Did you know?—good idea, needs reform
- The English Wikipedia's did you know (DYK) section has been a feature of the site's main page since February 2004. From the beginning, the section has served as a place to highlight Wikipedia's newest articles; the first, pencil sharpener, was written by Raul654, who had only been an editor for six months. But over the last few years, the did you know section has gotten steadily larger and more complex, and non-notable or plagiarized articles have occasionally slipped through the reviewing process, leading numerous editors to call for reforms to the system.
- We asked two editors who frequent the process, The Rambling Man and Crisco 1492, to weigh in on the debate. The views expressed are those of the authors alone; responses and critical commentary are invited in the comments section.
The Rambling Man: DYK has lost its original purpose
I'll start in a position contrary to my declaration: I think DYK is a great idea.
Now for the bad news. It's not working. I've been editing Wikipedia since May 2005 and only recently, having worked on WP:ERRORS for a while, have I become aware of the slow but inevitable heat death of a behemoth of the main page. DYK pre-dates my involvement with the grand project by a couple of months, but looking back, and comparing the rules then to now there's been little change.
A long-term DYK editor, attempting to paper over the cracks
One tale often related is that DYK is intended for "new users" to be encouraged to create new material and "be rewarded" by way of a main page mention. Indeed many disgruntled DYK regulars have informed me that they wouldn't be the Wikipedian they are today without DYK having encouraged them to start editing and "make a difference". It may have been true, but it's now a fallacy. A quick look at the edit count of the most recent sets of DYKs placed on the main page shows average contributions per editor exceeding 10,000. Moreover, we actively encourage DYKs to "score points" in Wikipedia contests such as WP:WIKICUP. The push is no longer to encourage and retain new users, it's to win an arbitrary Wikipedia contest.
But to get an item on the main page, what is required? Meet one of a complex plethora of criteria, which generally involves a quid pro quo review often shortened to QPQ. The QPQ system of review at DYK is used as a replacement for quality reviews from multiple editors without conflicts of interest. Therein lies one of the major flaws. QPQ can be read as follows: "review my article favourably, I'll do the same, we'll both get our main page moment of glory". Until lately, DYKs have been earning frequent flyer miles at WP:ERRORS and have even made the odd sojourn to WP:ANI for distasteful content.
An endemic problem: the "hook". The purpose of a Did you know... section ought to be to draw people's interest to something that wasn't obvious, that titilates, interests, grabs their attention. Instead, we have banal and uninteresting hooks, some of which are so contrived that they beggar belief. "Did you know that Footballer A played in Match B?" is a common version. Worse is the hook that conflates unrelated information in order to disguise itself as interesting "Did you know that Footballer A was born in B, but ate apples in C?" These kind of hooks are regular visitors to the main page.
Finally, DYK is plagued by curious technical issues. It's a template nightmare. To start a nomination, you need to add a template to a template. How is this encouraging our new users who find all parts of Wiki markup a jungle? Also, the QPQ system means that once one or more of the complex criteria are met, a main page appearance for a nomination is "guaranteed". The hook will feature, but for no longer than eight hours (if the process is "working") and that's that. The mad rush to update the hooks three times a day results in low quality content being placed on the main page. A common counter-argument is that it's all about getting new interest, but since most editors are using DYK for other purposes, that wears thin.
But I like the concept, the original idea, show me some genuinely interesting facts about genuinely new and half-decent quality articles, and I'll show you a section of the main page we can all be proud of. Right now, we have a broken and dysfunctional process which needs be properly overhauled. The renovation process must involve all comers—not just the DYK hierarchy, who appear to believe there's no problem.
- The Rambling Man is a British Wikipedian who has been editing Wikipedia since 2005.
Crisco 1492: DYK serves a purpose, even if it needs changes
Before I talk about if and how we should change DYK, there are two things that need to be addressed. The first is the widely held belief that Wikipedia does not need new articles (and, as such, DYK is no longer necessary). The second is the relationship between new editors and DYK.
The belief that Wikipedia doesn't need any new articles is, to put it quite frankly, rubbish. Systemic bias has given this encyclopedia a clear bias towards Anglosphere topics. Significant subjects from non-English areas are still lacking (for instance, classic Malay literature, a field with almost 200 years of scholarship, was still a redlink at the time this piece was published), as are hundreds of thousands of more minor topics that are still notable. My first DYK, Salah Asuhan back in April 2011, was on one of the most significant works of Indonesian literature, and since then I have brought almost 600 articles on Indonesia to DYK.
I've yet to run out of topics, and can easily name another 15 or 20 articles that we should have.
That's just one topic, in one country. What about the literature of Zimbabwe? Of Malaysia? What about the music of Argentina? And what about all of those important articles which are still stubs, and thus eligible for DYK through expansion? Plainly, there's still work to be done, and enough new content can feasibly be created to keep DYK running for years.
Some have questioned DYK's value in attracting and retaining new editors, in part because several established editors seem to responsible for much of the content. One must remember that even they were newbies once, confused over Wikipedia's labyrinthine policies and guidelines. My first article, Long Road to Heaven, was written in the 2002 Bali bombings article in 2007 before being moved to its own page; my second article was not until four years later. Because of the sense of pride I got in seeing Salah Asuhan on the main page, I kept writing and improving, branching out into new content, to the point that I have now created and/or been a major contributor to almost 100 pieces of featured content. Perhaps mine is not a typical story, but it is illustrative of DYK's contribution towards producing and retaining quality editors: it can give people the confidence (and the skills) necessary to write better articles and, in the end, contribute increasingly better work.
Now, back to the issue at hand: DYK. I don't know anyone who disagrees. DYK has room for improvement, and change is necessary. However, this change must begin from the beginning, then develop logically from there. We've already given DYK a clear mission statement, thanks in no small part to Prioryman. Next is consolidating and simplifying the rules so that they are both easier to understand for new editors and closer to the actual expectations of the Wikipedia community.
A minor example: for years now, the supplementary guidelines at DYK have used a rule of thumb of one citation per paragraph. This measure is now considered lacking by most of the Wikipedia community; it is not uncommon for verifiable information (i.e. information for which a reference could be found) to be removed simply because no reference is included yet. If all information being referenced is what the Wikipedia community expects, DYK rules should reflect that.
This is obviously a massive undertaking. Ten years of rule creep is a lot to clean out, and any substantial changes to the rules (such as the one I suggested above) would need input from the community. Not just the so-called 'DYK-ers'—a term I despise, because editors are individuals and not just part of a mindless 'them' repeating a single party line—but the Wikipedia community in general. Changes to DYK affect the main page, and changes to the main page affect everyone.
Working together in a collegial atmosphere, we should be able to hammer out a balance between quality and ease of accessibility for new editors, and then collaboratively work at enforcing these standards and helping editors fix their mistakes rather than discouraging them from further contributions. Let's not forget that, somewhere, there may be new editors able to write a thousand articles—if we just teach them how.
- Crisco 1492 is an editor living in Indonesia who has been involved in content development, both on Wikipedia as a writer and off Wikipedia as a trainer. Since becoming involved with DYK in April 2011, he has taken part in over a thousand reviews and nominated more than six hundred articles. He also claims credit for the first DYK to run after becoming a Featured Article and the shortest DYK hook.