Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Starslip Crisis @ Wikipedia

I haven't gotten involved in any of the webcomic deletion debates, but it's pretty hard to miss them going on. Wikipedia continues, business as usual, but the webcomics blogosphere is breaking out the torches and pitchforks at an increasing pace. One case that really got my attention, though, was Kristofer Straub's little "experiment" with the Starslip Crisis article:

I started the vote to delete Starslip Crisis using a freshly-registered user with no other edits under his belt.

I also used faulty logic to initiate the discussion: I said has no Alexa data, and isn’t notable as a result. ( is just a redirect: the comic’s URL is and has an Alexa rank.)

Then I registered ten more fake users to stuff the original delete vote. This is called “sock puppetry” in Wikipedia terminology, and is frowned upon. The names of the fake users I used in the AfD are: Salby, Incredulous, Banalzebub, Hammerabbi, LKeith30, Repromancer, Expiwikist, Floxman, YothSog, and

The AfD went on, and while I think some users caught on the ruse, it was eventually was deleted as being non-notable, that bane of inclusionists the whole wiki over. Straub blogged his feat, at which point the page found its way to Deletion Review faster than a pagemove bot. The discussion, archived here, had some tidbits:
Just to throw my hat into the ring, there's a question of just who it's meant to be notable to. Using the general press as measures of notability of a subject is fine for popular subjects, but it would lead to the conclusion that Feynman diagrams are not a notable subject. On the other hand using physics literature to justify the inclusion of Feynman diagrams would perhaps be akin to using webcomics blogs to justify the inclusion of any given webcomics article. And then you've got to wonder whether a general readership actually gives a damn about either. Sockatume 20:22, 15 February 2007 (UTC)
This next one brings to mind memories of the old CVU deletion debate, started by a user who was blocked indefinitely a little over a week later:
No it doesn't mean that we endorse sockpuppetry. If a sockpuppet says to do X, and they're right, should we then deliberately not do X and hurt ourselves, just so that they don't get to be right? -Amarkov moo! 15:50, 15 February 2007 (UTC)
I hadn't noticed until recently that Eloquence had commented:
Overturn. This needs to be debated without distractions and abuse.--Eloquence* 18:25, 15 February 2007 (UTC)
This seems to be getting more attention than I realized. ;)

What, then?

DRV overturned the AfD result; a subsequent discussion again deleted and redirected the article to Blank Label Comics. Straub has since made another post on the subject -- he's certainly gotten my attention, on this one, and I think he brings up some very good points.

On the other hand, I take away some different lessons, from this incident. The biggest lesson for me is: we really need to get on top of figuring out what the hell "notability" means. Everybody's got their own pet definition, and in some ways that's good, it keeps things interesting, and it keeps people thinking. In other ways, it's bad -- most obviously, we wind up in gaffes like this where our mission simply isn't clear.

But one hypothetical I'd like to point out is this: suppose that instead of a webcomic, somebody had tried this on an article like Martin Luther King, Jr. -- it just wouldn't work, and there's no ifs, ands, or buts about it. When it comes to core subjects, the notability is so obvious as to be a nearly laughable question. All this talk about verifiability and reliable sources? The reason you're able to get away with sockfarms on webcomic AfDs is because they simply don't compare to the true core of an encyclopedia.

As Straub said, and I have a feeling he gets this point, and maybe even the problem, even better than I or most of us do:
However, in Wikipedia’s defense, there’s no real way to judge notability in an arena like this. A lot of people would say Wikipedia is non-notable because it’s user-edited and unreliable. But let’s face it, most webcomics aren’t trying to show up in Wikipedia because they think people need to be able to research their work. They want to be there because it’s neato. And that’s as good a reason as any to delete them. But how do you tell which is which?? I don’t know. They have their work cut out for them.
On the other hand, Wikipedia isn't paper, and I'm not a big fan of intentionally pissing people off when they're not otherwise doing any harm. The right answers to these questions will be discovered in time.

In the meantime, we return you to your regularly scheduled programming: Nidoran♂


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

My name is Richard and I was just given the link to your blog.
I am a columnist/staff writer for

I put up a blog myself announcing the intent to publish an article on this issue. Should I manage to do so, may I quote/link you?