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Many wikipedians have debated the issue of notability, or more precisely where to draw the line between which articles to keep and which to throw out. This essay assesses the need for debating notability with the outspoken bias against using notability as a criterion in and of itself.
Notability is inherently a vague and ambiguous term, and for that reason many may misinterpret the meaning of this essay. Notability is a term that can be used to mean any of the following:
Other connotations may also exist. Some of those connotations are necessary for wikipedia (namely verifiability), but many are against the nature of wikipedia. Because there are so many different connotations, this essay argues that people should not use notability as any form of criteria. Note however that if any article fails WP:V, WP:NPOV, or WP:OR it must be fixed or deleted - that is non-negotiable.
Non-notability is a shorthand used by some editors to describe articles whose subject has not achieved sufficient attention to enable editors to verify that it is covered neutrally. Above all, Wikipedia is an encyclopaedia, a collection of that which is already known that can be documented from reliable sources, but is not an indiscriminate collection of information.
Non-notable articles are beneficial
The inclusion of non-notable articles would benefit Wikipedia in several ways:
- Editing will be encouraged. Users will contribute where they are knowledgeable. No doubt, many users are interested in contributing to specialized projects that have lots of room for improvement, but not in near-complete notable articles. Other users who are interested in both are discouraged and may leave WP altogether when articles they write or contribute to are deleted. This can create an overall unwelcoming atmosphere for new contributors. A larger base of editors means a larger and higher quality site as a whole.
- Higher usage. The less frequent reading of nn articles is better than no reading at all. If users find a collection of information they're looking for which can't be found elsewhere (for the very reason of being nn) they are more likely to use the rest of WP and eventually become editors or donors themselves.
- They contribute to WP's NPOV as a whole. By removing nn opinions (religious, politically, philosophical, etc) WP takes up a form of censorship or systemic bias. For example, we sometimes deliberately keep and expand articles on subjects from lesser-known parts of the world in order to counter our systemic bias. Lack of easy verifiability might be down to FUTON bias. While still disallowing original research, soapboxes, and unpublished opinions, allowing nn opinions better reflects the diversity of thought in the world.
- Someone finds it worth reading. It is more laborious to write article than to read it. Therefore if an article is written, even more people are bound to read it.
- Avoid endless notability debates. If articles must be notable, borderline articles will eternally be nominated for deletion and debated. We see this already for subjects with detailed notability guidelines. These debates produce inevitably arbitrary decisions, make editors upset, clog AfD, and waste our time. Avoiding notability lets us avoid these pitfalls.
- A nn subject today may be notable tomorrow and vice versa. (Eg, James Frey.) Instead of updating WP when a subject's popularity rises or falls, allowing the most possible amount of legal content requires less upkeep and more consistency.
Refuting arguments for using notability
Many arguments are advanced as to why notability is important. Those at Notability follow, with commentary, modifications and additions:
"Non-notable topics do not belong"
For example, "If non-notable articles become ok, why not write an article on your next-door neighbor's dog, as long as it's verifiable and NPOV?"
Indeed, why not? In practice, it would be very difficult to make the article verifiable. But if someone manages it, there's nothing wrong with letting it sit unviewed. Saying that something "does not belong" is not a reasoned argument; what are the costs and benefits?
"Non-notable topics do not attract editors, and cannot be properly maintained"
Not enough Wikipedia users will take enough interest in your next-door neighbour's dog to ensure that the article is accurate, even if the information is theoretically verifiable.
Perhaps. But remember that verification is not the criterion for inclusion in Wikipedia, verifiability is. Will someone verify it eventually? Perhaps, perhaps not. But consider:
- Such an article will be tagged appropriately, so that readers are aware that the info hasn't been double-checked. Therefore, no one is going to be misled: they will know the info is dubious, will treat it appropriately, and will only benefit. Information that may or may not remain uncertified is surely a better advancement of our goal of "providing free knowledge to every person in the world" than no information at all.
- The number of people who view the verifiable information is inversely proportional to the probability that it will be verified. In theory, sure, we'll have more unverified articles sitting on our servers. But does it really make a difference if nobody actually views them? They're just bits sitting on a computer then; certainly they don't harm anyone. If, by any chance, someone does view the article, they'll be able to correct it.
- This point suggests that the question is not "notability", but "how many of our readers will look at the article". They're quite different concepts: notability is both too broad and too narrow to cover the latter. An article on Political factions in colonial Uganda would certainly be viewed by very few editors, and even fewer would have any hope of being able to verify the information in it, but it would nevertheless be notable by most people's standards; on the other hand, an article on a small webcomic or on Wikipedia Review would be viewed and verified by many people, but such articles are routinely rejected as non-notable. Instituting notability guidelines isn't a good, or even reasonable, solution to this problem.
"Non-notable topics clutter categories"
Not at all: this is what we have subcategories for. If someone wanted to search for notable American writers, they could go to Category:Notable American writers and the categories thereof, which would be roughly parallel to our current Category:American writers (assuming the situation got sufficiently out of hand that that would be required). With the implementation of Mediazilla:5244, this would become even easier, the equivalent of flipping a switch while searching (ideally even on by default, depending on precise implementation). Specific categories may have more precise notability subcategories if logical, such as Category:Webcomics with PageRank 6 or higher.
"There is a precedent"
"Many people already act on the assumption that notability is a requirement for inclusion."
That's what this is trying to change. Arguing that a rule should be accepted because it's accepted is circular logic.
"Non-notable articles waste system resources"
The financial burden of storage space should not be considered when writing. In the event that Wikipedia cannot support certain categories of content, a decision will be made by server technicians, not editors. See also Wikipedia:Don't worry about performance.
"'Policy' shouldn't really concern itself with server load except in the most extreme of cases; keeping things tuned to provide what the user base needs is our job."
– Chief Technical Officer Brion Vibber ()
"Minor issues are not encyclopedic"
In a paper encyclopedia, non-notable topics were not included for practical purposes. Wikipedia, however, is not paper and not confined by this limitation.
- A comprehensive reference work containing articles on a wide range of subjects or on numerous aspects of a particular field, usually arranged alphabetically.
- a work that contains information on all branches of knowledge or treats comprehensively a particular branch of knowledge usually in articles arranged alphabetically often by subject
As you can see, nothing about notability. That Encyclopaedia Britannica doesn't have room for things about webcomics is a failing of their medium, not anything we're bound to replicate. There is no reason that Wikipedia should not be the encyclopedia to end all encyclopedias, including all information that is encyclopedic, verifiable, and neutral.
"Non-notable articles are unverifiable/biased"
While this is often true, it is not always true. There is nothing inherent in a non-notable article that demands it violates these policies. (See Non-notability is not, below.) If an article does violate one of the cardinal policies such as verifiability, neutral point of view, or no original research, of course it should be fixed.
"Wikipedia is not an indiscriminate collection of information"
This is very true, and is true of any encyclopedia. However, while wikipedia discriminates against such things as opinion columns and speculation, the policy associated with wikipedia is not an indiscriminate collection of information does not discriminate against notability. The policy lists specific things that articles cannot be - none of these taboos mention that non-notable aren't allowed, although non-notable articles must still establish importance or the topic's "claim to fame".
"Non-notable articles will increase WP's size, making it harder to monitor for quality"
An increase in articles would not necessarily mean an increase in the rate of improvement and expansion. With a constant number of editors, and a constant number of vandals, the overall work to be done in monitoring quality would be just about constant. Also, if the number of readers is constant, the readers affected by vandalism would not change.
However, if more articles are available (and more freedom is given to the types of articles), presumably more editors and more readers will come, of course also producing more vandals. This expansion means that wikipedia can do more work, for the same amount of input per individual, and thus not making anything more difficult for any one person.