German Wikipedia under fire from inclusionists
On Thursday, a debate about deletion and notability (Relevanz) on the German Wikipedia that had been raging in the German blogosphere for several weeks culminated in a panel discussion hosted by Wikimedia Deutschland in its offices in Berlin.
The controversy had been triggered on 15 October by a posting on "Fefes Blog", a widely read blog run by Felix von Leitner, a programmer and hacker activist of the Chaos Computer Club (CCC). Von Leitner criticized the deletion of the article about MOGIS, an association of former child abuse victims which earlier this year had lent credibility to the "Zensursula" fight by Internet activists against Internet censorship in Germany (a controversy that had helped to increase membership of the German Pirate Party more than ten fold). Von Leitner was quickly joined in his criticism by numerous German bloggers, and fellow CCC activists such as Tim Pritlove, CCC speaker Frank Rieger, and Martin Haase, a professor of linguistics who is also a longtime editor of the German Wikipedia. The anger was fueled by deletion proposals for other article topics related to the hacker subculture: The Tschunk (a cocktail involving Club-Mate, a popular beverage in the German Hacker scene), "Zensursula" (a redirect) and the newly created article about Fefes Blog itself. But it was also based on a long-time frustration with what critics saw as an overly exclusionist and authoritarian Wikipedia culture.
Visualization of the "notability hurdle" used on the German Wikipedia's notability guideline page
Like other Wikipedias, the German Wikipedia has seen outside criticism of article deletions many times before (as well as dismissive comments about the amount of trivia and pop culture topics covered). But this time the controversy grew to an unprecedented scale and also got mainstream media coverage by Deutsche Presse-Agentur and others.
Voices defending Wikipedia were in the minority, such as that of Torsten Kleinz (a journalist who has been covering Wikipedia for many years for Heinz Heise publications), who argued on his blog that "there would be no Wikipedia without notability criteria" and later published an article in c't magazine explaining the history of such conflicts on Wikipedia. Interviewed by weekly Die Zeit about the controversy, Arne Klempert (founding member of Wikimedia Deutschland and currently member of the Board of Trustees of the Wikimedia Foundation) also defended the necessity of notability criteria, and acknowledged that the German Wikipedia had a slightly more restrictive attitude than the English one.
Tim 'avatar' Bartel (Wikimedia Deutschland board member) deplored the factual inaccuracy and the vitriolic language of many inclusionist critics, collecting numerous examples of Godwin's law on Twitter and blogs, where Wikipedia admins were frequently called "deletion Nazis", Blockwarts and book burners. On the other hand, the Kurier (the Signpost's sister publication, which describes itself as "the tabloid magazine of the [German] Wikipedia community") had to learn a PR lesson about its long-time practice to welcome self-published opinion articles: a Wikipedian's piece lashing back against the perceived intrusion of bloggers into internal Wikipedia matters was entitled "Blogosphere, keep out!" and argued that blogs in general were conveying subjective half-truths and being written by "at best, second-rate scientists". It drew upset replies from outside bloggers (among them, unsurprisingly, a ScienceBlogs member) and was eventually removed out of concern that it was being misconstrued as a majority opinion of the community.
The Berlin panel consisted of two bloggers (Johnny Haeusler, well known for his "Spreeblick" blog, and Pavel Mayer) and two Wikipedia admins (Leon Weber and Martin Zeise), and was moderated by Pavel Richter (CEO of Wikimedia Deutschland). Several notable Wikipedians and critics also participated from the audience, among them Kurt Jansson (former head of Wikimedia Deutschland) and CCC speaker Frank Rieger who had demanded that Wikimedia Deutschland should start to fund a Deletionpedia-like repository of deleted articles immediately. Regarding some other criticism, an English language summary of the evening observed that it was addressing the attending Wikipedians directly as those responsible, unaware of Wikipedia's non-centralized power structure and diversity of opinion - for example, admin panelist Weber actually joined the critics in advocating a loosening of the notability guidelines.
Another point of criticism articulated especially by CCC's Frank Rieger was what he described as the deficient state of the Wikipedia software (specifically its lack of a user interface "from this millennium"), and blamed on the "elitist" nature of the German Wikipedia which according to Rieger deterred volunteer developers. It was unclear whether Rieger was aware of the international nature of MediaWiki development or of the fact that the Wikimedia Foundation's Usability Initiative has been employing professional programmers for a while. But one of the few tangible results of the controversy is indeed an already functional software to convert a MediaWiki XML dump into a Git repository. It was created by a CCC activist during what he describes as the recent "nerd uprising against the German Wikipedia and the exclusionist attitude that’s prevalent there" to enable the creation of an inclusionist fork of the German Wikipedia, employing Git's easy forking and merging features. The idea to apply the distributed revision control innovations which arose in software development in recent years to wikis and Wikipedia has been explored before, as evidenced by a February 2008 thread on Foundation-l discussing the Possibility of a git-based fully distributed Wikipedia and another thread from last month titled Wikipedia meets git.
Keep up with The Signpost