Moving commentary out of Wikipedia

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historical pages Moving commentary out of Wikipedia
A discussion initiated by Larry Sanger in November 2001 about moving project discussion out of the English Wikipedia (wikipedia.com), where it was often part of the articles themselves, to a meta-discussion wiki (meta.wikipedia.com). This eventually led to the creation of the present-day namespaces and Meta wiki. (There are references to this pending move on the archived 2001 home page.)

Deleted from main page and misattributed to 24

Saturday, November 3, 2001, 2:41 AM -- I am nearly as much a fan of openness, freedom, and even of anarchy as anyone. But not at the expense of our focus on working on encyclopedia articles on the website. I don't want to stop anyone from talking, and if I can find a way to let them talk freely without interfering with our mission, that would be grand. I have been getting increasingly frustrated at the way we have been, daily, sidetracked by this issue or that issue, raised by a commentary page essay or a personal page essay, when, on the wiki, we should be building an encyclopedia. This has seemed to be a serious conundrum for me, particularly projected into the future. Suppose the daily editors increase tenfold; I simply could not do any work if I wanted to do justice to most of the various commentary that seems to demand some reply from me.

When I first read the following from Jimbo, I guess I didn't quite understand why he might say it:

I am of the opinion, as a user, not as master of all that I survey, that meta-discussion mostly belongs off the wikipedia and in the mailing list or elsewhere. One of the things that's important is that we don't get involved here on the Wikipedia in excessive navel-gazing. As we can see from Usenet, people can spend a lifetime arguing without accomplishing anything very useful. (And don't get me wrong, I love Usenet.)
I would gladly donate space to anyone who wants to preserve some vandalism for the sake of "history", on a different server. But Geocities offers free web space already, so that's probably a good place for it. --Jimbo Wales

I agree with this completely. I would have no problem with someone including a complete history of Wikipedia vandalism on an alternate Wikipedia commentary wiki. So that's indeed what I propose. I propose that we all move all the Wikipedia commentary pages, as well as all of our personal essays (and archives), to a completely separate wiki. I would be only too happy to move my own essays, listed on Larry Sanger/Columns, to that wiki and to delete them forever from this wiki.

(You know, I started both the Wikipedia commentary page and the practice of writing regular essays on Wikipedia policy. So I am forced to admit that these are, really, my own mistakes.)

There are several clear advantages that this would have over the present system:

  • This would allow us to focus on encyclopedic content on Wikipedia.com. That's something I dare say nearly everyone could cheer about.
  • Correspondingly, those of us (including Jimbo and I) who do not want to engage in endless navel gazing, but who do want to work on encyclopedia articles, can let the navel gazing proceed unmolested. This is going to be particularly important in the future. If Wikipedia grows the way I think it will, talking about Wikipedia is going to become a full-time occupation for some people. We can't let that stand in the way of the growth of the reason we're all here--the encyclopedia.
  • Also correspondingly, Wikipedia would become not only a more focused but also a more pleasant and courteous place, since in my experience, people don't get quite as worked up over articles the way they do over commentary. Sure, there are still nasty debates, but not like the sort we've seen recently.
  • I would have no motivation whatever to remove vandalism archives from a Wikipedia commentary wiki, or for that matter, any other sort of critique (short of plain old slander, I suppose).
  • I would have no motivation to remove subpages from a commentary wiki.

You might object that such a wiki would make it more difficult to discuss perfectly legitimate policy matters that ought to be subject to some public discussion. My reply:

  • For many months we did not use Wikipedia commentary or personal essays very much, or at all, to discuss Wikipedia policy; these are relatively new developments. Instead, we developed policy together, more or less, right there on the policy pages, and things worked out reasonably well. I and sometimes others would refactor the pages from time to time; but it was generally understood that we weren't engaged in debate and soapbox preaching, but more or less in collaborative writing. An example of this is found on naming conventions; nearly all the policy pages have been carefully refactored by me to reflect my understanding of community consensus and simply what I found on the pages. A recent example of this (that was actually started on Wikipedia commentary) is called the Wikipedia Community.
  • Moreover, if someone were feeling particularly long-winded, he or she could always post something like an essay on the mailing list. This is something that people have been doing for quite a while as well.
  • Finally, of course, policy discussion could still be conducted on the commentary wiki!

Another possible objection is that this would be an abridgment of our freedom to use personal pages as we wish. But hitherto we have been free to do what we want to with our personal pages just because we made that the law of the "land." We can change laws, and this change makes good sense, given our goals. The Wikipedia website should be devoted to writing an encyclopedia and simply codifying policy. It will help greatly if Wikipedia is not also, in addition, a place where people can co-opt the attention of other participants with long acrimonious debates over policy or their personal opinions as expressed in essays.

Basically, I think we should go back to using personal pages on Wikipedia.com in the way they were originally used: to introduce ourselves to the community and to exchange public messages.

So, that's the proposal.

--Larry_Sanger


I am fully in support of this larry. I have adopted the way it is now, but I have always kind of felt that people from the outside (who we are ostensibly writing this for, as much as ourselves) shouldn't be subjected to non-encyclopaediac information in their encyclopedia. It worked good for us, but its certainly not scalable and will get in the way when wikipedia gets a lot bigger.

--Alan D

Scalability is certainly one of my biggest concerns. I think we should make a clear distinction between meta-level discussion and the encyclopedia. --LMS

I think the cleanest approach would be to have a meta.wikipedia.com wiki (or a namespace) to which we unload everything now on wikipedia.com which is does not belong into an encyclopedia proper:

  • commentary essays
  • personal introductory pages, Wikipedians
  • rule discussion
  • How to behave/how not to behave on wikipedia
  • How to edit pages
  • Why Wikipedia is so great
  • Announcements

The Wikipedia would then only contain one article about Wikipedia explaining the project, with a link to meta.wikipedia.com. Furthermore, the main page would contain a link there as well.

Essentially, the material on wikipedia.com could be sold as an encyclopedia; if you want to know more about the contributors, the project or how to contribute, you'll have to go to the meta wiki. --AxelBoldt

I didn't state my proposal clearly enough.  :-(
I actually would prefer to have all the "official" policy and propaganda pages as well as one-page member pages (i.e., without subpages) on the main wiki, but in different namespaces. The policy pages would be in the "Wikipedia:" (w:) namespace, the talk pages would be in the "Talk:" (t:) namespace, and personal pages would be in the "User:" (u:) namespace. The contents of the present commentary section and all personal essays that are subpages of personal pages are, I'm proposing, what we should put in an entirely different wiki.
We need to make it as easy as possible for new people to learn about what's going on here, and to attract them to the project--thus the necessity of having the "official" policy and propaganda pages as easily accessible to and part of the main wiki.
Putting the navel-gazing on a separate wiki altogether would be an appropriate prioritization. We're not here to talk about writing an encyclopedia. We're here to write an encyclopedia. --LMS

I can't imagine how things would be different, unless people would act differently there or rules are differently defined. What if someone puts something on their personal pages which a Wikipedia principal doesn't like? Will they delete it? Will they edit it and demand that their edit remains unchanged? Will they just ignore it?

I can only imagine something substantively different, like banning all commentary whatsoever outside of the mailing list, and banning access to the official entry about Wikipedia to all but the principals or a few trusted souls, would bring substantive change. --TheCunctator

My thought: assuming appropriate changes to the wiki software, there should not be personal pages in the main wikipedia. Name entries in Recent_Changes would point to the proper place in the meta-wikipedia, and it won't matter if free links don't point to user pages if discussions aren't taking place within Wikipedia.

Improper usage of personal pages becomes a non-issue. /Talk pages, purely for the development of the article, might need some thought. --Alan Millar

Right. So, we're going to be moving personal pages to a "user:" namespace. See [1] to get an idea of how this will work. Changes to all namespaces will, as it's presently written, indeed be recorded in Recent Changes. I just think we need an entirely separate Recent Changes page for meta-discussion. --LMS

When we switch to the new wiki software, we would have a separate namespace for meta-discussion. Would this not serve the same purpose as a separate wiki? --STG

I agree with Jimbo's reasoning, and I wonder the same thing as STG. Alternatively, someone could dedicate a UseModWiki server to this objective right now. <>< tbc

STG: not really, because changes to a "discussion" namespace would be recorded in Recent Changes. On the other hand, if each namespace had its own changelog, that might be OK. I'd actually prefer a separate wiki, though. We want a clear distinction between the encyclopedia project and meta-discussion thereof. --LMS
Ok, I see what you're saying. In that case, I agree with you, as long as the official policy pages are developed by the community (as they are now), and links to relevant discussions on the separate wiki would be permitted. I would like to keep subpages off of personal pages, though, just not for essays on Wikipedia policy. But, since there's not much to do with encyclopedia projects on my own subpages, I don't have a particularly strong argument, other than it's doesn't hurt anything. --STG
I don't think it's brushing matters under the carpet, and it's not banning commentary either. It's just moving it to a place clearly separated from the main action. This is a good thing, not a bad thing, because we want to focus attention on the encyclopedia as opposed to discussion thereof. --LMS

Why would it be any harder to click on another website to check out the dialogue? This is still in public, it would simply be a lot easier to provide a proper forum for discussion. I think another site (Namespace or Wiki) is a very good idea. Also, people should really be able to post what they like on the new site without it being changed, as there would be no need for this to happen. I might even be able to get a proper personal-page then ;-) -- sodium

Exactly. BTW, you'll be able to take "sodium" on the new wiki. It will be user:sodium (or u:sodium). --LMS


I think it is important to avoid mixing encyclopedia articles with other stuff. If an alternate wiki or namespace (I prefer the namespace) exists for personal/meta/experimental/controversial stuff, the encyclopedia proper can be kept much cleaner without introducing censorship. (I'm implicitly assuming that moving stuff in another, publicly accessible location does not constitute censorship.) I think almost everyone is able to get a feeling of what is deemed acceptable as an encyclopedia article just by looking at what is already there. They should try to conform to that. The /talk subpages should stay but their goal should be limited to ideas for improving the contents of the article under discussion.

The measure Larry proposes would be beneficial for the contributors who aren't interested in meta-discussion or opinions, as they could choose whether or not to learn about what's happening there. It would benefit those who are interested in such matters, as they could express themselves and collaborate using the wiki format (which I personally think is far superior to mailing lists). Linking from "alternate space" into the Wikipedia wouldn't pose a problem. However, there is the question of linking from the Wikipedia towards "alternate space". I'm not sure exactly in what situations that would be appropriate. I think there should exist links to contributor's pages in review histories and recent changes. Other than that, I don't know. It might become necessary in some talk subpages. --Seb

Well said. And indeed we should think a bit about policies re: linking from the main wiki to the meta-discussion wiki. The whole effect would be lost if we started linking the too closely. --LMS


Would the "talk" namespace (that will be used anyway) be sufficient, or should I create a "commentary" namespace for that? --Magnus Manske

Let's wait to see how this discussion pans out first, Magnus. I think we'll probably just be setting up a different wiki altogether. (And it could use subpages!  :-) ) --LMS


While we're at it, I think an "original work" or "research" namespace for those of us who are interested in creating or discovering new knowledge collaboratively (while preserving the "serious" aspect that is so valuable in Wikipedia) using the wiki interface, would be a great thing to have. Basically the only commitment there would be to a neutral point of view. Whether or not an idea/conjecture/result is new would not be a criterion for inclusion/exclusion - in fact idiosyncracy would be encouraged there. -- Seb

Ugh. Not a different namespace--a different wiki altogether, with no official association with Wikipedia. Jimbo will happily set up such a wiki for you. --LMS

Hmm...are you implying that I'm the only research-driven person who hangs out around here? --Seb
Certainly not (take me, for example). It's just that your proposal doesn't really fit with an encyclopedia, and would be better served as a completely separate project. --STG

Frankly, if people want to set themselves up as editorial staff on a meta-discussion wiki, and they don't do a bad job, they'd be free to do that, as far as I'm concerned. As long as they leave the main wiki free to thrive, I'll be happy.

Indeed, new people don't need to know of the existence of discussion pages in order to get stuff done. They do need to see the policy pages, which is why I think they shouldn't be moved to the meta-discussion wiki (mdw). We can have prominent links to the mdw from the front page and from the FAQ and other documents, though. --LMS


My first thought is "yes, please, move all content to some other place where I don't have to see it."  :-) My second thought is "but for us to reach consensus about how to present an article, often we'll have to discuss aspects of the article, and to have that discussion, since this is the web, it makes sens to leave links to the page where the discussion will take place. So my question is, will the links to Talk pages/namespaces/whatever be an option that has to be turned on in preferences, so that it has some use? Otherwise, how would it actually be any different? (Newbies come in, they see something interesting & different, then they see a lot of bickering and idle chitchat, then they go on to espn.com). I must be missing something (as I often do).... --KQ

Well, it's not part of the proposal that we move talk pages (see talk page) to the mdw. The stuff that I want moved, so we don't have to see it :-) unless I want to (as I'm sure I will--occasionally) are in two broad categories: the essays on Wikipedia commentary and personal essays such as those linked to from Larry Sanger/Columns. --LMS


Sounds good. Do it.


It sounds like there's quite a bit of support for the general idea.

I am going to start a discussion on Wikipedia-L on exactly how to do this. Please join or look at the archives soon to see the proposal; join the list to discuss it. --LMS4