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Is Randal L Schwartz notable enough for Wikipedia? (wikipedia.org)
65 points by russellallen on Aug 22, 2011 | hide | past | favorite | 68 comments

Yes. No reasonable person could even contest this. Randal Schwartz has been written about in reliable sources extensively, owing to an incident in which he was convicted for a felony involving breaking into Intel servers.


If you make comically stupid proposals, like "[Barack Obama] isn't notable and should be deleted", an admin will shut you down. But otherwise, if even an iota of thought is required to make the decision, it will go to AfD and get shouted down.

This AfD is not going close "deleted"; by WP's own rules, it basically can't be deleted. This isn't newsworthy. If we had an HN story any time anyone made a misguided AfD posting, that's all we'd ever talk about here.

Meanwhile, before anyone suggests that they've done the world a favor by directing attention to the AfD: canvassing support for a "keep" vote actually makes the admin's job harder. It muddies the issue. It means that every well-reasoned comment will carry a subtext of "maybe this is a sockpuppeted comment". Not a win.

And: before anyone complains about the damage done to the encyclopedia by the big ugly "this page might get deleted" tag: this article actually is poorly sourced and needs improvement. WP's immune response to non-notable articles is going to end up improving this particular article by inciting WP nerds to dredge up the (numerous) news stories that reference him.

PS: Not for nothing, but WP's coverage of Randal Schartz is wanting, in that it drastically pares back what is notable about him (his felony hacking conviction) in favor of what he is "locally famous" for (his Perl advocacy). This is a consequence of a very vocal FORS contingent that watches that page.

If it drags in my interest I might try to rescue the article tomorrow. The lack of sources at the moment means it runs a reasonable chance of people mindlessly !voting delete.

(but to echo tptacek; if you are going to follow this link and comment on the proposed deletion ''please'' take a moment to review the notability policies and make a sensible, valid argument rather than the "this is ridiculous" sort that has already appeared. If anything, that sort of thing usually goes against the article)

Yes, anyone can propose an article for deletion. However, I see two problems with what you've said.

First, yes, the "immune response" usually manages to produce some improvement, but often it just produces a deleted article because nobody who might have cared managed to notice. Whenever I observe those processes, I see two primary forces: many people with way too much time on their hands arguing policies without thinking, and people tired of trying to explain common sense via citations to chapter and verse of Wikipedia policy. (See also: wrestling a pig in mud.)

Second, the article links to various policy changes that suggest Wikipedia no longer considers "published author" a sufficient criteria for notability. That seems like a severe problem quite aside from this particular article.

Fundamentally, proposing an AfD means precisely one thing: "I think this article has negative value for Wikipedia, such that deleting it would improve Wikipedia.". All too often I see articles proposed for deletion (and "successfully" deleted) which have clearly positive value for Wikipedia.

"Meanwhile, before anyone suggests that they've done the world a favor by directing attention to the AfD: canvassing support for a "keep" vote actually makes the admin's job harder."

I think that's all we can really hope for. In reality, you should say it makes it easier.

Let's be honest, here; what's actually notable about Randal is that he lives in Portland, OR, the best city in the world, and moreover, since I happen to live in Portland and am unemployed, I think I'll use my spare time to edit Randal's WP page to make this more obvious, and revert people who undo my work.

Every time I think Wikipedia couldn't slide any further into craziness, I see something like this. Nobody ever seems to step back and ask "what exactly are we accomplishing by campaigning to get content deleted?".

Somewhere between "preventing spam, vandalism, and vanity pages" and "delete everything" there's a line; the exact placement of that line seems non-obvious, but individual cases like this seem incredibly obvious (and spam, vandalism, and vanity pages seem rather obvious as well, so it works in both directions).

Respectfully, you don't know what you're talking about. Nothing crazy has happened here. The whole point of Wikipedia is that anyone can do stuff like "propose that WP delete a page". Note that the page hasn't been deleted yet.

When Randal Schwartz is actually deleted from Wikipedia, then you have an argument.

You do realize that leading off with "Respectfully, you don't know what you are talking about" isn't reducing the image of insularity Wikipedia has acquired? It says "If you don't get up to speed on the obscure processes, such as that anyone can nominate an article for deletion, you can't participate in the dialogue." For some reason, unexplained to outsiders, this is a feature, not a bug. At least recognize that Wikipedia is the odd subculture, not the people critiquing Wikipedia.

I felt bad for telling him he didn't know what he's talking about. But the fact is, he doesn't. And however "insular" you think that makes Wikipedia, note than I am not a WP'er. I find WP insular and obnoxious for reasons entirely unrelated to its (I think reasonable) notability guideline.

I get the point, but it starts to become annoying when people repeatedly propose deletion of pages nobody with an IQ above room temperature would consider deleting.

Like I said downthread: this article actually was crappy. The AfD is going to improve it.

The danger of using an AfD as a tool for improving an article is that it forces people to improve it or remove what already exists, which discourages people from adding articles if they can't add an extensive article (or even if they can).

An AfD should not get filed unless the article itself has negative value to Wikipedia, and Wikipedia would be better off with the article gone. There do exist such articles, but that should be a pretty high bar.

The problem is not that this particular article has a chance for deletion (and it does, if people don't stay on top of it). The problem is that these processes force repeated active defense and maintenance by people who don't want to see useful content deleted, whereas a momentary lapse in vigilance produces a "default" answer of "a few of people think it ought to be deleted and nobody has chimed in in defense with citations for chapter and verse of Wikipedia policies, so let's delete it".

If you'll forgive a political analogy (which seems appropriate given Wikipedia involves politics): What do Wikipedia, governments, and very young children have in common? You have to watch all of them carefully so they don't do something painfully wrong and injure themselves or others, they have a lot more energy than you do, they don't have or use much common sense, and they keep persisting because they can get away with things if you get tired and look away briefly.

And yes, I do know what I'm talking about; I've participated in Wikipedia for years, dealt with several of its policies, and watched its internal workings extensively with both fascination and disgust.

  Every time I think Wikipedia couldn't slide any further
  into craziness, I see something like this.
Oh boy you haven't seen the German WP yet. At least half of what's in the English WP would be deleted due to irrelevancy in the German one, to name just one thing that's wrong with it.

I do agree that there is a line to be drawn, but I am an advocate of erring on the side of vanity. I'd rather have some vanity pages - that cause next to no traffic and don't really take up much storage - than deleting knowledge, however insignificant it might be.

This is a Web site that thinks it appropriate to offer a synopsis for every episode of Burn Notice. There's a page for each season, plus a page for the show itself.

Why is the inclusion of Randal even an issue?

"Reasons for deletion


Any other content not suitable for an encyclopedia"

I like Burn Notice, it's fun and entertaining. But does it need to be in an encyclopedia? More so than Randal L Schwartz? Talk about intellectual mob rule[0].

0: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/07/11/110711fa_fact_...

I frequently use Wikipedia as a source of information on a TV series, and that includes an episode list and synopses. If people might want to look it up, why should they have to move that content elsewhere to one of the various TV summary sites, most of which suck a lot more than Wikipedia (with the exception of special cases for shows popular enough to have dedicated sites, like Memory Alpha).

* I frequently use Wikipedia as a source of information on a TV series, ... *

So do I, and it's quite handy. But if Wikipedia is to be the host for what is, essentially, mass-media trivia, then why would it not also be the host for arguably less mundane content, such as a page on Randal Schwartz. Or me, for that matter?

It just depends on how Wikipedia's owners decide to handle it. But they're currently defining themselves as an encyclopedia.

The one takeaway I see from these "Wikipedia article deletion stories" is that as time progresses, it will become increasingly difficult to maintain the notability requirement as society progresses from a smaller number of more authoritative sources to a large number of less authoritative ones.

I've just added my "keep" to the discussion. The following is OT, but I'm curious:

Does anyone else find the fact that the Wikipedia talk pages are wiki pages to be about the stupidest thing ever? Wikis are designed for occasional edits, not active discussions. It's very annoying to try to save a comment and find that it is rejected because someone else got an edit in while you were editing.

It seems clear to me that the talk pages should use an HN or Reddit like system, not wiki pages. Or am I missing something?

Service idea: pan-web Disqus-like discussion widget that works like HN.

There would be no wiki without Randal. I learned all I knew about Perl from his book. -- Ward Cunningham

One of Randal's additions to the world is the "Schwartzian transform", something I remember using extensively a decade ago when I was doing web programming in Perl:


It's not worth the time to fight Wikipedia deleting its own content. I've seen more notable pages get deleted by petulant administrators. The bureaucracy of that site stinks more than the US Senate.

And the result of the discussion is KEEP, just as it should be.


Thanks to everyone who contributed to the discussion. I did my part (adding a pile of references to places where Randal had been interviewed and presented as a notable authority), and between all our effort, we have a better article than before (hopefully).

Proof that - sometimes - this Wikipedia thing works the way it should. ;-)

I recently read the article with interest. Before this HN thread. Is that sufficient?

heh. i think this is a generational thing. he was pretty damn central to the early perl culture, but i'm not surprised most people these days haven't heard of him. i guess the question is - to what extent should wikipedia cull entries for people who are no longer as famous as they one were?

to give some idea of relative fame, i'd say he was no less famous in his community that, say, paul buchheit is these days.

[and i'd like to know more details about how the prosecution ended up being expunged - whatever that means. he did time, right?]

Although notability is not temporary in theory, Wikipedia has always (and probably always will) suffer from presentism. Things that are important today get a disproportionate amount of attention. It is maybe easier to evaluate something's historical notability with the benefit of hindsight.

That said, I never really understood the effort to purge Wikipedia of vanity pages and the like.

> I never really understood the effort to purge Wikipedia of vanity pages and the like.

Well, think about it this way. I go to Wikipedia, create a page about myself and bits are cheap so nobody cares. There's nothing published about me, so none of the information there is reliable, but nobody's going to read it anyway, so nobody cares. Then I click over to Michael Jackson's page, scroll down to the "cultural influence" section and chime in that...

* [[C Dwyer]] is a big fan of and has been heavily influenced in his daily life by Jackson. He was really sad when Jackson died. [http://caseysite.com/blog/i-love-mj]

Bits are cheap right? All the world's information is important. Why should anybody reading about Michael Jackson be deprived of my opinion about him?

Clearly, there's a point where this becomes ridiculous. Notability has to be resolved sooner or later, so why not resolve it from the start? What makes Wikipedia intriguing is that articles can be interlinked to expand on and enhance each other. If an article cannot benefit other articles, much less does more harm than good, why include it?

I'm not a Wikipedia editor nor much of a Wikipedia user and I don't personally care how they conduct their business. If I were in charge of maintaining the integrity of something like Wikipedia, however, let's just say it would focus a whole lot more on quality than quantity than it currently does.

Would I include an article about Randal L. Schwartz in a general purpose encyclopedia? No. Would I include it in an encyclopedia about computer history and computer science? No. An encyclopedia about the history of Perl? Maybe a footnote.

If I'm just a footnote in the history of Perl, you're woefully ignorant.

Maybe more. I'm certainly no Perl historian. But if I were, and I were writing a book about it, I doubt I would include a lot of biographies.

If you're not interested in how the lives of human beings create history, then please write about natural history (e.g., physics, chemistry, geology, zoology), not human history. Perl, as software, may instantiate a mathematical ideal, but a history of Perl must talk about its connection to a community of programmers, and Mr. Schwartz is most certainly a leading light of that community.

If "author of first book about Perl" doesn't make your book, you're a pretty poor writer.

Nothing I said was meant to be taken personally, so please stop with the ad hominems. I apologize if I offended you. I didn't mean to imply that your life and work are not important. I just don't feel like every single biography is worthy of ``the sum of human knowledge'', even if that person's work is. I guess that's not a fashionable opinion to have in the post-Twitter era, especially on a website where people submit their .vimrc files as potential ``hacker news'', but it is my opinion and I'm sticking to it.

It's not about being taking personally. It's just a fact: I wrote (with Larry Wall) the first book about Perl. And then the second book about Perl, which became the seminal teaching guide. If that doesn't deserve a note in the Perl history, you're confused.

Yes, but you would mention "The Camel Book", by Larry Wall and Randal L. Schwartz, right? Or that the capitalization "Perl" was coined by Randal (or so Wikipedia's Perl page claims)? And the "Schwartzian Transform" is kind of famous.

> Bits are cheap right? All the world's information is important. Why should anybody reading about Michael Jackson be deprived of my opinion about him?

This is a pretty naïve argument.

Take, for example, the recent brouhaha about Sarah Palin and her comments about Paul Revere. Barring a future where the comments have massively effected misconceptions in the common perception of Paul Revere (let's say, on the order of Columbus's voyage and the flat earth myth), there's basically no grounds for arguing that Palin's comments should be mentioned in the Revere article. But they absolutely are deemed appropriate for the Palin article.

>This is a pretty naïve argument.

Well there are certainly different degrees of ``inclusionism'' but I have read plenty argue that absolutely nothing is too trivial for Wikipedia. I don't care who's wrong or right, but given the standard the Foundation is attempting to set for themselves, it's clear to me why ``deletionism'' rules.

Notability is not temporary.

Indeed, and backpropagating this principle through time, with a few other rough assumptions, suggests there are at least 1 million people who were once notable who will never get their own Wikipedia article. There is, however, a userspace article to commemorate these 'Unknown Notables':


interesting, thanks. so he should stay.

The notion that maybe he shouldn't is a false controversy. Even if he wanted the page removed, the page would stay. You can't be written up in tens or hundreds of news stories over a decade and not have a WP page written about you.

Wikipedia is not suggesting that Schwartz be deleted. One random guy is. FILM AT 11.

> i guess the question is - to what extent should wikipedia cull entries for people who are no longer as famous as they one were?

This has been addressed, somewhat, but I'll say a bit more about it.

This is, sorry to say, a wrongheaded approach. Editorial decisions should be made with some prescience, or at least an attempt at it. To suggest that a contrary approach is an acceptable one has a couple of negative effects:

1. There's the obvious problem, which is that it says after a threshold has been reached, it's okay that this stuff will be lost. Not even through neglect or inaction, but as a matter of policy and very deliberate action. This is, in a word, dumb.

2. It encourages people to spend unfortunate levels of effort on ephemera that's just going to disappear. To put it another way, it squanders an already-scarce resource on stuff that doesn't matter in the long run. That's a lot of churn, and there's enough as it is.

"but i'm not surprised most people these days haven't heard of him"

Isn't this why encyclopedias exist, and exactly why this entry shouldn't be deleted?

Personally, I'm in the 'keep' camp, I can't understand why people would want to delete this, unless it's a manifestation of the trolling culture that seems to be springing up in a variety of places.

More people know him as a TWiT Network host, nowadays.

I've noticed that at the past few open source conferences. Most people know me from FLOSS Weekly now. Since we already went through a "FLOSS Weekly deletion" action, can't some of that apply back to my article?

As others also stated, I'm not sure why this is even an issue. He was infinitely instrumental in early web culture through his perl work - influencing an entire generation of developers (if only to drive some of them to PHP!) :)

What seems to be missing from Randal's wikipedia page is his karaoke skills. Perhaps those are best left to wikimedia instead.

If you look at the discussion you will see that Randal himself has made multiple contributions to the page, which is against Wikipedia's policy, and could be the perceived grounds for deletion.

Aside from that, this is still only a proposal for deletion, like many others have said. I don't think this is any real cause for alarm.

Seriously? I've been very very careful to abide by WP:BIO. The only changes I've ever made are to add ISBNs or my photo. I even stay out of the talk page for the most part as well.

I call "troll".

I have a problem with you calling people a "troll" when they are merely wrong in the particulars of WP policy. The fact of the matter is that your changes to that page have not been restricted to ISBNs and your repeated photo changes... and that's just the stuff that's in the history of the page with your name on it; it does't account for the advocacy you've made on the Talk page for the removal of the coverage of your felony conviction.

Making accusations such as he did without taking the time to verify them may not be purposely trolling, but it does have a very similar negative effect on the quality of the discussion.

Seriously? you're going there? My first response is "URLs of edits please". Particularly, my talk page edits are not subject to WP:BIO, and the only edit I made there was not "for the removal of the coverage of [my] felony conviction", but quite the opposite: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Talk:Randal_L._Sch... - and if you find that any of my further edits weren't strictly about "correcting any factual errors", please call me on it.

It's amazing how many people can be scandalized by the concept of someone touching the Wikipedia article about him... Marvin Minsky once entered Wikipedia and put a couple of things there. The reaction was like he had stormed naked in the middle of a funeral on a pogo stick.

And while I'm here... I am tired of all this the "trust" thing. Stuff is either verifiable or not, and if you haven't verified, you should remain suspicious of it for ever. Hoping to make Wikipedia safe for gullible people to read is a bit like trying to create languages like Java, with all sorts of mechanisms to try to prevent bad programmers from making bad code. It doesn't really work.

Randal, I apologize that I misspoke, I should have read the policies more thoroughly. I was merely stating my perception of why someone might be trying to delete the article, I had no intent to "troll."

Never thought I would have the guy who taught me Perl get mad at me on the Internet... Sorry again Randal

Not mad, just trying to set facts right.

Yes. Over time, if Perl is no longer significant either practically or historically, perhaps his wikipedia entry could be archived as "ancient history", but for the moment it is relevant.

the whole "notability" requirement on WP really bothers me; it's not like this is britannica, where there's a limited number of pages to cram all this info into. i'd much rather have a definitive resource, than one that only covered "notable" material.


It would be ironic of Schwartz is listed in Britannica. I didn't downvote you but I can understand the sentiment. Your comment is nonsensical and does not add value.


The notability link that was posted [‡] would seem to indicate that there is a difference between a work being notable and the inclusion of a biography of the author of that work.

If I was somehow involved in some notable event (like, oh...say I go on a large-scale bank robbing spree), there is an argument to be made that even if that event should be included in Wikipedia, a separate page just about me shouldn't be.

(I also don't think his article should be deleted, but I don't think it's nonsensical to have a distinction between a notable event and a notable person).

EDIT: Included the link, as mentioning the position of the comment doesn't make any sense when comments order changes.

[‡] http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2910731

I would be offended, too, but when I went to his page I see no signs it is under threat of deletion. Tempest in a teapot fugit?

The real question to ask is why does anyone take wikipedia serious as a source these days? I would trust Schwartz's opinions on Peruvian copper mining, quantum physics, square dancing, or any other subject long before I would trust any article on wikipedia because Schwartz has more credibility.

> The real question to ask is why does anyone take wikipedia serious as a source these days?

Who's saying you should? And what's different about "these days" versus, I don't know, 2005? Feel free to substitute there your favorite year from any point on the timeline of Wikipedia nostalgia.

Edit: Goddamn. I really hate to do it, but challenges, please?

The notion that you can/should/could ever trust Wikipedia is some weird inference that has been tacked on by uninvolved bystanders following Wikipedia's success, and does not originate from within Wikipedia. Wikipedia's stance on the reputability of itself and other tertiary sources is as well documented as the limitations of liability in GNU software.

If I understand it correctly (I think Wikipedia is trustworthy therefore I am stupid), I believe this is a fairly minority opinion.


I think the vast majority of internet and wikipedia users find it to be a credible source.

Let's be clear. We are talking about whether one should "take wikipedia serious as a source" (emphasis mine). You invoke "source", too, but I'm unsure if your focus is on how reliably accurate Wikipedia is, or if you really do mean to say what you say.

Even assuming yours is the saner of the two--that your "trustworthy" and "credible" mean to say that Wikipedia is reliably accurate--well, I'll first note that this was not the topic at hand.

Since you've appealed to common opinion twice, can I presume that your own use of Wikipedia is also a typically casual one? That is, that you rarely if ever make a point to verify the claims made in articles by:

i) Cross-checking the cited sources, and/or

ii) Independently verifying things in some other way

If I'm permitted to make that presumption, then for my second point I'll note that unless you've done these things, the statement that Wikipedia is "trustworthy" and "credible" is a vacuous one.

I'll also note that I deliberately made a point of saying who's holding this opinion when I wrote that it's a "weird inference that has been tacked on by uninvolved bystanders following Wikipedia's success, and does not originate from within Wikipedia". There is, I think, a fairly realistic view of Wikipedia within the Wikipedia community, especially from those who were involved early. The "vast majority of the internet and wikipedia users" are not Wikipedia editors.


To revisit the point I made in the edit to my initial reply to bugsy, I'll say that there's a reason every page on Wikipedia links to a page that says the following,[1] the formatting of which I can neither accurately reproduce nor adequately convey here:


> [...]

> That is not to say that you will not find valuable and accurate information in Wikipedia; much of the time you will. However, Wikipedia cannot guarantee the validity of the information found here.

(emphasized in the original)

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:General_disclaimer

Can you tell the history of the Internet without mentioning Schwartz? I'm dubious if you answer "no" and so he should be included for that if nothing else.

Well yes, this is my point. It's not clear to me why it's being massively downvoted. Randal is real, credible, and a valuable and well known contributor to culture and citizen of our early 21st century era.

It is odd that Wikipedia is voting whether he is generally of no account or value worth mentioning. It would make more sense for Randal to vote on whether Wikipedia is of value and worth mentioning, or should be deleted instead. No doubt Wikipedia is notable, but mostly in the sense it is notorious.

As in, how would you explain the growth of the interactive web from 1994 to 1997, without including Perl, and therefore, without including my books that taught most of those guys how to code in Perl? Very good point.

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