Folks, I’ve said I’m not a fan of Wikipedia for nearly ten years now. I used to mention it in presentations until I found that eighteen-year-olds would confront me at the end, like I spoke out against oxygen or wearing socks. So I don’t mention it much anymore and generally, it doesn’t come up. They got a little better on some quarters anyway, and so it’s not a complete doomed airship, just one that lists poorly to one side now and then.
But every once in a while, something really stupid happens on Wikipedia, and by once in a while I mean every single goddamned day, and occasionally it’s so “really stupid” someone thinks they have to summon me like I’m Odin and Ragnarök just popped out of the Advent calendar. “Do something”, they say, or maybe something more along the lines of “You should see this”, because if you’re Ralph Nader what you really want to do is witness car crashes.
There’s the internal politicking stupid, which is boring these days, and there’s the “inaccurate howler lives on for months” stupid, which is fleetingly entertainment. Luckily nobody thinks to drag me to those tailgate parties.
No, the big one is “some numbnut gang has decided Wikipedia doesn’t need entries on this this week.”
Now, call me an old-fashioned kinda archiving guy, but keeping stuff around is, on the whole, a good thing. It’s especially a good thing if what’s being kept around is obviously the hard work of dozens or even hundreds of people contributing time and knowledge to make something better. Hey, put down the pitchforks, Charlie. I’m just saying, here. You come up against something that’s obviously got some weight and effort, your first thought isn’t to toss it into the compactor.
Yet all the time, some people get together and think “this entry… I’ve never heard of it… I just did a cursory search and it’s not [made up criteria]. Into the bonfire with you, obscuro!” and then they do that little kangaroo court thing with the Articles for Deletion.
If you don’t know what the whole Article for Deletion thing on Wikipedia is…. great. I mean, just walk away. You don’t need to know exactly what shoegazer crapsongs the pimply-faced badass down the street listens to when he’s tagging your garage door, either. You will not be a better person for it.
But the upshot is that pretty much anybody can get together with as little as 2 other people and decide, across a seven day period, to delete an article. This happens all the time. It’s despicable.
No, don’t jump on my shit by comparing it to normal pruning of vandalism articles or self-promotional spam. We’re talking articles where they’ve been around for years, and people do an AfD, and kill it, or even worse, nominate it over and over, every few months, until at one point they’ve won. See, that’s the brilliance of it: People who are guardians of an article have to defend it over and over, always doing their best to “win”, while the fucks just have to nominate it over and over and win ONCE, and then the article is blown off the face of the earth.
None of this is new. I’ve talked about this before.
What happens in the realm of “let’s go rattle Jason’s tree about this” is that occasionally some weasel on Wikipedia will decide to go after a thematic purge. They decide to go after, say, everything related to famous trailer parks, or infamous London criminals, or anything where they can go plonk, plonk, plonk, right down the line.
And one of the big punching bags is anything related to BBS history.
See, when you’re a a puffy-fingered bureaucrat tapping away from your incredible younger-than-my-shoes point of view, BBS history just tends to fall under “who GIVES a shit”. You find a lack of citation of it, make some wild-ass judgement about whether it was “relevant”, and even if the information is sourced and valid to a small extent considering the scant available material online, you go ahead and just knock that shit out.
So they do this, and then I end up with friends and fans coming to me to tell me what’s going on.
The most recent casualty is Space Empire Elite, a perfectly fine and relevant BBS Door Game that lived a happy life of a few years ago. Pre-web, really, and not ported to some modern flash or html5 equivalent, so not, you know, hitting Reddit every 12 seconds. So it got the boot.
Benj Edwards did a perfectly fine mention of this and a call to arms. He has all the gory details I can barely bring together the energy to peruse, much less summarize.
Anyway, here’s where I diverge from a lot of people.
See, the problem is that people think of wikipedia as a SOURCE. It’s NOT a source. It’s REALITY SLASH FICTION.
You’ve got people randomly making up what they think is important and then writing whatever, day in and day out, and then being able to mess with everyone ELSE’s idea of what’s important, and then everyone can stomp around everyone else’s sand castle until either a topic is so boring and obscure nobody else wants to touch it, or they lock the thing down and flip out if anyone messes with it, especially if that subject or person is in the news. In some cases, the article is in a state of flux constantly – not one of improvement, just churn – endless rewriting and twiddling that doesn’t really do much except let the next person get in there and pee on the hydrant from a slightly different angle. Everybody is a hero. Everybody is the final Grand Poobah of You Get To Stay, and they can adjust their little antler hat and hit the delete button all day long. Life is cheap in Wikipedia, and ideas even cheaper; effort the cheapest of all.
So fuck ‘em.
For years I’ve taken the following groundbreaking approach with BBS history: Snag as much of it as I can from as many sources as I can. Pull together data and documents that are insights into what happened. Interview people who were there. Transfer video recordings and audio recordings and scan documents and make it all into online actuality. You can debate the notability of Space Potato BBS all day, or you can scan and transfer all the Space Potato BBS material and put it somewhere where we don’t get a straw poll every harvest moon to decide to burn it to the ground.
Oh, the faces of the Wiki-faithful when I’m like this in person (and I am, in fact, like this in person). The concerned and sourpuss face when they mention something about Wikipedia and my response is fundamental distaste. The dropped mouth, the sad eyes – it’s like eating delicious key lime pie to me. Seriously: Have fun all day, folks, but I’m not going to put on the party hat and act like this birthday cake isn’t full of horse poop. Nice decorations, though.
No, the solution is to stop thinking of Wikipedia as the Source, the Big Stage, the Final Arbiter. It will fail at this and it will always fail at this as long as people get to undo the work of many others merely by being a persistent keyboard-pushing douchebag. Even on Reddit, when someone informed or at least long-winded and opinion-filled shows up, they can only downvote them into greyness, not delete them entirely.
No, primary sources. Mark my words. 2013 is the year I am scanning and duping in terabytes, terabytes of BBS and home computer material. Trust me – the world is going to get a lot more of what happened in that period.
Let Wikipedia do an article on THAT, is my advice. We’ll get by until then.