You know, I don’t spend much time in the Wikipedia community. I probably make a small (often trivial) edit to an article about once a month (here’s what I’ve done, though I sometimes forget to log in when making edits). On the other hand, I visit the site on a daily basis.
I went there today curious about the etymology of ‘hollaback girl’, subject of
Pink’s Gwen Stefani’s popular 2005 single. I found a fairly decent explanation:
For the remainder of the evening, Stefani and Williams incorporated the inspiration into the lyrics that would eventually become “Hollaback Girl”. The two of them decided that Stefani did not have to have an answer for her intentions and that the choices she made were based on what she felt was wrong or right.
Here’s what’s interesting: the article runs to about 3000 words. The average Wikipedia article has about 400 words. For a random comparison, the article about the fish that brought about Steve Irwin’s untimely demise (man, Australia has so much stuff that can kill you) has 1800 words.
In traditional encyclopedias (and most reference books), longer articles imply greater importance. The article on, say, Canada is longer than the article on Campbell River (and the article on the town is presumably longer than the article on the river). Article length, then, is an important piece of metadata for the reader.
Page scarcity isn’t an issue online–we have as much ‘ink’ as we want. So, a fleeting pop single gets more words than a fish that’s been around for millions of years.
I don’t necessarily think we should retain the dead-tree paradigm of ‘more ink = more important’. We should, however, think about presenting other metadata to denote notableness or importance. If I don’t know, how can I determine whether Ernest Hemingway is more notable than, say, some regionally famous author? We could show the number of page views, the amount of discussion and so forth, but I’m afraid those metrics would equate timeliness and controversy with importance. Any suggestions?
I did find these guidelines on Wikipedia for article length, but that’s more of a technical discussion than a philosophical one.