Thursday, October 04, 2007

Evolution of Wikipedia

Brock Read at The Wired Campus has made the argument that now that Wikipedia has grown to 2,000,000 articles, the site has switched from primarily adding content to policing and editing content. According to K. G. Schneider, Wikipedia has entered its “awkward adolescence” where, Read notes, “‘inclusionists’ (who argue that the site should continue to encourage new entries) and its ‘deletionists’ (who advocate cutting articles deemed fatuous or picayune) are now engaged in a pitched battle” over what kind of content should be in the encyclopedia. Read notes an interesting example where founder Jimmy Wales’s article on Mzoli’s, a butcher shop, was deleted and then reinstated in a flurry of debate.

Inclusionists may take the evolution of the article as evidence that some quality-obsessed administrators are overstepping their bounds. But deletionists could argue just as easily that the site’s rough-and-tumble editing worked: Wikipedians decided that Mzoli’s is noteworthy, so the article lived to see another day. Are Wikipedia’s editing wars signs of a looming crisis, as Ms. Schneider seems to suggest? Or are they just examples of healthy debate?

I would argue that the debate is one over what Wikipedia is, where deletionists are fighting to keep the site in the mold of the traditional encyclopedia, while inclusionists are open to seeing the site evolve into a new kind of information depository. I have a hard time believing that the deletionists are going to win this one, or that the growth of Wikipedia is going to stall for long. When the inclusionists win—as I think they will—the site will continue to add topics covering more informational ground—local information, cultural fads, obscure knowledge—perhaps changing what we think is “ fatuous or picayune.”

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