Notability is the opposite of Neutrality
I thought you might like to know that the referenced article:
has been reprieved.
As of the 16th of August, 2011, the argument page is frozen and will be maintained. How long was the argument? The final tally was:
DELETION ARGUMENT: 10,427 WORDS
… article fought over: 2,806 words
Since being saved, in a matter of days the article has more than doubled in size. Even so, the actual argument for deletion is still many times larger than the article.
This seems a clear indication the deletion issue is not one of space.
“A 2006 estimate says that pages about Wikipedia governance and policy entries are one of the fastest-growing areas of Wikipedia and contain about one quarter of its content.”
That’s right, a quarter of Wikipedia content is devoted to Wikipedia policy.
Or was five years ago. It could well be much worse now.
what is wikipedia?
What if everyone was given free access to the sum of all human knowledge? Within the last 10 years, this seemingly utopian idea has resulted in nothing less than the largest collection of human knowledge ever created. Independent, unrestrictedly accessible, and non-commercial.”
That’s pretty much how most of us think of Wikipedia, but is it true?
In the beginning, all knowledge was welcome in Wikipedia. If there was an article you thought should be written but didn’t know enough, you could write a starter article or “stub” as the placeholder, and other Wikipedians would fill in the blanks afterward.
When additional information is wanted to provide context for an article, say about the inventor of something, or a related event, the thing wanted was highlighted or “marked up” in red, to alert Wikipedians about a knowledge gap.
But that’s not what happens now. Any new article is subject to being weeded out if it isn’t complete enough or important enough. Deletionism runs rampant within the pages of Wikipedia.
And the Wikipedia reality is that information ceases to be accessible after it is deleted.
red letter “mark up”
The Mark Duggan article was begun as a response to a red letter “request” to fill in the gap of the developing Wikipedia article about the British riots that were triggered by his death. Wikipedians were diverted from article building into days of lobbying to stave off the article’s proposed deletion. All because a Wikipedian decided Mark Duggan wasn’t notable.
Was this good for Wikipedia?
I’ve just learned that an article about Peter MacDonald, the founder of the first Linux distribution, has fallen victim to deletion. That is beyond incredible. How on earth can Wikipedia be trusted if the biography of someone who has made important technological contribution to our world can be excluded from Wikipedia because someone decides he isn’t “notable”?
You can find the stub of what would have been an article about Peter MacDonald in a Google cache “Article Incubator/Peter MacDonald (computer programmer)” but since it doesn’t show up in Wikpedia I think it has been axed.
Both articles were begun in response to red letter mark up which indicates other Wikipedia articles deem them “notable”.
The Marketplace Tech Report podcast Wikipedia loses contributors says Wikipedia’s recent focus on “quality” means that today’s would-be contributions are more likely to be rejected by Wikipedia editors.
This is worse than I thought.
The twin issues of “deletionism” and “notability” are in fact in direct opposition to the stated goal of collecting “the sum of all human knowledge” together within the virtual pages of Wikipedia. Knowledge is collected by some, others presume to decide what is notable, at best a highly subjective call.
I did a bit of onine research on Peter MacDonald last night, and was able to find enough citable online pages – including a Wikipedia page with the man’s name marked up in red – that I would be able to build him a reasonable biography page, even though yesterday was the first I heard of him.
Does that mean he’s not notable? Hardly. There is a vast amount of human knowledge. the best any of us can do is to try to learn the bits that are relevant to our own lives.
That doesn’t mean that what’s relevant to us is relevant to others. Because I’m a Canadian writer, it would be ridiculous for me to decide what information was relevant to a doctor, or what was relevant information for an Australian. I lack the training for one, and the cultural background for the other.
At the same time, it would be equally impossible for me to decide what information will be relevant to me in the future. Today information on the properties of an arcane poison may have no value for me, but tomorrow it may be critical to a murder mystery I write.
The very idea of “notability” is not only relative, it’s fluid. None of us know what information we need until we need it. Excluding information on this basis is folly.
This argument is new to me, as I’ve only been a netizen for a few years. But this issue has been raging at least since 2008, when Glyn Moody wrote:
…there is no good reason why [Wikipedia] shouldn’t include entries on anything. After all, nobody forces you to read the stuff, and it’s not as if it’s sitting on your bookshelves.”
—Glyn Moody, Includipedia – Count Us In
The digital world makes it possible for a real word “Encyclopedia Galactica” to exist. That’s what most of us thought Wikipedia was. But perhaps not, maybe H2G2 or something similar will end up filling that need.
Because it is a real need. Humans have sought to itemize our universe to the best of our ability from the beginning of recorded history, and presumably earlier. We want a repository of all human knowledge.
But what we don’t want is one that employs censorship under the guise of editorial “notability.” Perhaps we should begin redirecting our Wikipedia donations to Deletionpedia, a site that hosts more than 60,000 web pages that have been deleted from Wikipedia since 2009. That’s astounding.
It is hard to build, but easy to tear down. This kind of thing has gone on for the length of human history.
The ancient Egyptians deleted a great deal of their history as successive pharaohs eradicated records of predecessors they didn’t like. This was a little more difficult than today’s push of a “delete” button, since many Egyptian records were graven in stone. When Wikipedia articles are deleted they don’t leave visible scars.
Deletionism seems to be equal parts bullying and censorship. One of the greatest ironies is that deletions are made under the aegis of neutrality. Like any “for our own good” pro censorship argument.
Deletion beyond fact checking or spam busting is anything but neutral.
Deleting someone else’s article because it isn’t important to you allows the imposition of your wordview on others. It’s a way to overpower someone else, to negate their words and impose your own superiority. Your prowess. Survival of the fittest? Or is it simply virtual bullying?
Creation is hard work, whereas destruction is dead easy. The power to dictate what may or may not be included is an easy way of gaining personal power.
In the schoolyard, when another kid steals your lunch money, punches in your face or stamps your homework into the mud it’s called bullying. The bully uses his/her asocial tendencies and superior physical power to single out, intimidate and dominate selected schoolmates for his or her own personal aggrandizement.
In Wikipedia, the virtual bullies delete your work, using asocial tendencies and superior bureaucratic power to single out new users and intimidate opponents with reams of policy and interpretation, dominating them via exclusion for his or her own personal aggrandizement.
When I argued in favor of keeping “The Death of Mark Duggan” another Wikipedian affixed a Single-Purpose account tag to my comment. This is a charming Wikipedia way of hanging a sign over someone’s head to indicate that their words are suspect, due to newness, bias, or it may even be a “sock puppet” accusation. The irony is that I created a new account in my real name, precisely because I had blogged about it and wanted to be above board. This type of bullying falls under the categories of Ad hominem attacks or namecalling.
When an argument is decided on merit, it doesn’t matter who makes it. If the weight of the argument shifts based on who made it, the issue is politics, not merit.
Is Wikipedia an information resource or the personal fiefdom of the most ruthless editorial posse?
In reality, affixing a tag like this serves to discredit opposition. It is a way of singling out and discount the views of new Wikipedians, effectively shutting them up. As far as I’m concerned, it is simply bullying. This is a policy and atmosphere unlikely to attract or keep many female Wikipedia volunteers.
The only truly neutral point of view would be to allow every factually correct article to stand. To allow “the sum of all human knowledge” to exist within Wikipedia.
“We are not replenishing our ranks. It is not a crisis,
but I consider it to be important.”
— Wikipedia founder, Jimmy Wales
The effect of the deletion policy has been to alienate many contributors.
Along with many potential contributors.
The problem is that people who are interested in sharing their knowledge — that are willing to volunteer their time and expertise to do so — quickly burn out if they are forced to fight for every syllable.
This is Wikipedia’s loss.
While many Wikipedians stand guard against vandalism from without, the greatest danger to the future of Wikipedia is the elitism of deletionism, the vandalism from within.
Wikipedia Logo Fair Use/Fair Dealing
Glyn Moody photo by Stuart Yeates under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) License
Hatshepsut by Wikipedia user Postdlf under the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 and the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0) license.
Jimmy Wales photo by Joi Ito under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license