Strong opinions, weakly held

Tim Bray on Wikipedia deletionists

Tim Bray denounces Wikipedia deletionists with great style and passion:

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.

Rogers Cadenhead has taken on the deletionists as well, regarding his own entry.

For a nice monument to the idiocy of Wikipedia deletionist sentiment, check out the “votes for deletion” page for Leslie Harpold. Her page has been deleted, but the reasons why she was deemed unworthy by the idiots who feel it’s important to keep Wikipedia smaller remain forever.


  1. If there were no constraints on notability for a Wikipedia article, what would be the measure used to ensure accuracy? If someone wanted to create an article about themself and just add random facts to it, or random facts to another subject no one has ever heard of (and both of these things happen many times a day) what would stop them? Or is it only important that “major” articles are accurate?

    I’ve never heard of Leslie Harpold, so I’m not particularly bothered by the AfD, but no one ever said Wikipedia’s process was perfect.

  2. rnb,

    Maybe Wikipedia should restrict itself to verifiable information, which is probably a larger set than “notable” information. It could strongly encourage every article to have citations, which I think is already the case.

  3. It appears that the Wikipedia criteria for notability is:

    If a topic has received significant coverage in reliable sources that are independent of the subject, it is presumed to be notable.

    Is that different from “verifiable”? I don’t know. It certainly sounds more stringent, but I think all it really says is that a topic needs to be verified by a reliable source (which appears to be the basis of inclusion of almost all information on Wikipedia–apart from maybe contentious information that people want more than one source for.)

    At any rate, even restricting articles to just verifiable information is a world better than anything goes (which is what a completely fame-free entry would imply.)

  4. The problem is, of course, that “significant” and “reliable sources” are not very precise terms.

  5. Right, but Wikipedia tries to define these terms. “Reliable sources” has an entire page devoted to discussing what might and might not be a reliable source and “significant” is defined elsewhere. And again, the Wikipedia process isn’t perfect and the people doing the work aren’t perfect, but in my mind, it really seems like the best compromises are made. There are a lot of things I don’t like about Wikipedia, but the notability guidelines aren’t one of them.

  6. I agree in principle with Tim that the deletionists are probably too hard on borderline entries (_why definitely belongs), but I think the practical reality of a Wikipedia with an entry for every “ordinary person” would be one of impossible searches.

    How would you handle the disambiguation page for “David Adams” in a world where me and the dozen “ordinary” David Adamses I’ve personally known in my life–not to mention the tens of thousands of others, not just alive but dead–could have their own Wikipedia entry? What about John Smith? And who’s going to vet all those entries for verifiability?

    I can’t think of a fair way, other than something like a notability filter, to make that work. Maybe I’m focusing on too small an issue with my example, but I do think the point of Wikipedia is to collect notable information, not all information. There’s Google for that.

  7. 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 theorising.

  8. I think some filter is in order, but I think that right now Wikipedia errs too far on the side of exclusionary rather than inclusionary.

  9. James Killian

    May 7, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    I find it incredibly annoying. So many times I try to look up something in Wikipedia and find that there was an article with the information I needed but some wanker has deleted it and I am left with trying to suss out the needed info from the deletionists’ comments.

    One of the biggest problems is that things that are “notable” and “significant” are also widely known, which means I’m rarely going to be looking up info on it in the first place.

    At least let us be able to view the deleted material since it doesn’t actually go away, you just have to be a sysop to get access to it if you insist on being a pedantic putz about it.

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