Thursday, January 27, 2011

History: Pink Lipstick Aesop

Pink Lipstick Aesop was your general poor title. The trope concerns the tendency of many works of media to glamorize negative behavior by presenting it abstractly without offering any explanation for why such behavior is undesirable. The title comes from an episode of the television show Daria where a student makes an anti-smoking poster which just shows a person smoking. When the teacher points out that the poster doesn't actually explain why smoking is bad, the student takes out some lipstick to make a circle with a line through it.

Suffice to say, this was a reference so abstract that even fans of Daria would have no hope of understanding it. This in itself is not surprising and was the grounds for many renames. What made Pink Lipstick Aesop unusual was what we renamed it to- Truffaut Was Right.

Francois Truffaut was an influential French filmmaker associated with the New Wave. A quote is often attributed to him- "there is no such thing as an anti-war film". The reasoning behind this belief is that despite the best effort of any filmmaker, effective cinematography will make any movie involving explosions look cool. The film believed to be the inspiration of this quote is Apocalypse Now- a movie where fun-loving American soldiers destroy Vietnamese village so a bunch of American soldiers can have an awesome party. Emphasis far more on the fun and less on the people dying.

Don't feel bad for not knowing this- I'm not sure that either Truffaut or the French New Wave actually have TV Tropes pages. For that matter I'm not even sure Truffaut is the source of the quote in question- he's just the one to whom it is usually attributed. Not much research was conducted on the phrase, which even by TV Tropes standards was not well-known.

This likely seems a strange choice for a new title considering the early rules that had been outlined in my previous post. Both were relatively obscure references The only real difference between the two is that Daria is a pop-culture friendly show, whereas Truffaut is one of the pioneering figures in the development of film as a legitimate art form worthy of serious criticism. And therein lies the reasoning we used for the rename. Truffaut is a classic figure that anyone interested in tropes should be familiar with. Indeed, even just on the referential level, the idea of there not being such a thing as an anti-war film resonates. It's a heady topic which people tend to have trouble forgetting- war, people tend to agree, is a bad thing on a much, much larger magnitude than smoking is, even if both fall under the trope's purview.

Another advantage used to support Truffaut Was Right is that it was an effective snowclone. Lamarck Was Right was a similarly worded trope, concerning the tendency of some television shows to use Lamarck's theory of evolution. Once a person has learned what Lamarck's theory of evolution is, the title is hard to forget- like Truffaut, Lamarck is a historical figure that people should be familiar with, even though most of us aren't. Once a person has learned the theory and knows why it's important, the title sticks.

It was believed at the time of this rename that we could start a whole series of tropes with titles in the same vein, but didn't really catch on. Few individuals have names with the dramatic weight necessary to justify direction connection with the title. Even these names would not have survived if they had been named after characters from Power Rangers- a normal person understands that Lamarck and Truffaut are important people worthy of remembrance. The Power Rangers not so much.

Truffaut Was Right is one of the last survivors of the early period of renames. This title only succeeded thanks to the lower standard for consensus and a greater willingness to accept non-directly-descriptive names. It would not be proposed as a serious alternative title today. I don't know whether this is good or bad, to tell the truth- one worthwhile exception does not disprove the rule. Of course, to a large extent it's easy to feel nostalgia for the days when we didn't have such serious rules.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

History: When to Rename a Trope

As renames began to get more and more popular, it was really only a matter of time before tropers (myself among them) started to lobby for some sort of rule set. At the time we still saw YKTTW as being the appropriate place to propose major page actions. The issue in question was redundancy. People were getting tired of debating the same old points repeatedly. It's important to note that in the YKTTW stage, there was still an argument floating around that there was no right to rename tropes at all because it "ruins the site's history". Such extreme positions were in the minority, but dealing with them had annoyed productive debaters so much we all agreed that some basic standards were necessary.

The proposal went pretty much the same way most rename proposals did, but on a much more meta-scale, with tropers actually discussing the kinds of arguments that were permitted, regardless of the specific topic. Unsurprisingly, there was a great deal of disagreement on this point. Once a lot of grievances had been aired, I identified a troper who I had seen in multiple rename proposals, usually as a consistent "against" voter. He was being reasonable, so I made a proposition. I would write down a preliminary listing of conduct which I believed to be moderate, helpful, and becoming in debates. He would then edit out the ideas which he believed were unreasonable. He agreed to this, so I wrote the page, he edited it, and there we had a working page.

Most of the rules were simple, sensible ideas that everyone agreed on. One of the earliest renames, of Spoon Speaker, was explicitly referenced as a good example of a poor title. The title literally had nothing to do with the trope, now called Verbal Tic, but was rather an exceptionally vague metaphor. Other valid reasons for renames included misspellings, accidental launches from YKTTW, and titles which were easily confused with completely unrelated tropes. Nobody had any real problem with these issues abstractly- it was presumed that discussion would lead to clarification on whether any of these were actually the case for the title in question. More controversial issues such as character named tropes or tropes sharing names with works were not outlined specifically at this time, though they were later outlawed by admin fiat.

Overall there were actually more guidelines on when not to rename tropes than otherwise- mostly to show that the page wasn't written by the vast pro-rename conspiracy. The most significant of these was the burden of proof. When To Rename A Trope placed this burden squarely on the shoulders of those who were proposing the rename. Such individuals had to show that there was something specifically wrong with the title in question. At the time I thought this rule as a compromise was a good one because proposals with clear objectives stated in the opening post would have a much clearer path to debate. Unfortunately, by using such stark language I had unwittingly implied that factionalism was to some extent acceptable, and I know now that there's a very short line between acceptable and entrenched behavior justification.

One final thing to note about this proposal is that it was the first and last of its kind- a discussion of rules on the wiki where everyone's opinion was equally valuable. There's two reasons for this. First, at the time, no rules existed. We made them right there. So there wasn't really any precedent we had to abide by. Second, at this point in wiki history the admins still worked primarily in the discussion pages. They were aware of the rename debates, but largely allowed us to implement the results ourselves. The When To Rename A Trope project had their support, but they avoided commenting as they realized their opinion would be given disproportionate weight.

In retrospect especially, the speed of action here seems rather remarkable, but at the time, this really wasn't so unusual. Most consensus-focused proposals worked in this manner. Ironically, while consensus was first officially described in the write-up for When To Rename A Trope, it did not occur to me or anyone else to define what consensus actually meant. All it said was "renames must be done with the consensus of the greater community". Further elaboration did not seem necessary, but for what it's worth, all of us were fairly ignorant about what made for an effective procedure, at least insofar as actually describing a sequence of events. We also didn't think much of When To Rename A Trope at the time. When I wrote it I figured there would be regular changes based on what we learned about effective rename procedures over time. In reality, it was nearly two years before any significant modification was performed on this page, when it was repurposed into Everything You Wanted To Know About Changing Titles. I also had much to do with that affair, though not in a way I would have ever anticipated.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

History: Xanatos Gambit

One of the odder facts of the YKTTW stage of Trope Repair is that, especially relative to the Trope Repair environment that exists today, there was a much stronger willingness to submit to minor page action. Back then, minor page action pretty much consisted of anything that wasn't a rename. The most evident example of the wiki's surprising permissiveness was in the case of Xanatos Gambit.

Xanatos Gambit was an obvious trope title to challenge- save for fans of the animated TV show Gargoyles, hardly anyone has any idea who the Trope Namer David Xanatos was. The proposal to change Xanatos Gambit was actually not my idea, but another dedicated troper who long ago left the wiki. I generally avoided getting involved in disputes over popular titles out of habit, but in this proposal I saw an alarming problem identified on the page. No one actually had any idea what a Xanatos Gambit was.

I mentioned earlier that Xanatos Gambit was an acceptable name in part because of the word "Gambit". The only kind of gambit anyone would write about (save for the X-Man) would be a complicated one. The problem is, "complicated plan" really isn't a trope. It's far too broad and could encapsulate nearly anything. Even a trope like Zany Scheme is much more specific in that "zaniness" means that it will be a "hilariously complicated plan"- which narrows the criteria down a lot farther than you'd think.

But no, Xanatos Gambit was just a complicated plan. And the problem of this sheer broadness was obvious everywhere on the page. The description was several paragraphs long, but managed to avoid defining the trope in any useful way. All any of the examples had in common was that the plans were complicated. It was a complete mess. There was no way to tell where Xanatos Gambit ended and another trope began. This was the issue the YKTTW proposal had brought up, and the seriousness of the problem could not be disputed.

Even back then, Xanatos Gambit was a trope nearing critical mass, and seemed likely to arrive at the point where any fix at all would be nigh impossible. Discussion in the proposal was vibrant, but lacked clear direction. One thread suggested splitting the trope into two separate definitions- one trope would be defined as "a complicated plan in which a character has an obvious goal and a hidden goal, and in thwarting the obvious goal his opposition accidentally enables the hidden one", and "a complicated plan in which a character makes educated assumptions about how certain characters will behave, and uses these to move events toward a favorable outcome". The distinction was a matter of back-up planning. The first definition (today's definition of Xanatos Gambit) would always work no matter what, since success of the second goal was usually tied to the failure of the first goal. The second definition (today's definition of Batman Gambit) only had one possible solution, and the character in question usually has to needle the process along the way to insure it goes in the right direction.

In part because it was a monumental undertaking, as well as the fear that any single troper would provoke great wrath trying to enact this split, I made an agreement with the troper who proposed the action (I had known him to be dedicated to effective page action from previous interaction) that we would work together to split the page into two pieces. And it worked. There were no complaints about the page action, and no attempts were made to reverse the changes. As long as anyone can remember, Xanatos Gambit has always meant what I wrote above. This effective, specific definition has been a far better defense of the title than the Grandfather Clause could ever hope to be. In a sense, the definitions necessitate trope namers for the simple reason that the English language really doesn't have concise words to describe those concepts. We may have the word "gambit", but we lack subtleties for the rest of it.

While it was fortunate that we saved the page when we did, in other terms we were too late to forestall other problems. Other tropes in the Xanatos family, such as Xanatos Roulette or Xanatos Speed Chess, had already been created under the purview of Xanatos as being a word that just means "complicated plan". Such pages are in bad shape and continue to be so- while Xanatos Gambit could be fixed with a redefinition, by dropping the word "gambit" the question in these other tropes promptly becomes "what kind of Roulette? What kind of Speed Chess?" Fixing these pages has been an unsolvable priority for as long as I can remember. But I'm at least glad we were able to salvage the Xanatos Gambit page, lest it get out of control.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Terminology: Consensus

The first thing I need to mention is that I don't actually know what consensus is. Not anymore, anyway. Supposedly my edit-ban was as a result of my violating the tenets of consensus, but in spite of my repeated use of the question "how?" no one was very interested in actually explaining what it was that I was doing to violate this spirit. Part of this may have to do with what I'm about to write here- while I don't know what consensus means today, I do know what it meant back when major page action was committed through YKTTW.

Consensus was what happened when both sides of an argument agreed that they would accept some sort of resolution so long as it addresses their central objection. The concept was not a particularly controversial one, and in arguments where it occurred it was usually as a natural outcropping of earlier posts. The benefits of consensus-based resolution were obvious- this was the same TV Tropes where people were scared of offending each other by taking initiative in spite of objections. Many of us were looking for excuses to take action, and this capitulation was an excellent one since in theory it made everyone happy.

One helpful part of this idea was some of the subtler points. Posters who simply popped in to write "I oppose this rename" were largely ignored. You can't negotiate with someone who refuses to explain themselves. Those who took the extra step and said "I oppose this rename because" were given special attention- by identifying a central complaint, there was the implication that there was possible reconciliation on a rename provided this issue was satisfied.

It's easiest to demonstrate this by way of example. There was a page called The Magnificent Seven- not the movie, but a trope named after the movie (an admin fiat later forbade such titles). Specifically, the seven varied individuals who team up to achieve some apparently impossible goal, usually the protection of innocents from an external threat. I challenged this title on the grounds of confusion with the movie and proposed a rename. One troper strongly defended the title as being a classical reference to the Trope Maker, the Seven Samurai.

Throughout the debate I came to learn something- while I may have been right in that the title needed to be changed, my attitude about it was completely wrong. Most of the titles I came up with were terrible- this was the reason why the dispute was so spirited. Most tropes named after characters are done in the wrong spirit, but in this case the argument was quite reasonable, as nearly every use of the trope at least references Seven Samurai. Consensus was reached when another troper suggested the page be renamed to The Magnificent Seven Samurai. It satisfied my request for a title that would not be confused with the original film, and it satisfied the other troper's insistence that the classical reference be kept. Because this title satisfied both our arguments, everyone agreed that this was a reasonable rename.

That's the heart of what consensus was all about. We weren't unearthing the correct answer by burrowing into the wiki hivemind. We were creating the correct answer by asking each other questions about what works for a title on this specific change and finally coming to a conclusion that effectively dealt with all the addressed issues.

This worked great when it worked, but many of the early disputes featured differences that were not reconcilable. Jonas Quinn, for example, could either be named after the character or not- there really wasn't any context that would allow the title to be coherent while still maintaining the Stargate reference. Most of the time, though, changes could be well-negotiated. It was all a matter of both sides submitting to the possibility that they could be wrong. Such gestures of humility were, unsurprisingly, not as a popular as the bare-knuckles fights over contentious titles such as Jonas Quinn. This was a real pity in the end, as when discussions came forth to deal with heated disputes everyone, including myself, were more concerned with what went wrong with Jonas Quinn than what went right with The Magnificent Seven Samurai.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

History: Crowners (Part III)

YKTTW works fairly well as a system for the creation of new tropes- this is why the crowner innovations in YKTTW ultimately failed. What it did not work well for was the process of changing existing tropes. Rename proposals in these early times were contentious affairs with battle lines drawn between those wishing to fix improper names and those objecting to attempts the wiki's overly "fun" nature. This is where I had the idea to put in crowners.

It may seem hard to imagine this, what with my being unpersonned and all, but at least in the YKTTW period I was very self-conscious about affecting major page changes. The idea that someone would be mad at me for changing a page was very off-putting. I was not the only one on the wiki to feel this way- high-profile rename proposals were seldom followed through on because it was one thing to vigorously argue for a rename. It was quite another to say "your opinion doesn't matter. My argument is better and we're changing the trope title".

I made a move to fight against this gridlock by introducing crowners in any rename proposal which I wanted to affect but where it was ambiguous how many people supported the change and how many did not. The crowners had a much easier time gaining activity with rename proposals than they did with new trope proposals because rename proposals were quickly becoming a popular bone of contention on the wiki. Plenty of users simply ran a ctrl+f search for "rename" to see what the latest effort was on any given trip to YKTTW. These individuals required little convincing to vote on the articles under review- the attraction of the rename proposals was watching people debate over the merits of individual titles. Voting over who had the better argument was really the next logical step.

If this sounds a little like bullying, in truth, it was- no matter how we dressed it up, we were using votes to tell people their opinion didn't matter. It wasn't pretty, but it was clear to everyone that crowners were last-ditch emergency stop-gap measures only to be used in topics where no one from either side of the debate had the guts to either launch or disregard the YKTTW proposal. Incidentally, part of the reason why YKTTW was the original go-to source for renames (and not much other page action) was because new titles could be launched through the YKTTW software.

One important thing I need to note about all this is that while crowners were pervasive at this time, this was mostly thanks to me. Literally, in the sense that I was the troper who posted most of the crowners as there really were not as many rename proposals floating as people tend to assume. Many people did not post crowners because they did not know how. I'm no computer whiz myself, but I was able to figure out that, provided you have a link to an old crowner, you can modify the web address to have the system create a new crowner- in much the same way you can use direct web addresses to make new pages. This was not common knowledge to wiki-goers, and this has not changed as trope repair processes evolved.

The idea behind crowners, though, the basic principle that enough votes mean action can be pushed through, this did stick around because a crowner's very existence implied that if enough votes were collected, the crowner was proof that the collective wiki supported action. This was a bit of an absurd idea in reality, as most of the crowners used to prove this "consensus" had a dozen, maybe a couple of dozen votes on them at most. Of course, most successful crowners concerned relatively obscure pages with titles few genuinely wanted to defend, so the relatively low bar was acceptable. Because rename proposals were made in YKTTW, there was an unspoken assumption that changing the title on a page that is not well-known really only needed as much effort as was required to launch the original page in the first place.

Note that at this point there was nothing formal about crowner use- they only held legitimacy if the active posters chose to believe it (which was most, but not all, of the time). These ideas were formalized with the creation of the centralized Trope Renaming forum. It was at this point that the crowners, and major page action itself, began to undergo a significant transition.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Infrastructure: Cut List

Since the last posting contained some relatively dreadful news, I decided it would be prudent to bring up a topic about which I have no negative feelings whatsoever. That topic is, naturally, the Cut List.

The Cut List has existed for about as long as I remember. What it does is pretty simple. A user sees an article which they believe should be deleted. They nominate the article to the Cut List with a brief explanation as to why the article should be deleted. A Cut Master (either an admin or an elected wiki official) will eventually go through the Cut List and decide whether or not to cut the article. If he decides against, the article stays as it is none the worse for wear. If we decides for, then article is stripped of all its content and it loses its Wiki Word status, becoming a red link on all pages where it has been linked. The latter part is the essential part of the Cut List, as normal editors do not possess the ability to rescind an article's Wiki Word status. Of course, deleting all of the content of an article for any reason is considered wiki vandalism, so trying to imitate a Cut Master is a foolish as well as a purposeless endeavor.

It may not be immediately obvious why the Cut List is such a fantastic tool. The fact of the matter is, the Cut List is necessary because redundant and worthless pages crop up all the time. The reason for this is not malice. Inexperienced editors sometimes make pages that for various reasons just aren't that helpful. Sometimes this is because they created a page by accident and cannot reverse this error. Other times it is because of a general lack of information- a page for a work that consists only of a couple sentences pasted from Wikipedia isn't all that valuable. The wiki encourages editors to write their own, trope-centered takes on what such-and-such work of fiction is about. Information that's there just for the sake of being information doesn't really do much good.

Additionally, this is the easiest way to get rid of trope pages that were not put through YKTTW. In theory, it is possible for someone to write a fantastic page without help from YKTTW users. It's just not terribly likely- an individual person has poor perspective on whether or not their trope is really noteworthy, and usually throughout YKTTW several probing questions are asked to help clarify what such-and-such trope is really about. It's also a much easier place to collect examples. Once I became used to the YKTTW process, the idea of making a trope without going through it became unthinkable. Plenty of times I had quite simply been wrong about what makes an idea I'd seen in fiction noteworthy, and I could only come up with a good page once I've had enough probing questions that I can get into enough detail about the memes people really want to read about.

In terms of form and execution the Cut List is quite unlike any other piece of existing wiki software. As I mentioned before, the Cut List has been around for a very long time. It significantly predates the idea of a centralized repair shop, in large part because originally it was the repair shop. Tropes at that time were either considered healthy and workable or so poorly done that they warranted elimination from the wiki altogether. It was some time before quality problems appeared on enough otherwise-functional pages for it to be realized that there had to be a middle ground between "minor change" and "destroy completely".

The Cut List also differs from modern ideas of trope repair in that they empower certain individuals (the Cut Masters) with the ability to make profoundly important decisions, usually without significant discussion, over which pages live or die. As far as the common wiki is concerned the word of the Cut Master is absolute- no doubt some cuts have been disputed in the moderator forum over time, but as these proceedings are secret, there is no knowledge or even idea as to the exact scrutiny under which pages proposed under the Cut List are given consideration.

Bear in mind that while the Cut List is a very specific tool for a very deliberate purpose, it often serves as a barometer for the wiki's health as a whole. When the Cut List is heavily backlogged, there tends to be serious concern as to whether things are functioning appropriately, and action is often requested to insure that the appropriate social order is restored. In my mind, this is a good thing- I very much prefer that any problems in critical infrastructure are easily diagnosed and easily fixed. Because hey, it beats the alternative.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Personal Announcement

It would appear that I have been super-banned from TV Tropes. This is a term that I made up, because it doesn't actually have a name. The details behind how it works aren't especially important- the main object of import is that it is a ban far more severe than any listed in official TV Tropes materials. What software cannot do, the human element takes over- the mods have threatened to lock the thread of anyone who makes any reference to my past existence. I have been told that I may direct any further questions on this matter to Fast Eddie via the Private Message service through my dummy account, but I find the prospects of this going any helpful direction to be unlikely.

I was expecting something like this to happen. Well, sort of- several months ago I was edit-banned for reasons which come to think of it still haven't been explained to me. I prepared myself for the possibility of being perma-banned at that time, but it never came to pass and my ban was lifted after a very long Wiki Talk discussion on broader wiki policy in which nothing was really accomplished except the lifting of said ban. In the lead-up to that discussion I had admittedly performed some of what may be called "major page actions". I stopped doing those after that as a show of good faith but it would appear that these edits were not the problem, since I have again been banned in spite of the fact that I haven't committed any of these in the time since said Wiki Talk discussion.

TV Tropes, for all its faults, has taught me much about narrative so I will not at this time divulge what my best guesses are as to why I was really banned (besides, it's still possible albeit grossly unlikely that Fast Eddie will actually give me an explanation at some point). In a sense this outcome may have been inevitable. The history as I've related to you thus far concerns an early time, back when this kind of banning would have been unthinkable for anyone who wasn't an explicit, persistent wiki vandal. My edits have never really changed that much- it's the shifting times that have finally graced me with that label.

This blog will go on- until we reach the point of my untimely demise there's still much about the history of TV Tropes that has long since been purged from the site and which is unlikely to be related to anyone by those few who still remember the chain of events that led up to it aside from myself. You'll have to accept my apology that my information from henceforth will only be accurate up to January 11th, 2011. It's entirely possible that in the months to come, the admins will have a change of heart. A serious effort could be initiated to better patrol the site and fix its errors. Common tropers could be included in conversations instead of being talked down to when they dare bring grievances to Trope Repair Shop. A concrete policy could be set up outlining appropriate wiki behavior, making it clear which actions are acceptable and which are not.

All of these could conceivably happen. But as these are unlikely events, I will continue writing this blog. Better safe than sorry, after all.

Monday, January 10, 2011

History: Crowners (Part II)

The second purpose of the crowners was unrelated to the first. It came about thanks to a suggestion about voting.

One of the aspects about page creation and maintenance that frustrated many in the early days and still frustrates many today is that when a course of action is identified, even a very obvious one with no disagreement, there will be a lot of hesitancy insofar as actually enacting the new page. I first saw this not in trope repair (which did not exist at these earliest junctures), but in YKTTW.

As has been mentioned, the idea of centralized trope repair came about initially because of poorly named tropes. Early efforts to deal with this problem were primarily concerned with engaging tropers on the YKTTW level. One such idea that I had was to determine names for tropes based on popular vote. Since I was unaware of the crowner system at this time, votes were tallied manually with semi-regular posts in the proposal about which names were leading. This did not end particularly well- the names that resulted from this process were good, but the process itself was exhausting and overbearing because it required constant monitoring of the proposal in question.

Sometimes even today people attempt this same solution to deal with YKTTW gridlock and personal uncertainty about whether a title's ready to launch- mainly because most tropers are unaware of crowners now just as I was then. They always end up coming to the same conclusion that I did. As far as YKTTW goes, it's just much easier to make a gut decision about which title to go with based on the statements that have been made so far. It's not perfect, but it's pretty functional, especially when the title is proposed by a different person than the one who came up with the idea.

But this is in the present. At the time, I thought the voting idea worked, and in an effort to get more varied responses, I tried posting alternate names for YKTTW proposals on the Trope Talk forum and tallying votes there. The results weren't really much different than what was written in YKTTW, but during one of these topics another troper (it may have been an admin- I really don't remember) made note of the existing crowner software, an automated system the wiki was already using that could count votes all by itself. I was very glad to learn of this technology, as it removed the manual aspect of having to tally votes, making it much easier to figure out which titles were popular.

Ultimately, the idea of deciding new trope names by vote still didn't catch on, because even with automated voting there was no way to guarantee that people would actually vote- a problem that persists to this day. I still use crowners in YKTTW if I'm genuinely uncertain which is the best title for a trope, but these are very rare events for very unique situations. Most of the time, it's not a matter of counting votes, but trying to get a feel for which trope name just feels right. Strictly speaking crowner votes in every YKTTW proposal could probably get better results, but it's just too much work. Voting can be fun, but only when used in conjunction with fun activities like trying to select the best episode of a series- which you may recall is what the crowners were originally intended for.

YKTTW didn't really need crowners- it turned out in the end that there were better fixes available. The crowners returned later in the early renaming disputes, and to a large extent have remained there for the simple reason that obvious fixes in the realm of Trope Repair are more difficult to come by. I was also responsible for their introduction into that dispute- but its results were far more lasting than these early forays.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Infrastructure: Darth Wiki

One major problem that TV Tropes had in earlier times was the very negative tone some tropers would take toward shows that they did not like. This being the Internet, such conflicts were inevitable. The fact of the matter is that people like complaining, and that however many predefined messages are put on the main page, by and large people think tropes are bad things. If a work uses a trope, then it is bad because it is being uncreative. And so on, and so forth.

Initially these negative comments were simply moderated by concerned tropers who deleted this material where they saw it, chief among these being the admins. The honor system, as it were, was much more effective when the site was smaller, but as this kind of negative discussion became more popular it became clear that more elaborate fixes were in order. This was how Darth Wiki came about.

I do not recall the discussion that led to the creation of Darth Wiki- it's entirely possible that there wasn't one, really. It's existed for long enough that it may predate the concept of broad wiki discussion before decisive action. What I do know is that Darth Wiki provided an outlet for people who loved to complain. It must be understood that when people complain on the wiki, they do not do so from a shameful position. They genuinely believe that the show in question was completely terrible and it is their duty to warn others about it.

Darth Wiki was the perfect source through which this frustration could be vented. There were no courtesy regulations or expectations that non-harsh language be used. The dark background made it abundantly clear to people what they were supposed to expect when they entered it. Even the name, "Darth", conferred a sense of darkness that many reveled in. It's no surprise that Darth Wiki became quite popular with those who were familiar with it.

..This, of course, is the relevant caveat that still plagues wiki moderation efforts to this day. Darth Wiki may be popular, but not that many people are aware of it. Even when the icons were added to the tops of pages, its very existence continues to surprise people.

The limited success of Darth Wiki can be explained by a simple credo- people see what they want to see. For people who genuinely wanted and wished for a version of TV Tropes that wasn't so academic in mission statement, who wanted it to just be for nebulously defined "fun" stuff, it was a dream come true. For others, it was an innovation they hadn't even thought to look for. The divide between "fact" and "opinion" on TV Tropes is a very subjective property. A lot of people don't complain as a force of habit- some days they're just in that mood. They may not even notice it- and for them, Darth Wiki is not a place they would think to look for. There's no reason to think that today's "fact" is any more subjective than whatever uncontroversial information was posted yesterday.

A somewhat common response to complaining edits back then was to "take it to Darth Wiki", but this could only go so far once the fact had to be accepted that a lot of people simply didn't want to. Today, even though Darth Wiki is still popular, the phrase isn't used so much as there are other more objective venues that complaints can be generally classified as. Still, success is success, and while Darth Wiki didn't solve all the problems related to negativity, it was an effective base that gave precedence to using namespaces as a partial solution to other similar problems across the wiki. Ultimately it demonstrated a lesson that's true to this day- in dealing with wiki problems any strong solution is helpful, even if it doesn't work perfectly.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

History: Crowners (Part I)

The Crowners were the first particularly elaborate technical alteration made to TV Tropes for purposes not relating directly to wiki maintenance. They were created with a simple purpose in mind- to quantify the trope Crowning Moment of Awesome.

Crowning Moment of Awesome by its original definition was theoretically supposed to refer to an individual series moment which summed up everything that made the show great. Hence the use of the word "crowning". However, it soon ran afoul of the wiki's hive-mind interpretation. People at large who saw the entry and how it was used on the wiki did not think about the grammar of the phrase, and how technically any individual series could only ever have one "crowning moment". They simply thought "oh, this must be a trope that means 'something really cool happened'". Unfortunately, "something cool that happened" isn't really a trope. It's completely subjective based on personal experience. Pretty much anything could be that trope depending on your perspective.

The denizens of TV Tropes were not particularly interested in this constructionist interpretation of trope meaning- they latched on to the new idea of the Crowning Moment. Other crowning tropes were proposed and added to the wiki, and the label pretty much became a predicate that meant "something which inspires great emotion".

In an effort to solve this problem without angering the entire wiki, the crowners were proposed. The crowners are simple voting software. The idea behind them was pretty simple- rather than have multiple, nonsensical Crowning Moments of Whatever, everyone simply votes on the one they like the most, and that is the Crowning Moment.

It was a reasonable enough idea, but it failed in multiple ways to measure up to reality. Most tropers had no idea the crowners existed after implementation- few used them compared to the number of wiki readers at large, and while this was going on, examples continued to be added to pages which were by definition incorrect because a series can only have one "crowning" moment of anything. What it got right down to was that people didn't come to TV Tropes to vote about what their favorite scenes in a show were- they wanted to write about them. The admins eventually had no choice but to give up in this matter entirely, closing the original crowners and creating a new namespace on the wiki specifically devoted to cataloging the subjective content the wiki proper so badly wanted to write down. At this point the inaccurate term "crowning" was removed from the names, so at least it was technically accurate.

In retrospect the whole thing was really a missed opportunity. The Crowning Moment pages were just an excuse for many users to write about their favorite moments in a series. The thing is, tropes are quite literally everywhere. Had we tried encouraging tropers to instead build YKTTW proposals out of examples that they wished to make Crowning Moment entries for, the whole enterprise could have gone in a much more constructive direction.

That, of course, is being a bit unfair on the past. This idea was floated back when the very idea of semi-centralized Trope Repair was quite primitive and people still didn't have much idea how things worked on the wiki pragmatically. I personally failed to see the importance of these issues at all at the time. I only know what happened at all because I went back and studied the discussions back when the crowners ended up becoming relevant for very different reasons. In part, my general apathy toward this issue is why I'm unsure of the exact dates in which these events occurred. I played a very direct part in the other major usage of the crowners, so my exact reflections and interest on their original purpose don't weigh quite so well on my memory as their second one.