Policycruft is a pejorative term used to imply that a unpopular policy was created by a small population of enthusiastic fans of the policy in question, with little consensus. The term is a neologism derived from the older hacker term cruft, describing obsolete code that accumulates in a program.
"Policycruft" also implies that the policy is unimportant and that the contributor's judgment of the topic's importance is clouded by fanaticism. Thus, use of this term may be regarded as pejorative, and when used in discussion about another editor's contributions, it can sometimes be regarded as uncivil and an assumption of bad faith.
Rules relating to policycruft
As with most of the issues of What Wikipedia is not in Wikipedia, there is no firm policy on how a rule is created.
Generally speaking, the perception that an rule is policycruft can be a contributing factor in its nomination and deletion, but it is not the actual reason for deletion. Rather, the term policycruft is a shorthand for a rule which one or more editors consider has gained no consensus.
The use of the term implies that an editor does not regard the material in question as gaining consensus, either because the rule is unknown outside fan circles, or because there was never consensus reached for the rule beyond a walled graden, when its exclusion would not significantly harm the existing rules as a whole.
The term is a neologism derived from the older hacker term cruft, describing obsolete code that accumulates in a program. As "policycruft" is largely restricted to Wikipedia and its mirrors, use of the word itself is inappropriate in actual articles (per Wikipedia:Avoid neologisms and Wikipedia:Avoid self-references).
Some users consider this a pejorative term and see it as insulting to well-meaning contributors. They might likewise consider use of the term in forums such as articles for deletion inappropriate. However, this usage is not a substitute for a well-reasoned argument based on existing Wikipedia policies.
The ending "-cruft" might be considered a productive suffix, as Wikipedians have coined other words with the ending, such as "bloggercruft", "gamecruft", "Poké-cruft", "anime-cruft", or "Simpsons-cruft".
The term has also been used sarcastically by opponents, who do things like label obscure scientific concepts "sciencecruft." The implication is that so-called fancruft is a specialist subject, and that it is offensive for people without an interest in or knowledge of the subject to dismiss it.
The question of what material is a rule is likely to remain hotly debated.
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Debates often arise between contributors who point out that the topic on which they are writing is popular (and thus important) and those who believe that, regardless of a fictional universe's popularity, having over three-hundred articles on American cartoon episodes and a single article on Paradise Lost makes Wikipedia look biased towards pop culture and against "serious" subjects such as the Western canon. Of course, as Wikipedia is a wiki, its materials can be said to reflect readers' priorities, since anyone may add more information about their preferred subjects and become an editor. However, the issue of systemic bias is a real one, as is the issue of bias with deletion of verifiable material under the vague notion of it being "unencylopedic."
Tone and focus
One of the major aspects of fancruft articles is that they tend to focus entirely on their subject's fictional relevance, as opposed to their place in the real world. Articles on episodes of television series, or fictional characters in movies are more likely to be labeled fancruft if they are primarily summaries, biographies of made-up people, or collections of trivia that relate to the continuity of a series rather than its critical or social reception. In fact, an article should not be entirely composed of summaries or biographies of fictional characters. Articles can often avoid being labeled fancruft if they avoid focusing on their subjects as fiction. See Wikipedia:Manual of Style (writing about fiction) for more about how to achieve this.
There is also a positive side to the act of describing an article as containing cruft; those who would keep the information in it are stimulated to produce a better article to avoid deletion, or merge several unviably small articles into one with clearer focus. Concentrating, say, minor characters in a series can be good for them, as giving them what some may consider the "appropriate" amount of attention may avoid their complete removal from the encyclopedia.
If you come across fancruft, a kind approach is to assume that the article or topic can be improved. If there is an insufficient amount of reliable source coverage on the topic, the focus of the discussion should be WP:Notability. More likely, the article will lack a hook – one or more interesting facts to attract or pique the interest of readers outside of the small population of enthusiastic fans of the topic. Here, the general focus of the discussion should be What Wikipedia is not (importance conveyed by sources) rather than WP:Notability (coverage by sources).
In the context of WP:NOT, the specific focus of the discussion may be that the article is a compilation of facts that reliable sources outside of fan-based reliable sources have not found interesting enough to publish. The WP:NOT question then may be whether the problem is merely a failure to include available, interesting facts (e.g., style of writing) or whether the article should be deleted under What Wikipedia is not.
Instead of immediately listing a potential WP:NOT article for deletion, it may be better to prompt those interested in the article to improve the article. There are many style of writing templates available, one of which probably will best fit the situation. Advert, essay-entry, fansite, gameguide, howto, likeresume, newsrelease, and quotefarm are just some of the templates available at style of writing templates. Post an appropriate template on the article page and set up a discussion on the talk page. If the article is not moved out of fancruft status in five days, then consider listing the article for deletion.