The Deletion Wars: Who won?
Before We Begin...
First of all, this document is an essay based on the memories and opinions of one Wikipedian, Andrew Lenahan - Starblind. It is not an official Wikipedia policy document, nor are the views expressed here necessarily shared by Wikimedia. The author fully acknowledges that other viewpoints on the matter do exist, and invites anyone interested in sharing alternate viewpoints to do so on his talk page. Also, this essay is not intended to call attention to any particular person or group: care has been taken not to call anyone out or "name names". Instead, this document is intended to show that factionalism in general tends not to be helpful to our ultimate goal of creating an encyclopedia.
What Deletion Wars?
The Deletion Wars were an ideological conflict on Wikipedia between two opposing sides: inclusionists and deletionists. The conflict ran from about mid-2004 to mid-2006. While a few of the participants were trolls whose primary intent was to cause trouble, the vast majority of participants on both sides did think they were ultimately acting in the best interests of the encyclopedia and were not necessarily bad people or even bad editors. In fact, most of the conflict remained remarkably civil throughout, perhaps a testament to the overall strength in character of Wikipedians in general. The conflict was not without its casualties, however: some of those with particularly extreme views on one side or the other have been banned or left in a huff, and even some of the more enlightened combatants found it difficult to attain positions which require community support, such as administrator or arbitrator.
The Deletionist Dream: Probably the best summary of deletionist sentiment is the desire to keep Wikipedia small and focus primarily on topics covered by other encyclopedias, with the ultimate goal of being more open and overall better than other encyclopedias, but not necessarily much bigger in terms of article count.
Small Victories: Significant deletionist accomplishments included:
- Speedy Criteria/Expansion: - A method of quickly deleting an article without the need for a lengthy AfD debate, later expanded to enclude such things as garage bands when AfD started to get crowded with uncontested deletions.
- PROD: - A time-delayed method of deleting an article without an AfD, created for much the same reason as Speedy.
- Jimbo acknowledges notability: - In October 2005, Jimbo personally nominated an article for deletion, specifically citing lack of notability as one of the primary factors for deletion. While the AfD failed, it did establish that Jimbo felt that notability was a criterion for deletion. Both sides had previously assumed this not to be the case.
Why They Lost: Ultimately deletionism failed because Wikipedia simply grew so fast: in the time it takes an AfD or PROD to resolve, thousands of new articles will be created. People came to admire Wikipedia as a place to look for things they knew they wouldn't find in Britannica, from the latest pop hit single in Belfast to a list of Naruto's powers. The answer wasn't to try to delete articles as fast as they could be created, but to verify, merge, and expand.
Deletionist Waterloo, The Turning Point: The millionth article. By this point, Wikipedia had grown far beyond its paper ancestors, 17 times the size of Encarta and almost 9 times the size of Britannica. Wikipedia was big, and wasn't going to get small again anytime soon.
Aftermath: Many "hardcore" deletionists have either been banned, left the project, or simply don't edit much anymore. Others have converted to "mergism", or seek to find ways to move extremely obscure articles to alternate venues such as Memory Alpha and Wookieepedia.
The Inclusionist Dream: Inclusionists believe that very very few articles should be deleted, and that notability should not be a factor in deletion decisions. In its most extreme form, some inclusionists have actually advocated articles for everything that exists, although the vast majority of inclusionists do not go that far.
- "Wikipedia is not paper." - The concept that Wikipedia is fundamentally different from a paper encyclopedia, which became something of an inclusionist battle cry.
- Notability? - The efforts of inclusionists has largely kept "notability" out of any official policy, with the exception of CSD-A7. It's only fair to note, however, that notability has long been a de facto policy anyway, even if it never becomes official.
- Television epsiode articles and Schools - Inclusionists have generally been successful in keeping school articles and television episodes in the past, and enough precedent exists that they are rarely deleted even today.
Why They Lost: Verifiability is an inclusionist's worst enemy: it eliminates an entire class of possible articles (things which haven't been covered by reliable sources). Thus, when Wikipedia began to take verifiability and reliable sources more seriously, the end was near for inclusionism. the final nails in the coffin were the acknowledgement from the very highest levels of Wikipedia that the glut of useless content was starting to seriously damage our credibility, with Wikipedia's lawyer , "We are losing the battle for encyclopedic content in favor of people intent on hijacking Wikipedia for their own memes. This scourge is a serious waste of time and energy. We must put a stop to this now."
Inclusionist Waterloo, The Turning Point: The John Seigenthaler Sr. Wikipedia biography controversy. The Seigenthaler affair tore through the Wiki world like a thundercrack, opening eyes and minds to the concept that bad articles can be harmful, both to Wikipedia and its repution and also to real people in the real world. The wide-eyed and naïve "I can make an article about anything!" was gone, replaced by a newfound focus on verifiability and reliable sources for all articles.
Aftermath: Many "hardcore" inclusionists have either been banned, left the project, or simply don't edit much anymore.
Is it really over?
The short answer is yes, it is. AfDs are closed based on discussion and strength of argument, and it's clear that anyone voting based on a purely factional argument (e.g. "Keep all articles must be kept!") will certainly be ignored by the closing administrator. Also, wiki-wide attitudes toward trolling and fighting in general are much stricter than before, and anyone who arrives on Wikipedia purely to factionalise or agitate isn't going to last long. Yes, there will be the occasional joker who thinks nominating The Bible for deletion is a big laugh, but it'll be speedily kept within minutes and the yuks will be short-lived indeed.
What have we learned? That each article should be considered on its own merits, and attempts to polarise or factionalise Wikipedia are both foolish and unproductive. Looking at the present, it's apparent that both sides have lost. It's easy to feel annoyance towards both the deletionists and the inclusionists: they made Wikipedia a rather unpleasant place to be at times and caused a lot of conflict. But perhaps they were also a valuable system of checks and balances when Wikipedia was young and wild. If every Wikipedian had been a staunch inclusionist, we'd have tens of thousands of articles on gay and smelly high school kids, not to mention every pet cat who ever did something adorable. On the other hand, if every Wikipedian had been a staunch deletionist, we'd be a boring clone of Encarta with no ads. Maybe each side did have something to offer after all, even if it was only keeping the other side down. But the time of the deletionists and inclusionists has, now and forever, come to an end...
The Far Future
...or has it? It might be possible that in the future, both sides will turn out to have won after all. Wikipedia is moving toward Wikipedia:Version 1.0, a tight, verified core set of articles intended for print and DVD distribution. Such a project is essentially a deletionist's wet dream. But the future has plenty to offer inclusionists too: the wiki world has expanded far beyond just Wikipedia, and wikis now exist for a huge range of topics. It's also easier than ever before to start and host a new wiki, so no contributor ever needs to ever feel like there's nowhere to go. There's a bright future out there for everyone, so let's get writing!
Andrew Lenahan - Starblind November 19th, 2006