Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Clowning around

I've been hard at work on my port of MediaWiki to Java, which is why I've been largely ignoring Wikipedia and its remarkable ability to generate drama. However, it was virtually impossible to escape hearing about Fred Bauder's proposal to redirect the articles of people Wikipedia decides it doesn't like to the article about clowns. I'm still not sure what Fred had in mind there. Perhaps it was a stunt on his part to get the arbitrators to stop bickering amongst themselves and actually pay some attention to the case; that's the most charitable conclusion I can come to. (Lord knows the arbs are experts at bickering; rumor has it that they've traded over 600 emails to date on their internal mailing list discussing what to do about SlimVirgin and Jayjg, without coming to any decision or conclusion.)

The thing that really got me about Fred's proposals is the way that Fred is evidently very willing to sacrifice the encyclopedia to protect peace in the community. In other words, the community has become more important than the encyclopedic product. This is bankrupt, and firmly demonstrates the general illness that pervades Wikipedia today. And, while Fred's off calling in the clowns, some other clowns were busy trying very hard to undermine the Article Rescue Squadron, a group of editors who make a point to parachute into articles about encyclopedic topics that are nominated for deletion and improve the articles to the point where they ought not be deleted. The ARS was inspired by Andrew Lih's indignance at Wikipedia's decision to delete its article about Pownce, which I blogged about here some time ago. In the past week, there have been two attempts to delete the ARS's project page, and also an attempt (still ongoing, although unlikely to succeed) to delete the "rescue" template it uses to tag articles that it thinks can be saved by appropriate editing. In all three cases, assertions that the group is engaging in "votestacking" (see also my previous complaints about Wikipedia's canvassing policies) feature prominently in the arguments for deletion, even though there is absolutely no evidence of this, and in general the arguments for deletion seem to me mainly to be petty annoyance at the existence of a project that interferes with the rapid deletion of content deemed unsuitable by a small subset of Wikipedia editors by the totally egregious method of making such content encyclopedic! In short, a significant fraction of Wikipedia's community believes that encouraging people to improve the encyclopedia by improving borderline content is bad and must be stopped.

So, in the first place we have the Arbitration Committee proposing to put the community ahead of content, and in this latter matter we have the community putting its process machine ahead of content. People, wake up. Wikipedia is supposed to be an encyclopedia. Nothing is supposed to come ahead of content. This shouldn't even require a whole lot of thought. And yet I, and others, keep having to repeat this over and over again. What is wrong with you people?

I noticed something else in the deletion discussion, though, which bothered me even more. Several people (the one that comes to mind is EliminatorJr) have claimed that "these people do not understand Wikipedia policy", without apparently noticing that they are talking about long-term experienced Wikipedians who can reasonably assumed to have at least a moderate understanding of, if not the minute details of policy as it stands today, at least the general principles under which Wikipedia operates. Some of them helped write those policies, after all. And I realized that it's terribly common in discussion in Wikipedia for all sides to insist that its interpretation of policy is the only correct one and accuse all others of "not understanding policy". I, myself, have been guilty of this in the past, something which I regret now as I suspect many of the people doing it today are modeling behavior they learned from me (even if they don't realize it). People's interpretation of policy differ, and virtually none of Wikipedia's policy is written in stone. Articles for Deletion, and in fact all Wikipedia community discussion pages, are supposed to be places for discussion, not firing lines where people spit out policy snippets like bullets, or moves in Street Fighter. (Hm. Why do I keep coming back to gaming metaphors for Wikipedia?) Flatly accusing one's opponent of "not understanding policy" is never good faith debate.

Anyway. I'm going to go back to rewriting MediaWiki; wrangling code is a far more rewarding activity than trying to make sense of the seething idiocy that increasingly pervades Wikipedia. Even if the code in question is (or at least once was) PHP.