Friday, March 28, 2008

Noticeboard bloat, part two

Last year, I wrote about the rapid proliferation of noticeboards on Wikipedia. Shortly after that, the Editabuselinks template got trimmed down a bit. Unfortunately, the bloating has continued since then. Compare if you will between the 5 July 2007 and 28 March 2008 versions.

The linked July version sports two sections: Editing abuse, including Administrator intervention against vandalism, the 3RR noticeboard, WikiProject on open proxies, Long term abuse, Suspected sock puppets, Abuse reports, Requests for checkuser, and Usernames for administrator attention; and Noticeboards, including the Administrators' noticeboard, Incidents noticeboard, Community sanction noticeboard, Arbitration enforcement noticeboard, Biographies of living persons noticeboard, and Conflict of interest noticeboard.

Today's version has exploded into four sections: General help, including the Help desk, Department directory, Media copyright questions, Image copyright help desk, WikiProject User Page Help's own help desk, the New contributors' help page, and Village pump assistance subpage; Report abuse, including Administrator intervention against vandalism, WikiProject Spam, the 3RR noticeboard, Usernames for administrator attention, WikiProject on open proxies, Suspected sock puppets, Copyright problems, and Long term abuse; Request assistance, including Requests for page protection, ISP Abuse reports, Requests for checkuser, Requests for arbitration, Requests for mediation, the Mediation Cabal, and Requests for comment; an,d Noticeboards, including the Administrators' noticeboard, Incidents noticeboard, Arbitration enforcement noticeboard, Checkuser clerks noticeboard, Bot owners' noticeboard, Conflict of interest noticeboard, Biographies of living persons noticeboard, Fiction noticeboard, Fringe theories noticeboard, Original research noticeboard, Neutral point of view noticeboard, and Reliable sources noticeboard.

Notice a trend? From 14 to 35 pages linked, in about half a year. What once took two rows of text now takes at least five or six, depending on your display. Previously I mentioned a 60% increase in link count in roughly a year; here we're looking at 250% in half that time.

Looking at the template history, links added are rarely removed or get replaced in short order.

What's good about this growth? It allows people to focus on topics they're interested in, and as such may allow return users to address complex issues. The topical archives produced by subject-based pages may be easier to browse, when dealing with issues that come up repeatedly. Consensus on a given area of policy may become more clear if discussions are kept together.

What's bad about this? Because it's so hard to watch (or search) an ever-increasing number of pages, large portions of the community are effectively excluded from discussion at these boards. Where one perspective might see a group of experienced users addressing complex issues, another perspective might see a cabal or posse dominating a particular area by virtue of being the only users regularly active on a page. I worry newcomers will be overwhelmed -- I imagine the difficulty of figuring out where to go only grows as the option count increases, and I'd bet the rate of growth is more than linear. Consensus on a given area of policy may become less clear if discussions exclude a large number of users.

Do we have other options? I'd be curious about finding a happy medium, here, something that allows for quick temporal awareness of current discussion and topical browsing of pages and their archives. Even something simple like a list of thread links, sorted by topic, could be a great step in that direction. Efforts like Eagle 101's AN archive search tool or Messedrocker's RFC bot are definitely a help, here.

Mostly, though, I don't think this rapid proliferation of noticeboards and overcrowded navigation templates is any sort of indefinite solution.


Lar said...

I know I can't keep up with it all. And this growth isn't confined to just en:wp. Other wikis see it too, to a certain extent, but I think they're earlier on the curve.

Mostly rather than watch a lot of these, I let people ask me to do things, then I look, and I try to use common sense to decide what to do.

Matthew said...

Lar, I swear your on every wiki in the wikiverse. I've been responsible for and a critic of some of this rapid expansion. Maybe some good merges are needed.