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The End of Wikipedia

Wikipedia can continue to change the world by allowing more articles, or they can slowly fade into obscurity by halting their growth”

Ryan McElroy, November 19, 2009

I tweeted this about a month ago. Several friends quickly asked why I said it, or what article I was referencing. I said it because I noticed that Wikipedia had just deleted the article about the Titan Robotics Club, the high school robotics club I helped start during my senior year in high school at the Bellevue International School. The reason: the Titan Robotics Club was not sufficiently “Notable”.

Wikipedia has rules for when they delete articles, and they followed their rules in this case. There is still an electronic trail on Wikipedia of the deletion, and why it occurred. I have no specific problem with those that followed Wikipedia’s rules to their logical conclusion. What I have a problem with is the idea of Notability.

The Titan Robotics Club is notable to me and many people I know. I think it makes sense to have a Wikipedia article about the club. However, I understand that the Titan Robotics Club is not notable to everyone. Just as, say, Sigur Ros’ album commonly known as “The Recycling Bin” is not notable to me. But it’s on Wikipedia. And that’s exactly the point.

There is a long tail phenomenon going on here. Maybe not many people care about the Titan Robotics Club, but a lot of people care about a lot of different topics at least as unnotable as the Titan Robotics Club, and they will spend time to write high-quality articles about these things, just as I would spend time to write or improve an article about the Titan Robotics Club, if I were confident that it would not be deleted by some rule-following robot editor. I believe that is the criteria that Wikipedia should use to judge articles — Quality, not Notability.

Wikipedia has been successful because it fostered this semi-unregulated free-for-all knowledge sharing extravaganza. Now, Wikipedia is nearing the limit of what their current policies allow in terms of growth, and it is time for them to change their policy if they want to remain relevant. If Wikipedia continues on its current path, it will fall even further off the exponential growth curve it used to ride, and in this day and age, if your growth is not exponential, you are falling behind.

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