Saturday Snap – “It’s this limitless space; it can be as big as it needs to be. It can actually contain the sum of everything that we know.”

The quote that gives this post its title comes from Sue Gardner who is Wikipedia’s Executive Director and who Fast Company magazine recently called “The Librarian to the World“.

Most of the time, I have a very positive view of Wikipedia – in fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s one of the single most amazing achievements of the Internet age.  I’m also on record as saying there are only two sites I couldn’t live without – not Google, not Facebook, not Twitter.  The two I couldn’t live without are YouTube (which is a “3D” version of Google in some ways) and Wikipedia (which is the essence of Google – ever notice that 95% of your searches have a Wikipedia link in the top three results?)

I donated to them during their last fundraising drive in the fall then after Christmas decided to become a monthly donor.

But there are also times when I have a very negative view of Wikipedia and even question my decision to support the site financially.

It’s not when I find incorrect information.  Or when I think that some articles on fictional planets from the Star Wars universe are exponentially more detailed than the entries for real countries.  It’s when I see examples of the inclusionist/deletionist battle that constantly rages among the Wikipedian world.

This is a battle between those who feel that Wikipedia, having essentially an unlimited amount of space and a community that is constantly improving and building articles, should allow articles on pretty much anything that can be submitted.  The deletionists take a much more traditional approach.  They see Wikipedia as an extension of a traditional encyclopedia which still needs rules and standards (especially the concept of “notability” to determine whether articles stand or are deleted.)

The times when I see that most clearly are when I try to create new entries.  I did one way back in library school when I created a page for the Spirit of Librarianship award which was deleted within, oh, about  twenty minutes since it was an “internal award at a local university” (translation: non-notable.)  I didn’t agree with the decision but I (sorta kinda) understood why it was made.

The next time was a couple years ago when I created a page for musician, Sam Baker.  Baker is an internationally regarded folk singer whose work has been named “Best of the Year”, “One of the Best 20 Albums of the Year” and the like by a range of press outlets.  To be fair, I didn’t put a lot of work into the entry I created for Baker thinking that it would grow and build over time (as another page I did create, almost as a joke, did.)  Nope, the entry on Baker, who seems to be quite notable by any definition…except Wikipedia’s…was deleted though the link was turned into a re-direct to the page of a band that I think he may have played with at some point in the past (and even that is now gone completely as far as I can tell.)

My most recent experience with the deletionists came just last night when I decided to create a page for NDP’s Palliser candidate, Noah Evanchuk.  (See it quick before it’s gone!)

I should also mention that it’s only my poor typing skills – I searched for “Noah evanchuk” – which made me miss that someone had recently created a page for “Noah Evanchuk” which had already been deleted.

But anyhow, my rationale for creating this page (besides my being an NDP supporter and Noah being a friend – the former also a no-no in the world of Wikipedia) was that there are four people running in Palliser – two who have Wikipedia pages and two who don’t.  The two who do are the sitting MP (understandable) and the Green Party candidate (less understandable.)

But apparently the fact that the Green Party candidate in this Federal election is also the leader of the Provincial Green party means she’s “notable” but the fact that Noah hasn’t “done anything” means he’s not.  (To my mind, she gets rewarded for being a big fish in a small pond while Noah is punished for being a smaller fish in a much bigger pond.)

In looking at the discussion page for the original article on Noah that was deleted, some Wikipedian had made a rather dismissive comment “Yet another unelected Canadian MP candidate in the current election (will this ever stop?), still with no properly sourced indication of notability per WP:POLITICIAN.”  (Translation for those who don’t speak Wiki: “We have rules and you must *prove* someone is notable, even if they’re a politician running for federal office as that, in and of itself, doesn’t make you notable, even though your name will be all over the press and the Internet but this is Wikipedia and we have rules, dammit!”)

That finding intrigued me so I looked up the other Regina-based NDP candidates.  Fred Clipsham, a long-time Regina City Councillor also had a page created then deleted.  The reason?  Being a local city councillor in a “small” city (“only 1/4 the size of Hamilton” one Wikipedian helpfully points out) isn’t notable either!

Dr. Marc Spooner, noted educator and activist, is running against former Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Ralph Goodale (who does have a Wikipedia page) in Regina-Wascana appears not to have a page and I would consider creating one but the deletionists create such a chill that you end up thinking “why bother? It’ll just be deleted anyhow.”

Perhaps the most notable (at least by Wikipedia standards) of the Regina-based NDP candidates is Brian Sklar who has a long career as a successful musician releasing numerous albums, touring internationally, hosting TV shows, appearing at the Grand Ole Opry, winning various awards and even having a Grammy nomination.

Surprisingly, Sklar doesn’t have a Wikipedia page.  As I said, I’m sure he would meet Wikipedia’s “notability” guidelines (well, mostly sure.  Well, maybe sure.  Well, you never know actually, given the experience I had creating the Sam Baker page come to think of it.)

But it doesn’t seem right that Sklar’s page, if Wikipedia editors were to deem it notable, would be for his other accomplishments yet a section could be added about his current political aspirations while others, who are aiming for the exact same office but aren’t as “notable” can’t even have a Wikipedia page.

I guess there are ways to get around this restriction – many links for Liberal candidates within Wikipedia re-direct to this single clearing house page within Wikipedia.  (But not all – ironically, given the subject of this post, the Palliser Liberal candidate is one who isn’t linked to that main listing of Federal Liberal candidates.)

So maybe the NDP or a faithful volunteer (NOT IT!) could set-up something similar?  It’s been done for all the most recent elections, going back to 1988.  (Wikipedia is also not supposed to be “a collection of lists” but apparently their rules only apply sometimes.  And by having a list of candidates, that would allow for mini-bios at the least to be included.)

Why is this important? General internet users have increasingly turned to the Internet and especially Wikipedia as an authoritative source of info so in a way, simply being listed on the site helps justify your candidacy.

The obvious solution would be for Wikipedia to loosen up a bit – but I seriously doubt that’s going to happen anytime soon.  The deletionists don’t realise this but Wikipedia is an encyclopedia but only in the same way that Facebook is a yearbook or Google is a card catalogue.  Instead the deletionists simply out wait and out nitpick everyone, especially newbies – even though Wikipedia is shedding new editors because of the cabal of administrators and deletionists who control the site.  (A recent thread on the topic at MetaFilter is well-worth a read.)

Why else is it important that so-called “not notable” people/places/things have a Wikipedia presence?  As I said, Wikipedia is the essence of Google and often, the one single place that becomes a clearing house for information.  For example, Ryan Meili accomplished all kinds of amazing things during his run for the leadership of the Saskatchewan NDP.  But now that he’s left politics, his web page is down, information about his run is scattered across the Internet and the Wikipedia page that I created for him and which, luckily, wasn’t deleted (why a candidate for the leadership of a provincial party is notable and a candidate for a federal party isn’t is anyone’s guess – yes, Ryan was going for a leadership position but both were “just” candidates and in all honesty, Noah has a much better shot of winning than Ryan ever did!) is that single clearing house (which is the top Google result when you search for Ryan’s name) will provide information about Ryan and his candidacy to anyone who may want it in the future – students, scholars or even other politicians.

Sue Gardner was called “The Librarian to the World” by Fast Company magazine.  But, until Wikipedia learns what it means to be a true repository for all of the world’s knowledge as the site claims to be (and which libraries have been for hundreds and thousands of years), that title is, frankly, a crock of shit.

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