Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Fromowner, two months later

Back in March, Daveydweeb mentioned the "fromowner" hack on the English Wikipedia. This approach puts up a placeholder image on articles that should, but do not, have free images, that, when clicked, guides the reader on the process of contributing an image. The idea is that current nonfree images (presumably being used under a claim of "fair use") would be replaced by the placeholder, and then subsequently replace by contributed free content.

Apparently, however, the community really hates this idea. Many people objected to it, on all sorts of grounds both substantive and procedural, and attempts were made to delete both the page describing the process and the placeholder image itself. The arguments in favor of the deletion of the process page seemed to focus mainly on perceived procedural violations, or convoluted interpretations of style and content guidelines. The deletions were rebuffed, although not without some acrimony.

Reading the commentary in the community discussion, however, leaves me with the firm belief that the real objection to the idea isn't that it wasn't proposed properly (although there certainly are some processhead objecting solely on those grounds) or because it violates the policy against self-reference or whatever. The real objection is that they like the (non-free) image that they found to decorate their article, and don't want it removed and replaced with this placeholder image; doing that would certainly make their article look a lot less pretty. And that just won't do.

At the moment, it appears that fromowner has become an accepted part of Wikipedia process. This somewhat surprises me: not very many of Wikipedia's content editors are all that committed to free content, and for them this process means that their articles will be less pretty than they could be, if nonfree images were allowed. It does seem that Wikipedians are becoming at least more tolerant, if not actually happy about, the nonfree image policies.

Of course, most of Wikipedia's content editors aren't all that heavily attached to their images; in most cases they've simply found-them-on-the-web and that's not a process that creates a lot of ownership interest. The cases where there was a lot of special effort to find images seem to mainly yielded collections of public domain images, probably because people who put a lot of effort into this aren't going to go after stuff that they know will probably just be deleted. And the process isn't removing, or even really altering, their pet articles, just undecorating them a bit, and most of the showoff wordsmiths who inhabit the "featured article writer" demographic seem not to get too unhinged over that sort of thing. So this is just another one of those annoying little things that most exopedians simply put up with. But I'm sure this has added a few more grudges to the pile.

The demographics that are most going to be annoyed by this are the compulsive image collectors, the spammers, and the PR agents, and all three really are groups that Wikipedia can do without anyway.

The fromowner process is also a win for eventualism; the process is open ended and clearly tolerates current diminished "prettiness" in exchange for the hopes of eventual improvement. As of yet nobody has proposed tagging articles with the placeholder for some sort of "cleanup" if they go with the placeholder for more than a few months at a time. It'll be interesting to see how this interacts with the Featured Article process, especially if someone tries to replace a nonfree image in a featured article with the placeholder; I'm reasonably certain that the FA goons would refuse to promote an article with the placeholder in it.