. Tell me what you think…


The “Totally Healthy Ultra-Mega Binky”

Have kids and concerned about the environment? Need an eco-friendly alternative to mass-produced pacifiers? Then this is the perfect solution for you!



The “THUMB” has been designed to meet the needs of you and your child. It has been carefully designed to be reusable infinite times without degradation in its quality. Compared to most pacifier alternatives, the THUMB is made of all-natural materials, is ultra-portable and completely biodegradable.

The THUMB is also personalized – free! – for your child. And it’s unique technology allows it to grow with your child, adapting to her needs through the years.

But wait, the THUMB has other uses, too! Whether you want to recreate the classic “Fonz” thumbs-up sign, signal that you want to hitchhike, or learn American Sign Language, you’ll find nearly infinite uses for the THUMB.

Act now and you’ll receive a detailed guide showing you how you can start your child’s THUMB today! For only $19.99, this guide details the proper uncurling and insertion of the thumb as a pacifying device completely free of BPAs and all other artificial materials.

Wikipedia: Lord of the Flies [rant]

I have long wanted to disbelieve and dispel the idea that Wikipedia is broken. After all, after over two years as an “enterprise 2.0” trainer and consultant, I have come to firmly believe in the wisdom of crowds and the amazing benefits of social media to improve organizational efficiency.

antiwikipediaBut the Wikipedia community has proved to me that it’s an intolerant environment filled with megalomanical, insecure, intolerant individuals with Napoleonic complexes. And I’m being overly polite to take the higher road (I edited out several names because I felt it was ungentlemanly – my favorite, however, rhymed with “cartouche bag”). I understand as the site started to take off (circa 2004-05) that measures were needed to maintain the quality of the articles. But now the tail is wagging the dog!

If you’ve ever tried to contribute to Wikipedia, but especially within the past year, you can probably identify with the scenario I describe below. Know that you’re not alone!

Here’s the back story: I have been a contributor to Wikipedia for a couple of years. Mind you, I’m not a regular as I don’t have the time to devote to the task. As a husband, father, and full-time worker, as well as having numerous other interests, my contributions have been sporadic, but accurate and well-sourced. I believe in constructive contributions to the space and I was familiar with the high editing standards required by the admins, so I attempted to only create well-formed pages before saving them on Wikipedia. Mind you, this is antithetical to the publish then edit philosophy of web 2.0/social media. Wikipedia was designed to be the opposite of Britannica: anyone can place whatever small nugget of knowledge they have and, in aggregate, the whole becomes larger than any one expert could hope to create.

Recently, I created a page on Wikipedia (I won’t mention which one and I’ll refrain from including the user name I used; I don’t want to leave breadcrumbs to the slander on various pages) I followed a template created for a similar page and did everything I could to create a “good” first page. But my efforts weren’t good enough for the “wiki gods.” Instead, a banner was placed on the page stating that all of my hard work would be deleted quickly unless I managed to appease all of their demands. No comments on the discussion page, no offer to help, nothing to convey any message other than “get out, we don’t want you here.

Wanting to salvage my work (and admittedly with rose-colored glasses masking the ugliness of this first interaction) I made a couple of changes, added an irreverent (but not uncivil) note to the discussion page, and removed a “conflict of interest” comment (because there wasn’t one). Not a good move. I was immediately reprimanded and told that I would be “blocked” if I continued to make “personal attacks.” Again, no discussion, no dialog, no evidence whatsoever that I was working in a social space with a community of users. My ire raised, I made a (somewhat rude) remark in the comments section of my next edit and… I was banned. Mind you, this entire drama played out in the span of just a couple of hours.

still from the 1990 film "Lord of the Flies" (based on the novel)

still from the 1990 film "Lord of the Flies" (based on the novel)

This blow-back astounded and discouraged me. In fact, it reminded me of Lord of the Flies, the famously unnerving book by William Golding in which a group children are stranded on a island, create “tribes,” and devolve into a barbaric state which results in the ultimate death of one of the children. Similarly, those who have risen to the level of admin seem to wield their (somewhat dubious) power to keep others from participating. How is it that a platform originally designed for maximum participation has evolved into a select core of individuals who wield inappropriate levels of technical power? (notice how I carefully avoid the use of words like “leadership” and “authority” as I feel that these folks have none)

To add insult to injury, as I was banned, I could no longer engage in any further discussioneven about my banning – except through an anonymous IP address. Here’s where things got out of control. While I was prevented from leaving a note on the discussion page for the admin who had banned me, I left an entry on one of the help pages to ask for reinstatement. Instead, I was told that even that behavior was considered to be breaking the rules and that my IP (my computer’s “Internet address”) would be banned if I persisted. Persist I had to, as I felt these attacks warrented a response and were, ironically, a personal attack, the very offense I was being accused of. Instead of maturely engaging in a discussion, the admins (as you’ve probably guessed) banned my IP.

So much for “the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.” My experiences suggest that Wikipedia change their tag line to

the free encyclopedia that intolerant individuals without a life let each other edit; go ahead and read some pages and then go away and let us continue to compile our useless knowledge in utter loneliness and shame as we sit in our parent’s basement.

OK, that might be a little long for a tag line. And I’m certainly not the first to talk about censorship and groupthink presaging the end of Wikipedia. But this personal encounter has certainly driven the point home for me.

In a way, I should be thankful that the Wikipedia admin community has removed a potential source of distraction and time-suck for me. I refuse to be part of a dictatorship masquerading as a democracy. I will also approach all Wikipedia entries from this point forward with a jaded and suspicious eye.

For those who find my linking to Wikipedia ironic, I maintain that the quality of information on Wikipedia for many topics is sound. But the editing community has become a monster that will eventually kill itself in its zeal to keep outsiders from entering its gates.