I suppose it had to happen. The volunteer editors at Wikipedia have begun deleting entries from the massive online encyclopedia based upon their view of that entry’s value. On December 2, the Washington Post’s David Segal ran a story called “Look Me Up Under Missing Link,” in which he detailed the stories of several people or music groups being deleted from Wikipedia for being “non-notable.” Particularly interesting in this story is the tale of author Matthew Dallman who describes watching in real time the debate among Wikipedia editors about whether his entry should live or die, an experience he describes as “perplexing and surreal.”
The Wikipedia notablity guidelines tell us: “A topic is notable if it has been the subject of multiple, non-trivial published works whose sources are independent of the subject itself. Many topics must meet a minimum threshold of notability in order for an article on that topic to appear in Wikipedia. This requirement ensures that there exists enough source material to write a verifiable encyclopedia article about the topic.”
Who could disagree with this?
Me, for one.
First of all, who is to decide if a published work is “non-trivial” or not? Last year I wrote an entry about the Czech politician Vaclav Klofac (which has been edited by others several times since). At the time I was at home and didn’t have access to my collection of published sources on this person (who figures prominently in my book about the Czech National Socialist party). So, when the entry went up, it got dinged by the Wikipedia editors for having no sources. I silently applauded them for insisting on sources and vowed to get around to putting up some of those sources. Alas, I never got around to it.
Look at the entry now and you’ll see that someone rescued it by adding a source from John and Sylvia Crane. Speaking as someone who knows a lot about Mr. Klofac (and has read the Crane’s book), the source cited now is, without a doubt, a trivial source. It’s just not a good book and contains only minor mentions of Klofac. I could fix the problem–and will one of these days, I swear–but the fact remains that for now, Klofac is supported only one trivial source and so should, by now, have been deleted as non-notable. I suppose I should be glad he’s off the radar screen of the Wikipedia editors.
In addition to the trivial/non-trivial source problem, there is the larger question of why the folks at Wikipedia care at all if their encyclopedia is cluttered up with minor entries. Haven’t we learned something from the Long Tail by now (I cite the Wikipedia entry just because I’m that way)? As Chris Anderson wrote back in 2003, everything can sell online eventually, because there is a market for everything. Don’t believe me, just check eBay.
So why shouldn’t there be a market for all information? I thought the whole point of Wikipedia was that, eventually, the masses would correct errors in entries and make that information usable to all and that by democratizing the creation of such content, Wikipedia was creating something new and different.
Alas, it turns out what we might call the Britannica Effect has finally infected the Wikipedians. I suppose it was inevitable that in the end they would succumb to this virus and decide that they wanted to be a real encyclopedia, which means purging non-notable information from their site.
I sure hope I get around to properly sourcing old Klofac before he gets purged…