Wikipedia: to delete or not to delete?

The Economist has an interesting story about the debate raging within Wikipedia about whether Wikipedia should let a 1000 flowers bloom (or in Wikipedia’s case, over 2,000,000 entries) or should limit the number of articles to ones it deems of broader interest. For example, should there be 500 articles on individual Pokemon characters or not?

It’s analogous to the debate about whether community is built top-down or bottom-up. The bottom-up folks “the inclusionists” believe that letting contributors determine what is newsworthy (or article-worthy) builds a stronger sense of community and participation. Top-downers (or “deletionists”) believe that, although the storage space for these relatively obscure or not well edited articles is minimal, that having too sprawling content leads to lower citizen participation in editing and improving these entries. An appropriate analogy might be that it would be easier to get volunteers to work on a small but usable urban park than blanket Denali National Park (a park the size of Massachusetts, even if people lived close to Mt. Denail in Alaska). Also, potentially Wikipedia’s perceived quality is only as good as its weakest articles or average articles and as the volume of articles rises and the level of editing doesn’t rise proportionately, average quality article gets weaker.

The bar has been raised, whether appropriately or not, for new wikipedia entries and as a consequence a greater percentage of new wikipedia articles get denied. As a consequence, “[m]any who are excited about contributing to the site end up on the “Missing Wikipedians” page: a constantly updated list of those who have decided to stop contributing. It serves as a reminder that frustration at having work removed prompts many people to abandon the project”

The Economist notes that it is getting harder and harder to draw the appropriate line around inclusion. “How do you draw editorial distinctions between an article entitled “List of nicknames used by George W. Bush” (status: kept) and one about “Vice-presidents who have shot people” (status: deleted)? Or how about “Natasha Demkina: Russian girl who claims to have X-ray vision” (status: kept) and “The role of clowns in modern society” (status: deleted)?

“To measure a subject’s worthiness for inclusion (or “notability”, in the jargon of Wikipedians), all kinds of rules have been devised. So an article in an international journal counts more than a mention in a local newspaper; ten matches on Google is better than one match; and so on. These rules are used to devise official policies on particular subjects, such as the notability of pornographic stars (a Playboy appearance earns you a Wikipedia mention; starring in a low-budget movie does not) or diplomats (permanent chiefs of station are notable, while chargés d’affaires ad interim are not).

“Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, has himself fallen foul of these tricky notability criteria. Last summer he created a short entry about a restaurant in South Africa where he had dined. The entry was promptly nominated for deletion, since the restaurant had a poor Google profile and was therefore considered not notable enough. After a lot of controversy and media coverage (which, ahem, increased the restaurant’s notability), the entry was kept, but the episode prompted many questions about the adequacy of the editorial process.”

Other related Wikipedia items: Kevin Kelly notes that his answer to the Edge’s question in 2008 –“What have you changed your mind about?” — is the success of Wikipedia which he thought would never work. And there’s a fascinating insider account by Nicholson Baker (masquerading as a book review in New York Review of Books of “Wikipedia: The Missing Manual”) discussing the amazingly unscientific process of deciding what articles makes it in or not to Wikipedia.

See the Economist article here.


One response to “Wikipedia: to delete or not to delete?

  1. Haha, that has been my line of thought for including wikipedia articles! I.e.: “If a pokemon can have a wikipedia article… then basically anything else can!”

    Great find!
    It would be interesting to see what happens in the future… About 1,000 articles are being added a day… As time goes on, more and more things will become placed in wikipedia IMO.


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