Wikipedia:Avoid Parkinson's bicycle-shed effect
This is an essay.
It contains the advice or opinions of one or more Wikipedia contributors. This page is not an encyclopedia article, nor is it one of Wikipedia's policies or guidelines, as it has not been thoroughly vetted by the community. Some essays represent widespread norms; others only represent minority viewpoints.
|This page in a nutshell: Don't get hung up on trifling details.|
In his 1957 book Parkinson's Law, or the Pursuit of Progress, C. Northcote Parkinson describes a committee that met to discuss the construction of a new nuclear power plant. The agenda included three items: approving the plans for the plant, discussing a new bicycle shed for employees, and the refreshment expenses of the Welfare Committee. The committee spent two and a half minutes discussing the highly complex power plant, forty-five lively minutes debating the bicycle shed, and over an hour furiously debating the refreshments – the matter was eventually left unresolved and deferred to a further meeting. This "bicycle shed effect" is easily explained: true expertise on nuclear plants is rare, while everybody can have a say about bicycle sheds, and refreshments are clear and dear to all.
Sadly, the "Bicycle shed effect" can be noted on Wikipedia. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, and theoretically every Wikipedian is working to build it. However, many Wikipedians find their energies diverted by resolving disputes, or commenting on policy issues, or playing politics. These areas should be seen as the "bicycle shed", whilst the encyclopedia should be seen as "Nuclear safety".
In articles, this problem manifests itself in the way an article covers the topic. Sometimes articles fail to stick to the main article topic, discussing minor and tangential aspects of the topic, such as usages in popular culture, a list of examples, etc. This soon becomes the focus of the article. It is expected that articles are comprehensive, but they should also balance the information and give weight to areas of discussion in a neutral manner, focusing on presenting the description and application of the topic as the main bulk of the article.
As a tangential issue, most articles that are of a reasonable standard will re-use many of the templates that are available, that can save time in presenting a consistent and well-formatted layout. However, the typical reader of the encyclopedia will only accept good formatting up to a point, providing they can access the information they're looking for. So don't spend too much time debating the structure of templates in the article. In particular, taken to extreme, this can involve edit-warring over the colour of templates, which is just silly.
Perhaps the biggest offender for the "bicycle shed" is the Incidents section of the Administrator's Noticeboard. While it plays an important part in defusing difficult situations and keeping discussions on track, it also has a tendency to attract drama like honey attracts bears. If you spend a lot of time at these noticeboards, and commenting on every situation, you might get the impression that Wikipedia is a very disruptive place. Go and find an unloved article, and improve it, however, and you may discover that's actually far from the case.
- Wikipedia:Article development
- AfD debate on the article Color of the bikeshed that serves ironically to illustrate the concept
- Wikipedia:Establish the bikeshed needs painting before you decide which color to paint it, because bicycle sheds are really popular among essays