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In spite of its regular portrayal as “anarchic”, “anything goes” was never true for Wikipedia. Beginning with the list of principles issued by its founder, Jimbo Wales, a continuously growing number of rules guides contributors to and hence development of Wikipedia. One of the most prominent rules is the aim of delivering a “Neutral Point of View” (NPOV). Other important rules deal with notability. While the NPOV is debated with regard to every single article, Wikipedia’s several “notability guidelines” try to resolve the question which information ought (not) to be included in the free online encyclopedia in the first place. Over the years, long lists of conventions have emerged for all kinds subjects. Regarding people, for example, the English Wikipedia lists in detail the notability criteria for members of different professional groups – ranging from Academics over Criminals and Diplomats to Entertainers (including actors, comedians, models, etc.).

But notability guidelines or, as they are called in the German Wikipedia “relevance criteria” (“Relevanzkriterien”), share the problem of all taxonomies, namely a certain degree of arbitrariness; an arbitrariness that makes them particularly prone to being criticized and challenged. In the English Wikipedia debates about notability even led to the formation of two antagonistic camps: The “Association of Deletionist Wikipedians” (ADW) sails under the banner of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and his famous quote:

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

The opposite camp assembles around the “Association of Inclusionist Wikipedians” (AIW), which goes even back to the old Romans for their motto:

“The motto of the AIW is Conservata veritate, which translates to, ‘with truth preserved.’ This motto reflects the inclusionist desire to change Wikipedia only when no knowledge would be lost as a result.”

While both “associations” exist since 2004 and their dispute seemed to be rather settled, recent controversies about “relevance” in the German Wikipedia demonstrate that and how such rules may still be re-negotiated: Read the rest of this entry »

The Book

Governance across borders: transnational fields and transversal themes. Leonhard Dobusch, Philip Mader and Sigrid Quack (eds.), 2013, epubli publishers.
May 2023

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