Thursday, September 06, 2007

A Sport run-in with Wikipedia

Fresh back from ESUG 2007 in Lugano, I have been working on various Sport related issues. We have new ports of Sport to VisualAge Smalltalk and Visual Smalltalk. At ESUG Sport was often the subject of discussion. The Visual Smalltalk port happened during Camp Smalltalk, a talk on Swazoo covered the use of Sport as did the GemStone Glass people whose port of Seaside to GemStone relies on Sport and of course my Slaps talk referred to Sport too.

Back at home, while updating the Sport wiki page on the OpenSkills wiki, I thought it would make more sense, given the now wider use of Sport, to have the "what is Sport" text be in Wikipedia rather than just in the OpenSkills wiki. So that's what I did. I noted on the Seaside page that some ports of Seaside relied on Sport (I don't know for sure if they all do) and used that link to make a Wikipedia Sport page.

I had barely got started on the page when a box was added to the top saying that the new Sport page infringed copyright. The copyright that was being infringed upon? My own work from the OpenSkills wiki! The box said to post a comment on the discussion page to counter the accusation, so I did, saying what I just said here. Not good enough. I had to add something to the OpenSkills wiki noting that it was OK for my text to be in Wikipedia, so I did. Still not good enough and the page now has a big "Possible Copyright Infringement" in place of the information about Sport. The most amazing thing about this was the speed! The copyright accusation popped up within one hour of my starting work on the page.

Shortly after the copyright thing popped up on the page another box popped up threatening the page with deletion and pointing me to a discussion page on the subject. The Wikipedia people use wiki pages to discuss things rather than any kind of messaging system. If you want to track a conversation you have to keep visiting the page. It's worse than using a bulletin board. Add to that the fact that the messages from the Wikipedia people come over using these pseudo-legalistic terms and I ended up having a hard time keeping up!

Then *another* box popped up on the page. This one said that the page lacked "notability". It makes sense that entries in the Wikipedia are of interest to a reasonable number of people rather than being a individual thing, so in support of "notability" I linked to the ESUG conference and to the Sourceforge project. Then I made my big mistake. In trying to meet this "notability" requirement I asked for help on comp.lang.smalltalk. It seems that asking for help sends the Wikipedia people into a rage. I got a note (on *another* wiki page - this one attached to my account) saying that the use of "meatpuppets" was unacceptable behaviour on my part. Wow. Meatpuppets.

I have tried to respond to this flurry of accusation with English explanations on the deletion discussion page (as opposed to the Sport page talk page or my personal account talk page etc etc.) Other people, sorry "meatpuppets", tried to support the argument. The wikipedia people screeched that this "was not a vote!". Well, I knew that and was trying to have a discussion as were the other Smalltalkers who contributed. But to no avail.

If I had taken the time I used responding to the wikipedia people and used it to update the Sport page I think it would be in a good state now - even the Wikipedia people may have found it acceptable. As it is, I give up. I just don't have the time. I'm sure Sport will end up with an entry in Wikipeda at some point, but I certainly won't be jousting directly with the Wikipeda people again.

Now, lest you think after all this I have a downer on Wikipedia I want you to know that I don't. I think the Wikipedia is a great source of information and I will continue to read it, to link to it and to recommend it to others as about the best source of a first approximation available on the web today. It is a Very Good Thing that the Wikipedia has guardians who care for it and work to make sure that the content is up to scratch and I thank them for their efforts.

In the case of the Sport page, though, I think the Wikipedia police have ended up suppressing useful information by being, ah, overzealous.

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