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3dp_wikipedia_logoBeing a Wikipedia editor is absurdly hard and usually pretty thankless work. With well over five million articles available on Wikipedia, many of which need to be regularly monitored, edited and kept up to date, the system relies on a dedicated community of unpaid editors who donate their free time to keep everything as encyclopedic as possible. Over all, Wikipedia is remarkably accurate and trustworthy, and that is primarily due to the community’s strict editing and sourcing guidelines, their willingness to self-enforce Wikipedia rules and standards, and to diligently police their user base.

As you would imagine, when that many people from all over the world come together occasionally things are going to get complicated and maintaining the neutral and indifferent tone that is generally required is going to become subjective. Over the years plenty of publications have exposed some problems in the way that Wikipedia pages are managed, usually related to topics of gender or race. However disagreements between editors are often common, and while Wikipedia has ways to settle disputes, the sheer scale of the website means that most simply need to play themselves out. This often leads editors to become quite territorial of articles that they have spent a lot of time on, and it occasionally leads to overzealous editors applying their own editorial standards to articles with little to no oversight.

Editing or digital vandalism?

Editing or digital vandalism?

As of February 24th the Wikipedia entry for the RepRap Project looked like this. The article was well over 30,000 words and as you can see covered virtually every aspect of the long history of RepRap. However an editor named Jytdog took issue with some of the lax sourcing on the page and did what really can only be described as a hatchet job to the article. They removed virtually everything on the page regardless of accurate sources and replaced it with a single paragraph that erroneously conflated RepRepPro with the RepRap Project, a mistake that someone who has a working knowledge of the history of desktop 3D printing would not make.

Now, I do want to be fair to Jydog here, if you read over the original entry for RepRap Project, there were plenty of unsourced and outdated citations that needed to be updated and fixed. But rather than repair the article Jydog simply unceremoniously removed it all, reducing one of the most important movements within the 3D printing community to fewer words than a typical footnote. And while some of the citations and sources were dead or outdated, most of them were not. It was a strange and overly aggressive edit, but within the edit history log (Wikipedia keeps logs and copies of everything done to a page and editors need to explain why edits were made) Jytdog made his reasons for the dramatic cut very clear.

02:04, 24 February 2016Jytdog (talk | contribs)‎ . . (2,891 bytes) (-30,075)‎ . . (good now we can start getting rid of all this goddamned self promotional content. there has been so. much. abuse.)”

When Vik Olliver, one of the primary RepRap Project team members, tried to correct the errors, any revisions that he made were immediately undone. That isn’t especially odd considering Wikipedia generally discourages people related to subjects from participating in editing their own pages. But when another editor named Captain Yuge came along and tried to piece back together some of the original article, those edits were also undone rather quickly. When I spoke to Vik he made it clear that both he and Adrian Bowyer were more than willing to work with the editor to put together a properly cited article, and even put together a temporary version that they were happy to work with Jytdog on. Sadly, despite saying otherwise, Jytdog seems especially un-interested in working with either of them in good faith, instead revealing some rather obvious biases:

“Would you mind terribly marking up a few so we can have some concrete examples as reference points for our fixes? Vik :v) (talk) 04:22, 12 March 2016 (UTC)”

 

“Come on. Just read it. So many unsourced things! “14 April 2008. Possibly the first end-user item is made by a RepRap: a clamp to hold an iPod securely to the dashboard of a Ford Fiesta.” That is just one, but you know how to look for citations. The entire section on “Commercial applications” is unsourced. Promotionally… the whole thing about the goal of ” asymptotically approach 100% replication over a series of evolutionary generations” which has not happened at all, and appears unlikely to. The promotional “revolution in STEM education” bit, sourced to a conference abstrat. This is very far from WP:NPOV. Again it is great content for a lab website. Jytdog (talk) 08:44, 12 March 2016 (UTC)”

 

“Fixed that first reference (Financial Times as it happens), added a few citations to the “Commercial Applications” section – will get more. You may not agree with the RepRap Project’s goals, but that does not change what they are. Please explain why an in-context conference abstract is not admissible as a citation given that Wikipedia supports {{Cite conference}}.Vik :v) (talk) 05:56, 13 March 2016 (UTC)”

 

“The goal is great. It is just that it was set 10 years ago and reality has not turned out that way. See here for example. There was little about real world impact – how it is going, how it is not going, in the article was and in that draft article. 3D printing remains niche-y. I know lots of people and maybe one has a 3D printer. This is what happens when people who have conflicts of interest write Wikipedia articles. Too close to the vision. Passion is a double-edged sword that way. It drives people to contribute but you only get the fans or the haters, and encyclopedic content goes out the window. I would love to see a good, well-sourced, NPOV article on RepRap. Jytdog (talk) 06:09, 13 March 2016 (UTC)”

So because Jytdog only knows a single person with a 3D printer, and Jytdog doesn’t believe that the RepRap Project has met its goals within the time frame that Jytdog thinks is acceptable they’re essentially dismissing any attempts to correct the article. It is an absurd abuse of power, even for a Wikipedia editor, and it seems unlikely to end any time soon. I don’t take issue with Jytdog’s assertion that the article needed a lot of work, but beyond removing some rather blatantly poorly sourced entries on the page, deleting the entire thing when they don’t have any alternative seems more like vandalism than editing.

Photographed by Lane Hartwell (http://fetching.net/) on behalf of the Wikimedia Foundation

Photographed by Lane Hartwell (http://fetching.net/) on behalf of the Wikimedia Foundation

Wikipedia has been making a concerted effort to correct and maintain the quality of many of their content related to technology lately, so it is understandable that the original flawed article would be targeted at some point. But how much oversight is given to random editors with dubious knowledge of the page that they’re editing? And what options are available to a community when a clearly biased and unknowledgeable editor has set up shop on a page and refuses to allow any edits that don’t pass their frankly arbitrary standards? While Jytdog has allowed the article to balloon up to an impressive three paragraphs at this point, they still seem to be enforcing some rather draconian standards. For instance:

“All three axes are driven by stepper motors, in X and Y via a timing belt and in Z by a leadscrew.[citation needed]

Lead screws attached to the z axis are a real thing, I promise.

Lead screws attached to the Z-axis are a real thing, I promise.

A citation is needed for something that is clearly visible in the pages and pages of blueprints and schematics for a RepRap 3D printer? How exactly does that make sense? That’s like saying that if the entry on Automobiles states that most of them are turned on by a key it would need a citation. This lack of citation could be cleared up by linking to the actual RepRap files showing this to be true, but Jytdog has deemed a link to the RepRap Wiki to be insufficient because it is promotional. But how is it promotional to posts sources to the very subject of the page?

Look, I respect the idea of maintaining truthful and accurate information on Wikipedia. And as someone who often gets annoyed at the misrepresentation of 3D printing technology, I understand the need to be strict. It may seem silly to worry about an accurate Wikipedia page, however this isn’t just about who is right and who is wrong, this is about online visibility. Wikipedia is the seventh most visited website online, so having that page be accurate and representational in important. But having a page detailed a project that is hugely influential to an eight billion dollar industry reduced to two paragraphs is essentially erasing the history of our industry. I’m not saying that the article shouldn’t have been flagged for editing and clean up, but maybe someone who doesn’t know the difference between the RepRap Project and RepRapPro isn’t the one to do it.

Note: I don’t want to cause any further drama on the RepRap Project page, and it has already been locked down once. I would encourage any readers who are as annoyed and confused by this as I am to refrain from making further edits to avoid needless lockdowns. However any experienced Wikipedia editors who have a familiarity with RepRap and 3D printing technology who could work with Vik Olliver and Adrian Bowyer would be welcome additions to the conversation of how to rebuild the page.

What do you think of this Wikipedia fiasco? Discuss in the RepRap Project Wikipedia Page forum over at 3DPB.com.

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