Wikipatrol with Nicholson Baker

Nicholson Baker wrote the Mezzanine (the book I reviewed yesterday). He also wrote this article about Wikipedia, where he details time spent protecting obscure articles from deletion. A worthy cause.

He thinks Wikipedia is worth protecting because its checks and balances work well…

“Some articles are vandalised a lot. On January 11 this year, the entire fascinating entry on the aardvark [7] was replaced with “one ugly animal”; in February the aardvark was briefly described as a “medium-sized inflatable banana”.

This sounds chaotic, but most of the time the “unhelpful” or “inappropriate” changes are quickly fixed by human stompers and algorithmicised helper bots. Without the kooks and the insulters and the spray-can taggers, Wikipedia would just be the most useful encyclopedia ever made. Instead, it is a fast-paced game of paintball.”

Except sometimes these bots and human stompers want to stamp out whole articles. That’s where Baker and a team of anti-deleters step in…

“At the same time as I engaged in these tiny, fascinating (to me) “keep” tussles, hundreds of others were going on, all over Wikipedia. I signed up for the Article Rescue Squadron, a small group that opposes “extremist deletion, having seen it mentioned in John Broughton’s invaluable guide, Wikipedia: The Missing Manual. And I found out about a project called WPPDP (for “WikiProject Proposed Deletion Patrolling”) in which people look over the PROD lists for articles that should not be made to vanish. Since about 1,500 articles are deleted a day, this kind of work can easily become life-consuming. I was swept right out to the Isles of Shoals [13]. I stopped hearing what my family was saying to me – for about two weeks I all but disappeared into my screen, trying to salvage brief, sometimes overly promotional but nevertheless worthy biographies by recasting them in neutral language, and by hastily scouring newspaper databases and Google Books for references that would bulk up their notability quotient. I had become an “inclusionist”.”

It’s a tremendous article. Read it.

“Still, a lot of good work – verifiable, informative, brain-leapingly strange – is being cast out of this paperless, infinitely expandable accordion folder by people who have a narrow notion of what sort of curiosity an online encyclopedia should be able to satisfy in the years to come.”