Answering my own questions since 2001

Wikigroaning, An Wikipedia Article Length Redux

Geoff linked to my post about the peculiar article length trends in Wikipedia, and also referenced a Something Awful article entitled “The Art of Wikigroaning“. What’s Wikigroaning?

For example, the article called “Knight“. Then, find a somehow similar article that is longer, but at the same time, useless to a very large fraction of the population. In this case, we’ll go with “Jedi Knight“. Open both of the links and compare the lengths of the two articles. Compare not only that, but how well concepts are explored, and the greater professionalism with which the longer article was likely created.

It’s sad but true. There’s some pretty funny examples of Wikigroaning pairs, including:

Steam
Steampunk

Astronomy
List of changes in Star Wars re-releases

You get the idea. I wanted to think of one of my own. The best I’ve got is:

Bass
All your base are belong to us

10 Responses to “Wikigroaning, An Wikipedia Article Length Redux”

  1. Andy K

    As near as I can tell, Wikigroaning is the art of pointing a finger at geeks (or as Geoff kindly puts it “the demographics of the internet in general and Wikipedia enthusiasts in particular”) and snickering.

    Though I have no ties to wikipedia and have never written anything there (and I’m not too much of a geek), I defended article length in a comment to Darren’s previous article, and I’ll do it again here. First of all, the whole article length argument is just snobbery. If you’re interested in Jedi Knight trivia, read on, if not you’re obviously not going to bother. Secondly, if someone wants to record their fantasy world in encyclopedic detail, what’s the harm? It’s not like the size of the internet is limited yet. Granted the Jedi article should probably be moved to wookieepedia to keep everything tidy (or rather merged because there is another long article there), I think the classification (through location) is a much bigger problem than length. Good terse writing is difficult for one person, so don’t expect it from a collaborative effort. Personally, I’m a trivia buff, so I find these long articles entertaining.

    Finally, in addition to being in poor taste, I think wikigroaning is poorly executed, a bad joke if you will. Comparing Latin and Klingon, that’s good, but Steam and Steampunk, I fail to see the humor (though I learned something from both articles). Assuming the articles exist, Jedi should really be compared to the sum of Knight, Templars, crusaders, Round Table, feudalism, et cetera. Many of the pairs are also unbalanced: take a old scholarly subject about which volumes have been written in print (thus providing little motivation for someone to expound about online) and compare that to an element of pop-culture that is associated with the interet.

    By the way, Wikigroaning is a horrible name, but please, somebody start a long wikipedia article about it (feel free to use my overly verbose comment in the “Rebuttals” subsection).

  2. darren

    Andy: If you re-read my original argument on article length, you’ll find more rational reasons than mere ‘snobbery’.

    How about this one: for pretty much all of human cultural history, bigger has equaled more important. That applies to books, thrones, monuments, celebrations and nearly everything else.

    It’s natural, therefore, for humans to assume that long Wikipedia articles are more important than short ones.

    Regardless, an encyclopedia should not seek to be exhaustive. That’s what reference links and further study articles are for.

  3. Jessica

    Hard to believe there’s a Wikipedia article for “All your base are belong to us”.

    Ever taken a gander at uncyclopedia.org?

  4. Andy K

    Darren, I think we’re looking at different facets of the same thing. You see Wikipedia as an encyclopedia, which indeed is supposed to be concise and where long explanations of Steampunk and “All your base…” have no real place. In my comment to your first post, I claimed Wikipedia goes beyond being an encyclopedia to becoming a repository for internet culture.

    I think the reason it has become so is because there is currently no better place to record internet culture. And perhaps because it is the first sub-culture with the ability to so fully document itself. Stone cutters in Rome probably had their own sub-culture and inside jokes/memes, but except for a few etched names, those are lost to history.

    This newly created self-referential internet culture is too new to have a scholarly body of research, so you can’t really expect it to have footnotes and cross-references. The real solution would be to spin off another domain to document internet culture (like urbandictionary.com), and cross-reference that from an encylopedic Wikipedia. Until that happens, the content has to go somewhere.

    Darren, your original article asked: “how can I determine whether Ernest Hemingway is more notable than, say, some regionally famous author?” I think you have to accept that with user-contributed content, you get different points of view. For a passionate reader from that region, the local author might have more relevance in local life. Granted that a good article, while championing the local author, should also recognize his or her place in literature, but why does it need to downplay his or her work through brevity of analysis.

    You suggest “[w]e 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.” One could argue that Hemingway was timely and controversial, and that those are definite factors of importance. I beleive he was much written about in the newspapers of his time. History is not a succession of grand concepts and personalities, it’s a retrospective on what people found important decades or centuries later. In Wikipedia, the telescope of history, with its great magnification, is making all this contemporary culture appear inordinately important.

    Snobbery might be a strong word, but I stand behind the intent. It seems like a lot of people are clinging to the lofty ideals of encyclopedia and then criticizing or mocking those who write about the topics they care about. I guess I’m wondering why, in this case, you abandon the grand users-will-decide-what’s-important-and-create-new-relationships-to-the-information-and-to-each-other paradigm of Web 2.0. I don’t think that paradigm is the end-all-be-all myself, nor do I think Wikipedia is flawless, but I think you have to accept the fact that Wikipedia is intrinsically something beyond an encyclopedia, and even its encyclopedic traits are somewhat different than those of a traditional encyclopedia.

    As for uncyclopedia.org, I like a good parody, but that one is even more pendantic than Wikipedia. I find much better humor of the same style on theOnion.com.

    Once again, sorry to be so long winded, I’m not a very good writer…

  5. raincoaster

    But surely Wikipedia will remain nothing more than a deservedly snickerable ghetto of geeks if it fails to transcend the web and become a repository for ALL culture. In fact, it has, it’s just that the geek culture has a jump on the rest of the world.

    There’s a place for judgment in this world. If there weren’t, we’d be missing one of the most compelling reasons to make positive change.

    The joke here is not that the Wookieepedia-type entries are so long; it’s really that the mainstream culture entries are too short. The mainstream is the side that has to step up their game here.

  6. Sam

    Searching wikipedia for “yankee” takes you directly to the article on the New York Yankees. Not even the disambiguation page. And the article on the NYY is roughly 7 times longer than the “yankee” article. And has tons more sources.

  7. darren

    Andy: Thanks for your thoughts. I’m very busy this minute, so don’t have time for a long rebuttal. I will say that I think your comments visa vi time (“In Wikipedia, the telescope of history, with its great magnification, is making all this contemporary culture appear inordinately important”) are somewhat inaccurate.

    There are hundreds of thousands of contemporary concepts which get ignored or poorly covered by Wikipedia. To pick an example at random, there’s no Wikipedia entry for Ken Gass, one of English Canada’s most important living theatre artists.

    That has nothing to do with time, but with Wikipedia’s current user base.

    In short, I guess I don’t want Wikipedia that doesn’t aspire to be relatively authoritative, and authoritatively relative, if that makes any sense.

  8. Andy K

    Yeah, the telescope analogy is rather pompous, but I think it’s useful. To extend it: a telescope is not Landsat, it looks at a narrow field of view. So it hasn’t looked at all of contemporary culture, but given how much it has looked at so far, I would bet that never has so much been assembled in a single, publicly accessible way. More importantly, Ken Glass _could_ be in Wikipedia, something not possible with previous encyclopedias.

    Secondly, I think it’s natural for the telescope operators to hog the viewing time, or rather be the first to use it extensively. Invented by the internet culture, first adopted by the researchers and geeks who make up its bulk. A corollary to this is that wikis are still a bit cryptic, and not everyone even cares about what’s on the internet, so their domains of expertise/interest are underrepresented.

    [As a French speaker, I have to mention, apologetically, that it's "vis-à-vis."]

    I found a similar thread about wikigroaning over at jwz.livejournal.com, except the person playing my role there does it with one-line comments, and does it much better. To quote: “popluar culture is … popular.” Another quote from that thread: “So long as the namespace continues to give the real world primacy over fiction in the normal case, the fancruft will by and large not affect my viewing pleasure.” I agree with that and hope it’s the case, but sam’s comment about Yankee seems to indicate it’s not. That’s the kind of problem I would complain about/make fun of/get fixed.

    That other thread also mentions that most of the “short” “real world” articles adhere to WP:SUMMARY style intended to keep articles short. I will also add that I think some of the short articles topics (see the Something Aweful link) are either so vast (love, sports, health, …) or so vague (shapes, girlfriend, bathing, dating, …) that a) even I wouldn’t know where to start a long article about them, and b) I question whether they belong in an encyclopedia as opposed to a dictionary.

  9. andedammen

    [...] Poenget, som jeg straks skal komme til, er ikke bare at jeg har spilt den sangen ca. 20 ganger i dag, men at bredden i Wikipedia nok en gang imponerer. Wikigroaning er tydeligvis à la mode; sukk og stønn over hvor mye lengre folk skriver for eksempel om jediriddere enn om riddere. Selv synes jeg noe av det beste med Wikipedia er nettopp at det er så bra på ting som andre oppslagsverk knapt har med i det hele tatt, som samtidig teknologi og populærkultur. [...]

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