Dispatches: Good article milestone
There are now more than 4000 Good Articles, and for the first time there are more than twice as many Good Articles as Featured Articles. The numbers of both Good Articles and Featured Articles have been growing steadily, but despite this expansion, most Wikipedia articles do not meet either of these standards. The Good Article process has changed significantly in the three years since it was first introduced. At this milestone, and following a recent debate over whether or not Good Article status should be displayed in mainspace, perhaps it is time for another rethink.
The Good Article (GA) process was introduced in October 2005; its original purpose was to recognise very short or very specific articles, which at the time were not eligible for Featured Article (FA) status. As the Featured Article process evolved, to accept short yet comprehensive articles, the Good Article process in turn changed: it now recognises a wide range of articles which do not yet meet the Featured Article criteria. The Good Article criteria demand that, to pass muster, an article should be "well written, factually accurate and verifiable, broad in coverage, neutral in point of view, stable, and illustrated, where possible, by relevant images with suitable copyright licenses". The differences between GA and FA criteria are that Good Articles are "satisfactory" whereas Featured Articles represent "our very best work".
The number of Good Articles has grown rapidly: there were 1000 by June 2006, 2000 by April 2007, and we reached 3000 in late October 2007. Now, shortly after the Featured Article total crossed the 2000 mark, the number of Good Articles has exceeded 4000. And on 4 May 2008, for the first time there were twice as many Good as Featured articles.
Even so, fewer than 0.18% of the encyclopedia's articles are Good Articles, i.e., certified "satisfactory", and fewer than 0.09% are Featured, that is, our "very best work"; most of Wikipedia's content is neither. At current rates of growth, the discrepancy between Wikipedia's typical article and its best ones isn't likely to change any time soon. The Featured Article count grows by approximately two articles per day. Can the Good Article process help? Well, no, not significantly at the moment: Good Article growth has been fairly stable at six articles a day. That is three times as many as Featured, but it means that the 2:1 ratio is the last such milestone we will see: 3:1 is an asymptote.
The GA process differs from other review processes. Whereas a Featured article candidacy and Peer review involve reviews by multiple editors, a Good article nomination is generally reviewed by only one editor. This is both GA's strength and its weakness. It is a strength because it is efficient: a GA review typically involves only two editors (the reviewer and the nominator), yet if they can agree that an article meets basic standards of quality, then that article is likely better than 95% of the encyclopedia. It is a weakness because different editors interpret the Good Article criteria in different ways.
The Good Article solution to this problem is to make it as easy to delist a Good Article as to list it. The idea is that consensus will eventually be reached by multiple listings and delistings, with article content being improved throughout. This ideal is far from being realised, and there are many editors critical of the Good Article process, with some justification. However, the only way to really understand a process is to get involved, and a further strength of the Good Article process is the enthusiasm and dedication of those editors who choose to do so. All review processes depend vitally on their reviewers. Please come and help out!
The 2:1 milestone arrived just as a discussion on using Good Article signs in the mainspace was closed. This began with the suggestion, which has been proposed several times before, that Good Articles should be recognised, like Featured Articles, with a sign or symbol visible on the article itself, like the bronze FA star. The ensuing discussion was vigorous, with well over a hundred users presenting their views for or against. As Sam, the closing admin, put it, it soon became clear that what was at stake was more than a "poll about putting a little green symbol on pages"; rather, in Sam's words, there are some "big issues" involved, about the future direction of the GA process, and indeed the role of assessment in the encyclopedia as a whole. There was no consensus to add such a symbol.
Now, much more recently, there have been a series of proposals to make changes to the Wikipedia Version 1.0 assessment scale, and a community discussion is underway. Some want to revise the role of the GA process within the broader assessment system; others want to separate out the FA and GA designations from the assessments (A-class, B-class, Start-class) managed by WikiProjects. These proposals arose out of an observation about B-class articles: some are much closer to GA standard than others. At the heart of the matter is the question of what makes for a good enough Wikipedia article.
It is time, therefore, to revisit the role of the Good Article process within the encyclopedia as a whole. Foreign-language Wikipedias have successfully copied the GA/FA mould forged here, but there is still tension between the processes on the English Wikipedia. The recent debate on the Good Article sign illustrated this well: many other Wikipedias mark Good Articles with such a symbol, but here there is a sense of caution, a need for transparency, and a question about what Good Article really means.
There are two quite different reactions to these observations. One is to make the Good Article requirements more precise and more stringent, and to develop more exacting processes to ensure quality control. The other is to accept that the Good Article process will never reliably produce articles meeting an exacting standard, but that Good Articles are at least far better than the vast majority.
If we were to choose the first option, there would be less disparity between our Featured and our Good articles, but this would ensure that, in all likelihood, there were never many more than twice as many of the latter as the former. If we chose the second, however, a process might emerge that would more efficiently bring more Wikipedia articles up to at least an approximate standard. We might even envisage a future milestone, in which there were, say, ten times as many Good Articles as Featured Articles, and in which a far greater proportion of the encyclopedia's content would be at least satisfactory.
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