A comment by Bhneihouse has just led me down a line of thought I do think is fundamental here. I'll try to sum up where I came out and also how I voyaged. I think the latter matters as much if not more. A lot of points and questions that instinctively feel pivotal, came up on the way.
- Bhneihouse's example
Bhneihouse poses as an example: suppose our goal (her word: "brand") is to be a neutral high quality reference source. Then we may need to remove things and people who do not have a place. If we identify as an encyclopedia "anyone can edit" then we may decide we should not remove anyone, however badly they act.
I thought about this (I hope you can follow this rambling journey):
- Real life is multiple priorities in tension
The problem is, Wikipedia has always aimed to be a balanced fusion of two things - the encyclopedia it produces, and the community that creates it. To start from one point ("It's a neutral high quality encyclopedia") and deduce all we should do, would be like having a goal "I want to be physically fit" and deducing we ruthlessly remove all from our lives that doesn't directly facilitate that. The truth is we want rounded lives, and we have multiple goals. There is natural tension between those multiple goals, but we still don't choose one and ditch the rest, or try to find "one goal that overrides them all". We navigate round the disparate goals and the tensions between them, and we try to reduce the tensions where uncomfortable and find what seems a balance we like, by experiencing doing so.
In Wikimedia terms, we also have multiple goals, because we need both a thriving strong publicly open community, and a neutral high quality factual product, and those two are in tension. We could emphasize the former and have a nice wiki that's got decent stuff (ish) but hey, everyone really can edit. We can have such high quality that only a few editors are allowed to put a foot there. Anywhere in between, there's not so much right and wrong, there's more a natural tension and a balance.
- Fuzzy grayness
Places in-between are the gray fuzzy area. They often can't be easily computed philosophically from first principles. They're more a case of explore and experiment, have a go, and then fine tune.
- Quality has cost
We can't get perfect quality without so restricting the editorship as to kill the project anyway. So the question can get tipped on its head: How much quality should we be prepared to sacrifice, to allow what level of public editorship.
We can stack the odds in a huge number of ways - filtering who can edit to bias the pool towards good editors, educate and guide newcomers, have good measures to mitigate the problems of bad editors, etc etc. But though these stack the odds, the foundational question stems directly from Bhneihouse's question "what does Wikipedia stand for". (The answer will change over time):
How much quality should we be prepared to sacrifice, to allow what level of public editorship?
Or if you prefer:
What degree of cost to the community is "too much", ie, the point where we cannot seek more quality without undue harm in some other area?
We can, of course, make sophisticated decisions here, or accept problems now for benefits long term. Thus we can (for example) change some ground rules now, that will be painful but necessary; discriminate quality areas where we have to guard ruthlessly from those we can't guard so well at this time, and so on.
I think this is an interesting question, and yes, we have to be ready to make tradeoffs.
But I think I have to question the assumption that there's an inherent community/quality tradeoff. Aren't there potential solutions that improve both quality AND community?
(Not that it isn't a useful exercise to ask how far you would go to develop community and/or quality.)
to make the point, I had to use polar opposites. Real life is somewhere in the middle.
Please do not confuse the words "goal" and "brand." As you stated, there can be several goals simultaneously; there can only be ONE brand.
I think your statements are oversimplifications of a very complex issue. If you understand how most entrepreneurial companies start up, and how they grow and change, you can use that lens to get a better grip on the whole concept of Wikipedia. Wikipedia may be growing past its infancy and toddlerhood and entering an uneasy adolescence during which things change that some people want to hold onto. I am not in this statement advocating any specific path. i am rather asking that we take a look at what it takes to get where Wikipedia is going and what we need to take into account for Wikipedia to stay genuine.
My daughter is a perfect example. I do not carve her out of the block of marble that her life is. I give her the tools that allow her to become what she is supposed to be. I do not create the "supposed to", she does. Because of a lot of circumstance, we have had to make constant course corrections. My life has become a dance around her course corrections. but because I love her and am committed to her I do it willingly, even when, as in this week, my entire life is sidetracked by her course corrections.
Wikipedia is still carving itself out of that block of marble. I dance around it because I see its value. i also know it will emerge as itself over time, and that many course corrections will be made in time. I know all of this, because I have helped raise over ten children in my lifetime, and I have run five entreprenurially based companies, three of them mine. I am currently shaping another stat up for a friend of mine and guiding him through the same process. it is never painless.
If people care to research the course of entrepreneurial startups or to try to better understand how things change as people and companies grow up, then maybe all these growing pains I beleive I am seeing as people struggle with what needs to go and what needs to remain at Wikipedia would cease being such a struggle.
just mho but one I think is worthy of consideration.