A War of Words on Wikipedia

When Wikipedia was just a wee Web site with lofty goals, contributors worked feverishly to create articles on just about everything under the sun. But now that the encyclopedia’s English-language version boasts over two million entries, its administrators can stop wondering if the site is comprehensive enough. Quality, not quantity, has become Priority No. 1.

Editors are now fanning out across Wikipedia, deleting uncited claims, rewriting knotty passages, and identifying articles that seem trivial or otherwise unworthy. Their efforts may well enhance Wikipedia’s status in academe. But the encyclopedia’s shift in priorities has also led it into an “awkward adolescence,” writes K.G. Schneider, a librarian, in CIO. According to Ms. Schneider, Wikipedia’s “inclusionists” (who argue that the site should continue to encourage new entries) and its “deletionists” (who advocate cutting articles deemed fatuous or picayune) are now engaged in a pitched battle.

Perhaps the most entertaining dispatch from that battle will be filed by Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia’s co-founder and most influential editor. Last month Mr. Wales created a sentence-long article about Mzoli’s Meats, “a butcher shop and restaurant located in Guguletu township near Cape Town, South Africa.” Almost immediately, another Wikipedia administrator stepped in to delete the entry, arguing that the restaurant was obscure and the article unimportant. A contentious debate ensued, and Wikipedians eventually voted to restore the article. Now, just a couple of weeks later, the entry on Mzoli’s has blossomed into a rather thorough and well-sourced write-up about the butchery.

Inclusionists may take the evolution of the article as evidence that some quality-obsessed administrators are overstepping their bounds. But deletionists could argue just as easily that the site’s rough-and-tumble editing worked: Wikipedians decided that Mzoli’s is noteworthy, so the article lived to see another day. Are Wikipedia’s editing wars signs of a looming crisis, as Ms. Schneider seems to suggest? Or are they just examples of healthy debate? —Brock Read

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