Monday, June 04, 2012

Wikipedia deletes Mageia: A Lesson on Information Democracy

The Mageia page was voted out of Wikipedia on 13th May 2012. Since Wikipedia is transparent about this, how this came about is well documented. At first, I was upset. The community had similar reactions on its forum and others. But the more closely I read the Wikipedia's document, the more I understood why it happened. Let's get one thing straight, I am not apologizing for Wikipedia. The editor involved admitted he was a deletionist, that he favors deletion of unverifiable content. And the fact is that articles listed and generally found on the Internet about Mageia are few and usually about the break from Mandriva. The Wikipedia article also did not have many references, mostly back to Mageia's wiki. This was something I noticed earlier too. All this led to an editor challenging the legitimacy of Mageia's wikipedia page. This led to a discussion of the merits of the references in the Mageia page and references available to the editors to verify whether Mageia is significant enough to be included in Wikipedia. More on this later.
So the editor's preference took effect only after other editors stated their opinions. He even notes that he is not against recreation because Mageia may have enough sources/references, it's just that not enough were provided (emphasis is mine). This is where Wikipedia works as a form of information democracy. Another Mageia page on Wikipedia was set up, this time with many solid references to boot. I shoulder some responsibility for not doing anything when I first noticed the lack of references so I will try to add more references when I do see them.
I appreciate the efforts of Wikipedia editors keeping out fluff pieces and spam. The way I see it, what Mageia went through was a necessary process. The need to review and remove pages is necessary because of the threats to Wikipedia and it's credibility. And it is done by clear rules and criteria. Therefore, it is inevitable that false positives will occur. If so, it is up to us to rectify it. By the act of setting up another page and improving on the references, Mageia has proven itself to be significant to some people who believe that it is significant for others to know, thus worthy of inclusion to Wikipedia. To paraphrase someone more eloquent, the price of information liberty is eternal vigilance. As Wikipedia grows, it needs to shave off dubious articles. Sometimes the shave is a bit too close.

It was interesting though to find out the aversion the Wikipedia editors have to Google rankings which they equate to popularity. But to have the question of the significance of something boil down to it being referenced by other reliable sources leaves a bad taste in the mouth. It is akin to saying something is newsworthy simply because other reports of it can be found elsewhere. That is reducing information democracy to, ironically, a popularity contest. So, while trying to discount popularity from the criteria of inclusion, some Wikipedia editors inadvertently derive significance as a function of popularity. Because you have to be a popular disto to be written about in many places, including notable sources. It was made worse when sources were also questioned, specifically discounting the fact of the popularity of Mageia as the 7th most downloaded distribution on DistroWatch as barometer of significance (again aversion to popularity). This I found hard because of the nature of DistroWatch, which basically tries to track popularity of distros. The fact that DistroWatch tracked Maegia as popular is significant. Much like saying the 7th song on the Billboard charts isn't significant.
This is going to be worse as more and more writing becomes a function of attraction. That is writing about something popular as a way of getting attention, a way of getting people to your website, which is a function of business. This increases the number of sources on that particular item and perhaps, it's significance in the eyes of some Wikipedia editors.
But like it or not, that is the nature of Wikipedia and the world of information we live in. A world were opinions are touted as facts and punditry passes as intelligent discussion. A world where the History Channel is full of documentaries (?) of ancient aliens and war is the only history worth mentioning.
I finally understand the calls for the Semantic Web.

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