Old Man Murray was a US computer gaming review website begun in the late 1990s by Chet Faliszek and Erik Wolpaw. Harsh, irreverent, and satirical, many in the gaming industry look back on the website as an inspirational classic. Faliszek and Wolpaw went on to work in the industry for Valve Software and were central figures in the creation of Portal, one of the most popular and critically-acclaimed games of the last few years. So, naturally, people in the industry and gaming fans were surprised when the Wikipedia article on Old Man Murray was deleted on March 2. The deletion was overturned the next day at Deletion Review.
Deletion discussions can be one of the most contentious interactions Wikipedians have with those outside Wikipedia, especially when it involves a subculture or fandom with vocal adherents. Perhaps the most notorious of these incidents was the long running conflict regarding the deletion of articles on webcomics, as discussed in this 2007 Wikinews article. Non-Wikipedians often interpret a deletion discussion as an assault on their field of interest and are offended at Wikipedians who are ignorant of it making decisions about it, and some of them respond with uncivil comments or personal attacks. Wikipedians are dismayed when they are the subject of personal attacks during what should be a sober policy discussion, and see the vocal fans who are denouncing them as little better than those who vandalize articles. Needless to say, this isn't a fertile ground for productive discussion between the two groups.
This time was no exception. Gaming blogs and message boards filled with angry messages (a Slashdot article received over 400 comments) and many fans shared their ire by posting to the Wikipedia deletion discussion. Rob Beschizza, Managing Editor of the popular website Boing Boing, wrote about the deletion. About two dozen prominent figures in the gaming industry responded to a call by John Walker from the gaming blog Rock, Paper, Shotgun to testify to the importance of Old Man Murray. Valve co-founder Gabe Newell wrote that "Old Man Murray were the Velvet Underground of post-print journalism" and Bryan Lee O'Malley, creator of the Scott Pilgrim graphic novels which are steeped in gaming culture, wrote "As far as I'm concerned, Old Man Murray invented the internet, and also invented making jokes about video games, two things which are maybe the foundation of everything I hold dear." Walker told the Signpost that he was not surprised by this response. "OMM is something spoken about by people in our industry with hushed tones of reverence. I'd be fairly disappointed to learn a developer was not a fan of their writing."
Much of the ire was focused on the Wikipedian who nominated the article for deletion, User:SchuminWeb. Ben Schumin, who runs a website called The Schumin Web, was alleged by many complaining about the nomination both on and off Wikipedia, including Beschizza and Walker, to have a conflict of interest because of past interactions with Chet Faliszek. Most of the complaints centered around a brief decade old comment mocking The Schumin Web on the website Portal of Evil, founded by Faliszek and K. Thor Jensen. (The Wikipedia article on Portal of Evil was also nominated for deletion by Schumin and deleted on February 5.) For his part, Faliszek, who did not respond to the Signpost before press time, seemed to be baffled about the situation. On the website POE News, he wrote "What the? I actually helped Ben with his site and setting up his Cafe Press store... I don't remember ever been[sic] mean to him. I don't really care about wikipedia but this is bizarre."
Schumin told the Signpost "I do not currently, nor ever did, hold a grudge on either the Portal of Evil or Old Man Murray sites, or their creators for that matter." He said he nominated the articles for deletion "strictly on notability grounds" and only after examining the sources in the article and searching for more potential sources. "I was an 'exhibit' on the Portal of Evil site, and it seems that many people automatically equated being 'exhibited' with wanting revenge" and made those claims "rather than make arguments refuting the sourcing [...] It was an easy argument to make, and so people did, even though it really had nothing to do with the discussion." Schumin told the Signpost that he feels unfairly singled out in what he calls a "case of shooting the messenger." (Schumin said he's no stranger to this sort of thing and recounted how he was similarly targeted after he was denounced as an "anarchist" on the blog of conservative commentator Michelle Malkin for merely documenting an anti-war rally he did not participate in.) Beschizza, for one, is unsympathetic. He told the Signpost that someone who doesn't wish to be the target of such public anger "should probably not initiate public debates in the world's most popular publicly-edited information resource in an attempt to delete an article about a website that just happens to be a legendary and much-loved inspiration for legions of working journalists and bloggers."
Many of the Wikipedians participating in the deletion discussion were focused on sources instead of Schumin. At the time of its deletion, sources in the Old Man Murray article were largely limited to gaming message boards and the OMM website itself. The non-Wikipedians participating who were not focused on Schumin seemed to be confused by the insistence of Wikipedians on sourcing something that everyone in their field already knew or provided sources which merely mentioned the website in passing. On Rock, Paper, Shotgun, John Walker wrote of the difficulty of finding sources for defunct websites. "The issue starts when something was notable in an online form, but in the past. There aren't so many contemporary pieces being written about a website that ended in… oh, hang on, I can't check Wikipedia." However, the controversy surrounding the deletion seems to have spurred editors to find acceptable sources to establish the notability of Old Man Murray. As of this writing the article contains 46 sources, including one book of academic essays. Schumin notes that the deletion discussion he initiated also "led to the creation of articles on gaming-news sites that established that notability. So while the proper sourcing didn't exist before, now it does, and that seems fine to me, and actually a better result than a delete."
Everyone seems to be pleased with the resulting restored and properly sourced article, but still up for debate is what Wikipedia can do to avoid such contentious interactions and controversial deletion discussions. Both Beschizza and Walker expressed concerns to the Signpost about how Wikipedians interact with non-Wikipedians during those discussions. Beschizza said that "the underlying problem is that Wikipedia's editorial culture isn't very diverse. Those outside of it who notice AFD disputes, and who understand the importance of the articles threatened, don't seem to command much respect from established Wikipedians" whom he views as "quite insular." Walker said: "My suggestion for handling similar situations would be to move beyond this peculiar misunderstanding of the presence of new accounts taking part in a debate. It seems fairly obvious that when someone unrelated and uneducated about a subject is attempting to have its page removed, that those who are related and educated about the subject would turn up to defend it. A debate like that should offer an opportunity for acculturation, rather than further building up the walls to keep out the outsiders. It's an opportunity to say, 'You know much about this subject - could you edit the article with this information, correctly cited?' People screaming 'meatpuppet' at every new person does not give the impression of a professional body making the decisions."