|This page in a nutshell: Finding secret user pages can be a fun distraction, but remains controversial.|
This essay explores the concept of "secret" and "hidden" pages, which have been controversial at times. This essay is not meant to express support or oppose the idea, but merely to describe what they are, give a history, and examine some of the pros and cons that have been argued.
What is a secret page?
Many Wikipedians will create a secret or hidden page in their userspace. They usually offer a reward of some kind for finding it, often a barnstar (such as File:Secret page barnstar.svg). The hidden page is usually accessible by following a link (or possibly many links) somewhere on the user's main userpage or talk page.
While every user will set their own rules for the challenge, the following are usually considered cheating:
- using the Special:AllPages tool to systemically look at every page in a user's userspace.
- using the search bar's suggestions to look at every page in a user's userspace.
- viewing the page's source code for the link.
Some users will have an attack of the clevers and increase the challenge in one or more of the following ways:
- present a code to break.
- offer a riddle that must be solved.
- offer a scavenger hunt that requires the searcher to "find" articles on Wikipedia to solve the riddle.
- hide the link in a way that may not be easily noticeable (for example, piping the link through punctuation, hidden characters, or in some ASCII art).
- naming the page with a common user page (such as /sandbox or /archive); this is especially used to prevent cheaters from easily finding it with search functions (thus, User:me/secret page" is not a very good name for your secret page).
- presenting one or many red herring pages to misdirect users (such pages have been deemed, by consensus at MfD, to not be permissible).
- creating an additional account to hide the page within that userspace (see sockpuppetry caveat below, this method is not an appropriate reason to create a new user account).
Most newer secret pages also have a section that allows/requires the finders to leave a remark and sign. Most editors offer the code for the reward on the secret page, but some will award them manually.
Finding a secret page challenge
Many can be found by using the search bar for this list, however, some are false positives (the list was created by searching for key terms like "secret" and "hidden"). A Google search also works well. Often, a user who has completed one challenge will have completed many more, so look on his or her userpages for evidence that they have received such an award and search the awarder's userpages.. Others can be found on
Several editors have begun collaborating an effort to bring secret pages to MfD, and their list can be found at Wikipedia:User pages/Secret pages to be deleted.
As of July 2010, there is no policy expressly allowing or forbidding users to have secret page challenges, nor to attempt the challenge or collect a reward. Like most issues on Wikipedia, there are many opinions, some of them conflicting.
The first known instance of the conflict was at Wikipedia:Miscellany for deletion/User:Meldshal42/Secret Page in August 2007. The consensus at that time was Keep, but the page was deleted a year later at the user's request.
The whole concept of secret pages was put on trial in April 2008, sparked after a debate on the Administrators' noticeboard: Wikipedia:Miscellany for deletion/Secret pages, and the discussion yielded no consensus, so no action was taken. However, one detail was almost uniformly agreed upon: secret pages that don't fall in line with userspace policy (such as attack pages) must be dealt with as normal, usually with a deletion discussion and if consensus is built up, deletion by administrators; some pages can be deleted without discussion if it fits the Criteria for speedy deletion. Also, users who engage strictly or mostly in non-article contributions need to be mentored and pushed into a better balance between productive editing and recreation.
The closing admin did note that the mass deletion was not the best, and that future deletion discussions should be done on a case-by-case basis, which was put into effect at Wikipedia:Miscellany for deletion/User:DCFan101/Secret Page Challenge. Previously, deletion discussions have had consensus to delete guestbook barnstar template under similar arguments, and could be used as a precedent for this debate. See Wikipedia:Templates for deletion/Log/2008 March 19#Template:The Guestbook Barnstar and Wikipedia:Miscellany for deletion/User:Wwesocks/guestbook/barnstar.
The debate was aroused again in late February 2009 when a post was made at Wikipedia:Administrators' noticeboard. The controversy was sparked further when MZMcBride was revealed to have been deleting a number of the pages without any discussion or notification to the users. Many users claimed this was a gross abuse of his administrator tools, many simply felt he had acted a little precipitous, others lauded him for his bold deletions; while MZM himself maintained that he was performing administrative tasks based on previous consensus, and that bothering with deletion discussion was a waste of time and a rule that could be ignored. Others were merely angry about the sarcastic deletion log summaries, and others about the lack of warning, while feeling that the deletions themselves were in order. The debate ranged between MZM's actions in deletion and the original debate on the existence of secret pages (which was also brought up at Wikipedia talk:What Wikipedia is not). Eventually, Arbitration was requested and accepted: Wikipedia:Requests for arbitration/MZMcBride. The noticeboard thread was closed with no consensus toward content policy, and the arbitration closed with this finding of fact:
5) "Secret" or "hidden" user pages do not fall clearly within any of the criteria for speedy deletion. Despite some extensive community discussions, there is no policy or precedent clearly establishing whether such pages are an acceptable use of userspace. Reasonable arguments can be made on both sides of this question. See User:Bahamut0013/Secret pages for one summary of the competing arguments.
Since the Arbitration Committee does not rule on content nor can it establish community consensus, no decisive solution to the debate was made. However, since the case began, a number of secret pages have been successfully deleted at Wikipedia:Miscellany for deletion on a case-by-case basis, including Wikipedia:Miscellany for deletion/User:21655 Secret page game, Wikipedia:Miscellany for deletion/User:Guitarherochristopher/My Hidden Page and Wikipedia:Miscellany for deletion/User:Microchip08/Labyrinth; cases like Wikipedia:Miscellany for deletion/User:Midnight Comet/Sandbox weren't so clear but did result in deletion. On the other hand, cases like Wikipedia:Miscellany for deletion/User:Baseball Bugs/hidden have resulted in keeping.
In September 2009, the debate was posted again at Wikipedia:Village_pump_(proposals)/Archive_52#Hidden_pages, following a rash of deletion nominations, which even included this essay itself. It was eventually archived without any clear decision or consensus. Some discussion at Wikipedia talk:User pages/Archive 6#WP:UP#NOT/11 aka WP:UP#GAMES. "particularly" was archived without any firm consensus, though several editors noted that, in general, less leeway was being offered, regardless of whether the owner was a solid contributor or not. This view seems to be validated with some recent MfDs like Wikipedia:Miscellany for deletion/User:Tezero/Secret Page, though Wikipedia:Miscellany for deletion/User:Tezkag72/Secret Page shows that the issue is still contested.
A poll at Wikipedia talk:User pages#Secret pages: Ok or not? in April 2010 demonstrated waning support for allowing secret pages to remain, but no clear consensus was made as to what should be discouraged or tolerable and what not, and the guideline remained unchanged. Simmering for a while longer, the issue was raised again at Wikipedia_talk:What_Wikipedia_is_not/Archive_34#Does WP:NOTMYSPACE apply to secret pages? in July and noted at RfC for wider attention, citing WP:NOTMYSPACE. On 26 July, Jclemens (talk · contribs) modified Wikipedia:What Wikipedia is not in the hopes of resolving policy, but was reverted by Becksguy (talk · contribs) the next day, which was duly restored on the 30th. The discussion was closed with consensus that "secret pages are seen as a distraction from the main purpose of the project, and create an inappropriate ethos."
A mass-deletion attempt at Wikipedia:Miscellany for deletion/Secret pages 2 was overwhelmingly opposed. Some opposed out of objection to the flat-out deletion of secret pages, others for the lack of individual rehabilative attention to wayward editors, others merely for the blanket ban and charges of an ongoing "Witch-hunt".
The most common argument for keeping secret pages is that Wikipedia is not a pure encyclopedia, the community is an important part of the editing process, and a lot of that community management and administration has little to do with building an encyclopedia. Many argue that if every single non-encyclopedic pursuit was forbidden on Wikipedia, a large portion of the community would lose interest and leave the project, thus depriving Wikipedia or valuable editors; it was noted that many of the editors who engaged in the challenges are established and productive editors whose loss would be very difficult to replace (see Wikipedia:Editors matter). They also point out that other non-encyclopedic diversions are permitted, such as userboxes and April Fools Day pranks; the idea that editors have a right to recreational pursuits on Wikipedia is implied by such allowances as humor pages and even custom signatures. One of the stronger arguments is that enforcing a policy of no secret pages would be a waste of time for administrators. Another editor pointed out that attempting to legislate a person's behavior is futile in the long run. Also noted was that the arbitrary deletion of a user's personal page would cause some hard feelings that many users would not be able to overcome and leave; a loss of goodwill for the community. Some also argue that the diversion of finding secret pages is an amusing recreation that helps relieve Wikistress. Another argument is that the practice is harmless, and does not affect users who wish to not participate. Some point out that Wikipedia is not constrained by size limits like paper and we don't need to worry about server performance. Another point is that it helps to give new users experience in using Wikipedia, such as navigating pages and wiki markup; however, there are other venues for this, such as the help desk and tutorials. It may not be reasonable to assume that time not spent on secret page challenges will be spent on more "productive" pursuits, a zero-sum game; editors forbidden to engage in secret page challenges will probably either engage in other non-encyclopedic pursuits or simply not use that time on Wikipedia. Another editor noted that even large corporations like Google and Microsoft engage in corporate humor and easter eggs.
One of the most common arguments given is that it is a waste of time and resources that could be better used for productive editing. The policy most often cited is that Wikipedia is not a social networking site; though many people point to the userspace guideline:
|“||Generally, you should avoid substantial content on your user page that is unrelated to Wikipedia...
Examples of unrelated content include, but are in no way limited to:
11. Games, roleplaying sessions, and other things pertaining to "entertainment" rather than "writing an encyclopedia", particularly if they involve people who are not active participants in the project. (cite as WP:UP#Games) (compare Category:Wikipedia games and Category:Wikipedia Word Association.)
While Wikipedia is not paper, there is no reason to clog it up with frivolous junk, that's why we have policies forbidding certain types of pages, especially in userspace. Some point out that many of the users who engage in secret pages offer few, if any, productive edits to the main article space or the encyclopedia as a whole. Some were concerned about a slippery slope of increasing tolerance toward non-productive endeavors on Wikipedia. Some argue that many people who donated money would not want their money "wasted" in such a manner; however, many of the users who engage in secret page challenges are donators themselves. Others feel that the loss of an editor over a userspace page is likely not an editor that would be missed; that the encyclopedia matters more than individual editors. The motivation of an editor to contribute should not be limited to the community or recreation. While the practice may not be directly harmful in an of itself, it does attract more and more time-wasting activity; as well as validate the users who contribute nothing to the mainspace.
One successful argument was that allowing users to create an additional account for the purposes of hosting or participating in a secret page search is a violation of the policies on sockpuppetry, and this point was supported at Wikipedia:Miscellany for deletion/User:DCFan101/Secret Page Challenge. Previous discussion did yield some positive, but incomplete consensus regarding fake secret userpages, i.e. the "red herrings" that mislead the searchers.