I’m a Wikipedia Inclusionist

Wikipedia is not a paper encyclopedia and most of its contents are naked text that hardly takes up any disk space. Thus there is no reason to limit the subjects its contributors can write about. Fans have written hundreds of detailed articles about Pokémon characters. This is fine with me though I have no interest in the subject: the articles are not in my way and they are apparently of interest to a lot of other people.

When I started adding my first bits of stuff to the Swedish version of the encyclopedia, I was surprised to find that higher-up users would delete my short contributions about individual archaeologists. They clearly only wanted to have longer articles about professors and their ilk. There’s even a long ego-boosting discussion preserved on-line about whether or not yours truly was interesting enough to merit an article.

This all surprised me. Why would anybody want to remove articles on topics that someone found interesting enough to write about? I now realise that what I have been seeing is an on-going battle between inclusionists and deletionists. A fine recent article in The Economist lays the matter out clearly.

“Deletionists believe that Wikipedia will be more successful if it maintains a certain relevance and quality threshold for its entries. So their ideal Wikipedia might contain biographies of the five most important leaders of Solidarity, say, and the five most important Pokémon characters, but any more than that would dilute Wikipedia’s quality and compromise the brand. The presence of so many articles on trivial subjects, they argue, makes it less likely that Wikipedia will be taken seriously, so articles dealing with trivial subjects should be deleted.”

This concern about Wikipedia’s “brand” makes no sense to me. Wikipedia is far beyond the level where it need prove anything to the world. It’s there, it’s huge, it’s extremely useful, and whenever I find it lacking on some point I have endless opportunity to do something about it.

I’m an inclusionist, and proud of it.

Thanks to Marcus Widengren for the tipoff.

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Comments

  1. #1 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    March 17, 2008
  2. #2 kai
    March 17, 2008

    In my opinion it is exactly those weird and narrow-interest articles that makes Wikipedia useful, because they cover subjects that would not be found in other dictionaries, yet are so useful for understanding what other people are talking about–a true instantiation of what in Swedish used to be known as konversationslexikon.

  3. #3 kai
    March 17, 2008

    Yeahyeah, I know the difference between a dictionary and an encyclopædia, I just got a little careless there…

  4. #4 Johan Lundström
    March 17, 2008

    I laughed at the line “gossen Ruda inom svensk arkeologi” (vaguely translated: “the naughty boy of Swedish archeology”) in that deletion debate about you in the Swedish Wikipedia.

  5. #5 Joshua Zelinsky
    March 17, 2008

    I’m very involved in the English Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:JoshuaZ ) and am generally pretty inclusionist but there are decent arguments for deletionism that cannot be trivially dismissed.

    First, you aren’t looking at the majority of the deletion log; on any given day we get hundreds of articles that are about things peoples’ pets, their favorite highschool teacher, their band, themselves, games they made up in school, etc. The Wikipedias are not free webhosts so their has to be a line somewhere. They are run by the Wikimedia Foundation which gets its money from donations, not advertisements; the projects do not intend to be free webhosts nor could they reasonably afford to be.

    Second, more inclusionism means more maintenance since there are more articles to keep track of and police to make sure that they are neutral, not-libelous, accurate, etc.

    Third, certain specific types of articles are also magnets for vandalism. Take for example articles about highschools where people students routinely vandalize their highschool pages (there is some disagreement about whether this is vandalism that would occur elsewhere or whether this vandalism that only occurs because the highschool page exists. I suspect that it is a combination with a majority in the second category. No one really disagrees that at least some of it is due to the presence of the pages).

    Fourth, Wikipedia content needs to be verifiable with reliable sources and not contain original research. These are fundamental aspects of how the various Wikipedias operate. Otherwise, Wikipedia would lose the small bit of reliability we have.

    Fifth, greater inclusion impairs navigation. Take for example the common English surname Johnson. If I look at the basic page for that name http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnson_%28surname%29 there are over a hundred links. Many of those links are themselves lists of other people with that last name and a specific first name such as http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Will_Johnson_%28disambiguation%29
    Now, if I had to make a lower estimate, I’d guess that easily a 1000 Johnson’s have been deleted most of them with no reasonable level of notability at all. Now, if you don’t remember a reasonably important person’s first name but know their last name is Johnson it would be hard to find them already. Could you imagine what that would be like if their were 1000 other Johnson’s there? I’ve picked a deliberately extreme example here by using a very common last name, but the basic point applies.

    Again, I’m in favor of pretty broad inclusionism, especially in regard to academics. But the argument along the lines of “well, this must be worth keeping if someone wanted to write about it” really doesn’t cut it.

  6. #6 MRW
    March 17, 2008

    Another potential argument is that it is easier to maintain quality in a smaller encyclopedia where the articles are more notable. By the logic on which Wikipedia is based:
    (1) An article on a “notable” subject will receive more attention and will therefore be improved by the wisdom of the mob.
    (2) An article on a “non-notable” subject, which will rarely be viewed by people who already know the information, may be only as reliable as the initial author makes it.

    I’m not sure which side of the deletionist/inclusionist divide I’m actually on, though.

  7. #7 DuWayne
    March 17, 2008

    One of my favorite things about wiki, is that I can search for virtually anything and find something. That’s what I find most enjoyable about it. Quite honestly, I’m not really interested in a wiki that just has articles that I would likely find in a paper encyclopedia. While I occasionally use it for that, the vast majority of the time I am looking for info on something obscure.

    So yay you, for being an inclusionist. All those deleters are just haters.

  8. #8 ArchAsa
    March 17, 2008

    I’m firmly an inclusionist. If wiki did not have several paragraphs on obscure subjects and people, it would be as useful as legs on a rock. Society has already made up its mind which individuals are given a lot of attention in the media, from celebs to modern artists (yawn). It’s precisely because encyclos generally spend lots of space on people and phenomenons I am not interested in that wikipedia is so important, even though it is not reliable. Links and references may help balance that a bit.

    I want lots of long articles on finnish Stone Age archaeologists of the 1950′s, on Bronze Age socieites along the Danube, and even longer ones on the Noble Houses in George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire-series.

    Who elevated these now-it-alls to the position of global taste referees? Who are they to be given the right to proclaim that french philosophers deserve more article space than polish anthropologists? The philosophers have already been given lots, and lots of space in real encyclopedias – I don’t need to access wikipedia for them. Who is HURT by including something maybe only a few hundred people are interested in? (about as many as are actually interested in Damien Hirst’s latest work of “art”).

    Delete the Deletionists!

  9. #9 The Ridger
    March 17, 2008

    Precisely! Wikipedia is where you can find out about ANYTHING. Or it should be. Otherwise, why bother?

  10. #10 Luka(s)
    March 17, 2008

    In a way I want to agree with you, I want to bee inclusive. The hundreds of articles of Harry Potter characters, artefacts in computer games and, actually, places in Middle Earth, does not bother someone who wants to find information about Bismark or Second Vatican Council.

    But, since all humans arent wise, nice, unselfish and noble, there must be some limitations for what you are allowed to write. Otherwise some people would use wikipedia for there one purposes, and for example use it for store documents or advertising. Others will use it for just fun, they vandalise the articles or start new articles just saying “My classmate Johnny is gAy and like too sukk dick!” or “Hitler was a funni man, he had a doG and liked to kill cildren”. (Maybe except the spelling errors, I´ve only seen the swedish ones.) And, frankly, I do think that would problably ruin Wikipedias reputation if these kind of articles wasn´t erased.

    But, with articles who are not advertising, not document-storing and not vandalism, it´s much harder. For, as you said and I do agree with, what harm might there bee? With short articles, normally the best thing to to is to extend it. And with the others, well, maybee you could say the encyclopedia actually do get better if you put a lot of short articles about artfacts in Zelda in the article about Zelda? Or all the short articles about different shools in Norrköping in the article about Norrköping? But I do agree, it´s a tricky area.

    Since Wikipedia is created buy it´s users, a couple of guidelines and rules has evolving, necessery because people, as I wrote, not always being nice. Not everyone wants to create a great encyclopedia, with good information.
    And, as in all internetforums, you has to follow at least the more importent ones. For articles that mean they do have to be Verified, can´t be Original Research and has to be written in a Neutral Point Of View. Thats propably much harder with articles about very obscure subjects, or articles about a subject as say, your wife. Maybee thats why the guidelines (not policy!) about Notability started. Becuse it became easier to explain why an article has to be be erased because it was way out of line of the NPOV-rule or wasn´t near Verified. Maybe, some people (like the ones really thinking ID is science) won´t listen to good reasoning, maybe they only listen to rules?

    So, thats Wikipedia have policy and guidelines, about whats allowed in the articles. I totally missed your quarrel but as a regular wikipedian, is it a good guess you tried writing an article about yourself? Because thats not writing in a Neutral Point Of View, and that would be the only good reason.

    And, trust me, having an article about yourself on wikipedia isn´t as nice at it might seem. It gives your enemies the oppurtunity to write whatever they want about you.

  11. #11 Martin R
    March 17, 2008

    An article on a “non-notable” subject, which will rarely be viewed by people who already know the information, may be only as reliable as the initial author makes it.

    True, but the basic idea behind Wikipedia is that it is better to have some questionable information on a subject than no information at all. And really egregious errors are likely to survive only in articles that nobody ever reads. It’s an evolutionary project with users constantly exerting a) mutations, b) selection pressure.

  12. #12 Martin R
    March 17, 2008

    Joshua Z, I’ve read your thoughtful arguments with interest. Let me just say that my argument isn’t “this must be worth keeping if someone wanted to write about it”. It’s “this isn’t worth deleting if someone wanted to write about it”. I don’t have a problem with Wikipedia possibly being full of crap in subjects I don’t care about. That all happens outside my horizon.

  13. #13 Martin R
    March 17, 2008

    Lukas, of course anything clearly not written as a well-intentioned encyclopedia entry can be tossed out. That’s not what the debate is about.

    As for the article about me, the controversy wasn’t about who had written it (some newbie operating without a registered account). It was about notability.

  14. #14 Marcus
    March 17, 2008

    You are welcome!

  15. #15 Janne
    March 17, 2008

    One of the criteria of Joshua’s stands out to me: ” …Wikipedia content needs to be verifiable with reliable sources and not contain original research.”

    That solves it all as far as I’m concerned. Just about all of the stuff that really doesn’t belong (people’s pets, own inventions and so on) firmly fails this criterion. And I’d say that everything meeting this criterion belongs. Pokemon characters are verifiable, as are ornery younger Swedish archeologists.

    If, in fact, someone or something has done, or become connected with, something noteworthy enough to generate an independent trail of source material, then yes, they probably belong somewhere in Wikipedia. Not necessarily their own page mind you, but at least a mention in the relevant part of the event page.

  16. #16 Luka(s)
    March 18, 2008

    Martin, if the discussion was about Notability, then I would say it was a typical result of swedish wikipedia being: small, with few contributurs who care about taking part in discusions, still having lot of its contributors in the group “young men without any experience from working in a group with a project and mostly interested in subjects as computing, playstation or sport”, and some of them , often the debating ones, interested in politic but in that case often very angry. The standard of the debates are often very low.

    I would say you fit in: http://sv.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Relevanskriterier#Akademiker_och_forskare
    And it might sometimes be stressed that Notability is guidelines, not policy. The english version has a more specific guideline: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Notability_%28academics%29

    But, again, it´s not that great honour having an article on swedish wikipedia. It shows you´v been in the newspapers or you have friends who wanted to write about you. And, it gives anyone who not like you a great opportunity to vandalise your article, and since sv:wikipedia is so small, not everything get recognised in time for not harming you at all.

  17. #17 Martin R
    March 18, 2008

    I’m gonna move the stuff about me into one of the Pokémon articles.

  18. #18 Martin R
    March 18, 2008

    Luka, I had a funny experience the other day. Looking at an article about a prominent colleague, I found a short list of money grants the guy had been given recently. The list, and almost the entire article, had been written by a pseudonymous user. Since the list made my colleague look pretty silly (everybody gets grants or they never get anywhere in research), I deleted it. It was immediately reinstated by the pseudonymous user, who suggested that the reason that I had taken the stuff out was that I had not been given those particular grants myself and was thus envious. (-;

  19. #19 ArchAsa
    March 18, 2008

    Soooo curious! :D

    Seriously, it’s quite pathetic to try and use wikipedia as a PR-tool in such a heavy-handed way. Get a MySpace-site and link to it from wikipedia instead, is my suggestion to Pseudonym.

    I for one would like more small, absic informative entries on various researchers on wikipedia. Sometimes when you read an article, or hear a paper presented you get curious, and since not all may be part of a project with a homepage at a university, wikipedia is an excellent opportunity to get a background and bibliography, perhaps a contact link. Little more is needed, and I definately think it covers the criteria just as well as information about first ever Atari-game.

  20. #20 Luka(s)
    March 18, 2008

    If you sneak the stuff in in the 149 (!) articles about Zelda, noone will notice it either.:-)

    And I agree, it´s just stupid trying to use wikipedia as PR-tool, it makes people look foolish. Very few persons are so good writers and has such a good judgement that the articles doesn´t end up as propaganda, if they write about themselves.

    Still people doing it! There are some articles about some politicians, some journalist and various “fifteen-minutes-of-fame”-people, which obviosly are not very neutral, and probably written by themselves, or a great fan. And it´s very funny!

    Martin, my name is Lukas, (s) doesn´t seems to work in english. And that came out in a way I didn´t intended… :-)

  21. #21 The Worst of Perth
    March 20, 2008

    You’re the bad boy AND the naughty boy of Swedish Archeology?

  22. #22 Martin R
    March 20, 2008

    Well, I used to be, but I’m closer to 50 than 20 now, and my forelock is all but depleted from Male Pattern Baldness. I guess I’m currently the bad and naughty man of Swedish archeology. In primatological terms, just think of me as a wannabe silverback male.