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.

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