For a nice safe NPOV (“Neutral Point of View”) discussion of the issues, see Deletionism and inclusionism in Wikipedia. My experience, which isn’t NPOV at all, is that Deletionists are knuckle-dragging droolers, walking vacant spaces, and as a side-effect generally, well, what’s the word I’m looking for? “Wrong.”

What got me involved was word that the Deletionist undead were shambling in the direction of _why’s entry. Oh, and by the way, apparently it’s somehow uncool that I entered the debate because I heard about it somewhere.

This one is obvious; _why is one of the handful of people who constitute the public face of Ruby. Some of his published code snippets make shivers run up and down my spine. Several of his libraries—most notably, I suppose, Hpricot—are very widely used. He’s written a popular online book. I’ve never met him but would very much like to.

Yes, he’s eccentric. Yes, he conceals his real name. Yes, he would almost certainly be happier if the entry were removed. So what? Wikipedia without that entry would be less accurate, less complete, and less useful.

In this particular case, the arguments from the deletionists are jargon-laden (hint: real experts use language that the people they’re talking to can understand), and either stupid or vacuous. Which is entirely consistent with my experience.

Are the deletionists simply, as it seems, reveling in their own inadequacies? This came up on Twitter last night and Jeff Atwood put it well: “The fatal flaw of deletionism is the mindset of deciding what someone else should find interesting.” Jeepers, what kind of impoverished soul does it take to delight in removing accurate and potentially-useful information from the permanent record based on the subjective and silly notion of “Notability”?

A little thought-experiment is in order: What harm would ensue were Wikipedia to contain an accurate if slightly boring entry on someone who was just an ordinary person and entirely fame-free? Well, Wikipedia’s “encyclopedia-ness” might be impaired... but I thought the purpose of Wikipedia was to serve the Net’s users, not worry about how closely it adheres to the traditional frameworks of the reference publishing industry?

I suggest the deletionist wankers go and cluster around an alternate online reference tome which has articles only about God, Immanuel Kant, and Britney Spears. Notability is not in question, so they should be happy.



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From: James Bennett (Jun 15 2008, at 15:31)

The thing I learned from my first couple of forays into more "serious" use of Wikipedia is that there is not one Wikipedia. There are two:

One is the public-facing reliable-enough-on-average encyclopedia that people read every day, which makes for nice fluff pieces in the media about "these new Web thingamajigs that the kids are building, aren't they neat?"

The other is the insular behind-the-scenes bureaucracy, which reads like an improvised performance of the collected writings of Clay Shirky.

Meanwhile, I'm trembling somewhat at the thought that I'm approaching the brink of being "notable" enough (did you know, by the way, that notability is a guideline and not an official policy?) for Wikipedia. That's gonna be scary.

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From: Seth Ladd (Jun 15 2008, at 16:35)

Why would anyone delete something from Wikipedia, unless it is incorrect or misleading? If _why hasn't contributed enough to get into Wikipedia, then I don't know what it takes.

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From: Rob (Jun 15 2008, at 17:13)

The Deletionists are bad enough, but the wikifying/citation needed assholes that commit drive-by labeling without a single attempt to actually, you know, help out, are even worse. Wikipedia has been taken over by a bunch of self-righteous prigs, really, for whom style matters more than content.

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From: Eric Meyer (Jun 15 2008, at 17:52)

I faced a similar fate back in 2004 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Eric_Meyer), with the result of remaining undeleted. Thanks to the phrasing, "Eric Meyer was proposed for deletion", I sort of wondered what would happen if I had been deleted: would I pop out of existence, just like Oliver Wendell Holmes' father? Or would hit squads be dispatched?

The whole keep/delete thing seems to revolve around one's perception of Wikipedia's role. Those who want it to be a Serious Reference Work in the mold of the Encycolpaedia Brittanica will always lean toward deletion. Those who think it's a Potentially Infinite Repository Of Damned Near Everything (PIRODNE) will almost never see the point of deletion. Correction of error, certainly, but not deletion.

I, as is my wont, can see both sides of the issue with sufficient clarity to be sympathetic to both, but I tend to be a PIRODNE type. Of course, it may be that I take that view because it means I get to advocate for preservation my article without being a hypocrite. (Where by "my" I mean "the one about me", not "the one I wrote", since I didn't.)

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From: Ethan (Jun 15 2008, at 19:51)

The deletionist position is especially aggravating as the storage & bandwidth costs for "non-notables" is basically nil. My own biography would probably run a few paragraphs, maybe a photo and links to my other places on the web–& who would ever look for it, besides me.

It seems wikipedia missed a chance to be the most thorough reference source, when they could have easily monetized something like a web directory of where to find individuals & their content/creations.

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From: John (Jun 15 2008, at 21:00)

The most hilarious aspects of wikipedia are the aspiration to the standards of old-world encyclopedias and the aversion to online sources. Talk about an identity crisis. If ever a site deserved to be replaced by one with a less idiotic charter and process, it's wikipedia.

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From: Tony Fisk (Jun 15 2008, at 21:16)

'They' tried to delete Agent Smith, and look where that got them?

Meanwhile, in another parallel universe, the auditors of reality have so far tried to 'delete' Death, 'the Hogfather', and 'Time'. The score so far is 3-nil.

On a less flippant note, I see some parallels between this and the recent ebay edict: thou shalt not badmouth thy buyers (especially if they badmouth thee). I know why it was imposed, but surely the seller (or author) has some right of appeal? There are presumably such things as bad buyers (or auditors).

Ultimately, I think the reputation of the critics will have to play some part in whether their suggestions are acted upon.

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From: Rafael de F. Ferreira (Jun 15 2008, at 21:47)

I completely agree with the general sentiment against deletionists.

In _why's this case, maybe you could turn them around by spinning up a quick profile piece on SDN. They are whining about "reliable sources", so let them have it.

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From: Bill Kempthorne (Jun 15 2008, at 22:14)

I second many of the comments made. I frequently participated (and encouraged students to participate) in Wikipedia. I dropped it as a result of this notable/Non-notable type argument. {They have entries for fictional characters for #&@J& sake.}

Wiki the tool is great. Wikipedia the site has become and ameri-centric pop culture version of one of those "Book of Knowledge" type things you used to find on the discount rack at the bookstore.

I wish it was otherwise.

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From: Mike Belch (Jun 16 2008, at 01:26)

I couldn't agree more with you. It is one of the reasons I have walked away from being an active Wikipedia editor - small minded morons who really have lost sight (or never saw) the big picture.

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From: Graham (Jun 16 2008, at 04:03)

The rationale for deletionism is maintainability. If you start an article about Some_Random_Guy, if no one else knows or cares about him then whatever you wrote is just going to sit there and you have free reign to say what you like, and sometimes the appropriate response is for the community to say "No, we'll nix that".

Wikipedia is probably popular enough now that the gray area above outright nonsense and below critical mass for a topic is too small to care about.

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From: rufus (Jun 16 2008, at 07:02)

Agreed, I really do think "deletionism" and how its crept into the Wikipedia editor community over the years is probably the worst thing about the place. There are a lot of interesting articles I read 2 or 3 years ago that either no longer exist or are shadows of their former selves. The whole combative nature of deletion vs. inclusion is really draining too. I wish I had the energy to defend the small handful of the articles I've created or added to over the years, but at this point I doubt I'd bother. Fighting it isn't worth the energy, Wikipedia just isn't what it once was with its new (and in my opinion damaging abitions) to be yet another Britannica.

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From: Tony (Jun 16 2008, at 07:20)

@Eric,

FYI, pirodne.com is available. ;)

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From: Nihiltres (Jun 16 2008, at 10:05)

I suppose I might have an interesting perspective on this in that I'm one of those people who actually carries out a number (>5000 to date) of those deletions.

I don't want to be labelled "deletionist" or even the opposite, "inclusionist" stance taken in this post - what needs to be recognized is that both positions have merit, and each have advantages and indeed disadvantages that need to be account. I don't think that either is right as a general rule.

Wikipedia isn't paper, as it's often said, and the storage and bandwidth costs for rarely-visited pages are effectively negligible. As the cost of preserving a given, potentially useful article are low, it is certainly possible that there are many articles which should be kept that would never make it into a traditional encyclopedia even were that traditional encyclopedia to achieve Wikipedia's record-breaking breadth. "[… D]eciding what someone else /should/ find interesting" (italicization from original represented /with slashes/) is most certainly a fallacy and shouldn't ever be the basis of a decision to delete something.

On the other hand, there are some reasonable arguments for a more conservative outlook on what is to be included and what to exclude. Wikipedia's policy on deletion, which has been argued over and revised many times, has come to a general conclusion about the nature of the question of relevance in Wikipedia. This answer avoids defining relevance: instead, it is rather more of an expression of what Wikipedia aims to be: reliable. It's an ambitious goal, and certainly the popular sentiment that "just 'anyone' can edit and therefore it must be unreliable" does not help, nor the criticism from parties with material interests in the matter such as representatives of Encyclopedia Britannica Inc.. This goal leads naturally to certain principles, namely, that the arbitrary work of people on the internet inherently be trusted, and that, to improve quality, most non-obvious statements should reference a source using proper citation style. This implies that, should /no reliable sources whatsoever/ exist or be found to exist on a particular subject, the possibility of its potential improvement is highly limited and its deletion might be justified. It's further used as a tool to prevent spam – often enterprising individuals may attempt to add an autobiography or a description of their band in an attempt at publicity. Given that spam is undesirable, forcing upon people that they must achieve publicity through more traditional means helps keep out the chaos of ephemeral bands, egoists, and advertisers for whom MySpace is a better haven. It helps keep Wikipedia actually useful in the sense that Graham describes earlier.

It also helps in a sense widely publicized in 2005 when Mr. John Seigenthaler, Sr. read his short Wikipedia biography, which had been left alone for a number of months, and had contained an implication that he had been associated with the Kennedy assassinations. The incident has served as a wide-spread vindication of deletionism in that Wikipedia, in its prominence as a top-ten website, should seek to do no harm in its articles and, in particular, biographies. Had Mr. Seigenthaler's biography been deleted, it might not have caused him so much frustration.

While I agree that deletionism cannot be taken as a general principle, many of its arguments are well-founded, and it seems to me perhaps slightly foolish to simply completely dismiss deletionists as being "knuckle-dragging droolers [and] walking vacant spaces".

One must instead consider each deletion suggestion individually on its own merits, rather than merely mechanically on principle, excepting, of course, those cases for which deletion is obviously the only remedy (e.g. pure vandalism, gibberish, duplicate articles, spam, and the like).

Again, please take my comment not so much as an apology for deletionism but a request to not merely dismiss that with which one does not agree. I am neither inclusionist nor deletionist and I don't want to waste my time with flames that generate more heat than light.

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From: Liz (Jun 16 2008, at 13:25)

As a nontech person, I just want to say that the tech articles range from decent to just horrible. The awful ones are either too technical or clearly written by someone for whom English is a 2nd or 3rd language.

It's funny because among my friends, I'm the one with the technical knowledge but I can barely make it through some of the entries on the Internet and programming. They seemed plagued by what Heath brothers call "the Curse of Knowledge"...the writer can only explain a concept or application if the reader already knows what it is she or he is reading about, not to a layperson with a general BA/BS education.

I realize that your point was about something else but this issue has been on my mind for the past few months as I've been updating my knowledge of web applications.

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From: Doug Winter (Jun 16 2008, at 13:54)

I had a similar row with some deletionists, when they removed the page for "Spimes".

I'd refer you to Wikipedia for what it means, but of course now I can't.

If you Google you'll find around 30,000 references to it, which seem to provide sufficient information, even when Wikipedia refuses to. pah.

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From: David Gerard (Jun 16 2008, at 13:55)

The harm is that biographies of living people become crap magnets that are automatically the top Google hit for the person’s name. That’s why we don’t have the luxury of eventualism for living biographies. And I’m speaking from experience here, not a thought experiment.

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From: Jeremy Day (Jun 16 2008, at 14:00)

I looked up "encyclopedia" on dictionary.com and this is what I found, "a book or set of books containing articles on various topics, usually in alphabetical arrangement, covering all branches of knowledge or, less commonly, all aspects of one subject." That being the case, I don't really understand the idea behind deletionism. Information about _why, so long as it is factual and accurate, falls neatly under the umbrella of "all branches of knowledge."

That being said, I find it interesting that Tim goes on a rant about deltionism and then posts this on Twitter, "I wonder if anyone has ever been interested in anyone else's tweets about their running or weightlifting or stretching. Keep it to yourself." This is especially interesting given that the central question of Twitter is "What are you doing?"

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From: Max Hadley (Jun 16 2008, at 14:17)

Tim,

I read your post, but the last paragraph immediately made me think "God, Immanuel Kant, and Britney Spears walk into a bar..." & this seems to have paralysed my critical faculties. Hopefully only temporarily.

Max

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From: Jeremy Dunck (Jun 16 2008, at 15:45)

I'd like to see an article or writeup with a cogent argument in favor of liberal deletion policy, since I'm pretty sure I don't understand why any reasonable would be for it.

I'm willing to be persuaded. Not that my opinion counts for much on this...

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From: Tim H (Jun 16 2008, at 16:12)

My girlfriend reckons that deletionists (and I think we're missing a golden opportunity to reframe them as <strike>fucktards</strike> deletists) "sound like a bunch of asshats".

I could not agree with her more.

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From: Britta (Jun 16 2008, at 16:40)

The name of the "Notability" guideline is misleading, and it causes a lot of confusion. It's not about interestingness or fame. It's about the amount of third party sourcing for an article's content - which is essential for making an article somewhat reliable/verifiable and useful.

An accurate article about an ordinary person would be fine, except there'd be no way to check up on the facts about their life. The only sources would be the person herself and her friends, who aren't really neutral. Journalists etc. may not be all that neutral either, but they're better.

Still, the _why discussion was stupid for a whole bunch of reasons.

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From: Matthew Laird (Jun 16 2008, at 17:10)

I've always thought Wikipedia should strive to hold the sum of all human knowledge, where possible. Relevant or not. If it gets inserted, it's obviously relevant to someone!

Accuracy to me should be the key metric for inclusion. As long as it's true, not slanderous, and fairly neutral in tone, what's the harm? As many have said, the bandwidth and storage costs are next to nil.

Fairly often I head to Wikipedia in search of the lastest news on upcoming Battlestar or Doctor Who episodes. If you look around you can find articles giving complete descriptions of every episode (IMDB's job?), you can even find complete articles about villeins and planets (Gallifrey?) from these fictional shows.

While I find these entries interesting and an amazingly entertaining time waster to jumper from article to article, I fail to see how any of them are more relevant than articles on real life people. All of these thousands or articles diving deep in to the details of fictional worlds that only a complete geek (like me) would care about aren't targeted for deletion, why then go after articles about people such as _why who has real life notoriety?

The deletionists need to get a life any focus on improving article quality and accuracy. If it's right, leave it alone. This will eventually become a historical record, and I'd rather we leave future historians with the most complete picture of our entire culture and body of knowledge as we can. Every last byte.

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From: Derek K. Miller (Jun 16 2008, at 22:30)

I think the fundamental problem is that Wikipedia is becoming more difficult and frustrating to contribute to, and thus people like me do it less often than we used to. For a total newbie, contributing something new comes close to impossible, because of all the rules that they can't possibly know de novo. And so Wikipedia, while still very useful, is less useful than it could be.

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From: Ted Han (Jun 17 2008, at 09:35)

<em>I don't want to be labelled "deletionist" or even the opposite, "inclusionist" stance taken in this post - what needs to be recognized is that both positions have merit, and each have advantages and indeed disadvantages that need to be account. I don't think that either is right as a general rule.</em>

FAIR AND BALANCED, WE MUST REMAIN FAIR AND BALANCED. RESISTANCE IS FUTILE.

:P

Steigenthaler's biography is a horrible data point for Deletionists. He was and is a notable figure (before and after the edit debacle was raised). He was in fact <em>so</em> notable he was able to take his outrage to the major news networks and get them to report his case.

(The irony of arguing with "3 nothings" has not been lost on me)

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From: Nihiltres (Jun 17 2008, at 14:08)

@Ted Han:

It's a fair point for deletionists, because the article, at the time that it was disputed, did not contain any of the references that would justify his notability to a deletionist.

Besides, my use of it was primarily as an example of an area where inclusionism could be harmful.

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From: Larry Sanger (Jun 18 2008, at 07:44)

Citizendium is largely inclusionist--or at least its Editor-in-Chief is (that would be me). You're all very welcome there.

I agree entirely with the view that declarations about "notability" are attempts to legislate what other people <i>should</i> care about. If we want to omit articles about each grain of dust in the universe, then we should do it using the notion of maintainability, which is far more inclusive, objective, and clearer.

That is, I'd like to point out, one Wikipedia policy for which I am <i>not</i> responsible. In the first year, we were far more tolerant--just as Citizendium is now.

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