Wikipedia's Technological Obscurification: Three ways Wikipedia keeps 99% of the population from participating

The special coding Wikipedia has developed for its user-edited pages is powerful. Some shortcuts are simple and elegeant — you just put [[square brackets]] around words to make them into links, and clicking on the link will automatically either take you to an existing page, or let you create a new one.

But as Wikipedia has grown in size and complexity, the code of its pages has become harder for newbies to read. I’ve never encountered negative vibes from someone who’s come along after me and cleaned up my sloppy coding, and learning this sort of thing is part of my job description as a new media teacher. Nevertheless, I can see how intimidating it could be for someone whose subject matter expertise is in the history of Latvia or the cultural significance of oregano.

I just came across this older post by Jason Calacanis, who expresses the issue in stronger terms than I would use, but he really gets to the point.

We’ve been talking a lot about the Wikipedia recently here at, and I wanted to make my podcast from last week a little more clear. I spoke of technological obsurification–the process of using obscure technology to keep people from participating.

Having spent seven days at the Wikimania and hacking days last year in Boston I’ve learned a lot about the insular culture of Wikipedia, how they make decisions, and how they block participation. Yes, you read that last part correctly. The Wikipedia is currently designed to lower participation so it is easier to manage.

Now, I’m not saying it’s wrong to limit participation in Wikipedia–perhaps that’s what necessary to keep the project on track. However, I think we should be really honest about the fact that Wikipedia is not an open system–at least not open in the sense that anyone can participate.