Wikipedia:Lost functionalities

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Mirow zamek.jpg
Wikipedian Kim Bruning making presentation at Wikimania 2011

Contrary to what you might expect, Wikipedia has lost several functions and abilities over time. Typically these functionalities have been lost as collateral damage, when other concepts (combat vandalism, kooks, etc.) were introduced.

This is a wiki, please contribute to this list if you know anything I've missed.

Here's a list:

Ability to establish priority[edit]

1000 ml Erlenmeyer flask.svg

It was hoped that scientists would sometimes drop by Wikipedia, and start a stub or short article on something they had researched, prior to it being accepted in a peer reviewed journal. This would have allowed a scientist to prove that they discovered something first.

We originally imagined that ability for scientists to establish priority would make Wikipedia the most current information source in history ;-)

Didn't happen as much as we hoped at first, and the No Original Research policy makes this explicitly unacceptable.

OpenWetWare now allows this ability. [1]

  • I'd like to see progress on this too. You didn't mention it but speedy transmission of such info enables faster advance of science and technology. So the direction you suggest can help not only the one researcher, but also the public good. It would be good to carve out some space from the rules on citing primary sources also (e.g. historical documents online; and research-oriented wiki pages e.g. on OpenWetWare). I've struggled against this a bit. De facto it seems one can cite primary sources and it is often tolerated. Finding the right policy here and who to allow to do what seems difficult. I'd like to help if I can. -- Econterms (talk) 07:08, 6 August 2011 (UTC)

Web phenomena / non mainstream phenomena[edit]

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Notability criteria sometimes tangle with web phenomena. The canonical example is webcomics, where many of the most notable (as stated by recognised webcomic experts) webcomic articles on Wikipedia were deleted.

Similar problems can happen with any kind of phenomenon that is not reported in mainstream news (but may be reported on the web)

Workgroups can counterbalance deletion these days, to some extent, but coherent reporting of phenomena can still be a problem.

This is somewhat misleading. As time went on and Wikipedia expanded the boundary about what people thought might reasonably go into it also expanded. You wouldn't expect some comic or even a newspaper with a few tens of thousands of readers to have a place in a traditional encyclopaedia unless it was very special and so was the case in the early Wikipedia. Once the waterline extended out far enough that people even considered making entries on these subjects people had to give thought to exactly which of these subjects should and shouldn't be included. As abuse of Wikipedia for promotional purposes has increased so has the diligence in which contributors police that activity, but I don't believe any comic articles which were older than a few months— so I don't think this can really be classified as a "Lost functionality", it's only an example of the gradual tidal changes in Wikipedia norms and policies over time. --Gmaxwell (talk) 22:00, 30 August 2010 (UTC)


Usenet servers and clients.svg

Usenet is one of the first global one-to-many communications systems that has been in use for over a quarter of a century, has had a strong political and technological impact on society, and has had millions of users worldwide over time.

Verifiability criteria (mostly rightly perhaps) state that Usenet is probably not a great source for reliable information. However, people[who?] seriously argued for removing all content about Usenet[citation needed], because information about Usenet can typically only be found on... Usenet.[citation needed] Oops.

Using wikipedia as an (anonymous) research tool[edit]

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Here is my original procedure for using Wikipedia:

To Research :topic Foo.

  1. Search Wikipedia for "Foo"
    sometimes you need to use Google these days
  2. If "Foo" not found, create a new page, called "Foo", else continue
    No longer permitted for new users.
  3. Google around, read books, etc., find links on Wikipedia and toss the mess on foo
    Unreadable mess, not even going to TRY to find notability, Delete.
  4. Refactor until it's readable.
    Oh wait, keep, KEEP! (too late)
  5. Done.

Big problems are inability for new users to create a new page, and hair-trigger deletion that will remove your article 5 minutes into your week of work ;-)

Of course, you could simply create an account— which makes you _more_ anonymous— and do all this in a user subpage for eventual movement into article space. --Gmaxwell (talk) 22:07, 30 August 2010 (UTC)
There's construction templates for that KimiNewt (talk) 06:56, 6 August 2011 (UTC)

New users eliminate redlinks[edit]

A very obvious way to attract useful new users to Wikipedia was to tempt them to fill in all the red links. (see also #Submitting new articles.) This now doesn't work very well, because if you add a red link, someone will very likely come along and just delete the link. Especially if you add it on a software comparison page, when the editor will probably write an edit summary "Removing non-notable software" without giving any evidence that it's non-notable.

Submitting new articles[edit]

To write: New article on Foo

  1. Create a new page "Foo"
    Not permitted for new users
  2. Do a braindump from memory
    No notability established, not wikified, messy, stub, no references/unverifiable DELETE
  3. Edit into something readable
    No notability established, not wikified, stub, unverifiable DELETE
  4. Wikify and find internal links
    No notability established, stub, unverifiable, DELETE
  5. Google, library search for more information, and add it stepwise
    Still no notability established, less stubby, somewhat verifiable, still DELETE
  6. continue above until you've hit all the points
    Notable, has content, still has unverifiable sections... KEEP and IMPROVE

The idea of a wiki is that you keep and improve articles over time. However, these days people on Wikipedia expect good articles to spring into being fully formed... while at the same time banning anon users (our main contributors) from making new articles.

Asking people to write articles or make major changes in their userspace is not the answer, because that negates all the advantages of having a wiki in the first place.

Better way:

  1. Establish notability by finding a reliable source.
  2. Do brain-dump from memory including assertion and proof of notability, tag as stub ... KEEP and IMPROVE
  3. Edit into something readable

Improving an article by dumping an information block in[edit]

If an article lacks some kind of information, you could originally dump in whatever information you had, and people would wikify it.

These days, if you don't format your information, you quickly get RVVed (ReVert Vandalism), despite what WP:VAND says. Vandalpatrol is on a hair trigger.

Unformatted information isn't vandalism, rather than complaining about this here— why not bring the guilty parties to RFC? Cite examples. Many people would support a smackdown on this behaviour if it's as common as you make it out to be. --Gmaxwell (talk) 22:09, 30 August 2010 (UTC)
This page is listing some systemic problems in the community. It would be almost futile to try to follow your suggestion since the chances of an editor successfully concluding such a RFC is almost always zero and anyway would require far more time then fixing the edit. A systemic solution is in order (such as modifying patroling/anti-spam tools to massage editors that their edit has been tagged with an inline policy infraction tag.) OrenBochman (talk) 15:02, 14 March 2012 (UTC)

Improving an article from memory or logic[edit]

In fields like mathematics, computing, engineering, sciences, mechanical work etc., any practitioner in the field will have roughly the same body of knowledge and there will be some sort of consensus between experts, written or unwritten.

These people have a tendency to add unreferenced information to Wikipedia such as:

  • Apples fall from trees
    • This is common knowledge for most of humanity. You'll find that no-one actually writes these things down, so finding a reference is very hard. Placed here for comparison with the examples from specialist fields. Note how "Apples fall from trees" was once a redlink, but now redirects to a well-referenced article which now explains exactly why apples fall from trees.
  • DOS 'dir' and unix 'ls' are roughly equivalent
    • Books about unix often have this fact (see below)
  • Adrenaline is a hormone secreted by the adrenal glands, which are located just above and behind the kidneys (adrenal~="next to kidneys")
    • This is a bad example. There are thousands of textbooks (Reliable secondary and tertiary sources) that can be used for citations.

Experts typically don't bother referencing things they believe are common knowledge because "everyone knows that!". It's probably a bad idea to actually delete common knowledge information, but finding refs might be tricky if you try to use article searches.

Remember, if your "common knowledge" doesn't occur in basic textbooks on the subject, there might be a reason.


So someone who doubts it will place a {{fact}} tag, and anyone who cares can source it in a few minutes.

The examples were pretty bad but since this is a philosophical discussion - it likely that they were this bad for a reason. They got people to think. It is possible to find refrences to common sense facts. Just as easily one can find refrences to urban myths. It would be far more difficult to fill the gaps in a mathermatical argument down to the very axionms - and even if one could - it would not be desireable, you would not see the forst for the trees.


  1. ^ "All apples fall from tree early" New Mexico State University, November 2000, retrieved February 1, 2007
  2. ^ "Apple Maggot Management in Home Gardens", Jeffrey Hahn and Mark Ascerno, University of Minnesota, 2005, retrieved February 1, 2007
  3. ^ Rosinski, Richard R.; Rosen, Kenneth H.; Douglas Host; Rachel Klee (2007). UNIX: the complete reference. New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-07-226336-9. 
  4. ^ " UNIX For DOS Users", retrieved February 1, 2007
  5. ^ "Adrenal Glands", Cleveland Clinic, retrieved February 1, 2007
  6. ^ "Your Adrenal Glands", Endocrine Web, 2002, retrieved February 1, 2007
  7. ^ "Definition of renal", Merriam-Webster, retrieved February 1, 2007
  8. ^ Pamela J. Carter (2008). Lippincott's textbook for nursing assistants: a humanistic approach to caregiving. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. ISBN 0-7817-6685-0. 

2 references for each one, mostly from Wikipedia:Reliable sources, in a few minutes, from a search on Google. The last one even had a ready-made citation to copy and paste. It ain't rocket science, dude. And, frankly, so-called experts who believe that information about the adrenal glands, derivations from French or Latin, or even Unix and DOS, are "common knowledge" should be ... politely corrected. AnonEMouse (squeak) 21:02, 1 February 2007 (UTC)

And within 10 minutes, using Google Book search, I had dead tree refs for ls vs dir and adrenaline from adrenals: cut and paste the ISBN into and you even have a properly formatted reference.

Pages accidentally created in wrong namespace just vanish[edit]

Which just happened to me when creating this page. Vandalism patrol is so fast that it becomes impossible to correct certain classes of mistakes. :-P

And if you want, you can get the text you worked so hard on so that you can put it in the right namespace. However, in general newbies don't know they're allowed to make this request and their work is lost to perpetuity.

Loss of SQL access for admins[edit]

Admins used to be able to do read SQL queries on MediaWiki's underlying MySQL database. No longer possible.


When you're serving up a Top 10 website, you can't exactly provide access to your production database to thousands of people (the site administrators). Also keep in mind that most administrators don't have a computer science/systems administration background, so the probability of someone who doesn't quite know what they're doing coming along and running a query that deadlocks the entire site is high. This functionality was removed for entirely reasonable technological grounds. Also, there would be the potential for someone to get access to the Users table and compromise a bunch of accounts by downloading the password hashes.

Why it doesn't matter[edit]

The toolserver now provides this functionality and much much more, and it's not just limited to administrators.

Images by permission[edit]

Asking someone for permission to use an image on Wikipedia, back when we could still use such images, generally got a pleased and friendly response. Asking someone to release an image as public domain (which sounds awfully, well, public), or GFDL (which they've probably never heard of) gets a very different response.

YMMV. Ask the Volunteer response team how many such requests they successfully process every day. --Slashme (talk) 20:16, 30 August 2010 (UTC)

This wasn't technically permitted, even back in 2002: "Just like the articles, it is important that images follow the same guidelines about copyrights. Make sure you own the image, or that it is in the public domain, or that the copyright holder has agreed to license it under the GFDL."[2], later versions of the text added some bits about fair-use but it's always been the case that Wikipedia is a free content encyclopaedia and required that submissions be suitably licensed. Enforcement has varied in intensity over time, but don't mistake the big cleanup efforts that have happened at various points as changes in the policy. --Gmaxwell (talk) 21:48, 30 August 2010 (UTC)

The ability to influence search engine rankings[edit]

Wikipedia currently ranks well on many search engines. It used to be that Wikipedia's high ranking would favourably influence the ranking of websites that were linked from Wikipedia; however, due to increasing problems with spam, all external links are now marked 'nofollow'.

Wikipedia can still influence SE ranking though the process has grown more subtle.

Incremental paragraph writing[edit]

Once upon a time, someone would insert a partial paragraph of text that was missing key bits of information, and this would be gradually expanded by the editor and/or other editors.[citation needed] This avoided the necessity of saving the whole thing up into one big edit, and meant lots of small changes could be made instead. This worked well, because it meant people who were not expert writers, but did know about the subject, could contribute to Wikipedia productively.

This cannot happen these days, because any paragraph of this nature will be reverted nearly immediately.


People on both sides of this argument could be satisfied if Wikipedia was redesigned along DVCS lines (well, sort of - it would arguably be less user-friendly). There are some wikis already built on DVCSs (e.g. gitit, Github's new wiki software which is called Gollum, ikiwiki), but they are probably not capable of scaling up to a wiki the size of Wikipedia. Then again, you don't necessarily need one repository containing the entirety of Wikipedia, although that would be nice - you could have one repository per page, which might solve the scalability problem.


Another perspective[edit]

If you want to do this, you have a few options:

  • Put a note on the talk page saying you want to start working on a paragraph on the local potato-farming industry, and plz no surprixe-deleto.
  • Put up a Template (e.g. Template:Inuse-section) saying you're working on the section (kind of like a Under construction icon-blue.svg sign).
  • Put an html comment with an explanation why your stuff shouldn't be reverted in the text
  • Explain in your Help:edit summary (you use these, right?) what is going on.

True informal dispute resolution[edit]

It used to be possible for any small-scale Wikipedia issue - article content disputes, user conduct issues, policy arguments, etc. - to be sorted out simply by some level-headed user going down to the area of dispute, and cooling it down. Blocks were considered a "last resort", and discussion was used before they were put into effect.

Now, there is some hideously-complex, formally-structured, "Request for <mediation|arbitration|undeletion|administrator intervention|personal ban set by Jimbo|nuclear warfare>" process that absolutely must be followed, on pain of death. Each of these have their own very specific instructions on how they must be used, which are invariably totally different from all the others, and usually fail at what they are meant to do anyway.

Either that, or some administrator just comes along, and bans whoever they like, regardless of what started the problem in the first place. The people involved then waste huge amounts of time fighting out an arbitration case over who blocked whom, and whether it was valid or not under WP:XYZ.


I've been editing for years, and have hardly needed any dispute resolution. Just being polite, assuming good faith, and not edit warring has generally worked just fine. I've even edited a page on something which is variously described as genocide, common crime and righteous justice by various extremists and moderates without any need for severe intervention. Don't get me wrong, there is a place for formal dispute resolution when people can't agree on who is hogging the bedsheets, and I have extreme respect for the people who mediate this kind of struggle, but if you continually find yourself involved in this kind of thing, ask yourself whether you need a WP:BREAK. As for the strict, inflexible policy, please see WP:IAR.

Difficulty level[edit]


It's the difference between something you are just beginning and something that is in pretty good shape. When Wikipedia was a scrap notebook and merely a wannabe-encyclopedia then adding scraps for further use made sense. Now it is an encyclopedia and wannabe-articles need to be in a different space - such as user space or subpages or talk pages. The difficulty level of editing Wikipedia is constantly increasing, as is readership. At first a 10-year old could add helpful edits, then teenagers were fully capable and so on. Now, a college education is needed to "accidentally" edit Wikipedia the correct way from the beginning, although these editors still need to brush up on not doing original research. Teenagers can still edit productively but they have to spend a large number of hours learning the rules first. The ability for 10-year olds to contribute is almost totally lost.


It's not that hard. Just read Wikipedia:Stub#Ideal_stub_article and you're set to go. On the left is a nice helpful "Help" link. The main help page has a link to "Editing Wikipedia" which includes the following gem: Wikipedia:Your_first_article. Back when I had a more relaxed job than now, I found many pages on New Page patrol that were written by newbies, and really just needed a bit of formatting, a stub tag and a ref or two. Did I tag them for speedy deletion? Of course not. Did I slap a welcome template on the users talk pages? Of course!

Efficient talk page message reading[edit]

Reading talk page messages used to be easier and efficient, thanks to the New messages notification which provided both single and multiple diff link. Now the diff links are non-existing or buried behind various Echo stuff and instead you're brought to the useless top of talk page (and sometimes specific section).