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In Defense of Inclusionism (2011) (gwern.net)
106 points by gchpaco on Dec 24, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 59 comments

I am the Ta bu shi da yu who was noted in this article, and I am indeed the person who created the [citation needed] tag. I don't think the issue is deletionism, it's instead one of a total lack of respect for other editors.

Regrettably, I probably inadvertently helped with this culture as I also started the Administrators' notice board. Never have I seen such a cesspool of controversy, beaurocracy, wiki-lawyering and frankly power hungry people. I suffer from bouts of depression, so have left and returned a few times (actually I was made admin three times), but the last time (and believe me, the very last time) I tried to contribute I noticed the complete and utter lack of civility in the place. In a naive attempt to address this I tried to propose a policy where civility would be encouraged and incivility would be discouraged.

One of the key opponents, a user called Giano, went on the attack and I left the site - especially after I was told via email from Brad Fitzpatrick that I was unwelcome on Wikipedia.

I thought to myself: "I spent 2 years researching and writing about the USA PATRIOT Act for this?!?" [1]

And I left and never came back.

But, hey, if you want to see the discouragement that an average user sees - checkout my old user page. Even though it is a user page that very clearly says I have "retired" (more like sacked) there is wall to wall templates telling me I have committed a copyright violation (like hell!), or that images or articles will be deleted, etc. [2]

Further to this: deletionism is a massive problem. If you don't believe me, look at the GNAA article - there were 17 different attempts to delete it! [3] Of course, Jimbo Wales supported the deletion for fairly spurious reasons in 2006. [4] I await the day that my article Exploding Whales is deleted.

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patriot_Act

Note that I did this because of the following article:


2. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Tbsdy_lives

3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gay_Nigger_Association_of_Amer...

4. https://lists.wikimedia.org/pipermail/wikien-l/2006-November...

Among the people dedicated enough to become moderators in any online community, there seems to be a large subset that is very rule-focused, exclusionist and in general difficult to reason with. It's not just Wikipedia, basically the same thing happened at StackOverflow, where all the interesting questions have been deleted, and also in several smaller online communities I used to participate in. Given enough time, those people invariably take over and destroy the community.

Reddit sort of avoids this because it's so easy to create new subreddits that people can vote with their feet if a moderator is behaving unreasonably. Maybe a similar solution could work for Wikipedia, having sub-Wikipedias with different rules. But that would require the current powers to admit that there's a problem, which is unlikely to happen.

This doesn't solve the problem because the vast majority of people don't "vote with their feet". To borrow a quote from the beginning of this article:

>The human longing for freedom of information is a terrible and wonderful thing. It delineates a pivotal difference between mental emancipation and slavery. It has launched protests, rebellions, and revolutions. Thousands have devoted their lives to it, thousands of others have even died for it. And it can be stopped dead in its tracks by requiring people to search for “how to set up proxy” before viewing their anti-government website.

I'd recommend listening to StackExchange's podcast (http://blog.stackoverflow.com/category/podcasts/); They always discuss this problem, and I think the choice they made (be strict on rules) is a good one for the type of platform and community they wanted.

Basically: if you wanted to discuss a vague subject that doesn't have a limited set of possible answers, you should probably use a discussion board instead of using a stackexchange website. That's part of the reason why Jeff Atwood left to create Discourse.

Slashdot actually had a simple (and probably accidental) solution to this problem. The slogan is (was, I don't see it there any more) "News for Nerds. Stuff that Matters". People would frequently complain when political or social articles were posted by the moderators. The response, almost invariably was that the articles were "stuff that matters".

Obviously Slashdot is a bit different since the content is moderated, not voted up or user-created. However, the idea of having "catch-all" rules that allow the community to apply its own value judgements, rather than making the rules ironclad and inflexible, seems like a potential solution to the problem.

I don't think it was ever meant to be that. "stuff that matters" was always a tongue-in-cheek way of saying that other sites' content, being not-for-nerds, didn't matter. There is an obvious problem with posting general news and proclaiming "nerds are people too and politics interest people". What you're talking about was mainly a result of Slashdot adding a politics section after repeated articles about the Iraq War generated more discussion (and therefore traffic) by far than any other content, short of the SCO lawsuit. Before that point it was pretty good at staying on topic.

I consider it analogous to the SciFi channel showing professional wrestling, or MTV showing reality TV, or the gradual slide of TLC and History channel into slop. Niche media is destroyed by pejoration toward the mainstream.

I disagree. "Stuff that matters" was frequently applied and upvoted as a tag to articles during the period of time when article tags were more editorial than they are now. This was quite some time ago. Not to say that no one felt as you describe, but I think an equal number of people, at least, took the interpretation I described.

Also, I didn't mean to imply that the site creators intended for the motto to be applied in the way I described, just that it was applied that way in many cases.

The point is that sometimes making the rules a little fuzzy can allow a community to moderate itself more flexibly and prevent the "lawyers" from taking over. HN is similar, where though there are loose guidelines, the rules for appropriate content are (deliberately, I believe) kept vague.

Here on HN: anything that gratifies one's intellectual curiosity.

As someone who's had a few stackexchange questions closed for various reasons, I think one solution (especially fitting for StackExchange) would be to mandate that a moderator who closes a question as inappropriate for the forum be required to supply an alternative forum (I did get suggestions when I asked on why my question was closed).

Ie, don't just delete/close my question - give me somewhere else I can ask it - or even migrate it - preferably to another stackexchange site. It's probably why stack sites like Programmers were created.

That would defray most of the downsides of "strict rules" based rejections.

Isn't that what Wikia is for?

No single website can reasonably hope to cater to everyone's interests but luckily the web makes it very easy to create alternatives.

Wikia is not a satisfactory alternative to Wikipedia, at least in terms of ethical status of the host (Wikia is a company and there are ads on Wikia wikis), in terms of internal consistency, and in terms of content licensing and of availability of dumps.

If you want internal consistency, you have to have some centralized way to enforce that, and you're back where you started.

There are open source wiki platforms so wikia is not the only option.

The problem is not the license of the software. I think Wikia also uses MediaWiki which is free software.

For the other points that I mentioned, I'm not sure I know many wiki hosts which are free as in free beer, run by a nonprofit, sustainable through donations, show no ads, have their content under a free license and dump it in a way comparable to http://dumps.wikimedia.org/.

The quality is also much, much worse.

Right. Which is why Wikipedia is the way it is.

People don't want a webpage on some random website. They want their Truth in Wikipedia.

> Isn't that what Wikia is for?

Says who?

> No single website can reasonably hope to cater to everyone's interests


>> No single website can reasonably hope to cater to everyone's interests

> Why?

Should there be pictures of Mohammed on the website? Yes or no?

Should homosexuality be mentioned at all? Yes or no?

Does homeopathy work? Yes or no?

Some issues have no middle ground, or at least no factually-supported middle ground. Therefore, to even address some topics, you have to take a stand, which necessarily means you alienate some people.

I've always wanted some kind of github approach to wikipedia. Just fork and do pull requests. Put whatever crazy stuff you want in your branch. Instead of edit wars people can just maintain competing branches.

Perhaps Wikipedia could make a distinction between core articles and non-core articles. Core being what wikipedia is now, and non-core the more fringe topics.

I think if you have 2 categories all you accomplish is creating a new thing to argue about. You could extend it and allow groups or individuals to create their own 'views', but I guess you still end up with people arguing about what to include in the popular ones.

That's the point. Instead of arguing whether to delete or keep an article, the deletionists can now argue over whether an article should be core or non core, thus very much limiting the damage they do. They WILL argue about something, we can't control that, we can only control what they will argue about.

Sounds a little bit like partage's "overlays" concept. And that's a good thing.

Was "partage" a typo? https://wiki.gentoo.org/wiki/Overlay

Do you have any more information about partage's "overlays" concept? I can't find anything for those words...

Parent meant 'portage', which is the Gentoo Linux package manager.

I don't think it's at all invariable. The moral compass comes from the top. Wikipedia and Stack Overflow have deletionist moderation because Jimmy Wales and his counterparts are happy with that, which is unfortunate, but it is their right to run their websites as they see fit. The solution is to set up competing sites run by people who want inclusionist moderation.

In recent years (say, the past 4-6), imo inclusionists have actually more or less won on the "notability" question. Nowadays "verifiability" tends to trump it: if you can write a well-referenced article, this is taken as ipso facto proof of its notability also. I tend to write articles almost exclusively on obscure subjects, but with solid references, and my articles as a result don't get deleted. The trouble comes more when it's difficult to cite good sources. But if it's difficult to cite good sources, the whole Wikipedia model, which is dependent on citing good sources, breaks down: even if an article were allowed, there'd be nothing suitable to put in it. There are definitely articles I thought of writing but didn't, because I couldn't find good sources on the subject.

In some cases I think the real fix is outside Wikipedia: if "the literature" (books, magazines, newspapers, journals, other encyclopedias, etc.) have not yet covered a subject, the first order of business is to fix that gap. But I don't think Wikipedia is the right place to go about fixing it. IMO Wikipedia makes most sense with somewhat limited ambition: to summarize the existing literature, with references. That's already a pretty large endeavor, especially when you include summarizing the existing literature globally and multilingually. When the existing literature itself is lacking, I think that should also be fixed, but not by Wikipedia.

Once the problem is fixed in "the literature", it's then much easier to fix it in Wikipedia. For example I sometimes look at the MIT Press new-books list, or the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy new-articles list, and write at least short new Wikipedia articles on subjects that they cover which Wikipedia doesn't yet cover. For me at least, that "source-first" subject selection tends to be the most relaxing way to write on Wikipedia: instead of picking a subject you want to cover and then finding sources, find good sources and ask, "what do these cover that Wikipedia doesn't?". That way of working has a good impedance match to Wikipedia's goal of being a sources-cited summary of the existing literature.

I wrote something more long-winded on that subject a bit ago: http://www.kmjn.org/notes/wikipedia_notability_verifiability...

I mostly quit contributing because of the deletionists, but I have some recollection about one of the "alienated" communities the article mentions. For a while there was a concerted attempt by multiple webcomic authors to insert references to their webcomic in seemingly as many articles as possible. So you would get edits for example to the ISS: "$CRAPPY_WEBCOMIC mentioned the International Space Station on January 8, 2007 when $WEBCOMIC_CHARACTER bought a telescope and $IRRELEVANT_TEXT". While I didn't care that much if every webcomic got an article, they were basically using Wikipedia as advertising and would get into fights when you tried to make it not advertising. After a while you start identifying "problem communities" and start treating those contributions less charitably.

I used to edit things at WikiPedia now and then. Mostly grammar fixes, formatting fixes, errors in tables, etc. I haven't done it in a long time, as I felt kinda overwhelmed with the bureaucracy of the thing. I don't really have a problem with CAPTCHA (I run it on my own sites), or with the anti-spam measures (I use a bunch of anti-spam tools on my sites, and they occasionally trip up legitimate users). I understand those things, and hate spam more than most. I'm always OK with knocking out spam.

But, the people making the decisions are occasionally just ornery. I seem to recall trying to straighten out some errors about Open Source stuff I work on, and having it reverted and moved around, sometimes in ways that simply made things confusing (removing pages and redirecting to related but different projects), etc. It's been years, but it was frustrating, and I just kinda gave up. I don't have an interest in territorial battles.

I might give it another shot some time. I've switched our documentation wiki for Webmin to MediaWiki a few weeks ago, so I'm back up to speed on MediaWiki markup, so that's less of a barrier for me these days (never was a huge barrier, except for a few of the special stuff, like info boxes and automatically updating stuff). I'd be interested to see if these complaints have been taken to heart by folks involved...it's a drum that's been beaten for some time by a variety of long-time contributors.

It's a pity that it came to this. Wikipedia is one of the great achievements of the web community. Is there a way to recover all the deleted pages and to review them according to a newew policy, then fork wikipedia and revive those pages? It may be hard to get independent contributions to such a fork but you could do a periodical 'git rebase' to keep it current.

Amazing how valid looking the few pages I got by just hitting random page link.

I never realized things had got so bad on wikipedia.

It's a really good exercise to hit Random Pages 10 times.

I tried it and mostly got vanity pages for people who did something, but didn't seem too important.

One I got is about the mayor from 1995 to 2001 of a Texas town of 75,000 people. I suppose it has some value to the people who lived in that town or need to research about it... but I can sympathize with the problem of trying to decide what is useful and what is not.

Another one is an article on the Tigress character in Kung-Fu Panda. I mean, sure, it was information, but the extent of its vitality to human knowledge and literature?

Another one is a 7th round hockey player from Canada...

I mean, should Wikipedia really keep track of all athletes, all mayors, and all characters in all movies?

I think it's a better idea to keep track of more permanent stuff and let fans of these athletes, mayors and cartoon characters make websites about them.

Why delete the Texas mayor article? I just don't see the point. Is Wikipedia low on disk space?

Wikipedia deleted articles about Olympic athletes, not just minor athletes.

I tend to agree that there's a bunch of stuff in Wikipedia that's pointless. But so what? How much does it cost Wikipedia to host the Tigress from Kung-Fu Panda page?

For example...

GNAA - is it still an article?


For how long though?

Since 10 June 2011.

No, I'm wondering how long it will be before it goes up for deletion again. That's the modus operandi of those who don't like the subject matter.

If you're going to snipe at Wikipedia, could you do it with an example of an article that is actually not present on the site?

You are missing the point. But that's ok.

I didn't see mentioned the possibility that the number of topics is finite, and therefore the number of new pages created per day must slow down someday. We live in a world were the main assumption is that everything is infinite, but that's possibly wrong.

That's a reasonable first guess, but it seems very unlikely to be true. Wikipedias in other languages do not all asymptote at the same sizes, print encyclopedias span quite a range of sizes, the superset of specialist encyclopedias would be much larger than even the famous ones like Encyclopedia Britannica, and comparisons of the overlap of the English WP with foreign-language WPs suggests WP could easily be several times larger than it is ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Piotrus/Wikipedia_interwi... ); and Wikia keeps expanding on specialist topics (not just fiction-related wikias). Finally, I used to subscribe to the paper New York Times and read or skim every article in every section for a while out of curiosity; I could have easily spent my entire editing career doing nothing but updating WP based on each day's issue - even though you might think that as one of the most prestigious English newspapers, the English WP would have a mortal lock on coverage of stuff which appear in the NYT.

There's always something to write about. Did you mean that all the articles that people are eager to write have already been written?

"The subsequent research has in some respects vindicated my views: some have tried to argue that the declines are due to picking all the low-hanging fruit in articles or in available editors, that lower quality editors merited additional procedures."

The new Deletionpedia[1] (kindly linked in another comment in this thread) doesn't operate the same way as the old (now non-functional) Deletionpedia,[2] which showed just how much cruft has been inserted into Wikipedia over the years. A better glimpse of current practice in inserting advertising spam cruft into user-edited wikis is offered by browsing random pages on the speedy deletion wiki of Wikia,[3] which will show how much sheer unpaid advertising goes on when people think they can get away with it.

The weekly list of the 5,000 most viewed pages on Wikipedia[4] (which includes one page that I improved from a frequently edit-warred stub to a stable good article by adding dozens of references to reliable sources to it) shows what users are often looking for on Wikipedia. Some topics are seasonal, and others are perennial. Many Wikipedians could best help the world by fixing one of the perennial highly viewed articles until it is a good article or a featured article.

Basis of knowledge: I have been a Wikipedian since 2010. I have seen a lot of readers get burned by articles edited on the principle of "Wikipedia is the encyclopedia where anyone can make stuff up.™" Articles become better and edit wars are reduced when people come to the project with reliable sources[5] to build an encyclopedia.[6]

[1] http://deletionpedia.org/en/Main_Page

[2] http://deletionpedia.dbatley.com/w/index.php

[3] http://speedydeletion.wikia.com/wiki/Speedy_deletion_Wiki

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:West.andrew.g/Popular_pag...

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Identifying_reliable...

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Here_to_build_an_enc...

> Articles become better and edit wars are reduced when people come to the project with reliable sources[5] to build an encyclopedia.[6]

'a group is its own worst enemy'. If you only started in 2010, then the disaster is just the status quo to you.

'a group is its own worst enemy'.

Well, yes a group that whines continually about what Wikipedia doesn't host without putting up its own online encyclopedia showing what could be hosted under different editorial policies is indeed the worst enemy of its own arguments for having different editorial policies in an online encyclopedia. Show, don't tell.

By the way, a search engine search on the Clay Shirky quotation you shared without attribution[1] suggests by its top search result that the problem of spam in online communities is ongoing. Jeff Atwood recommends Shirky's article "Communities, Audiences, and Scale" from 6 April 2002 as a follow-up to the article where Shirky introduced the phrase you quoted. As Shirky notes, "Though it is tempting to think that we can somehow do away with the effects of mass media with new technology, the difficulty of reaching millions or even tens of thousands of people one community at a time is as much about human wiring as it is about network wiring. No matter how community minded a media outlet is, needing to reach a large group of people creates asymmetry and disconnection among that group -- turns them into an audience, in other words -- and there is no easy technological fix for that problem."

[1] https://www.google.com/search?q="a+group+is+its+own+worst+en...

[2] http://shirky.com/writings/community_scale.html

I'm not sure how your long comment about whining addresses either point I made.

If you support inclusionism, please consider joining the Association of Inclusionist Wikipedians - http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Association_of_Inclusionist_W...

That is one nice thing about the Internet - Right To Leave.

If Wikipedia is being rude and alienating users, then people will leave. Eventually something else will come along and take their place.

Summary: Wikipedia keeps deleting my anime cruft. Waah!

Of course Wikipedia editorship is declining. Most of the important articles were written years ago. Encyclopedias, over time, move to maintenance mode, which requires far less work than original creation.

There's also a growing self-promotion problem. Self-promotion used to be mostly from garage bands. Now, it's businessmen. There are at least four rich ex-cons with paid Wikipedia editors. Businesses trying to make some big legal mess disappear are the worst. Magnetix and Banc De Binary were huge headaches. Volunteers have to push back against that, or Wikipedia becomes PR Newswire.

> Summary: Wikipedia keeps deleting my anime cruft. Waah!

That's not remotely accurate. The problems are across all subject areas; consider my link deletion experiments.

Speaking for myself, I stopped editing because I was tired of editors being jerks to each other, not because I was running out of things to contribute.

>There's also a growing self-promotion problem.

The entire Internet is going this way. I overestimated its inherent resistance to gaming/doctoring.

For example, product reviews are increasingly unreliable. Even on platforms that require purchase, like Amazon. Meanwhile specialist sites like tomshardware and anandtech seem overwhelmed.

I know, I know. I wrote "Social is bad for search, and search is bad for social" on that subject back in 2011.


Spamming social to get higher search rankings is easy, cheap, and hurts both search and social, as blogs, forums, and discussions fill up with promotional crap no one wants to read. I work on web spam and bogus ad detection, which means I'm painfully aware of the ocean of promotional crap out there. I'd like to see Wikipedia not go that way.

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