This week, the Signpost went to the kennel and interviewed WikiProject Dogs. The project has several featured and good articles, along with a large number of "Did you know" entries. We asked Miyagawa, Tikuko, and Sagaciousphil about the challenges of creating, curating, and maintaining canine content in an increasingly dog-obsessed world:
What motivated you to join WikiProject Dogs? Do you have any canine companions?
Miyagawa: I joined the Dogs project very early on in my editing career. At the time I was doing the odd technical fix here and there but hadn’t really worked on any article improvements. Then my wife and I got our first dog, which pretty much changed both my life and my editing career, as it was an English Cocker Spaniel, which became the first target of mine for improvement. It became my first ever GA, although I later demoted it because it didn’t really meet the quality standards of the later articles I worked on and I didn’t want new editors to mistakenly use it as a basis for which to base new GAs on. Improving that further is on my very long list of things to do! I also have a Jack Russell Terrier, and at the time I got him there was some issues with the associated article due to the use of the term "Jack Russell Terrier" meaning different things to conformation clubs and hunting societies. Thankfully, both that article and the associated Parson Russell Terrier articles are both GAs now. I admit now that I don’t do as much article improvement work on dog articles as I used to, but that is only because I’m a member of several different Wikiprojects across a number of subject areas and so I’m spread a great deal more thinly than I used to be!
Tikuko: I've had dogs my entire life, and at one point I was interested in taking up a career as a competition herding trainer. It was ultimately this passion that brought me to the WikiProject, and when I found out my contributions were desired - and began to get GAs - I stuck around. Although I don't currently own a dog, I've had German shepherds, American Eskimo Dogs, Border Collies, a Dobermann/Labrador Retriever cross - the list goes on and on, as I tend to adopt older dogs from the local shelter. I've stuck around in the Project because the people in it are all wonderful, supportive, and helpful.
Sagaciousphil: Some of my very early edits were to adjust the terminology used in articles about show dogs and the awards they had won, which then progressed to adding bits and pieces of information about health tests and the like. My involvement progressed from those random, occasional edits to making what I hope are more in-depth contributions. At present I have four dogs, Setters and Spaniels; two "oldies" who are both around ten years of age, and a pair of youngsters of four and five. I also own a couple of pups who are under a year but they don't live with me. Part of my real world work means I am dealing with other peoples dogs all the time and over the years, I've owned/bred several UK titleholders who have been successful at the highest levels of competition, so I guess dogs make up a very large proportion of my life and it's natural I'm drawn to dog articles!
Are some breeds better represented on Wikipedia than others? What can be done to improve coverage of neglected breeds?
Miyagawa: There are probably more spaniel breed articles of a good standard in the project than others, this is because at one point I was aiming to bring all of those to GA. I ended up moving onto something else, but a good chunk of it was completed. Some dog breeds that tend to have rather poor quality articles in general are those with portmanteau names such as the Labradoodle or Cockapoo.
Tikuko: There is definitely a swing towards good spaniel articles, but there are also plenty of good herding breed articles, even if they aren't up to GA standards. The articles with the worst quality tend to be designer dog articles and articles for breeds unrecognized by any kennel clubs, as they are lacking in reliable sources and tend to be watched (and poorly edited) by supporters and breeders of these dogs.
Sagaciousphil: I completely agree with Miyagawa and TKK's comments above - the spaniel articles are good, Cockapoo, Labradoodle etc are poor. I would also add there are some breed articles that are not much more than re-prints of the breed standards.
In addition to breeding, what aspects of the canine world are documented by Wikipedia? Are there any dog-related topics that have been overlooked?
Miyagawa: Given the work undertaken on horse racing articles recently by several editors, it reminds me that there hasn’t been a great deal of work on Greyhound racing in the dog world. There are probably only a handful of famous racing Greyhound articles even created, and races such as the Scottish Greyhound Derby are merely stubs with a long table. The vast majority of show dog related articles are specifically about dogs who have won best in show at Crufts or the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. This is mainly because the sourcing is easier for those as typically you get a fair deal of press following a victory at either of those shows. However, there are independent conformation show publications around the world that cover shows, and if there is sufficient coverage from reliable sources than any dog could be considered notable enough to warrant an article.
Tikuko: As Miyagawa said, there is definitely a dearth in our coverage of the Greyhound racing culture; we are missing articles on notable dogs in just about any category that isn't a conformation champion of a major show, or a dog notable in a science-related field. There is pretty good coverage of things like Dog fighting compared to more positive things like Earthdog trials.
Dogs have had a fairly strong showing in the Did You Know? section of Wikipedia's main page. Why do new dog articles sprout so frequently? Has there been any concern at the project that efforts to create stubs and start-class articles might overshadow efforts to improve articles to Good or Featured status?
Miyagawa: Because of the availability of sources, individual dogs tend to get trapped at a stage where everything available from reliable sources on the internet has been added to the article but this is limited in the most major of achievements. So it is difficult to expand these to Good or Featured status as further information is in the more specialized publications which aren’t so easily available. Dog breed articles on the other hand are easier to take to GA or FA by virtue of the mostly more accessible sourcing.
Tikuko: Part of the reason that stubs are so frequent in the project may actually be my fault, as I am currently working on creating articles for the List of Best in Show winners of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show and at least one of those stubs was taken to DYK. However, work on the project seems to be split fairly evenly between new article creation and work on existing articles. Part of the reason we deal with so many new articles and stubs is that everyone with a mongrel thinks that their dog is a breed that needs an article.
Sagaciousphil: It would probably be possible to have more articles on individual dogs but as Miyagawa states, it is difficult to find sufficient reliable sources as there is not much coverage in the general media except for Crufts and Westminster winners. We have a stub article on the World Dog Show but that receives hardly any general coverage (the entry figures for the World Show in 2013 was around 17,000 dogs whereas Crufts was over 25,000). As touched on by TKK, there are also new articles for "the breed I just made up and thought of a name for" being added - as fast as we can get the existing doubtful ones deleted, others seem to be added.
Has it been difficult to find sources for articles about dogs? What online and offline resources are available to editors?
Miyagawa: The difficulty in sourcing dog breeds lies mainly with the sourcing of the history sections. Whilst most sections such as the description and health can be sourced reasonably easily from modern sources, the history section tends to be more difficult in cases where the dog breed was developed prior to the 20th century. Modern texts don’t tend to go into the history of dog breeds in great detail, although there are a few standout exceptions. However, around the end of the 19th and early 20th century there was a big push for dog conformation shows and dog hunting in general, which resulted in a great number of quality sources being published. These have since been archived at the usual archiving websites and are a keen resource for editors. For example, the detail in the Dandie Dinmont Terrier article could not have been achieved without those archived sources. Even so, at times an editor has to look for conjecture in those works – for example it was a source from that era which created the fabled death of the famous Barry the St. Bernard at the hands of a soldier he was trying to save. Complete fiction - even though it is repeated on a gravestone atop an empty grave in France – he died of old age in Switzerland and then was taxidermied. He's till on display now, although there are ongoing arguments about whether or not he should wear a barrel around his neck!
Tikuko: It's not difficult for mainstream dog breeds, or dog breeds which have existed for a while or are popular. There is definitely more information available on breeds than on individual dogs, but most of these sources available online tend to be from the 19th century or on the breed's club websites. Sourcing for individual dogs is infinitely more difficult. There are dog-specific search engines that can help editors find sources, but even then for certain things sources are lacking.
Sagaciousphil: Online versions of old dog breed books are a great help, the main drawback is I find myself spending hours reading through them! Many books considered "breed bibles" were actually self published, so we're generally unable to use these. Both the American Kennel Club and The Kennel Club now have breed pages giving basic information, which can be helpful. Unfortunately there are a lot of SEO sites that get added as references and really cannot be relied on. Official breed clubs can be useful but again you have to remember these are likely to be biased; I would stress "official" clubs as it is too easy these days to set up a web site and declare it is the breed club of whatever breed you made up! I tend to only use clubs that are recognised by the major kennel clubs like AKC or the KC.
Like images of cats, images of dogs are ubiquitous on the internet. How does the project determine which photograph will serve as the primary identifying image for a particular dog article? Do disputes arise between editors who favor their own pet's image in an article?
Miyagawa: An ideal image for an infobox should be a shot of a dog standing sideways with its head turned towards the camera. However, where this isn’t available it can lead to disputes. As you say, there can also be disputes when editors add images of their own pets. There are some dog breed articles out there completely overloaded with images of people’s own dogs to the extent that the article just looks messy. Fortunately once an article is pushed through to GA/FA it becomes a great deal more stable and so it is much less likely to end up having images inserted where it actually has a negative effect on the article itself. I have no issue with editors uploading images of their own pets – as long as it is a better image than one already on the article. If you can take your dog out to the park along with your high resolution camera and take a quality photo of it posed in a manner that improves the article then great! Sadly the vast majority of owner added images are camera phone shots made in darkened rooms. There is only so much cleaning up you can do with images like those in order to actually make them worthy of being in the article. I can hold my hand up – I have had two images each of my dogs on articles in the past, one has since been removed from the article as it was replaced with an image that was more important (it was the Spaniel image above - used when I created the article on Doggles). In three of those images there were no alternatives available, whilst the fourth shot was posed in the same manner as a historical image of the breed so as to allow the reader to directly compare the two. We’re fortunate in having a subject area where images are easier to come by, but sometimes we can be a little overloaded with them!
Tikuko: Miyagawa covered the issues well here. Unfortunately, many editors, mostly new contributors, feel that their puppy is cute and needs to be included in the article, which results in swamps of images that add nothing to the article and crowded, difficult-to-read text.
Sagaciousphil: Yes, it can be a problem - I can think of at least one article which has pics of the same dog at eight weeks, six months, a year etc etc. Convincing people that articles are not a gallery for their dogs life stages is not easy! It can also be the case that although the image is an excellent photograph, it doesn't actually convey any encyclopaedic information.
What are the project's most urgent needs? How can a new contributor help today?
Miyagawa: There are quite a lot of ongoing page patrolling for the articles as dog breeds tend to be hit up by IP editors quite frequently. It mostly isn’t deliberate vandalism, just editors who are new and don’t know that it isn’t fine to edit the top line of the Beagle article to read "Beagles are great! I love mine!" Very much a case of don’t scare the newbies! :) Other than that, it is the need as most projects – article improvement.
Tikuko: There are numerous breed articles where sourcing is contentious at best, and new contributors could help by finding sources for these articles. They can also help with removing unsourced statements from breed temperament sections - these tend to turn into unsourced piles of "loves children and good with everything", even for breeds whose breed clubs themselves state that the breed is awful with kids.
Sagaciousphil: There are a lot of breed articles with external links to breed clubs, rescues etc which should be included at DMOZ instead; many also have an external link listed to the breed standard, which is not necessary as all standards are linked in the info box. Some even have links to breeders personal websites, blogs and forums either as external links or as references. TKK mentions the temperament sections requiring attention, I'd add many of the description sections need improvement. I would be inclined to prune some of the "Notable dogs" sections back as well.
Keep your fires going for next week, when we interview a project focused on areas underneath the red dragon. Until then, practice your roaring in the archives.