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Challenging Wikipedia’s Notability Policy: A Comprehensive Framework for Discussion

Since the launch of the Wikipedia Equality movement, there has been plenty of interest. As expected, concerns have been raised regarding some of the practicalities. Common sense suggests that the Notability Criteria cannot simply be abolished without anything at all taking its place. After all, the one thing that both we and our opponents can agree on is that Wikipedia needs to continue being a quality encyclopedia with a reasonable demand on resources; it is not to become an indiscriminate and unsustainable collection of random information.

In politics, those who do not want a change often succeed in preserving the status quo simply by making change look too difficult. This is already the case regarding attempts to propose changes to Wikipedia’s Notability Criteria. Opponents to such changes often paint a picture that it is impossible to change the policy without undermining the functioning of Wikipedia. Therefore, to have any hope of changing things, we must firstly prove that it is possible to change things without undermining the integrity of Wikipedia.

Summing up the recent discussion papers we released, here is a comprehensive framework for change that can robustly answer our critics’ arguments.

Q: Abolishing the Notability Criteria will allow Wikipedia to host information indiscriminately, including that belonging to personal webpages. It will cease to be an encyclopedia.

A: We agree that Wikipedia has a mission as an encyclopedia, and should not have, for example, pages on your local bus drivers. So there has to be some limit to the information contained in Wikipedia. However, to determine that limit, we should go back to what an encyclopedia is, and what function it should serve.

Wikipedia is not a print encyclopedia. It does not have any size limitations. It also does not become harder to search with more information, as the search tool automatically brings up the most relevant information almost instantly for any search. Therefore, Wikipedia should include as much information as people potentially want from an encyclopedia.

So, the next question is, what do people potentially want from an encyclopedia. People want to look up all sorts of things that make up the world we are living in, that they may be interested in. Print encyclopedias, due to their size limits, can only include information that a lot of people would want. But in Wikipedia, information that only a small number of people will want and need can be included — and is sometimes already included, for example information on small rural towns. This makes Wikipedia much more powerful than any print encyclopedia. However, the Notability Criteria means that certain information some people may want is still excluded: for example, information on self-published authors, non-profit organizations without much media publicity, or obscure programming languages, to name a few categories. If Wikipedia can include information on small rural towns that most people would not find useful, why can’t it include the aforementioned categories of information too? After all, many independent authors and musicians have audiences larger than the population of entire small rural towns featured on Wikipedia.

Of course, there still has to be a limit as to what can be included in an encyclopedia. The kind of information people would look up in an encyclopedia is information that is relevant to humanity’s shared culture. Therefore, subjects included in encyclopedias should have some kind of unique cultural value. Hence, we developed the cultural contribution criteria as a replacement to the Notability Criteria.

Q: Abolishing the Notability Criteria will allow pages about random people to be created, leading to privacy concerns.

A: We agree that allowing pages of random people to be created invites invasion of privacy, and that most people out there probably wouldn’t want to have a Wikipedia page about their lives.

The cultural contribution criteria will cover most Wikipedia pages. The cultural contribution criteria clearly states that, to qualify, cultural contributions must be deliberately published. Therefore, most people in the world will still not be eligible to have a page created for them. For those who have had a substantial cultural contribution, their Wikipedia pages must focus on their publicly available cultural contributions, therefore there is no invasion in privacy. Furthermore, the verifiability criteria means that non-verifiable (and possibly false) trivia about non-notable people cannot be included, just like how non-verifiable (and possibly false) trivia about celebrities cannot be included either.

Q: Abolishing the Notability Criteria will allow Wikipedia to be used for advertising by businesses, including via the creation of back-links.

A: We agree that when the Notability Criteria is abolished, there is potential for businesses to use Wikipedia as advertising.

We agree that there needs to be policies to comprehensively prevent such behaviour. Furthermore, we recognise that a policy for businesses does not cover all the aforementioned activity, because some online ‘businesses’ are built around the sale of self-help books, e.g. how to get rich fast type books.

We argue that if Notability criteria is solely applied to businesses and self-help books, they can be applied much more strictly than is currently the case.

Q: Abolishing the Notability Criteria will make the enforcement of the verifiability criteria and the neutral point of view (NPOV) policy difficult.

A: We appreciate that Wikipedia is an encyclopedia with no original research permitted, and the verifiability criteria is to be strictly enforced.

Some Wikipedians have said that the Notability Criteria is essential for the enforcement of the verifiability criteria. However, this is not the case for every kind of information that may exist on a Wikipedia page. For example, for the discography of musical artists or lists of the works of authors, we just need to prove that those works exist. A reference to Amazon or an online music store will suffice in this circumstance.

Regarding the NPOV (neutral point of view) policy, there is no reason why articles on non-notable subjects are any more liable to deviate from the policy, compared with articles on notable subjects. A neutral, matter-of-fact tone is enforced on all articles in Wikipedia. As non-verifiable claims are banned on Wikipedia, there is also no way for a page to contain subjective praise or criticism of a subject, unless such praise or criticism has been found in a third-party, reliable source. This is the same for notable and non-notable subjects.

Q: Abolishing the Wikipedia Notability Criteria will cause an upsurge in the use of Wikipedia’s resources.

A: We agree that when the Notability Criteria is abolished, there will be a substantial increase in the number of Wikipedia pages.

However, this does not necessary mean a substantial increase in resource consumption. Firstly, we don’t live in the 1990s anymore. Hard disk space is almost unlimited nowadays, and a typical Wikipedia page is well less than 1MB in size. This excuse clearly does not fly. Secondly, more pages do not mean an increased use of Wikipedia’s bandwidth. The pages of non-notable people and phenomenon will generally not be accessed very often.

As for the argument that an increase in the number of pages will mean an increase in the workload of those who police the pages for accuracy, again this will not necessarily be the case. Wikipedians who monitor the edit logs are already being tasked with flagging pages for deletion for non-notability under the current criteria. These pages then often become the subject of a heated deletion discussion, wasting everyone’s time. Under our recommendations, Wikipedians who monitor the edit logs and come across new pages will only need to check such pages against the verifiability criteria, for all of their information. This is not much more demanding than checking such pages against the Notability criteria, as it currently stands. If verifiability criteria isn’t met, then the page will be flagged for deletion. Unlike deletions for lack of Notability, deletions for lack of verifiability should be much less controversial, thus saving everyone’s time by reducing arguments.




Ideas and Opinions on the Digital Media and traditional media landscapes, and their interactions. Home of the WikiEqual Project.

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Author and singer-songwriter. Doing sociology and philosophy by looking at Western politics and culture. Moral Libertarian.

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