Wikipedia - Deleted because of Irrelevance

The debate within the German Wikipedia on the question of relevance was taken to a new level at a podium discussion at the 26C3 conference, as reported here in German by heise. I listened to most of the discussion via live feed, as I was not in Berlin.

The fight is on between the "exclusionists", who want to make a high-quality, exclusive encyclopedia, and the "inclusionists", who want to include everything, as one does not know in advance what is relevant to someone.

As a member of the exclusionists, Kurt Jansson, former chair of the German group that promotes open information and now at the German newsweekly Spiegel, used an example to demonstrate why he wants high quality. The German president was giving a speech on the occasion of the German woman's soccer team winning another World Cup. His speechwriter apparently was using only the Wikipedia as a source, as the president spoke of the first team winning receiving a set of coffee china and an ironing board each. In reality, they only got the china, the ironing board was a joke put there by some troll. Jansson feels that we have a duty to provide correct information in the WP.

I call this bullshit. Expletive not deleted. Journalists must learn to do research, and not just parrot what they are fed. They need multiple sources for statements of fact. I mean, come on, surely someone out at the German Soccer Association could confirm or refute the ironing boards. People must learn how to use Internet media - and the first rule is to have a second source on everything, then to see what the quality of these sources is.

Sure, it would be sooooo nice to have everything be right at your fingertips and to be correct. But what, indeed, is the meaning of "correct"? That is one of the things we fight about a lot at the Wikipedia. I say that everyone needs to take the WP with a grain of salt. It's a great place to go for a first idea about a topic. But every fact needs collaboration if you are going to use it somewhere else. The links given will be a really, really great first step.

Mathias Schindler spoke for the inclusionists. He gave a really wonderful example: waaaaay back when, he started (he really did, I checked!) an article on a US local politician who was running for the Senate. He wasn't elected yet, but was showing some promice. Schindler did some research and started the article on Barack Obama. Schindler writes on the comment line: "This is a basic stub. Does anyone want to continue?" Indeed.

Using the current "relevance" criteria at the time the article was written, it would have been deleted. Sure, once the guy got to be better known (at the latest when he became president!) someone would have written an article on him. But hey, this was a start and there was some basic information about him in there.

And come on - it's not like as if we are strapped for space.

Martin Haase, the wise forty-something who has his own Wikipedia entry on account of being a professor of linguistics, points out that deleting articles that already have links from elsewhere pointing to them is a deadly sin and takes away information from the knowledge basis. He points to the Open Knowledge Foundation, an organization that is trying to get as much information as possible into the public domain.

He also notes that deleting articles kills the purpose of interwiki links, which are great helps in translations. As an example he uses the cocktail Tschunk, a cocktail popular with hackers that mixes rum, sugar, lime and Club Mate, a high-coffein drink based on mate tea. It is an acquired taste. There is a nice article in the English-language Wikipedia, but the German-language one was deleted and a sentence or so about it worked into the article on Club Mate. The problem is, if you want to know what Tschunk is, you end up on a completely different page and have to read through the entire article to find the bit about Tschunk, instead of quickly finding a short page giving the details.

Really, guys, the German idea of checked changes helps a lot. If people just keep an eye on new articles and quit making heros out of people who propose deletions, we'd be a lot better off. I liked the idea proposed from the floor: have Wikipedia money. Writing articles or editing articles gets you Wiki-Dollars. Proposing a deletion costs 5 Wiki-Dollars. There you go, let the market settle this! And have people buy Wiki-Dollars just like Linden-Dollars, and we even have money flowing in!

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