|January 8th, 2009|
Edit: slightly updated with one more “what have I learned” and a few more links. But I could add links to this for hours.
So at this point, the whole kerfuffle over the MUD articles on Wikipedia has reached a fever pitch, and I am a bit exhausted by it all. Of course, not so exhausted that I can’t write 2500 more words about it.
But it has been an interesting education for me in how Wikipedia works, and I’d especially like to thank Adam Hyland for his patience explaining it all. I am a bit dismayed that both Richard & I were tagged by some in the debate as biased or “canvassed” or whatever the term is, when I think we both acted in good faith… but there are plenty of folks on the AfD discussion who have pointed this out.
Me being who I am, it of course led me to dig deeper into citations there in Wikipedia (hey look, ma, I’m a reliable source! No, wait, I’m not!). I think at this point that in theory, I’m a valid source. This may seem like an odd thing to wonder about or worry about, but hey, how can I help issues like this if not? I mean, this is right at the top of the whole MUD category:
MUDs and Notability — It Ain’t Gonna Work
Alright, I’ve been pondering this for several days, and I gotta tell you, I’ve got next to nothing. I’ve been in the Mudding community for over eight years at this point, and I’ve been a Mud administrator/coder/builder for over four years. I’d like to think I know the community pretty well. Here’s the dilemma: wikipedia guidelines require that articles on subjects maintain a certain level of notability. That is there are sources not directly related to the subject of the article. In the case of Muds this means we need to find some sort of third party source (be it a review, a listing, etc…) for each and every MUD listed on wikipedia that wasn’t written by players or staff of the MUD in question.
Well, that’s bloody near impossible.
So I decided to take a look at sourcing. I picked LegendMUD and my name, because though I may not be able to edit those articles, I do know the topics! In fact, I am an expert on me, though biased.
So I found that there’s 27 mentions of me on Wikipedia in articles, including an article on my GDC talk on Small Worlds. Astonishingly, I apparently owned the keyword “small worlds” for a few years (!) until the article was moved to make way for an episode of Torchwood (you can’t make this up, folks…!). Duncan Watts and other mathematicians must be dismayed.
But wait! There’s more, because there are also mentions of me on lots of Talk pages, usually about whether I am a valid source. One of those was using me & Bartle as a way to get Paul Barnett removed from Wikipedia. (Sorry, Paul).
And of course, a challenge to whether the timeline is a valid source by one of the folks involved in the AfD. So, that led me to wonder if it is a verifiable source? Well, one of the criteria is whether I am an expert. Do I have scholarly credentials? One of the ways to do that is to check whether you’ve been cited a lot in books or in papers. In fact, we can check to see if the timeline itself is used widely in scholarly work.
Wikipedia has specific standards about sites like mine and Bartle’s that can be read here. Of course, in one of the (many) debates on whether or not the entry for “Shadowclan” should remain, the point is made that “blogs are only reliable if written by journalists or academics and Raph Koster is neither.” So there are clearly gray areas where editors don’t quite know what the line is either.
As regards the Threshold controversy specifically, the policy is pretty simple. If Bartle or I had happened to mention how Threshold was important a few weeks ago, then it would have been fine. If Bartle or I had been approached as an expert by an editor (which is presented as an option in one of zillions of policy pages I read) thatwould have been different. Hearing about it through the community grapevine — not useful.
In browsing this, what did I find that cracked me up? I’m mentioned in an encyclopedia. A print one. This one, the Berkshire Encyclopedia of Human-Computer Interaction. Oh wait, the entry was written by that other guy, whatsisname… Yep, that’s right, I am mentioned in an encyclopedia entry written by Richard Bartle.
The gap between having interested but non-expert editors in subject areas and having experts who cannot edit articles that come too close to them can lead to odd things. I should definitely feel grateful and flattered to have a Wikipedia page at all. On the other hand, I do think that the Rights of Avatars are a bit of an odd omission, and yes, even game grammar, given how widely cited they are in scholarly literature and more popular books. Then again, I also seem to be ranked as less important than the guy with the second-highest high score in Donkey Kong (along with the designers of M.U.L.E., Elite, and Defender), and am not on the game designers list, so what do I know.
OK, so what happened to the LegendMUD entry?
I don’t know. Just as the useful sources for mud material have bitrotted, so has the AfD for the LegendMUD article. I did find a discussion where it was lumped in with around 30 other muds, and then not deleted. But it’s gone nonetheless.
Can a case be made for notability? Well, not by me, on Wikipedia, because I am tremendously biased. From a design-historical sense, and trying to be unbiased, LegendMUD is interesting for several reasons.
One, it was one of the first classless muds (for a long time, we thought it was THE first, because none of us back then could find another one. But I’ve been emailed about it since then). Two, the moods and speech systems used later in other games developed here (with inspiration taken from many sourcs, including a couple of MUSHes). There’s the concept of an OOC Lounge. The textual implementation of true vehicles. There’s the historical value in tracing the development of scripting in DikuMUDs (in which Legend plays a side role), and how that then subsequently influenced MMO architectures (in which it plays a much more direct one). The LegendMUD code of conduct ended up serving as a model document for several worlds, and led in itself to the declaration of the rights of avatars which doesn’t have a Wikipedia entry but damn well should given that it’s even reprinted in a book by the American Bar Association. (sorry, slipped there again )
And of course, there’s the fact that no fewer than five LegendMUD admins — if you count Damion Schubert, who was involved for a bit but not for the long haul; he did design work on the combat message system — went on to play roles in the nascent MMO industry, eventually working on titles such as Ultima Online, Star Wars Galaxies, Meridian 59, Shadowbane, blah blah, you know all this. In fact, the famous UO class action lawsuit had a strong connection to LegendMUD. Yes, we were sued by an ex-LegendMUD player that I knew very well because we had had behavior issues with him there.
Oh, and that Karyn incident, which of course has an article of its own.
Does that make it notable? By mud standards, I would say yes. I don’t think “by mud standards” is good enough for Wikipedia, but it doesn’t matter — none of that is verifiable by Wikipedia’s standards. But if you had to take the thousands of muds that have existed throughout the decades, and pick 50 to cover, it’d be in the 50. If you had to pick 25, I think it’s possible it would make the cut. I personally would not put it in the top ten — my top ten would likely include MUD1, TinyMUD, Penn, LambdaMOO, TinyTim,DikuMUD, Aber, Armageddon, HoloMUD, EmlenMUDs, BSX Muds, MUME, DartMUD, even Medievia, maybe the original Star Wars one, certainly a few key LPMuds like Nightmare… OK, ten is hard.
LegendMUD also won a bunch of awards and at the time was in print a surprising amount of times. Being in print when you were a mud in 1995 was… unusual. But many of these have rotted. In fact, they have inconveniently rotted right off of LegendMUD’s own webpage. Hurray for the Internet Archive, which shows us a fuller list.
Then there’s the now-infamous question of whether MudConnector is a valid source. Well, at least back when LegendMUD won Mud of the Month, the award was picked editorially, by staff. I know, because that’s me getting interviewed by said staff member. (of course, the latest editorial website review was pretty recent, but I don’t know that this site is considered an important enough one to be relevant today). MudConnector itself isn’t on Wikipedia (though I actially think it played a hugely important historical role too) but there’s plenty of references to it in print and in scholarly research, including using its data as a source for analysis.
But XYZZYNews is used as a Wikipedia source a lot. Legend got an award from them. And wait, there’s CNet! Of course, actually finding that article on CNet, when their archives suck, and it was before they were even on news.com… forget it.
But wait… we can go to print, right? Hurm, print Internet directories — two of them! Back in the 90s, being a site that merited inclusion in a print directory was a big deal. There were no search engines. There was room for, well, ten muds. They got picked editorially by those authoring the directory. Those directories don’t show up in Google books, alas, but you can buy Yahoo! Wild Web Rides for 46 cents on Amazon and thus verify that Legend did in fact get reviewed and rated as one of the best muds on the Internet. Hurm, I know I have this book but cannot find it in my vast library. And Google Books doesn’t have it…
But what Google Books does find is… more mentions in print! Look at that… five book mentions right on top including a scholarly article about LegendMUD’s depiction of religion in the midst of a book on religion in popular American culture. (LegendMUD has a historical theme. We regularly had controversy over the historical depiction of, say, moneylending by Jews in the Middle Ages).
But wait, one of the books is by Bartle again. Hmm, collusion?
The rest of the book citations seem to be for something by some guy named Joseph Conrad… but we don’t need to delve deeper into that particular heart of darkness. Instead, I can just briefly note that even though the majority of scholarly references to LegendMUD are actually links to docs on the legendmud.org domain (which are all actually broken links since those docs are now here), there are several papers buried in there that do in fact reference the game itself.
What do I learn?
That Richard Bartle and I are a mutual admiration society?
That if you make it to print, or to a notable website or even a gopher site in 1995 (such as the award Legend won back then), don’t let it rot off your website (bad Legend, bad… ). In fact, scan it, screenshot it, mirror it, and store a copy of it. Document it. You can’t trust anyone else to keep your history for you.
None of this is for the sake of lobbying to get the LegendMUD article back. There is actually a process for that, and I am not following it nor should I initiate it. Rather, it is more to illustrate that the big blockquote at the top, and yes, even the folks deleting mud-related articles, do have a point, if you go by their very particular rules. It was a small and insular community. If we took, say, some experts in the mud culture that were not in my immediate circles, like say, Alan Schwartz aka Javelin, or Lydia Leong aka Amberyl, way over in MUSH land… well, yeah, I knew them. Know them. Alan still reads this blog.
I did the timeline in the first place because I saw the history already fragmenting badly. Remember, by mud dino standards, I came to it late — I didn’t start mudding until late in 1992! And for Wikipedia standards, well, it’s gotten even more fragmented. The Timeline itself has suffered bitrot badly as well, with sources getting tangled up and lost as it has been added to and moved sites multiple times. I used to be able to point to a great archive of mud research at UTexas, and it’s gone now. At least Lauren Burka’s MUDDex is still around.
No, rather, the bottom line is that there ARE sources out there in this case. But I think that this case is probably unusual. I am not sure a non-expert would be able to follow the trails I did, know what things are relevant, or know what are good reasons for notability or good pieces of info that should be in an article.
I also think that there’s an odd situation regarding experts and important topics that lack easy to find documentation. Our recourse to try to improve Wikipedia is to go research, write elsewhere, get cited, get studied, and then this stuff can get found by people who don’t know where to look, what keywords to search for, and what significant elements should be included in articles. Would they find game grammar, cited in papers presented at ACM, for an article on me? I don’t honestly know. After all, I myself didn’t know about it until now.
So I have greater sympathy for Wikipedians, who face a difficult task. And I also think that despite my great sympathy, they are messing up the mud history stuff. It’ll be hard to fix, and it may take years of scholarly study.
It may be that the very policy structure of Wikipedia (which is an ever-evolving thing, of course) has certain shaping tendencies. As I said in the comment thread in the last post,
I presume that the goal here is to tightly focus the discussion of the deletion to specifically just sourcing questions. But it does mean that any area of human knowledge which experts happen not to have documented in books is kind of SOL. Merit is based on other people citing — not well, just AT ALL in broad distribution. This is quite different from a paper encyclopedia, where merit is based on expert opinion. I suspect this is why we get the side effect of pop culture filling up the encyclopedia (broadly cited a lot, even though it is ephemeral and mostly useless) but don’t get important but less broadly distributed info.
In short, I think this policy contributes towards making a pop-pedia, whether intentionally or not; the definition of notability is based heavily on pop factors, not historical notability.
I do know that in terms of my own research and work, one thing that is a clear takeaway for me is that writing Wikipedia articles where there is such a byzantine jungle of policies and yet also little way to have a high quality bar isn’t something I want to do. It’s a lot easier to just do it on my own site. Which means I will just have to push that material up the Google ranks without Wikipedia’s help if I want the historical info preserved — and someday, maybe it’ll be on Wikipedia too.
Edit: see this post for more of an outcome.