Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Brave new articles

There are no articles left to conquer.
- Alexander the Great (the original Greek appears to have been garbled)

For a while now I've been working on getting twentieth century popular song articles compliant with site policies and the law. That means removing copyrighted lyrics, taking out citations to Angelfire, and excising other things that simply shouldn't be there. Lots to do there because the area is poorly tended. Wikipedia has 16,000 song stubs and an additional 10,000 unassessed song articles, most of which are also stubs.

This sort of gnome work means removing material. And when an area isn't maintained to normal standards it ends up with well-meaning people who think whatever they see around there is the way things ought to be. So we end up with thousands of stub articles that are almost meaningless.

Three from 1957:
You might think that with stuff like that, the site has everything. While taking a break last evening a post from JzG looked interesting:
Most of the problem is that there are now so few significant topics left to write about that those who lack specialist education or resources have nothing left other than politics and their favourite band to occupy their time here. They come along, want to be significant in this huge edifice, and fail to realise that they missed the boat. Plus many of them are grossly immature and lack any understanding at all of anything other than the mores of their own town. I'd hazard a guess that the vast majority of Wikipedia editors have never left their home country and have no idea at all about the social codes of other nationalities. And the less they know, the more uptight they get about it.
Ah, he mentions music. Well here's a quick summary of Wikipedia's coverage in the area:
What's interesting is that coverage really plummets just as things get to public domain--where it's finally okay to republish song lyrics (although I prefer to do so on Wikisource).

So in order to balance out the karma I've been expanding a few of those stubs into real articles. For example, most people know I'm Just Wild About Harry from the 1955 Warner Brothers short One Froggy Evening, and perhaps recall that it was Harry Truman's presidential campaign song in 1948. Actually the song has a bit more history than that: it was the most popular number from the first successful Broadway musical to have an all African-American cast. And the song broke a major racial taboo. Times have changed so much that few people would guess what that taboo used to be. The article explains that now, although it didn't say much at all before the expansion began.

The goal with these expansions is like cloud seeding: create examples of what an article should actually look like. Then--with a little time and luck--other editors will expand more articles into pages that convey meaningful information instead of unreferenced regurgitations of when something supposedly charted and names of artists who recorded it. I'm Just Wild About Harry is a foxtrot--one of only four lonely entries at Category:Foxtrots (a major ballroom dance genre and Wikipedia barely touches the subject).

More than foxtrots, though, I've been working on ragtime. Ragtime dominated North American popular music for a quarter of a century. And ragtime was the basis for jazz. I used to read up on jazz history and get frustrated when the explanations stopped with a gloss about ragtime. So signing off and heading back to the biography of May Aufderheide, the genre's leading female composer. The expansion probably won't take her bio past start class, but I have hopes of raising List of compositions by James Scott to featured list. It was a lot of fun chasing down all that sheet music.

So to JzG: Wikipedia has enormous gaps and it doesn't take specialized education to start filling a lot of them. Ever tried Google Books?


Circéus said...

I think people gets quickly bored after just the creation of an article: there is significantly less thrill and prestige in enlarging an existing article.

A good example of major holes are information beyond Us census data for thousands of U.S. places. Of course, the considerations also solely apply to roughly the U.S., U.K. and Australia. Massive chunks of informations are left out in Canada: I believe not half of the people listed in the Canadian Dictionary of Biographies are in WP, and only about a quarter of the municipalities in Quebec are anything beyond stub, and overall coverage of the province in all topics is laughable.

Gregory Kohs said...

My opinion held in the summer of 2006 was that Wikipedia sorely lacks articles about verifiable, reliably sourced corporate entities. My opinion remains unchanged. As you probably likewise know, I tried to combat that absence of needed articles with a method of provenance I thought fair and subject to correction. I was banned from Wikipedia for trying.

Lise Broer said...

The plan was a good one in theory, but needed a bit of adjustment once it went into operation. If you'd been more open to feedback, Greg, you'd have remained in good standing. Here's hoping the holidays treat you well and the new year brings you back. Best wishes.

Joshua said...

A variety of remarks:

First, the real issue that JzG is talking about is true if one makes his statement more precise. There are few low-hanging fruit left even as there are many articles left to be written. That is, most of the articles that need to be written or that need serious expansion are articles that require real research. Far more people have basic familiarity with contemporary subjects and when they don't it is far easier to get some reliable sources by googling.
This problem is very easy to see if one looks at articles about 19th century US politicians including governors and senators. There just isn't that much that's easily available about most of them. If one edits Wikipedia as a form of procrastination (as I expect many do, and I certainly do to some extent) then one really doesn't want to go track down all sorts of obscure sources unless you really enjoy that sort of thing.

Greg: You were also banned for being an insufferable jackass. Like many online communities (and many communities in general for that matter) there's a tendency to get rid of people who come across as jerks whether or not they have a minimally valid point. The lack of change in your general attitude together with the appearance that you care more about your own bottom-line than anything else hasn't really helped matters.

llywrch said...

Joshua, your comment is accurate depending on the definition of your term "serious research". I agree with you that too many contributors limit themselves to a page or two of hits on Google. Yet I am amazed at how much information can be added to an article -- or a series of articles -- if a dedicated editor were to take a reliable source & systematically mine it for data.

Sometimes I wonder if this isn't a reflection of the kinds of editors that Wikipedia now attracts. Some of us still are willing to spend money on specialist literature because we enjoy the process of research & learning; but with depressing regularity, newer editors appear to insist that every fact needs to be from an online source -- or this week's newspaper.