Bertrand Meyer And Wikipedia

BertrandMeyer is mad at WikiPedia. After reviewing the discussion (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Eiffel_programming_language), it says here that both sides are at fault. That is, if Wikipedia can be considered a "side"--like many wikis, it's more of a community than a single entity, and failure to understand this point is rather commonplace.

What happened is this: Meyer showed up on Wikipedia and begin editing the article on EiffelLanguage (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eiffel_programming_language). Meyer's edits were NPOV and professional; he wasn't engaging in any attempt to make him (or his language) look better in the encyclopedia. In the process, Meyer added blue-colored text to some of his code samples; as is encouraged in much Eiffel documentation and done in many Eiffel tools. Someone else suggested--on the talk page--that Wikipedia style guidelines discourage use of color in article text (ignoring the blue for links and red for missing links); indeed, Wikipedia's style guides do.

Meyer went batshit.

He insisted that the blue color be used; as it is essential to the formatting and presentation of Eiffel code. Some other Wikipedia editors attempted to mediate the situation, suggesting that editing Wikipedia wasn't unlike publishing in an academic journal; wherein one is expected to conform to the journal's editorial standards (and accept peer review)--and that on Wikipedia, peer review comes in real time. A compromise was proposed--code samples in frames (apart from the body of the text) could be in color, but inline code samples should follow Wikipedia's style guidelines. However, a few other editors, including DavidMertz (who suffers fools about as well as Meyer does, and is an experienced Wikipedia hand--he edits Wikipedia as "Lulu of the Lotus-Eaters", or LotLE, for those reading along at home), upped the batshit ante, suggesting in no uncertain terms that Meyer would not be genuflected to. A few other Wikipedia editors were even more rude, comparing Meyer's actions to that of CarlHewitt, and suggesting that as Eiffel's designer he had no business editing the article. (Wikipedia policy does discourage persons from editing articles on topics where a conflict of interest would ensue).

After a few rounds of abuse in both directions, Meyer decided he didn't want to participate in Wikipedia, and denounced the encyclopdia as "arrogant incompetence". Further escalating things, he attempted to delete his contributions, claiming that he was revoking the right of Wikipedia to use his words. Several other editors pointed out that by posting to Wikipedia, Meyer had effectively placed his words under the GFDL, meaning that Wikipedia had a right to include them. Several rounds of delete/restore ensued, after which an admin blocked Meyer for 24 hours for violating the "three revert rule" (Wikipedia's version of DeleteOnceRestoreOnce). Meyer now has an placeholder on his home page for a forthcoming document called "Wikipedia: The new totalitarianism", and went and deleted his picture from his biographical article, claiming that it constituites a violation of privacy (he may have a case under French law, although whether French law can reach the US-based Wikipedia is a good question). JimboWales has commented that Meyer was treated rather harshly by Wikipedia editors who should know better than to bite newbies, especially one with Meyer's (scholarly) reputation, but Meyer seems to be unrepetant in his now-strong dislike for Wikipedia.
All this comes as a radical change to Meyer's formerly glowing opinion of Wikipedia. In January 2006, he wrote:

...the project, while perhaps not living up to the hype of its most fervent promoters, has become a superbly useful tool for Web-based fact-finding...

And, after someone edited the GermanWikipedia to say that he died last year, he wrote:

In the end does this little episode change my view of Wikipedia as expressed above? No. I can't really see ground for any modification of substance. The system succumbed to one of its potential flaws, and quickly healed itself. This doesn't affect the big picture. Just like those about me, rumors about Wikipedia's downfall have been grossly exaggerated.

(Both quotes from: http://www.eiffel.com/general/monthly_column/2006/January.html)

My take: The whole episode is a shame; in particular to see two distinguished academics getting into an edit war over a highly trivial matter. Wikipedia could use more editors who know what they are doing. The experienced editors of the article were needlessly rude, and some of them seemed to take delight in hurling abuse at Bertrand. OTOH, Meyer, it seems, was being Meyer--he's used to being given a wide degree of deference, expected such at Wikipedia (especially on a subject where it's undisputed that he is the expert), and when it was clear that it wasn't forthcoming, he took his ball and went home. It's as if he went to a speak at a conference at MIT, got heckled by some idiot in the audience, and then proceeded to insist that the whole city of Boston was a thoroughly rotten place.
I don't see it as "deference." It's about treating people with the same respect they give to you. Meyer was clearly a Wikipedia supporter making a sincere effort to improve an article (and he's obviously the most qualified expert on the subject to do so). The Wikipedia community brilliantly showed their usual disrespect for knowledgeable experts and managed to thorougly piss him off.

Wikipedia's rule about "not allowing color in code areas" is, like the majority of their style rules, ill-considered and entirely arbitrary. I'm sure everyone involved knew this. A few people insisted it be enforced, even though it made sense in this case to ignore it. Meyer became irritated with this; I'm sure most of us would've felt the same way.

The "don't edit articles you have a personal involvement in" rule is wrong, as it clearly isn't serving its intended purpose. Quacks still continue to write pro-quackery medical articles under various pseudonyms, yet people who really know something about a subject area are forbidden from writing about it. If Meyer hadn't been truthful and presented himself as JoeSchmoe123 instead, he would've had free rein to make whatever changes he wanted.

Wikipedia has done a consistently first-class job of pissing off experts. The way Carl Hewitt was treated was shameful, even though I don't agree with many of his actions on the site. There have been other similar episodes, unfortunately.
CategoryEiffel

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