Most people in the world (or at least in the U.S.) use the terms
"conservative" and "progressive" when talking about politics, and associate
them with bundles of viewpoints on society, economics, religion, and so on.
The political aspect is partly relevant to Wikipedia, too, but if we just
take them as words with literal meanings, we'll have to talk about some
other aspects, too. Here are the ones I can think of, in a mostly-random

Aspect1: Fact-checking, trust, and reliability

Fact-checking, trust, and reliability on Wikpiedia should be conservative,
but in a way that is thoughtful and open to challenging itself. It's a
difficult and often overlooked point. In non-wiki encyclopedias the writers
are selected by the publisher: the publisher trusts the writers, and the
readers trust the publisher's brand. I'm intentionally not saying "printed"
or "old" encyclopedias, but "non-wiki" encyclopedias. They are still being
produced, in print and digitally—see my Wikimania 2014 talk[1] for just one

Our wiki model wants to let everyone write, and writers are not pre-vetted,
so our solution for trust is demanding reliable sources, which is why
Wikipedia articles in many languages have a lot of footnotes. Other
encyclopedias usually don't have footnotes, although some do have a
"further reading" or "bibliography" at the end of some articles, but they
are provided for further research and not for proof. The Wikpiedia attitude
to sources, known as "Verifiability" in the English Wikipedia, solidified
around 2005. It makes a lot of sense for a wiki encyclopedia, and it is one
of our cornerstones, at least in the larger languages. (The details of the
policy in each language may be different, but the general idea is the same.
If it's significantly different in your language, please tell me.)

The problem with this attitude is that it outsources trust to other
publishers: non-wiki encyclopedias, academic journals, newspapers and news
sites, and occasionally other sources. The better-known issue with it is
deciding which external sources are reliable. The less-known, but perhaps
even trickier issue is what to do about topics that should be covered in an
encyclopedia, but about which there is no coverage in what Wikipedia
editors would call "reliable sources" because of systemic bias, that is
because the people who are involved with the topic had historically less or
no access to academic publishing? Some people propose relaxing the demand
for external reliable source for such topics, and while I'm totally on
board with the social justice aspect of this attitude, it doesn't suggest a
solution to the trust problem: some people will use it to enrich Wikipedia
with information that can't be found elsewhere, but some people may abuse
it to add made up stuff.

I have a proposed solution for this problem, and although some people would
disagree, I call it conservative: Keep the demand for verifiability, and
help people who have been historically disadvantaged get access to trusted
academic institutions and conduct and publish their research outside of
Wikipedia first. The WMF and its partners can do it. It's not easy, but I
just don't see any other solution to the trust issue. I call this attitude
"conservative" because I want to preserve the trust in external knowledge
institutions, and keep the "outsourcing". It's not exactly what the current
strategy recommendation[2] says, and I respectfully doubt that that
recommendation is going to work.

Aspect 2: Technology

Should be reasonably progressive, of course, in the sense of using
reasonably modern design principles and implementations. We are outdated in
some ways: talk pages are a disaster, the jQuery JavaScript framework is
quite old (and is being gradually replaced), many templates are too
difficult to maintain, code review and feature deployment are not as robust
as they should be, and there are many other issues.

We shouldn't be *too* progressive, though: we should not jump on every
buzzword bandwagon and not to change design concepts and development
frameworks every year, as some sites do. It's probably good that we are not
jumping on the blockchain bandwagon at all, and that we are jumping on the
artificial "intelligence" bandwagon in a careful and measured way (ORES is
helpful, but keeps the human decision in the loop).

Talk pages are a particularly curious kind of disaster. Many Wikipedians
tend to be very conservative about them and don't want any technology
changes in them, but talk pages are not a continuation of any previous
tradition of encyclopedic writing or of Internet culture—they are
Wikipedia's own invention. Is it good that the community, or at least some
parts of it, is so conservative about it? Not really, and it causes serious
damage as time goes by, but arguing with these passionate people is

Aspect 3: Presentation style

Should be conservative in the sense of continuing a centuries-old tradition
of writing encyclopedias, but update things where needed. Here's a small
thing we rarely think about: Why are the first words of an article written
in bold font in Wikipedia in almost all languages? Because printed
encyclopedias tried to save paper by combining the article title with the
first sentence.

Should we remove this bold font because it requires a bit of effort in
writing every article, and this effort adds up, and we don't need to save
paper? No, we shouldn't. We do it out of respect to a tradition of
encyclopedic typography, and it's worth the effort.

Another similar thing is the parentheses after the title in the first
paragraph. Sometimes the part in the parentheses gets too long, and Kaldari
described this problem in a brilliant and funny English Wikipedia Signpost
article [3] . Like the bold font, it is also a typographic tradition. It
has gotten out of hand in Wikipedia thanks to otherwise good things like
the diversity of writers and the availability of fonts for various
languages. Should we just kill it? Probably not, because this tradition is
also mostly good, but we should move the excessively long stuff from
parentheses to footnotes or infoboxes.

Should we "pivot to video" because "people don't read text anymore"? No. We
should probably use more video where it's useful, but it doesn't replace

Should we use emojis in article text because "that's how young people write
these days"? No, and not because emojis are "silly", but because they are
good for expressing moods and emotions, and not good for documenting
precise facts. Wikipedia is not about moods and emotions, but about
documenting facts. If some day emojis acquire a clear, unambiguous meaning
that is useful for describing facts, then maybe they can be used in

Should we make articles shorter because people don't read long articles?
Here my answer is Yes, but not by deleting everything except the first
paragraph, as some people occasionally suggest, but by judicious splitting
(English Wikipedia description of splitting: ).

Aspect 4: Political viewpoints

Should be neutral, of course, and neither conservative nor progressive. But
"neutral" doesn't mean giving every weird point of view the same weight.
There is a section on "Due and undue weight" in the "Neutrality" policy
page in the English Wikipedia:
. Other languages may describe it differently. Objectivity, neutrality,
fairness, and balance are related, but not identical. It's, of course, one
of the biggest challenges, but we are all trying, aren't we.

So, these are the four aspects of conservativeness and progressiveness I
can think of when talking about Wikipedia. There are probably more.


Amir Elisha Aharoni · אָמִיר אֱלִישָׁע אַהֲרוֹנִי
‪“We're living in pieces,
I want to live in peace.” – T. Moore‬

‫בתאריך יום ד׳, 27 במאי 2020 ב-16:37 מאת ‪Ziko van Dijk‬‏ <‪‬‏>:‬

> Dear fellows,
> Some time ago, Joseph Reagle wrote that an encyclopedia must be
> progressive. In my personal view, something "progressive" sounds to me
> intuitively more sympathetic than something "conservative". But of course,
> these are only two words loaden with meaning, and reality is always more
> complex.
> It seems to me that many Wikipedians or Wikimedians think of themselves as
> being progressive and modern. Our wikis are a tribute to science and
> enlightenment. Spontaneity and a laissez-faire-attitude are held in high
> regard; "productive chaos" and "anarchy" are typical for wikis.
> When I had a closer look at our values and ideas, I got the impression that
> the opposite is true. Many attitudes and ideals sound to me more like
> bureaucracy and traditionalism:
> * being thorough, with regard to content and writing about it
> * community spirit
> * treating everyone equally without regard of the person (the highest ideal
> of the Prussian civil servant)
> * individual initiative
> * reliability
> What do you think? Is this just my personal or national background, or has
> Wikipedia been build up on a different basis than we usually tell ourselves
> and others?
> Kind regards
> Ziko
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