Breadth and depth

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I don't know if anyone wants to discuss this topic of breadth vs. depth. Originally I was going to say that breadth should be preferred to depth in the beginning; then I considered the wonderfully in-depth articles some people have written, and I was thinking we should encourage more of that; but now I think we should encourage everything!

One very prolific member has been writing a wonderfully in-depth guide to poker. Meanwhile, lots of other card games, and other games, go undiscussed. But that's fine. In other areas (e.g., computing, we're achieving excellent breadth, but rather little depth so far. In many cases, people are content to simply write definitions of the subjects in the title.

I counsel patience. In fact, I think it's great that people feel completely free to pursue topics either way. One of the great things about Wikipedia is that anyone can come in and do as little or as much as they like.

I have a feeling that experts (snobs, some might say) might happen upon Wikipedia, and look at selected areas of the wiki and, failing to understand what's going on here, will point to the lack of depth as a sign that there are only dilettantes on board here, who are only interested in bite-sized pieces of knowledge. But such snobs simply will have to explore further and bethink themselves that, once the breadth of topics is explored, depth is all that's left.

I think that both breadth and depth on Wikipedia are nearly inevitable. As some of us exhaust the breadth of various subjects, others of us will have written stuff that, being more in-depth, appears to be more "intellectually respectable" to the aforementioned experts. I think we've already come from the point where, to Nupedia, Wikipedia seems to be a silly game, to the point where we're now at least a source of abundant information, some of it surprisingly good. And that's just in the space of three months. In three years, if we and the many, many more who will arrive, keep at it, this is going to be just really quite an amazing resource. --LMS

I agree with your viewpoint, LMS, for this reason: I have seen how the Internet (well, the WWW to be precise) has followed this very path.
When I first started to look for content on the Internet (which was thru http, gopher & ftp protocols), the uneven distribution was very obvious. Many topics were little more than stubs, or represented by the annoying ubiquitous ``Under Construction" logo. Only a few -- which tended to be pop culture subjects, esp. various attractive female personalities, & computer-related subjects -- had anything that could be called depth to them. The best thing that could be said at this point was that the Internet ``had a lot of potential."
Fast forward 8 years to now. Not only is the content both broader & deeper, but it is easier to access. Pick a subject & enter it into Google: you are bound to find something both relevant & useful within 5 minutes for practically anything. A few topics will prove to be too specialized for easy access, & others will be handicapped by the fact anyone can create a webpage & that any webpage can vanish in the blink of an eye, but the resources are out there. The chief challenge is attempting to judge which webpages are reliable, & which should be ignored.
And here is an opportunity for Wikipedia: by providing an introduction to topics that are NPOV, the researcher is provided with a tool to determine whether a given webpage contains information that is generally reliable, or reflects the exclusive & tendentious viewpoint of a zealous minority.
Just a thought. -- Llywrch 00:59 Dec 12, 2002 (UTC)

When I look for content on the Internet, I am usually looking for two types of information.
The first : a couple of lines for a definition, immediate localisation of a place, quick description of an event. I don't want to be bothered by details. I want it quick and clear.
The second : comprehensive information on a matter I already know quite a lot. I look for facts, references, opinions. I can't satisfy myself with approximation. I don't want to be bothered by hazy knowledge. I want details.

Internet usually provides pretty well these two levels of information. But there are uncertainties on the neutrality and the reliability. And it takes time. Paper encyclopedia can satisfy first point pretty well. Very rarely satisfy the second. Not enough room, quickly outdated info.

What wikipedia should provide is easy access to the two levels of information. Problem is, there is usually only one page to provide the two levels. Just providing the first level on a small page, and then nicely spreading around the in-depth information on surroundings pages might be an answer sometimes. But one could miss some of the very important points, lost on a maze of interrelated pages.

Hence, either we find a way to treat the information on the two levels in the same page - which basically could mean, develop a proper short paragraph to very quickly cover the subject (cover, not introduce), then, below, provide an extensive article. And make obvious the separation between the two levels. The one line definition given at the top of the article is imho unsufficient : usually a dictionary definition.
Or, we must try to give more structure to some pivot articles, making them the central place where all related meaningful articles are clearly made obvious.


Bite sized chunks are the right size. It forces review of previously written material, easier classification of articles, and easier cross-linking of the different meanings of a term.


With respect, I would point out that when it comes to very technical, specialized material, it is difficult to break discussions easily into parts. See, e.g., the articles in mathematics. A great deal of specialized knowledge, e.g., in my own field of philosophy, consists of what might be called "narratives"--that is, familiar accounts of problems, solutions, arguments on both sides, etc. Parts of such accounts can be broken down (as I've started to do with Larrys Text) but then again, other parts just can't, without interrupting the "narrative." --LMS


I come down in favor of depth over breadth. Here's why: In-depth articles, and your poker example is an excellent one, will bring in links and with that Google searches. More Google visitors are our best avenue to growth.

If an article is researched in 10 minutes and written in 5, then it doesn't do much good: everybody who is seriously interested in that topic could have just spent 10 minutes researching and would have come up with the same results. So it doesn't really help the non-experts; the experts of course will giggle about it. But an article that took a week to research is a truly valuable gem, may even give the experts something to think about and will increase the perceived status of the Wikipedia. --AxelBoldt

On the other hand, short articles encourage improvement. I often check the recent changes list, and if I think I know a lot about a topic, I'll look at what's been written and see if I think I can improve on it. So just having a new topic can inspire new pages that end up being reasonably substantial. --Belltower

See Modular content creation and encyclopedia and or versus dictionary