Get rid of subpages entirely

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Magnus Manske, hopefully with the help of others, is writing a new PHP version of the WikiWiki software that runs Wikipedia.

I think we should completely eliminate the use of subpages in this new software. I think we should rename pages presently named foo/bar to foo--bar. Frankly, I am sick and tired of subpages. I hate them. I feel more strongly than ever that the arguments I made in Why_I_am_suspicious_of_subpages, Accidental_linking_and_hard-wired_category_schemes, and The_case_against_subpages. I also don't really feel that those pages together make the best possible case against subpages; more can be said.

Subpages would be nice, I suppose, for other namespaces, like the Wikipedia namespace and the User namespace. I just hate the idea of continuing to use them for the article namespace.

What do you all think of this?

--Larry Sanger

personally, I see no practical difference and only a very slight aesthetic difference in using "--" as a subtopic delimiter rather than "/". But as long as I'm not the one doing the work changing everything over, I guess there's no harm. -BD
It seems as if subpages like Talk make sense (I like Visitors on personal pages); or even subpages like this one. But in general I think they should either be supported at unlimited levels (which would be very strange, I know, and to work right would really require a moderator to tell people where to put things) or at no level at all. Perhaps there should be only a few named subpages allowed, so it's not possible to make up new ones? Like Talk, Work, Suggestions (Politics?) - all stuff pertaining directly to the mechanics/politics of the article in question. - justfred
I like that suggestion: in the main namespace, allow Talk pages only (maybe also a Bibliography or Additional Sources). In the other namespaces like "User:" we can allow subpages with different names, and maybe we should come up with a separate namespace for entries about wikipedia, allowiing subpages under other names. And I'd like not to have dashes in the titles, either, unless the title of the object calls for a colon (which isn't allowed, e.g. Samurai 1: Musashi Miyamoto) (or, for that matter, a slash, which would imply a subpage, e.g. ''Face/Off''). That is, I would much prefer to see [[United States/Government]] converted to [[government of the United States]] instead of [[United States--government]]. It just allows for more accidental linking and actually fits the way a person would say it. --KQ

The idea of changing / to -- borders, in my opinion, on irrational. It's just a character, after all; if you want to grant it power of hierarchy creation, '--' can be invested with this power just as well as '/'.

I'm strongly in favour of subpages. In my opinion, virtually none of the arguments against them have strong merit. The most important argument against them (creating undesirable hierarchy, making B son of A when B may have independent interest or may just as well be considered the son of C) is actually the argument against improper subpaging. There're plenty of cases in which B has no independent interest - /Talk pages, long lists broken by first letters alphabetically, alternative treatments of the same topic or in-depth look at one aspect of the issue, too long to be put on the main page.

All the other arguments against subpages besides this one are much less relevant, in my opinion, than Larry thinks simply because subpages are also pages. Subpages are pages: they can be linked to just as well as regular pages. Example: in case Hebrew language//Phonology needs to be linked to from a general page on phonology, it can be linked to there, and changing it to Phonology of Hebrew isn't going to make the slightest bit of difference w.r.t. the link from the phonology page. Or, in general: B is a subpage of A; for instance, because B has no independent interest, but merely elaborates upon the aspect X of A. Now if there's a page devoted to the aspect X, it can link to A/B just as easily as it can link to "X of A". The link is not worse off because it points to a subpage. And generally, in all cases when the subpage should be treated as an separare entity, we can just ignore the slash aspect of it and treat its name as one large string. What I'm trying to explain here is that we let the hierarchical aspect matter in precisely the degree we want it to matter, and not more than that.

So what are subpages? They're just like regular pages, and in addition to that they also establish themselves as inherent parts of their "father" pages, too long or inconvenient to be included wholly inside the "father" page. That's the only difference between subpages and regular pages. And the only problem with this difference may arise when this relation is inappropriate, and there're certainly many cases when it is. Now on the other hand consider the benefits of this additional relation, this added information between pages.

One huge benefit is simply the fact that this relationships binds pages much more tightly than a mere link. Page A may link to 12 other pages, and we have no way of saying, simply and unequivocally, to the reader: hey, by far the most important among these 12 links is the link to B. The subpage mechanism lets us make this point simply and forcefully.

The other benefit of course is precisely our ability to link to subpages.

Could write more about this, but am feeling too damn tired now.


"The idea of changing / to -- borders, in my opinion, on irrational. It's just a character, after all; if you want to grant it power of hierarchy creation, '--' can be invested with this power just as well as '/'."

But what about the suggestion that we not use -- at all except as a substitute for / or : since the first creates a subpage (whose title wouldn't be allowed) and the second isn't allowed in links.

If you use -- as a substitute for /, you gain absolutely nothing. Right now / has the associative power of a subpage, and then -- will have that power. Nothing will change. That's my point.

And again you have missed my point: don't use -- at all, except as a substitute in a title that would have required a / or : (and use it then only because the : is illegal and the / would be too since it would denote a subpage by a name that would not be allowed).

So far as your other comments go, you do have a point that the problem is incorrect subpaging; my question for you is how you would enforce only correct subpaging? It can't be done. --KQ

We enforce it in the same way we enforce everything else here - by editing. How do we enforce NPOV, correct titles, proper spelling, good organisation of material and everything else? By editing. You see a subpage that'd be better off as an independent page - move it. --AV
(by editing AND by explaining and showing examples on the proper guidance pages!)

It's not simply a matter of having it be on the correct subpage. That would be a (very big) problem in itself; but the hierarchy itself is a problem too. Why [[Spain/History]]? Why not [[History/Spain]]? Why [[Film editing/Star wipe]]? Why not [[Post-production effects/Star wipe]]? I think you're assuming a greater knowledge than you or anyone has: a term can always be used in an unforeseen context, so why not avoid imposing any hierarchy on it that will eventually come to be seen as arbitrary?

One example of subpages that I rather like is Mercury and its various divisions. If I weren't so lazy and relatively new to Wikipedia, I would break up other multi-entry pages into subpages like this rather than listing all the entries in the same page. As for less clearly defined subpages like the Spain/History and History/Spain thing, why not have both and employ redirects? Assuming there's some sort of master History page where it would make sense to list various countries under separate subpages, of course. -BD

I would support dropping subpages. I know '--' vs. '/' is just an aesthetic thing, but I like '--' because it looks a bit more traditional for an encyclopedia. The other advantage of '--' is changing the subpaging character might cause a change in attitude to subpages, since the new character would not have the associations the old one has developed.

'/' is actually written into the Wikipedia software; [[/X]] creates a link to Wikipedia commentary/X, not just to /X. Whether we use "/" or "--" or anything else for subpages, I think it should be treated as a normal character. -- Simon J Kissane

I vote that subpages should be kept, since they are a good thing if used properly - for instance /Talk, /Alternate, /Old, and /Bibliograpy. It's convenient not to have to link back to the article every time one of these is created, or to be able to reference the alternate version on talk without having to re-type the article's name. I'll agree that trying to create a hierarchy with them is bad, but that something can be misused is not an argument to get rid of it, or else none of wikipedia would be left! --Josh Grosse

How freakishly ironic is a subpage that calls for the elimination of subpages?

I'm a strong supporter of subpages; see /Modular content creation, September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack. --TheCunctator

The only difference between page/subpage and page--anotherpage is that the second could be used to make infinite levels of subpages: page--anotherpage--stillanother--... Our current subpages system is limited, as it should be, and I think we should keep it. Actually, the -- pages are a personal pet peave of mine...--STG

Using subpages as a means to organize content is in most cases a form of laziness. Articles should be written well enough that their relationships with other articles are clear; for instance putting Nobel Prize/Economics is just an excuse to add a (non-encyclopedic) list of people and dates without writing an article about them. The same goes for all those Academy Awards pages. An article which is written well will not need to be on a subpage. Replacing / with -- is a senseless compromise; leave /Talk and kill all the rest. It looks sloppy because it is.

Since my PHP script is the cause of this discussion, I should say that the script supports a "talk:" namespace for each topic. So, Talk:HomePage would be the talk "subpage" of HomePage. No need to keep subpages just because of the /Talk thing. --Magnus Manske

I thought I liked subpages, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that I don't like them. I should say that I don't like the way the software handles subpages -- of course conceptually breaking down a large topic into components is a good thing in many cases. For example, Ben Franklin/Childhood is a good idea for a conceptual subpage, but it should be named something that better facilitates accidental linking, and also that is more readable: Ben Franklin's Childhood.

Really, there's no limitation on the organization of content that is imposed by eliminating subpages.

I do like the idea of treating all /Talk pages differently, as well as perhaps a few other types of pages. The reason is that those pages are different, they are non-encylopedia articles.

Imagine this, for example: /Bibliography can lead to a page that is editable in the "Wiki spirit" but which has structured fields for people to add references. In the present scheme, subpages are just pages. In a new scheme, subpages can be *special* as necessary. --Jimbo

I'm one of the largest (ab?)users of subpages here, and I have to say that I'm only using them because Wiki doesn't have some features I'd rather see, like parenthesized titles (planned) and "link contexts" (not planned). With those features, I wouldn't miss them a bit. --LDC

I'm not opposed to parenthized titles -- indeed, I was only converted against subpages today. But it occurs to me that one principle of page naming is trying to guess how other authors might accidentally link the page. Of course, that in turn depends on where they expect a link to succeed. But surely Ben Franklin's childhood is more natural than Ben Franklin (Childhood)? Maybe not. I'm just thinking this through.

Ick! No, you're not. Perentheses are used to clarify context: "Benjamin Franklin's Childhood" is the right title. We need parentheses for things like "Turkey (Country)" and "Turkey (Bird)". Likewise "Mapping (Mathematics)" and "Deposition (Law)". Similarly, some means of specifying the link context of a page, so that for example, on other Law pages one can make a link to [[deposition]] and expect it to go to the right place, rather than to "Depostion (Chemistry)" or to an intermediate page. --LDC

Ben Franklin/Childhood will automatically link to the Ben Franklin page. Ben Franklin's Childhood would not - people might see this page and think our Ben Franklin page is bizarrely only about his childhood. The automatic linking is a powerful feature of subpages. - Tim

But it's still relatively easy to make that link back; the article will almost certainly start "[[Ben Franklin]] grew up in ...". The downside of the subpage is that it forces the automatic link; it doesn't give you any choice about it, whether it's appropriate or not, or where to put it. I think it is critical to make sure that it's easy to create good pages; it should also be more difficult to create bad ones. --LDC

Again: the onus is on those who want to eliminate a feature to show what the alternative will be. So, please tell me what in the new system will become of:

  1. Pages like this very one (a subpage that advocates eliminating subpages)
  2. Entries like September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack


Actually, I have a better suggestion than renaming / pages to -- pages. Just let all the pages keep their present names, and remove the / functionality (the / becomes just another character). Then, the answers to your questions above, Cunctator, are obvious. --LMS

Larry, what do you suppose the / functionality is now (besides creating a special link to the "parent" page which is a good thing). What is there to remove? --AV
Actually, there are two more functionalities (I know, I re-wrote them;) : The ability to say [[/Talk]] instead of [[This long topic/Talk]], and the limitation to one subpage level. On the PHP wiki, there's some more, like the display of all subpages of the main page of the current article in a "QuickBar" thingy (looks like "Wikipedia commentary<br>Wikipedia commentary/Talk<br>Wikipedia commentary/Get rid of subpages entirely" and so on). --Magnus Manske
And again, all these look like good things to me. The QuickBar thingie is especially good as it creates the impression of the overall unity when visiting the main page, while a subpage still remains a fully featured page for all purposes (except it can't have subpages ;)) and can't be linked to separately.
BTW, I think it might be a good idea to allow for second-level subpages, but limit them to /Talk only. --AV
Most of the effects are psychological/wikicultural, but they're no less real and important (and detrimental) for that. Read my essays and see if you can reply to them.
If the effects are psychological/wikicultural (which I agree they are), what does your suggestion of "removing the / functionality" mean? As for essays, I read them all carefully, and presented many reasons as to why subpages are good and worth keeping, some of them are spelled out extensively near the beginning on this page. I'm yet to read your response to them, and it's not found in your essays. --AV
Magnus, I'm going to hold out against subpages on the new wiki. I regard their existence as a bug that must be stamped out. When a subject is well-conceived, one can give an article on the subject a perfectly precise title. It's just unnecessary and confusing to put meaningless punctuation in the title, and put the article in a completely ambiguous but vaguely child-to-parent relation to another article. As an anonymous writer above said, subpages are quite often a form of laziness--it's totally true. Very often, it's a substitute for failing to think through exactly what one's subject is. --LMS
Frankly, I believe that your problem with subpages is psychological and is not subject to rational argument. There are very many reasons for subpages already presented on this page none of which you acknowledged or replied to. Paper encyclopaedias employ subpages: they're called sections. Since Wikipaedia by its nature isn't as constrained by space as e.g. Britannica, its "sections" should for clarity and convenience be split into subpages, and the ability to link to specific subpages which then arises is definitely a good thing. Note that in the web version of Britannica sections are in fact split into several webpages and not laid out on one single huge page. By enforcing flat structure we would be losing functionality compared with paper encyclopaedias, while we really should be gaining functionality, rather than losing it. But hey, this is just another argument for subpages among a dozen or so of them on this page that you haven't addressed. It's becoming frustrating, Larry, to see you rant against subpages time and again on various talk pages or here, and then fail to respond to any counter-reasons with anything specific other than a pointer to your essays, which, with all due respect to them, contain precious little argument against subpages which aren't based on a misunderstanding about their nature (viz. that they're exactly like other pages in all respects save the parent-child relationship). --AV
I'm very busy, Anatoly, I have little time for people who do not respect me enough to consider my arguments, particularly when I find their own reasons to be pretty transparently wrong, and particularly when they are themselves rather new to Wikipedia and, as has happened before, simply don't understand the issues (though they think they do). I have told you where to find my arguments, which you have not shown you understand. If you want to argue against my arguments, do so there.
I'll tell you what. You write one long essay in which all of your substantive arguments are listed point-by-point. I will show in every case why they're wrong or why they do not, singly or together, support your view. That's the best I can do for you. --LMS

Why does AV have to write a long essay? It's pretty simple.

The subpages were immensely useful in constructing September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack. As others have pointed out, they add two convenient functionalities:

  1. creating a special link to the "parent" page which is a good thing
  2. The ability to say [[/Timeline]] instead of [[September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack/Timeline]]

That second functionality may not seem like much, but you try typing all that in over and over again.

LMS, you have not said how we benefit from the loss of the above functionality. And I hope you didn't mean to say things like "I have little time for people who do not respect me enough to consider my arguments, particularly when I find their own reasons to be pretty transparently wrong, and particularly when they are themselves rather new to Wikipedia and, as has happened before, simply don't understand the issues (though they think they do)" which is pretty awful, since you can get away with being rude since you're in charge, but noone else can. So I admire your policy of discouraging rudeness for everyone, including yourself: the King is not above the Law.

And you may be able to claim that AV doesn't respect you, that his reasons are transparently wrong, and that he's rather new, and simply doesn't understand the issues, but I hope you won't try claiming that about me. But you shouldn't have claimed that about anyone, because it's nonproductive, even if it's honestly felt. I don't think AV is trying to diss you. I know I'm not.

You're right that subpages are often a form of laziness; but they're not always. And you're forgetting that laziness is one of the three virtues of the programmer.

If what's really happening is that you're getting aggravated because the new system will have namespace-construction capabilities that encompass the nature of subpages but are better, then you should make that clearer. Because it's not obvious. Right now your statements have seemed a bit autocratic ("I regard their existence as a bug that must be stamped out." is a bit creepy, e.g.)

I'm not losing any sleep over it. But I want to be able to want to stay with Wikipedia. --TheCunctator

After resisting to move this page to wikipedia commentary on getting rid of subpages entirely because they are plain evil;), I looked at Larry Sanger/Why I am suspicious of subpages, which states that subpages are sometimes useful and sometimes not. I continued through the essays and ended at Larry Sanger/The case against subpages, which looks more like a declaration of war to me;)

Actually, the current subpage system reminds me a lot of object-orientated languages like C++, which have a main object (like September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack) and variables and methods (like /Timeline). My point is, object-orientated languages were developed because they have major advantages compares to the "flat" languages, like the original C. The idea is that contents that belongs together is grouped together. I know that is not directly compareable, but the idea is the same.

AFAIK, Larry's current view is "keep the / but remove the subpage functionality". But, then we'd have to limit the number of / s so there won't be things like pages/that/have/many/subpages. So, all chars are allowed, but (apart from : for namespaces) only / is restricted? Without having an actual effect? It comes to my mind that this is, to quote one of Larry's favourite words for subpages, arbitrary...

Actually, I am uncertain if I should support subpages (my script currently does), or if I should get rid of them. For the others, remember that with the new script there will (sooner or later) be a "delete" function for pages, maybe a "rename" function as well. So, Larry, you could move subpages where you don't like them, but keep them on, say, Poker, where you actually seem to support them.

Just a thought : How about a user option that disables subpages? You won't see all the subspace stuff if the option is "no subspaces", but others would. Sounds strange, doesn't it? --Magnus Manske

Larry, if you can't even be bothered to reply to arguments put on a page which you specifically created for debate about subpages, that speaks volumes about your attitude to the whole issue. It's not just my arguments on this page that you've been ignoring.

Your charge that I didn't consider your arguments and that I should reply to them on your essays' pages or write yet another essay on the subject is ridiculous both because I have already addressed them more than once and because this very page was created by you specifically for debating on subpages, which debating you then went on to ignore.

As for the 'rather new' canard, I've been playing with and watching Wikipedia for three months now (not as much as many here, of course, but not as little either), and have edited many articles with and without subpages from many diverse areas. If you made up your mind and aren't willing to entertain any arguments (which certainly seems to be the case) I suggest that you be honest about it.

I've had it for now with your condescension. So far you've shown that rational debate with you on the issue of subpages is impossible. Whatever your psychological problems are, I hope you solve them. --AV

Anatoly, as long as you continue to insult me, as you have done several times, I am not going to argue with you. My adopting this stance this cannot be reasonably construed either as evidence of psychological problems :-) or as a concession that your arguments are beyond answering. (For all I know, upon reexamination, I will find your arguments to be very strong indeed.) My stance should be construed as evidence that I regard your argumentative style as personally repugnant, and that in my opinion I am not personally obligated to answer all arguments from all comers. If you apologize and we start all over, I'll consider reply further to you personally. Maybe simply time will heal the wounds.
In our first exchange on the subject, in Plato/Talk, I tried to list several good reasons in favour of subpages; you answered by directing me to your essays (which I had already read by then), and generally pooh-poohing me away, suggesting twice that I'm new here and probably don't understand anything, the second time with "Keep working on the project for a few months and then see how you feel about subpages" (in fact, by then I had already been working on Wikipedia for a few months, as much as spare time allowed). I didn't write anything insulting on that page, and the only time ("several times" strains credulity and evidence) I did was on this page, after you happily ignored all the replies in the debate started by yourself, including a long list of reasons I provided in addition to those I had already listed on Plato/Talk, and including plenty of points made by others, and proceeded to rudely state "I'm going to hold out against subpages on the new wiki. I regard their existence as a bug that must be stamped out." (you will note, by examining this page, that I wasn't the only one who found this comment to be rather impolite).
I therefore suggest that you critically examine your own argumentative style before you call mine "repugnant".
I will, as I said before, avoid any direct dialogue with you on the subject of subpages; therefore please feel free to continue ignoring all my arguments in favor of them.
Anatoly, I think this has been a series of misunderstandings from the beginning. I will write you privately; let's handle any further personal difficulties in e-mail. My e-mail address is --LMS
In the meantime, when I get a chance (it's the weekend!), I will consider the arguments per se that others have produced. --LMS

When I first created the subpage feature I intended to eventually add several features specific to subpages. For example, one would be able to "fold" subpages on Recent Changes which would display something like "Popular Page (17 subpage changes)" rather than listing all pages. Another possibility would be automatically listing all subpages on each parent page. Unfortunately I've had limited time for working on wiki code recently so these features have not been implemented. If subpages are kept, however, they could be implemented later.

A few subpage features are still useful, like the automatic links to the parent topics, the ability to rename all subpages by renaming the parent, and the ease of creating local links.

My main concern with getting rid of subpages is that different people will come up with different standards for sectioning large pages. For example, the country pages would be less usable if some pages were "Government of Algeria", others were "Cuba -- Government", or even "Canadian Government". Having a standard like "Canada/Government" makes it easier to agree on a single format. Another concern is that eliminating subpages may lead to larger pages, which may not be editable on many common browsers (Netscape browsers on Microsoft systems tend to have a 32K limit for editing pages).

I don't have strong feelings either way on this issue. Namespaces could replace the "Talk" pages quite nicely, and renaming/deletion may help enforce naming conventions. I'm sure Wikipedia will continue to surprise me in the future. --CliffordAdams

This discussion gets both too long and too emotional. Maybe we should collect the facts (and only the facts) about this at wikipedia subpages pros and cons -- Magnus Manske

I totally agree, Magnus. I'll have a look at that and try to render it into a fair presentation of the dialectic. --LMS

I think we've discussed subpages quite a bit--certainly enough to air the issues and give people a chance to state their views and change their minds--and in view of this, I've decided to get rid of them.

Let me explain this decision--I'm done arguing for it, but of course you are owed an explanation, since the issue has been very controversial.

Examining the various pages on which people have discussed them, it seems there is at least a majority of people in favor of getting rid of them or who are amenable to the idea of getting rid of them. I think it's pretty important, although perhaps not absolutely essential in every case, that we at least not contradict majority opinion, when a consensus cannot be arrived at. The majority includes many old hands who have had more experience with the problems associated with subpages than some of their newer advocates, which I also think is important. Finally, and probably as importantly as anything else, my well considered opinion is that the arguments in favor of getting rid of them are much, much stronger than the arguments in favor of keeping them. I predict yer gonna thank me in a year. (Maybe not all of you. :-) ) --Larry Sanger

I've been off Wikipedia for a while and happened to check back and find this. My well considered opinion is that this is a bad mistake (and I've written about that in other places before). I probably won't be checking back to this page regularly, but do comment on Pinkunicorn if you like. If subpages are removed retroactively, it'll definitely contribute to keeping me off Wikipedia.

Jumping into this discussion recklessly - i'm new to Wikipedia, just did an extensive rewrite of the Neil Gaiman section. I created the entries for each of the books in his Sandman series, which someone had linked but not created. Now, the question - one of these collections is called Brief Lives. I was a little unhappy creating this as just a new page, "Brief Lives", not a subpage of anything, because if anyone ever wants to write something about Aubrey's "Brief Lives" (a seminal piece of biography, for anyone who doesn't know) there's going to be a rather large collision. What's the accepted way of dealing with situations like this? Should I move all the entries to be a subpage of the Sandman entry? What do those who don't like subpages suggest I do? In other :) -AW (user AdamWill)

This is a problem many others have faced in the past, and a few

different solutions seem to have arisen. In some cases, people put a parenthetical clarification, such as "Macbeth" and "Macbeth (play)". That approach seems suitable when a huge amount can be written about both topics. Another method that appears to be used is to inline all the variants within the same page, segregated by horizontal lines; this seems to work best when all of the topics are brief. You might want to browse through the Literature area and see if there are some conventions for books. -- BryceHarrington - Aug 2002

Comments to this discussion[edit]

Into the fray...'

My name is Jan, and I'm a subpage addict. My last subpage edit was about six hours ago.

I know this particular argument is likely to be met with derision, but I use subpages on my own wiki to build "nested documents", much as you would use "includes" in a C/C++ program.

This is really great when the subpages have general names, specific to that document. For example, in our coop incorporation, we have it split by sections, such as "Membership" or "Voting", but you would not want to have pages of those names in general context, because they are specific to that document, and have specific semantics within that document. In this case, the subpage is both namespace and encapsulation.

This also allows the subpages to be edited much more easily, with less chance of edit collision. Our incorporation is necessarily long, and necessarily has numerous people working on it. The time saved from not having to open the full document, scroll down to your section, make sure you didn't inadvertently change something you weren't supposed to, then sort out the merging of save collisions -- that all seems to argue for subpages for me.

If this functionality can be preserved with some other mechanism, no problem. But please don't throw the baby out with the bath water! --Bytesmiths 18:08, 22 March 2006 (UTC)[reply]

Just to comment on above - subpages functionality is kept in a way. You can simply edit a section (separeted by ==header==, ===subheader===, ...) or include subpages in the content ({{/subpage}}). Nux talk | faster talk 10:18, 3 April 2006 (UTC)[reply]