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October 06, 2006 1728 W - + 32 - 22 Our Wikipedia Experience
A while back, we promised we'd share our experiences trying to create a Hatbag Wikipedia entry. Well, finally, here they are:
A few months ago, we tried to take our first steps into the world of Wikipedia, and found it an eye-opening experience.
We've been talking about putting together a Hatbag Wikipedia entry for a while now, and had played with a little bit, but never actually got around to finishing it up.
Wikipedia, of course, is “the online encyclopedia that anyone can edit,” the largest and most visible outcropping of the “wiki” movement designed to create online repositories of knowledge with minimal gatekeeping. At least that’s the theory.
So, back in June, we took the plunge and posted a page about Hatbag.
The original version was a short, straightforward thing, but we were excited about finally having it online. We hoped that it might allow some of the folks who used to like (or hate) Hippie and the Black Guy to reconnect with the ongoing adventures of our characters.
Our excitement proved to be short-lived and a bit naïve.
The backlash started four minutes after the article was posted, when it was first proposed for deletion, by Wikipedia user Erik the Rude (a handle which, in retrospect, should have clued us in about the tenor of some of the Wikipedia community). The article, said Erik, lacked “notability.” This subjective term and its meaning was to become the major bugaboo in our quest to have Hatbag included on Wikipedia.
A box appeared at the top of the page saying the entry had been proposed for deletion. The entry was open-source, and, not completely understanding how such things are supposed to work on Wikipedia, we went in and erased the box.
An Articles for Deletion page
was quickly set up for the Hatbag entry, so other users could discuss the fate of the page.
After Erik The Rude, the next user to chime in was Starionwolf, who said that not only did the site fail the notability test, it also failed something called “the Pokemon test.” That's right, folks, Hatbag failed the Pokemon test.
What that means, as best we can tell after studying the sometimes-confusing lingo of the Wikipedia crowd, is that Starionwolf believes Hatbag is not as significant as the least significant Pokemon character. We’re not sure exactly how that determination is made. The test stems from the fact that there is a Wikipedia entry for every single Pokemon character
, which seems to set a low (not to say somewhat oddball) bar for inclusion.
The Delete votes continued. One post was at least moderately positive -- "It looks much better than many other AfD [Article for Deletion] candidates but lacks notability. The author get a B for making a good-looking stub, but it needs more encyclopedic merit to last. Maybe in a year if it gets more Internet readership." -- but it was still a delete vote.
On the plus side, the article was copied by some kindly soul over to Comixpedia, where we do now have an entry
. Of course, the fact that we were listed there may have made some voters feel less guilty about kicking us out of the much-higher-profile Wikipedia.
The frustrating thing about this experience is that, by the nature of an open-source wiki project, anybody can wander in and say to delete the entry. In a moment of frustration, there was a temptation to go in and mark entries by the critics for deletion. (A fun one would have been an entry on Shakespeare's first sonnet, part of a series of articles on every sonnet the Bard wrote. While Shakespeare, obviously, is notable, it would have been interesting to mark it for deletion, arguing that it should be sufficient to just have one entry on Shakespearean sonnets -- that there's no need for entries on every single one -- just to witness the ensuing discussion of whether Shakespeare fails the Pokemon test.) The problem was, that many of the people criticizing the Hatbag entry didn’t really seem to have created that much themselves. Many of them were relatively new users, with very few new articles and only a few more contributions to existing entries under their belt.
Now it’s possible that these folks have created many entries, and are savvy enough to create a different handle under which to criticize others. It seems more likely that they wanted to participate in Wikipedia, and found the easiest way to do that was to tear down the work of people who were creating things. This strikes us as being a bit like if, in the “trial of General Zod” scene in the 1978 Superman movie ("Guilty! Guilty!"), random Kryptonians were allowed to wander in and pass judgment.
In a good-faith effort to gain notability, we expanded the article substantially, going into its history and that of its predecessor, Hippie and the Black Guy, which achieved some legitimate notoriety in its day, at least on the Ole Miss campus.
Immediately, we got a vote of confidence, as one user finally voted to keep the article. Then, another comment for deletion. Followed by another “keep” vote (OK, we may have had something to do with this one). And then another “delete” vote.
Up until this point, we hadn't really participated in the deletion discussion thread, instead just trying to improve the article. Finally, on Friday, we started responding to the arguments, posting a point-by-point response to everything that had been even tangentially mentioned at that point. There was even a bit of a breakthrough -- someone pointed that while notability, in general, can be somewhat subjective, the notability standards for a webcomic were not. There were, in theory, hard and fast rules for what constituted notability. And, better yet -- we met them! At least it seemed that way to us. Coverage in "real" media constituted notability, and we had, in fact, been written about in The Daily Mississippian back in the day. QED.
A few more responses were posted, none of which acknowledged any of what we'd written. In fact, only one person ever acknowledged any of the changes or responses we made. No one could be bothered to either say, “Hey, yeah, that's better” or to say why we still didn't meet the standard.
When we woke up on Saturday, we discovered that the entry had been deleted. In true Wikipedia style, there was no explanation; no nothing. Just, at the top of the page, "The result of the debate was DELETE. TigerShark 11:05, 17 June 2006 (UTC)"
And thus ended our first Wikipedia adventure.
There were some good things to come out of it; we now have a Comixpedia entry, and it's inspired us to get a little bit more serious about becoming "notable."
It was also an interesting look behind the scenes of Wikipedia. At first glance, it's not exactly what you would call friendly to the creation of new entries. No one ever really bothered to point us in the right direction with the entry. Not a bit of help was offered. That’s the downside of a relatively unmoderated forum, it seems.
It's also appears to an arena in which many people are quite territorial, patrolling their own little fiefdoms in a way that may make the whims of a few dedicated users the “law of the land.” One of the last people to vote against us had a history of voting to delete webcomics. On the flipside, he had edited several video game entries. His comment to us was that "Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, and I don't think an encyclopedia should have an entry on Hatbag." Dude, let us know when "Lara Croft Tomb Raider Legends" (an entry he edited) makes it into Britannica or World Book, and we'll talk.
The idea that Wikipedia is a community dedicated to increasing a collection of human knowledge also seems to be belied by our experience. Looking at the history of the people who voted on our entry, they seem to have, collectively, done very little to actually add to Wikipedia. Rather than create, they spent most of their time preventing other people from doing so. Now, to be fair, such pruning is an important part of maintaining Wikipedia. But it seems like time could be better spent weeding out fraudulent or completely self-referential entries. The anti-Hatbag vote seemed a bit knee-jerk and poorly thought out to us (granted, we’re a bit biased).
Finally, the popular perception that Wikipedia is open to everyone and that all are equal, as discussed on the front page of The New York Times
around the time our entry was deleted, seems, in practice, dubious.
Protecting the world from our entry was a group of people who have set themselves up as part of an editorial team to delete webcomic entries. Sure, unlike Britannica, these people are unpaid volunteers, but their effectiveness, not just with our entry but other webcomics we looked at, is not limited by the fact they have no obvious qualifications beyond a willingness to spend time deleting entries.
Candidly, it seems likely that we made a tactical error in being open and honest up front about the fact that we were writing an entry about our own creation. There seems to be a bias (and perhaps one that is not unwise) against people who can be accused of using Wikipedia for self-promotion.
Please understand, we’re not against the wiki concept in general or against Wikipedia in particular. In our opinion, the concept of open-source encyclopedias is an exciting one, full of potential pitfalls, to be sure, and not a good candidate to become anyone’s primary source of unimpeachable facts, but a novel and promising way to pool information in a way that’s both accessible and democratic.
On the other hand, a debate over the validity or the notability of a topic would seem to be more meaningful in an environment in which the rules of debate are clear to everyone, the criteria are made explicit, and participants express their thoughts and consider the arguments of others rather then just rendering a thumbs-up/thumbs-down verdict and then moving on to the next target.
Picture the Encyclopedia Britannica, staffed by multiple incarnations of Comic Book Guy from “The Simpsons.” Welcome to the webcomics section of Wikipedia.
More things “Banned from Wikipedia” in today’s NYT “Week In Review” section… http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/08/weekin..
Text of article, shorn of helpful formatting:
Giving the Heave-Ho in an Online Who’s Who
By NOAM COHEN
SOMEWHERE in the hierarchy of personal celebrity, between the discovery that you are listed in the phone book and, say, being knighted, sits the Wikipedia entry.
The online encyclopedia (en.wikipedia.org), which is created by a worldwide community of volunteers, has more than 1.4 million articles in English, with some 120,000 devoted to biographies of living people — from Terje Aa, a Norwegian bridge player, to Todd J. Zywicki, a George Mason University law professor.
Yet each day dozens of new Wikipedia articles about people — and about historical figures, fictional creatures, obscure concepts, run-of-the-mill organizations and even shopping centers — are deleted, having been deemed sufficiently unnotable or otherwise unworthy of being listed.
Wikipedia volunteers have produced detailed suggestions as to what makes a person or organization “notable.” For musical groups, for instance, the criteria include, “Has had a record certified gold or higher in at least one large- or medium-sized country.” Notable people must have achieved “renown or notoriety for their involvement in newsworthy events,” the guidelines suggest, or be “the primary subject of multiple nontrivial published works whose source is independent of the person.”
Roughly 4,000 articles are added each day, and about half that number are deleted that same day, Wikipedia says, by administrators who determine that an article is not up to standards. Tougher cases are debated for five days — at times, a decision is postponed if deep divisions remain. What follows is a sample of recent entries proposed for deletion, and the debate by Wikipedia volunteers whether to delete or keep them. NOAM COHEN
Songs Featuring Cowbells
A Wikipedia user creates an entry that consists simply of a list of hundreds of song recordings that feature cowbells, including “Africa” by Toto, “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugarhill Gang and “An Alpine Symphony,” by Richard Strauss.
I’m sorry, but we cannot have an article in an encyclopedia which is a) unsourced, and b) claims that Bob Dylan, David Bowie, the Beatles, Jay-Z, The Byrds, George Harrison, Black Sabbath, Dizzy Gillespie … had songs featuring cowbells. There are two references in the entire article that verifies two songs. The rest is taken from “The Cowbell Project” (I’m assuming, since that’s the only external link, which itself is just some crazy fanatics home page, and cites no sources). ...Honestly, can you call yourself a good Wikipedian if you want an article in an encyclopedia that claims that Jimi Hendrix used cowbells. Kill it, kill it fast! Wikipedia user “Oskar”
Delete, or significantly pare down to what is sourced. I could see how this list could possibly be useful if it were properly sourced, as any list of songs featuring any particular instrument could in theory be useful. However, “The cowbell project” doesn’t look like it can be considered a reliable source. VegaDark
Delete. ... Just on a side note however, Jimi Hendrix did in fact use cowbells. The song “Stone Free” has a very noticeable amount of cowbell. It would be very hard to miss it.
As a percussionist I can tell you the cowbell is a very fine instrument. As a Wikipedian, I can tell you this is a very pointless list. Delete. danntm
Delete as not remotely suitable for an encyclopedia. Commit anyone who thought writing it added to the stock of the world’s knowledge. Legis
An article about the teddy bear belonging to Garfield, the cartoon cat. According to the Wikipedia entry, Pooky first appeared Oct. 23, 1978; Garfield found the teddy bear when he was searching through a drawer of his owner, Jon Arbuckle.
Delete. If Pooky ever actually did anything, maybe keep it. But Pooky is a stuffed bear; not a lot of character development possible there. Badbilltucker
Delete. Yes, it can be improved, but washing garbage just gets you clean garbage. This is a cartoon prop that was used for awhile and since discarded — a fictional item of no real importance. Calton
Props can warrant entries. Consider it a prop with character or otherwise important value. For example, if one were to propose the deletion of the “tricorder” entry on the basis that it is simply a prop, an army of Trek fans would start burning houses down.
That’s Just It
Merged with Garfield list of characters.
The entry for Mr. Greene describes him as a 48-year-old javelin thrower who competed for Western Michigan University, finishing eighth in the 1981 N.C.A.A. Championships. He later won a gold medal at the 12th Maccabiah Games in Tel Aviv.
Delete — 8th place in one N.C.A.A. championship is not exactly the Olympics. Fan-1967
Keep, based on his gold medal in the international competition in Israel. Dekar
I’d like to point out that the Maccabiah Games are basically the “Jewish Olympics” and even the article says that they are on a lower tier than even the Commonwealth Games, which most medal winners do not have articles based on those accomplishments.
The Constantian Society
An article about a political group, founded in 1970, that advocates for monarchy in the United States.
Utterly nonnotable fringe political group. Statement “It cannot be determined whether the society has been active since 1997” gives you an idea of its influence. Fishal
Keep. American Monarchists are probably always going to be a fringe political group, but the movement does exist, and fringe doesn’t automatically equal non-notable. ... They apparently publish a journal, which means both their existence and the substance of their views are verifiable. Monarchism, as a movement, is rather outdated, but hardly non-notable (as many monarchies still exist worldwide.) Dina
The Democratic candidate in the Fourth Congressional District of Connecticut, running against the incumbent, Christopher Shays.
Delete. Come back if elected. Fan1967
Keep: It would be highly unfair to delete this article unless you were also deleting the article of her opponent, congressman Chris Shays. I say this as a representative of the Farrell campaign. Unsigned
Delete. ... Do you really think people will choose not to vote for someone because they don’t have a Wikipedia page? Samael775
Lain - October 08, 2006 - 14:57
Huh. While I certainly think HATBAG is suitable for a Wikipedia entry (particularly with a history of HatBG as part of it), I can also see why some may think otherwise, However, I am bothered by what seems to be the lack of argument/reason for that viewpoint in the “delete” votes.
Makes me want to do an entry for Prep (though not as sports heavy as the JA one) and see what happens.
Richie - October 12, 2006 - 14:35
There was quite an interesting article in the New Yorker in recent months about wikipedia, and the truly obsessiveness of some of the folks who get involved with it. Your experience isn’t rare I imagine!
Nik () (URL) - November 09, 2006 - 20:30