Wikipedia Strikes Again
Why do I care? Normally I wouldn't. I take everything posted on Wikipedia with a grain of salt. Even on such subjects as George Washington which should have mountains of really good solid historical facts to back it up. The problem of course is that at any given moment, an article could contain complete junk. One need only go fishing on Google to see this.
Specifically, I am referring to the article on Threshold RPG. For those who don't know, it's a text based online game playable by hundreds or thousands of people at a time. It has been around for at least 13 years now and has been recognized several times by fellow administrators and sites dedicated to MUDs, such as The Mud Connetcor, Top Mudsites, and Game Commandos. MUDs in general are the direct ancestors of today's graphical MMOs and many developers who spent their college years working on their MUDs have now gone on to lucrative careers at places like Electronic Arts, Blizzard, and Sony. A number of them have even acknowledged this history as the reason for getting interested in game development at all.
So what does all this have to do with Threshold? The article for Threshold on Wikipedia has been nominated for deletion. This isn't exactly an out of the ordinary thing for Wikipedia. They delete things all the time from the site for not being notable enough. In its current form, the Threshold article has very little useful information other than the basics. Without doing any digging into the issue, one might expect that the article needs to be removed. The situation isn't as cut and dry as all that. If you follow the AfD link to the discussion taking place on the AfD page you'll find a rather disturbing situation has developed there. A user by the name of Mendaliv nominated the article for deletion. Prior to this, several users were attempting to clean the article up and provide proper citations. If you go back over the article's history you can see exactly what's going on. Mendaliv, Black Kite, and Crossmr have systematically reversed properly cited references on the basis that TMS, TMC, and other MUD related sites are not reliable or authoritative sources for information about MUDs. When they could not tolerate people providing proper references, including one from Computer Games Magazine, the article was placed into protected mode by Black Kite. This effectively locked out anyone who was trying to fix it properly. The article was then gutted again and immediately nominated for deletion by Mendaliv.
What's disturbing about this isn't necessarily the pissing match between Mendaliv and Aristotle ( Threshold's admin ). It's the fact that the argument has now shaped itself into sources for information on MUDs themselves being worthless or not notable or somehow unreliable. The larger picture here is that the entire hobby is now in danger of being swept off the pages of Wikipedia forever. Dr. Richard Bartle, the man who developed the first MUD has also commented on the situation and on Threshold in particular. When this was brought to the attention of those in the delete argument, it was cited as an example of Wikipedia's notability and not that of MUDs or Threshold. I boggle. If one of the world's leading authorities on virtual worlds is not a reliable or notable source on the subject, then none of us are. Further still, the issue has now been picked up by Raph Koster who is yet another leading authority in the world of online virtual worlds. And yet Wikipedia deletion zealots consider it canvassing as well. Lets ask this then. If Michael Hartman (Threshold admin) is notable enough to attract the attention of two leading authorities in the field when the Threshold article is up for deletion, does that not make the MUD notable? After all, that's the primary thing the deletion zealots are arguing. That it's not notable enough. We'll ignore for now that the AfD policy itself bends over backward to say that a lack of notability in itself is NOT sufficient reason to delete something.
Further still, when people in support of keeping the article in place began forming logical and valid arguments in defense of it, they began getting banned as being sockpuppets or "meatpuppets" of other banned members. The logic here is quite astounding. If someone is banned, how is it they could be sockpuppeting? I'd surely love to know. In any case, information has been squelched by collapsing contributions from the alleged sockpuppets. This made it necessary for the argument to be brought to TMS. Naturally this gained the attention of people who care. People involved in the administration and development of MUDs. The forum topic is already 3 pages long. But what's interesting and ironic is that people claiming to be Wikipedia admins have appeared, feeling the need to defend their policies from "canvassing". Canvassing is essentially the act of posting somewhere to rally troops to action on a particular subject. Wikipedia claims to frown on this. Yet there's strong evidence (bottom of the page currently) to show that Wikipedia's own aspiring admins are rallying themselves in the same manner. Apparently it's OK for Wikipedia
Wikipedia has even gone to length in a number of their byzantine policy documents to say that articles on obscure topics cause no harm in existing. They claim they have virtually limitless space. Trolling through their collection you'll find articles on everything from nuclear physics to 70s TV shows that aired a single episode before being canceled and completely forgotten. There's even a pretty good article on my favorite computer game: TES IV: Oblivion. In the grand scheme of things, why is that there? Because someone decided it was important enough to be cataloged. Britannica certainly wouldn't have wasted their time on it. The world at large could care less, much like the world at large could care less about a 70s TV show with one aired episode, or comic book superheroes with two issues to their names, or, yes, MUDs and Threshold in particular. Clearly someone does care, and influential people in today's gaming industry clearly care.
So what the hell is Mendaliv's beef? Information has come to light suggesting that Mendaliv once played Threshold. Apparently he was banned from the game for playing it under age. Apparently there's an age requirement. All well and good. Until Mendaliv grew up, became a Wikipedia
Wikipedia in general needs to get their shit together and stop with this kind of nonsense. Today, Threshold. Tomorrow, MUDs. After that, who knows? Gaming itself? It's not that far fetched.
RIP United States of America
July 1776 - November 2012.
Lets face it. Even academia thinks Wikipedia is unreliable. Many MANY schools will not even allow you to use it as a research tool. Of those that will, they won't accept research done entirely from there. Wikipedia is nothing more than a conglomeration of blogs backed by a powerful group of internet nerds who happened to find their niche.
...well, no. But then, I've gone reading through some of those deletion debates. Oi. Make some other groups I've been a part of look civilized.
Speaking as an academic here, I continually find it amusing that on the one hand, we are told that Wikipedia is essentially Satan, and as masters' students we pretty well knew that going in (but it's a problem amongst the undergrads, I guess), yet I'm sitting here looking at a paper topic in my syllabus that links to no less than three Wikipedia articles.
Granted that they're on what amounts to pop culture stuff, which is something Wikipedia actually does WELL, unlike subjects that actually matter, but you know. Funny.
I'm not even convinced they do pop culture well since you can find all manner of utterly worthless TV and movie shit in there. And I mean stuff nobody liked, not even the Academy. Shows that aired single episodes. Whole series that were nowhere near what approaches notable. They've also got any number of completely lame internet memes listed in there along with outright pornographic material that's of no redeeming social value whatsoever.
I'm even willing to grant that much of what's in there they don't know is there.1400 people managing the editable results of millions of people? No thanks. But piss one off? You bet they'll hunt down your stuff and cut it loose. Any policy there can be turned against nearly every article on the site. The whole process is a political game.
I'm well aware I'm not stating anything new and interesting here. It's just that I never gave a shit before it hit close to something I happened to be involved with. I guess that's how a lot of people feel about the place. Sort of "if it's not here, Google doesn't care". Google should care. Google should do something interesting with their Knol project and bury Wikipedia in the grave it's belonged in now for years.
As I speak, Crossmr and Themfromspace (who appear to be blatant cronies or alt accounts of Mendaliv) are repeatedly deleting the link to Dr. Bartle's blog post about Threshold. It sure must be easy to declare something "un-notable" when you squelch and delete everything that establishes notability.
Two things disturb me more than anything else about the whole process:
1) The obsession with notability (WP:N) over verifiability (WP:V). As someone here noted, Wikipedia does pop culture pretty well. Largely, that is because articles of that type focus on WP:V not WP:N. That is why you get the one episode 70s tv shows and such. That has a value. That is information that would disappear if not for being included somewhere like Wikipedia. On hard core factual matters, Wikipedia adds *nothing* to recorded history. Their methods are not peer reviewed and many (most?) of their editors are not qualified or trained to write on the subjects they edit. But on the obscure stuff, Wikipedia might be the "only place" that information can be saved. So these WP:N obsessed, deletion heavy freaks are doing more damage to Wikipedia than I am sure they expect. It is my opinion that they do this because it is easier to destroy and create, and the only way they can "move up the ranks" in Wiki-culture is to pile up contributions.
2) The cabal/clique like nature of the editing/administrative community on Wikipedia. They have tons of policies specifically forbidding the things that happened in this situation (WP:BITE is one of the most notable) but that doesn't stop them. They will ban, lock, and delete anyone and anything that gets in the way of their pet projects and the projects of their friends.
Well that was sure a lovely way to end things, wasn't it?
I'm also not the least bit surprised to see those two engaged in reversion wars. Apparently the rules don't apply to the admins. At least I'd assume them to be admins since the page was supposed to have been put into protected mode. I don't know the ins and outs of how all that works but doesn't that mean only higher level accounts can touch it?
The whole notability thing was a crock from the start. Anyone with half a brain could see exactly what happened by looking over the edit history. Mendaliv simply had it in for you and that was it. Canvassing rules also don't appear to apply to the admins since he clearly canvassed for supporters of his side of things.
I doubt we'll change things much there, but at least now most of the MUD community has been awakened to the reality of what Wikipedia really is.
Wikipedia is a cesspool.
Being an expert doesn't trump consensus. The "relevant community" is Wikipedia's community of editors. While the editing community may be more inclined to respect the opinions of experts over non-experts, that certainly isn't the rule.
Yes, say it like it's a good thing.
That aside, this remains my favorite bit of Wikipedia admin fucktardery. This business is up there, though.
Insurance companies would love it, "I'm sorry, we can't pay out as Wikipedia hasn't acknowleged his death yet. We understand you're his family and saw his corpse and all that, but you're not a notable source. Send us his body overnight fedex? Well I suppose I would have personal confirmation that he is, in fact, dead, but I'm not a notable source either. You have a death certificate? That might help, is the doctor who signed it published by any chance?"
"He's dead Jim!"
"No, Bones, he's not. Wikipedia says you're not a reliable source."
Referenced in the comment thread is a flamewar about boat anchors, and yes, it exists. I was previously unaware that they were such a contentious subject, but there you go.
There used to be a whole category of this sort of thing, but damned if I can find it now.
On the bright side, according to his Wikipedia user page, "Mendaliv is taking a short wikibreak to unwind after a particularly stressful AfD."
Proof that being a value taker is a lot more draining than being a value giver.
Not to downplay Threshold's loss in this battle (condolences Threshold), but geez.. we're talking about Wikipedia here, can we try to keep things in perspective? Muds have existed since considerably before Wikipedia (even Threshold's mud) and will probably outlast Wikipedia (assuming the present unreliability of the site) if not the whole concept of wiki-style databases - Britannica has been doing this sort of thing much better for MUCH longer, after all..
I did get a good laugh out of the whole article about the author not being dead because wikipedia couldn't locate a good enough source for the information.
Frankly, the idea that Mendaliv is having to take a break to unwind after a battle that ended with a series of such ridiculous quotes hardly proves anything beyond the fact that he managed to work himself into a frenzy over something he clearly felt was entirely personal and had nothing to do with appropriate editorial management. Imagine that.
I am getting a headache attempting to unwind the logic on this one. IRC comments are copyrighted to their authors? Is this guy serious? If that's the case then as I commented in the deletion review, the TopMudSites.com forum postings are also copyrighted to their authors. Doesn't that then mean, according to Jeske's logic, that there was either no canvassing going on, or that there's no usable evidence of it?
We are supposed to assume secret IRC chats are totally legit and couldn't possibly be off-wiki canvassing.
But PUBLIC forum posts from which NO DIRECT EXAMPLE of canvassing can be provided are totally horrendous and evil.
Somehow... that makes sense.
The guy is literally green-lighting covert canvassing by saying something so utterly ridiculous.
If you had the full context - that Wikipedia has recently had a fairly big blowout that revolved around IRC logging and unanswerable allegations, you'd understand where his comments are coming from.
The guy's jumping on this opportunity to flog a political horse for the benefit of other wikipedia editors who come across the debate.
It would really be in Cambio's interest to back away from the whole IRC thing - it is the third rail of wikipedia politics.
Wikipedia's War on Gaming History and Threshold RPG
But perhaps this story can contribute to other stories, and the next time it happens to someone they will find my article. And then it can build from there, and perhaps after the 20,000th time it happens, we can get some fixes.