Worthy of notice

Dissatisfied with recent Daily Post topics, I was cruising the web for something to write about. I read this interesting post at Blag Hag, and after a short series of adventures from there I wound up looking at Jen McCreight ‘s Wikipedia entry. If you look at that page you’ll notice the article is being considered for deletion based on the notability guidelines.

This post will not discuss whether Jen McCreight is notable enough for Wikipedia. This post is asking why Wikipedia cares about notability at all.

I can imagine it being a holdover from print encyclopedias. When you have to bind all this information up into books and ship them out, you want to cut it down to only the most influential articles or those with the broadest interest. But this is the internet. We have only the cost of server space to worry about, and that cost is not great. It certainly seems small compared to the depth of knowledge we could attain if we simply included everything that anyone thought someone else might want to read about.

Think about it for a moment. We could have a database of almost the entirety of human knowledge, all cross-referenced and indexed together. Imagine being able to follow through the pathways of knowledge to nearly any extent. Think of the richness of understanding you could reach if you could follow any thread along the vast tapestry of humanity.

If a particular page is only of interest to a dozen people with an exceptional dedication to an unusual hobby, so what? Even if the entire rest of humanity doesn’t care, it’s still “worthy of notice” to them, why not include it? This is not a zero-sum game. You needn’t delete an article for every new one added. Why delete them at all? If nothing else, imagine how much better Wikipedia would be if the time and energy spent in discussion pages arguing over whether an article is notable enough to exist was instead used to improve quality and accuracy.

On the subject of time and energy spent, I don’t really understand why someone would bother to argue for deletion. As mentioned it seems implausible that it’s a matter of limited data storage. It’s well known that occasionally Wiki articles are altered or deleted to suit some personal or ideological agenda, but I doubt that happens on a large scale. Is it a mistaken reach for quality, like fearing that a book of great literature is somehow diminished by sharing a shelf with a pulp fiction novel? Or perhaps simple pompous ego, like the idea that “exclusive” is somehow “better” and therefore everything that can be excluded should be? It’s puzzling.

I wonder if you find the same group of editors arguing to delete regardless of the subject of an article. What are the social trends within the culture of Wikipedia editors? Do some editors have a reputation for being “deletionists”? I’ve been told that true power is the power to deny, and I’ve certainly encountered people who will go out of their way to impede others apparently just for a tiny, petty thrill of power, usually claiming their actions stem from a ridiculously pedantic interpretation of the rules. Given the wide scope of the internet I’ve little doubt that there’s at least one Wikipedia editor who tries to have things deleted for just those motivations, but I wonder if that’s common.

Wikipedia is by far the most well known online encyclopedia, but not the only one. Its name recognition gives it a significant advantage in many ways, perhaps the most important being that respected specialists will edit articles within their fields, providing a great deal of credibility.

I can easily imagine the notability standards working against it should a more inclusive competitor start to gain traction. I’m not sure which would be preferable; a more inclusive Wikipedia, or another site rising to take its place. Either of these seems likely, but not inevitable. As far as I’m concerned, either of these is a desirable outcome.

About Leo Tarvi

Mostly fictional.

Posted on October 29, 2011, in Daily Post, Personal and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I would imagine the penny pinching accountants would have some say in this. Tho even with something so obscure, ud think they could even archive it after x amount of days of inactivity to a zfs/squashfs to lower storage cost. Yes txt is small, but webpages are crazy inflated now a days.

    • It may be something like that, but in a way that’s even worse because the discussion pages which debate whether or not to delete an article are often much larger than the article itself.

      When you consider that I have over 20 gigs of space provided by various online services absolutely free, I just find it hard to believe that server space would be enough of a cost issue to warrant all that.

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