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.

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