Tobold's Blog
Friday, January 09, 2009
Wikipedia MUDslinging

From Plato to the Matrix people have pondered the question whether reality is absolute, or whether it is just an image in our brains. But whatever philosophy you adhere to, it is undisputed that if different people describe the same reality, you more often than not end up with different texts. Thus if you want to create a text describing reality, an encyclopedia, you end up with problems of subjectivity. Questions of who shot John F. Kennedy, how old is Earth, and is Hamas a group of freedom fighters or one of terrorists will be answered differently by different persons, depending on their beliefs. And when compiling such an encyclopedia, you not only have to decide what the truth is, you also have to make decisions which truths are important enough to be included in a "well-rounded education" (literal translation of encyclopedia).

Wikipedia, a collaborative project fueled by the work of volunteers, is battling with this sort of problems every day. And recently they ran into trouble with Richard Bartle, because they deleted the entry on the Threshold MUD. On the surface the discussion is about whether the entry has valid source material, but behind that is the simple question whether every single MUD is important enough to have it's own Wikipedia entry, or whether it wouldn't be sufficient to make one big entry listing the history of MUDs and be done with it.

Of course it is easy to make fun of the relative importance of entries in an encyclopedia in which Buffy has a longer entry than many real people. And the deleting and editing of pages on Wikipedia is often a process in which a fight for status in the Wikipedia community plays a larger role as the search for absolute truth or importance. But we have to accept the right of Wikipedia editors to delete unimportant entries, because otherwise we'd start seeing biographies of people's recently deceased hamsters and other entries nobody is interested in. Of course in the reality of Richard Bartle, or even in that of people like me blogging about virtual worlds, a classic MUD can be considered to be important. But in the reality of the average person, MUDs don't play a big role. Much fewer people played MUDs than are playing modern MMORPGs. For most people wanting to know more about them, the general Wikipedia article on MUDs is totally sufficient. The history of MUDs might make a good subject for a specialized website, but it's exclusion from a general purpose encyclopedia is easy to justify. The storm in a teacup some bloggers and MUD fan sites are trying to raise about the issue isn't going to change that. YRMV (Your reality may vary).
Try to link book reviews in the german Wikipedia, or interviews with the author... unless the page is the web version of a well known magazine, be prepared for a "not valid & surreptitious advertising" edit war. I use to call Wikipedia the home of those who have the spare time and will to argue over months. If something happens at all, a somehow proclaimed admin pops up and decides after lengthy debate or decides and causes a lengthy debate.

Wikipedia is not that free. Some politicians have their cronies regularly modify their pages a bit to show them in a more favorable light. The power mechanisms and the powers behind this or that decision at Wikipedia are just very hard to identify, harder the higher the level becomes.

I am afraid Bartle rises a valid question why some other MUDS are still mentioned... and some not. Being mentioned at Wikipedia becomes more and more important, especially in terms of commercial success, just like the order in which websites are listed at Google.

Treshold is just another case where a fight "I know it, it is important" and others who say "I do not know it, it cannot be that important" started. The winner is not always the "majority", but the faction with the loudest screamers that can spend them most time on editing Wikipedia!
Yet, we have a detailed list of Pokemons, complete biographies of Lost characters and a timeline of Star Wars in universe story.

In the reality of the average person, that kind of data is just trivia with absolutely no use at all.

Claiming that stuff like that can be on wikipedia but a particylar MUD can't because an entry on the history of MUDs would suffice somehow makes my mind boggle.
Wikipedia as a place to get an overview and a general idea of whatever topic you're interested in is great. But Wikipedia is in no way any kind of serious or reputable reference - some articles are well-written, well-researched, and would not be out of place in a real encyclopedic reference, but most are not, and there's very little in the way of overall quality control as the whole point of Wiki is that anyone can edit and add to it. Depending on which article and faction of Wiki editors you're dealing with, Wikipedia is simultaneously elitist and mostly rubbish.
Would anyone write a history book and use Wikipedia as its source? I think the answer has to be no; not if they want to be taken seriously.
Current ephemera will always be more popular than obscure history, no matter how 'important' it is, hence the Pokemon/Star Wars references Zegim pointed out.
This is an MMORPG gaming blog (mostly), so my guess is that the majority of readership here know what a MUD is, maybe they played one or more...I did, I played MUME, still log on semi-rare occasions just to "catch up"
So to most people reading this, we'd probably "support" a page for each MUD (or computer game in general)

Most of the games I've played over the years have their own page on wikipedia, so I'm happy, as my own preferences are sorted

Somewhere on the internet (I cant be bothered to google for it) there may well be a blog about some obscure sport or hobby, and a blogger there is writing about why the page about the world champion from 1976 has just been removed.....

Importance is subjective (maybe even selfish)
Back in the 1990's I spent a lot of time playing a game called stellar crisis. At the time it was the only multi-player web game I was aware of.

I was sad to check it on wikipedia a few years ago, just to see that it was about to be deleted. Since it was never mentioned in any press it was not considered worthy of an entry. It seemed a little silly to me that you would just remove any mention of the existence of the game from Wikipedia.

One of my favorite game websites, destrutoid, suffers similarly. It is fairly popular (indeed, it's referenced 80-some times by wikipedia itself) and yet, annually, a destructoid wikipedia page is created and then deleted.

There might just be an anti-video game bias. Many alt rock bands, for example, see to merit mention even if they have no notable songs, no commercial releases, and no notable members.

EA famously edited their Wikipedia page to downplay or obscure the ea_spouse incident. They were called on it, and the unflattering data was reinstated. I have no idea what their page looks like now, but an open source "encyclopedia" will always be subject to flux.

I often link to it when writing blog entries, since it's usually fairly up to date on things that I tend to write about. The Encyclopedia Britannica may be more authoritative because it has editors, but it's slower and still a slave to the editorial board, rather than objective reality.

There's a certain academic stigma that "only the books count", but really, history is written every day. If anything, Wikipedia is more "democratic" than the ivory tower books. It allows for the little guy to make his imprint, when "the Man" might prefer to ignore him entirely.

The Wikipedia is what it is, a different repository of data than the "accepted" encyclopedia, but different doesn't always mean "less important", "less valid" or "less valuable".

Regarding Threshold specifically, the incident seems a bit wonky. It's not like data storage is expensive these days, and it wouldn't be hard to have a MUD index page with links to other pages for specific titles. Cutting out older titles (Threshold is still running, by the way) doesn't really do a service to the community. I certainly don't care about the title and plot synopsis of every episode of Friends, but I'm sure someone slaved over it. If the data has been correlated, and it's not something socially damaging like a list of "how to"s for hate crimes, why not leave it up?
Oh, and tangentially, the game industry has a severe problem with degenerating history. Far too often, game designers don't study history (game history or real history) to learn what worked before and how to improve it. They are content to go off and work on their own "vision", and they wind up making the same mistakes that were solved years ago. This why older games like Master of Orion 2 and Master of Magic are still seen as masterpieces. People don't build on what made the classics work (indeed, what made them "classic" in the first place), they go off and make stupid mistakes, and lesser games. *coughStarControl3cough*
The difference between Wikipedia and an encyclopedia is that no one ever just pages through Wikipedia - everyone searches for exactly the page they want.

It not only blows my mind that the people in charge feel the need to "clean up" obscure entries that 99.999999999% of people will never see, but that they apparently don't want their project to be comprehensive. I understand that there might eventually be a problem of storage if everyone wrote about their hamster, but most people won't in any case.

There's only one Wikipedia, for better or for worse, and I'd really like to be able to look up *anything*.

>>There's only one Wikipedia, for better or for worse, and I'd really like to be able to look up *anything*.

I agree with your sentiment and feel the same way. The problem (and the reason they DO need to "clean up") is that with too many pages, search results will yield too many things. From a user perspective, you might want to be able to find *anything* but be unable to find anything through the chaos of trying to sift through *everything*.

Just think about how often you fail to find what you wanted in Google because of the over abundance of information. I run into this problem practically anytime I type "warcraft" as part of a search entry. Eventually you might find what you want, but consider if you only "kinda" knew what you want.

In many ways, the best way to handle this problem in a wikipedia is to simply have a general overview, and then link a more detailed site in the entry. That way, you still can find what you want and the wiki entry acts as a guide rather than the definitive source of information.
sid, "learn to use search engines"? (Not you personally, but as a principle, searching requires a bit of finesse.) I remember reading an article that suggested that many Google searches use more than five words. Learning how to narrow your searches is a research skill that most people pick up pretty easily.
Wikiepdia search isn't like a google search though. If you search for a term, it has to land EXACTLY on that term. So having everything doesn't clog up the search results.

Before I continue, I should mention that I am the owner of Threshold. I really appreciate Tobold drawing some more attention to this issue by posting about it to his fine blog. I've been reading the blog for 6 months or more, and always enjoy his insights into any matter related to MUDs/MMOs.

My biggest problems with the whole situation has been the arbitrariness of this "attack" on the Threshold entry, and the unbelievable abuses by the Wikipedia administrators. They talk a big game about "assuming good faith" and maintaining a "neutral point of view", but the truth is they are a tightly knit little group of powerusers who stomp anyone they view as an outsider.

The reason for the current purge of "non-notable" articles is that is one of the best ways to "level up" to administrator. Aspiring admins need "contributions" to get promoted. It is HARD to write a new article, since most obvious topics are already written about and creation is much harder than destruction. So they troll the place for soft targets they think they can hack away at and then delete. If they can incite fans of the topic into edit-wars, all the better. They earn more street-cred for getting people banned, which just improves their chances of making admin.

Threshold has to its credit two major mentions in computer gaming magazines (Computer Games Magazine and Computer Gaming World), multiple newspaper articles, staff reviews on the most significant current and past MUD sites (The Mud Connector, Game Commandos), awards from every major MUD site, and experts in the genre that went on record saying the game is notable. On top of that, it has been in operation for 13 years, has had over 300,000 characters created, and is (correct me if I am wrong) the ONLY commercial game ever with enforced role playing. Obviously I am biased, but that sounds pretty notable to me.

Thanks again for drawing attention to the issue, Tobold!

Threshold RPG
I finally had time to write up an article with the full details of the incident, from beginning to end (well, end at the time of the writing). You all might find it an interesting read:
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