40% of Wikipedia is under threat from deletionists

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2017/02/16/40-of-wikipedia-is-under-thre.html



I find this whole topic boggling. One of the great promises of Wikipedia is that, as an online resource, it can expand to cover an enormously wider array of topics than a traditional encyclopedia. The storage is almost free, and the writers are volunteers. This lets you have a really expansive view of what’s worth including.

So why is Wikipedia taking a narrower approach?

In fact, why is Wikipedia deleting anything beyond illegal or infringing content? It’s not like it costs anything to keep a stub or low-traffic article on the site.

It seems to me that Wikipedia is still stuck in the traditional view of what an encyclopedia should be, rather than embracing the much bigger vision that’s possible when you remove the constraints of space and effort. If someone thinks that his Aunt Millie is notable enough to deserve a Wikipedia page, what’s the harm in that? Aunt Millie is notable to someone, and maybe over time will become more broadly notable.


In praise of stubs.

Quite often a short article is all that a reader needs. Encyclopaediae are for looking up subjects of which one knows nothing. A stub with a short description suffices. We can follow the references to find out more.

No trained and qualified librarian would count all short articles as incomplete. That will vary from subject to subject, as it does in paper encylopaediae. Maybe Wikipaedia needs a rule that any editor can be overruled by people with degrees in librarianship and by the authors of the cited references.


Once I wrote an article for Wikipedia and requested it be added. I was told that the topic was insufficiently notable. Ever since then, I skip that bullshit and just create the article.

That’s just one example; Wikipedia is, in my experience, a bottomless font of bullshit. And I’m a middle-aged white heterosexual American. So you can just imagine.

Nevertheless, I keep going back to it. I’m not sure whether I’m drawn by the anarchism or the masochism.


It’s just a tiny little kingdom full of tiny little people that want to be king and lord their power.


The usual take from librarians is that Wikipedia is a great start for a reference search, but should not be the full span of the search unless all you need is the bare bones. With stubs being flushed before ever getting a chance to be fleshed out or unattended articles ditto because reasons, soon it won’t even be that.


I use it to get movie summaries if I don’t want to watch the movie or don’t remember something about it. Outside of that, I find it to be useless now.


I once heard Wikipedia described as an MMORPG for bureaucrats. Seemed to be apt.


Here in Australia is a notable phenomenon known as “bulldust” - powdery dust which can pile up centimetres deep on some un-maintained rural dirt roads. Bulldust can be very hazardous - a single vehicle moving slowly kicks up a cloud which reduces visibility to zero, and in the absence of wind remains a hazard for some time. If you keep driving, you risk hitting a stationery vehicle; if you stop driving, you become the hazard in that same scenario.

Search for bulldust on Wikipedia, and 6 of the first 10 hits refer to this meaning of the word, not that other US-oriented meaning you may have in your mind which does not require a Wikipedia article because it’s simple slightly rude word not a nuanced concept / a real thing.

But there is no Wikipedia article describing the very real Aussie “bulldust”, because ignorant bullies speedily delete it.


I used to love to submit my Creative Commons licensed photography and artwork to wikimedia, some of which would end up in Wikipedia articles. Mostly geography and flower species. But it got to be such a pain to have to document my ownership of the photos. An unending battle. And people would keep taking them down for one reason or another. I just gave up. Fucking ingrates, some of them are.


Can’t do the editing of Wikipedia anymore. Tried to argue that World Nut Daily was not a reliable source way back when. Never went back after that.


A year or so ago, I felt tempted to revise some of the psychopharmacology stuff that has since splintered into a mess of stubs written by people who seem to have just recently learned what reuptake is. My sense of temptation waned when I realized I was suffering from ‘SOMEONE IS WRONG ON THR INTERNET’ syndrome. Still haven’t regretted not spending that mental energy.


What kinds of stubs are most at risk from deletionists? Articles written by young people, about generational interests, or pop culture, or something outside the experience of the primarily older white male deletionists who consider themselves arbiters of “acceptable” encyclopedic content.

Emphasis mine.

I’m so tired of white male gatekeepers.


I’ve been fighting this issue for years. Specifically the problem of deleting articles about early web/Internet history/culture pre-Internet Archive, due to lack of non-Internet citations. (Note, the Internet Archive’s archive started in 1996 doesn’t really kick in until 1998 so anything early 90’s that didn’t manage to stay on-line, no matter how significant, is pretty much gone.)

The poster child for this has been a magazine I published named Game Zero magazine. It was a video gaming review magazine and it was not only the first on the web, it also had many other first to it’s claim.

While I can find traces of proof that it was significant none of it is apparently enough for the Wikicops. The first time it was deleted I caught it at the time and argued successfully for a restoration. Then it was speedy deleted later (in 2012) by another person while I was away from the site for a few months and this time I couldn’t get it restored but a sympathetic admin recovered the pages (both the page and talk page) for me to store on my sandbox. That lasted for a bit until apparently that wasn’t even tolerable and my sandbox pages were purged.

You can read some of the many discussions about this here:

I also have occasional comments about this over on my blog:


After the Bundy Standoff in 2014 a Wikipedia stub article appeared called Bundy Militia about the militant organization formed by the Bundys.
Within a week or so, it was in process of being researched and improved by multiple editors. It developed about 20 excellent mainstream print/tv/radio citation references with images and details.
Then, a cadre of wiki rightwingers, afraid of the growing media spotlight on whacko militia types, put the article into “speedy deletion”. Their reason: a fervent claim that “No such thing exists”.

As we all know now, the Bundy Militia organization subsequently pulled a second takeover of a public lands site in Oregon and has been brought into federal court in both Oregon and Nevada.

The wiki-deletionists are soldiers in the anti-fact war.


My first wikipedia edit (if I’m remembering correctly) was adding about 500 words to a stub article about methyl-jasmonate, a plant hormone. At the time I was a PhD student in a lab which studied the action of the hormone, so I had something to say. I spent about 2 hours putting together some text and some references. I probably didn’t get the style right as the markup language WP uses is kinda clunky (very 2005).

Anyways I thought it looked pretty decent and thought maybe someone who knows better would come along someday and minorly tweak it and it would get better.

Next day I went to marvel at my work. It had all been undone, one-shot reverting to previous state, no reason given.

So I decided to no longer waste my time on editing wikipedia. If adding 500 true words to a very minor article was going to involve some kind of discussion or fight, I don’t have time for it.

I’m now a science educator, and I’ve though that assigning my students to research a stub and add to wikipedia would be a fun thing to do, but I know better now. Why teach them the world is shit by having them put their heart and soul into something which will just get auto-reverted by a bot for no stated reason?

WP has just become old and creaky. It’s become about itself rather than about it’s mission. There is just about zero innovation in the system and as far as I can tell the mediawiki software is complete garbage, it’s all hacky bloatware.

What should be done? We should just take all the content, and start a new fresh organization which will be better. It’s time to iterate.


My standard advice to my students was that Wiki was useful for a shallow dictionary-level understanding of things (e.g. “what’s a glial cell?”) or as a first-step resource for getting your reading started. Find the wiki page, skip to the citations at the bottom, drill down into the properly peer-reviewed sources and go from there.


Exactly the same experience! I was doing my master’s thesis on a class of algorithms hand having read damn near everything that’s been published on the (quite narrow) subject I noticed that one of the articles had a mistake in it. I fixed it, affixed sources, references, the lot, and tomorrow morning gone. The lot of it. No reason. And it’s beyond imagining I was wrong in the instance. I was looking at the original paper.

So, no, it’s not about diversity, even. The people involved are territorial jerks about the most anodyne, apolitical topics.


To demonstrate:

Welcome to Boing Boing. :slight_smile: