Monday, February 28, 2011

History: Zettai Ryouiki

Immediate disclaimer- I cannot for the life of me remember how to spell the name of this trope. I had to run a Google spell check just now on my best guess (Zettai Ryoukki). This should give you some clue as to why this trope was challenged- no one, absolutely no one, can consistently remember how to spell this title save certain portions of the Anime fandom and people who actually speak Japanese. And I'm not totally sure about the latter group.

However, as the ensuing rename discussion showed, there was a pretty good reason for this. Outside of the Anime fandom, it's hard to imagine who else would even want to classify this trope. Zettai Ryouiki refers to the exact amount of skin seen between a woman's skirt and her socks. There are different grades of Zettai Ryouiki, though I can't remember which grades means what ratio or how exactly the classification system works, just that it involves a great deal of math.

It was this backdrop that framed one of the first arguments for why a trope name should be in Japanese when English translations are available. When the proposal was presented, members of the Anime fandom used as their defense the fact that this is a pre-existing term that only exists in the Anime fandom. No one outside of the fandom ever discusses the exact ratio of skin to clothing on (usually) teenage girls. The only reason the trope was classified at all was based on these discussions that took place before and outside of TV Tropes.

Even as my opinion was pretty strongly for a rename in this case, I had to admit that they made a fairly good point. Zettai Ryouiki is an interesting trope that tells us a great deal about the nature of fanservice in fiction, but in the end I can't even think of any places to apply the trope to except Anime. Most Western works of fiction when they want to show fanservice, well, let's just be blunt about it. They never settle for only allowing the audience a look at the thighs. What makes Zettai Ryouiki interesting is that it usually dovetails with the Japanese obsession with schoolgirls, and aside from the whole thigh thing, Anime is pretty good about keeping the schoolgirl uniform only somewhat sexualized as opposed to using the uniform as thinly veiled wanking material. Looking at you, Western portrayals of school uniforms.

In addition to being an early argument about the use of foreign words in titles, this was also one of if not the first Trope Rename forum topics with intense crowner voting. And as with most high-volume crowner votes, this one ended with a decided majority in favor of keeping the current name, where it remains to this day. Even though the side I supported lost, I didn't feel particularly bitter about this because I felt they made a reasonable argument. In concession, I noted that for the few non-Anime obsessed people who would want to use this term, English redirects would allow us to make correctly spelled Wiki Words, the main easy one to remember being Golden Thigh Ratio. The more general rename issue about people finding the page was moot point- Zettai Ryouiki was and is quite popular.

This brings us to the main philosophical question brought up by this proposal- did comprehensibility matter in a trope title if it was popular and incredibly specific? The consensus reached by this debate and the tone to come was no. Tropes for the individual fandoms belonged to the individual fandoms, and there wasn't much sense trying to take them away since most people probably didn't even want them in the first place.

With Zettai Ryouiki this wasn't so much of a problem because of the genuinely pigeonholed subject matter. But as you may have guessed, "popular" and "incredibly specific" aren't ideas that coincide terribly often, especially not at a site with as much user-generated content as TV Tropes. The proposal on Zettai Ryouiki was ultimately badly timed- it was an unusual case that influenced a great deal of procedure largely because of the relatively early time period in which it was challenged rather than any reasonable comparison to other Japanese titles.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Terminology: Redirects

One lingering issue we had with any renames was the question of what to do with the old titles. By the time the rename projects started, TV Tropes had become a fairly popular site, and many of its hits came from searches or links to old titles from elsewhere on the Internet. A legitimate question about Jonas Quinn, for example, would be the existing off-wiki Jonas Quinn links, and the problem of people being linked off-wiki to a page that no longer exists.

This problem was dealt with via a simple redirect command in the wiki software that, when placed on a page, causes anyone clicking on a link to that page to be redirected to whatever Wiki Word that redirect is pointing to. The existence of this command was not common knowledge, and this was to the benefit of rename projects. When some users, such as myself, discovered the command's existence, we were able to use it to emphasize that changing to a new title did not mean we had to dispense with the old title completely. Redirecting old titles to the new one became common practice except in cases where the old title had better use as its own page or as a redirect to some other trope.

The command also made renames more difficult to override. Most people edit pages by clicking on the "edit page" bubble, and editing a redirected page in this manner is impossible since the page is always redirected before the bubbles appear. Only someone experienced with wiki infrastructure or very determined to figure out how to modify a redirected page can undo such a change. This worked out fairly well, as these were the only individuals who had any business reverting renames in the first place.

After the move to the forums, the nature of redirects were discussed in more detail. At some point, someone pointed out that redirects could also be used in the reverse- that is, rather than redirecting the old title to the new one, we could instead make a new, easier to understand title and redirect that to the old title. This was another form of compromise. It would solve the intelligibility problem of the old title while still making the trope findable.

If that sounds like a stupid compromise, I need to note that in its defense, the primary search bar at this time was not a Google search bar. Rather, it was the TV Tropes search bar (still findable in the Tools menu), which only searches for letters in titles. Because of the way this search bar worked, redirects were actually quite helpful in assisting a trope in gaining wider exposure. I once launched a trope called Chekhovs Volcano, which is about how volcanoes that appear in fiction inevitably erupt. Upon launch, I also created a page called Inevitable Eruption as a redirect. A person trying to find the trope I created could reasonably be expected to search for any of those four words, and even in YKTTW, neither title had a clear advantage. This was effective, non-controversial technical use of the redirect command.

For existing tropes that were challenged by rename proposals the redirect argument did not make as much sense. Adding a redirect only solves the issue of making a page easier to find- other problems with the title are not dealt with. For this reason I've always disliked the idea of redirects as being a useful "compromise" position. This dislike became more pronounced when the TV Tropes search bar was dropped entirely for the Google search bar. I don't know how exactly Google decides which pages are valid hits for certain searches but I have a hard time imagining that random redirects improve its accuracy. I was especially annoyed when Redirects Are Free became a predefined wiki message, as in reality they are limited solutions to fairly specific problems.

Redirects are more theory than anything else, and problems have rarely been solved by non-judicious use of redirects on the wiki. As psychology, though, they are oft-used in the many discussions the Trope Renames forum engaged in about what makes for a good trope page. That they would be elevated among discussions of such things as actual page content may seem silly, but it's the sort of thing you have to expect with a forum that's actually called Trope Renames.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

History: Slytherin House

First, here's what you know by the title of this blog post. At one point on the TV Tropes wiki a trope existed which was named "Slytherin House". If you've heard of Harry Potter, then you likely understand the reference. The question is, what does this trope refer to? Go on and take a guess before reading any further.

If you're anything like the majority of users who participated in this rename proposal, you probably came up with "not technically evil organization that nonetheless holds most of the story's villains as members". It's a popular enough topic of discussion for those who enjoy over-analyzing children's literature. It's what I thought the trope was about when I first clicked on the proposal. In actuality, the trope was about how in many works of fiction "ambition" is pretty much code for "evil". Those familiar with Harry Potter may recall that while the unifying characteristic of all Slytherin appears to be evil, in-story, the Slytherins' calling card is that they're all ambitious. Usually in trying to achieve some sort of evil goal, which is where the confusion tends to set in.

Slytherin House was a great annoyance to people when it was first proposed, mainly because it defied our expectations. Usually when you see a bad trope title, the logic behind how it came into being is relatively obvious. I've already mentioned tropes named after characters or directly after works of fiction. Here, however, was a trope name whose logic sort of made sense (in that I can see a bunch of Harry Potter fans in YKTTW, discussing how evil is ambitious in fiction, and coming to the obvious conclusion that Slytherin is the best possible example of this), but which completely broke down once the fact was registered that even to Harry Potter fans, coming to this page cold you're expecting a completely different trope.

The need for change was obvious. The forumites, however, were much like those of us from YKTTW in that they were doubtful our own authority and ever desirous to be "neutral". Many users made a point of saying that this title may have been defensible if it was about the first trope we all thought of, the not-technically-evil organization. This was true, and also a sentiment I generally agreed with. Direct references to works of fiction are frowned upon, but the not-technically-evil-organization trope is really hard to describe succinctly. Even if we had agreed to change that trope's title I can't imagine what new one we would have come up with. By contrast, you can probably guess what we renamed Slytherin House to even if you've never seen the page- Ambition Is Evil. Those two words are pretty much all you need.

I'm not sure anyone actually bothered to defend the title. The Harry Potter reference possibly, but as to the title itself everyone I can think of confused it for being the non-existent trope instead, and we had a long discussion where everyone pretty much agreed on all this several times until someone (probably me) finally took the trouble to rename it. In this respect the above-mentioned equivocation may sound a little much- it must be noted that due to the constant friction between pro and anti rename factions any excuse at a middle ground was jumped at. The acknowledgment of a hypothetical situation where Slytherin House could be grandfathered in was an act of good faith.

While we were finding ways to build new bridges in this new time of forum-centered renames, unfortunately other ones were lost. Because that trope, the one about not-technically-evil organizations? I remember thinking at the time that that would be a good trope to propose and possibly launch, but the subject managed to slip my mind. Now that I was dividing more time between the Trope Rename forums and YKTTW these things were easier to forget, and as far as I know, that trope still hasn't been classified yet. It was even mentioned that should this new trope be created it would probably make sense to give it the Slytherin House redirect, just so things would be less confusing.

Still, success is success, and now that we had an entire list of rename proposals (instead of just burying them in the midst of YKTTW), it was nice to go to the forum, look at old topics and go "yes, we actually managed to accomplish something there". That kind of consensus, where agreement is straightforward and we've even educated ourselves on hypothetical, non-existent tangent issues, has always been my favorite. Practically speaking, of course, it's not an outcome we can really expect all the time. It was still nice when it came up.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Faction: The Professional Wrestling Fandom

The professional wrestling fandom of TV Tropes was the first individual faction I became aware of, and indeed may well have been the first obvious faction to appear on the wiki at all. The reason for this is fairly simple- look at all the topics I've discussed so far, or even look at the TV Tropes website itself and cycle through the example listings. You'll see discussion of geeky TV shows, classic fiction, terrible animated cartoons we all watched when we were kids- all of these conform to the general interests of the nerdy Internet demographic to which TV Tropes owes most of its members. Professional wrestling is, by contrast, not really a topic one would immediately associate with "innovative wiki networking".

It took me some time to understand why they appeared- I was aware of the faction's existence when the Trope Renames forum was established, but it wasn't until much later that I appreciated why this dedicated group of fans existed when professional wrestling more apparently resembles a sports match than any mainstream fiction. Professional wrestling is actually at the core of helping us understand tropes, which goes back to their main contribution to the wiki- Face Heel Turn and Heel Face Turn.

Face and Heel are the real essential concepts, though. A Face is a good guy. As in, a wrestler who is awesome and cool and the crowd loudly cheers him whenever he comes into the ring. The Heel is kind of a jerk. He insults other wrestlers, most of the fans (who often take to booing him), and is quick to cheat if he is losing a match, usually by pulling a folding chair from under the ring and whacking the Face with it while the referee isn't looking.

These wrestlers' personas are deliberately designed to evoke emotional reactions from the fans. What's remarkable about this in wrestling is that this emotional manipulation is blatantly obvious. A Heel Face Turn in a TV show is usually secondary to the action. When the bad guy becomes a good guy, it's so he can assist the good guys with their story. With wrestling, people are attached not to the individual storylines but the individual wrestlers and what they do as characters. Much like the actual wrestling, the storylines are fraudulent, but that's besides the point. The appeal of wrestling is in how well the wrestlers are able to persuade the audience that the wrestling and storylines are for real.

This phenomenon isn't just restricted to professional wrestling. Daytime soap opera fans often have a similar dynamic, and will also bristle at what they believe to be unconvincing or implausible portrayals by their favorite characters. Wrestling fans, however, are the only ones who latched onto the wiki for the simple reason that as young, low-class white males, they have more in common with the wiki's core demographic of young middle-class white males than, say, the soap fan demographic of middle-aged, middle-class white females, or the Tyler Perry demographic of middle-aged, lower-class black females. This is a bit of an oversimplification, obviously, but it's a good way of showing why certain media are better represented on TV Tropes than others.

In any event, the professional wrestling faction has been present from nearly the beginning- after all, they were the ones who named Face Heel Turn and Heel Face Turn, tropes which predate my presence on the wiki by quite some time. This is also the only obvious exposure the faction has to most wiki members- their other strong contributions lie in example listings and trope pages generally interpreted as being wrestling-exclusive, though many of the definitions of these pages could probably be expanded. In spite of the somewhat exclusionary nature of the terms "face" and "heel", the Turn tropes have survived all rename challenges, though everyone asked about the topic has admitted that such titles would not survive YKTTW scrutiny in the era I describe in this blog.

Oddly, so far as I know no member of this faction has ever been a regular contributor to the trope quality control process. When the Turn tropes were brought up for debate, the title was defended primarily on the matter of fairness. The wrestling faction holds opinions quite different from our own, and it was deemed best not to alienate them, as the wiki needed all the divergent opinions it could get. Ergo, it would have been unfair to rename their single most obvious contribution. It must be noted that much of the time factions are actually a good thing for the wiki- they have specialized knowledge about the pro wrestling world that the typical TV Tropes nerd would be completely ignorant about. At the same time, they're really not that much different than your typical contributer. They want to write about the things they like, and as long as they're writing helpful, trope-centered information, they're really no different from a typical contributer. They still operate in YKTTW, for example- they're just limited to more universally coherent names now, quite like everyone else.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

History: Arrival at the Forums

When I first came to the forums I did not recognize most of the posters there. This did not seem particularly strange to me, nor I suspect to any of the other tropers who had come from YKTTW. Right up until the move was made, new people appeared in rename proposals all the time. Most of these were individuals who were in YKTTW for some other reason, generally ignored the debates, but had a particularly strong reaction when certain specific titles were challenged. These were actually the individuals whose opinion we valued the most; always self-effacing, those of us in YKTTW doubted whether we truly had the authority to enact broad changes, and so the opinions of random people were the lifeline establishing our credentials.

From this mindset, far from being upset to find that many of our YKTTW compatriots had not come along, we didn't even notice. The prospect of being able to explain and interact with completely new people and discover their opinions about wiki operation was far more important, and this was what we promptly set about doing.

So eager were we to get to work and start learning tangible opinions about specific pages that we pretty much started one thread explaining the "When to Rename a Trope" guidelines, another explaining what exactly the crowners were, and pretty much left it at that. We didn't even bother trying to start a thread where people would introduce themselves and explain where they came from. Yack Fest already had a thread like that, and so it seemed redundant.

The main significant change we had to make was adapting to forum software. The forums were based on TV Tropes script, but did make use of avatar technology, allowing users to put pictures next to their names in posts. In my occasional posts to the forum before the arrival I had no interest in such newfangled technology (I was terribly upset just to find that the forum automatically turned smileys into those annoying yellow things instead of the simple :) piece of text). I soon found in the context of the Trope Renames forum it got to be difficult telling people apart who had anonymous avatars, and so adopted my own- a picture of Rutherford B. Hayes with my user handle "Some Guy" printed at the bottom in fancy font. This facial portrait in black and white of a balding nineteenth-century man with a large beard was and is quite different from any other avatar in the forums, and made me particularly easy to identify.

This may sound rather minor (after all, pretty much everyone who joins any online forum does this), but it must be noted that of all the myriad wiki factions, only forumites use avatars. Those who frequent other parts of the wiki only use their names. I've known several individuals who refused to use avatars because they did not wish to be seen as a forumite. This all seemed rather irrelevant at the time and no one paid much mind to it, but this did manage to prove important as time went on.

The main interesting thing about our arrival at the forums was really how little anything changed at all, at least immediately. This was a fairly momentous event of far greater significance to the development of wiki quality control protocols than anything since then, but there no arguments, no complaints, no analysis of what this really meant. It was just a big, exciting change and we were all a part of it so hey, let's get cracking.

Now, a helpful note for the sake of a timeline- I first joined the wiki in early 2008. I became involved with renames about six months later, and the Trope Renames forum was established in early 2009. Any estimates of actual dates I can offer at this point are still guesses, as it did not then occur to me that there would be any value in establishing a timeline. Such are the wages of gradual changes.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

History: Jackass Genie

One day in YKTTW an individual made a fairly simple trope proposal. In many works of fiction there are beings called genies, based on the supernatural nigh-omnipotent characters of Arabic folklore, who grant people wishes. What this individual noted was that much of the time, the genies in question are in fact really bad about granting wishes. If a person goes "I wish for money", the genie will oblige by giving the wisher various small chunks of copper that would have been used as currency in ancient Sumeria.

The problem with this proposal was noted almost immediately. At the time, this trope's definition came under the purview of Literal Genie, a trope that was about genies just getting wishes wrong by interpreting the language in a really weird way. Here's where the discussion took an interesting turn. Some users, including myself, hypothesized that "literal" is not an infinitely modifiable quantity. A genie who is clueless about the intended meaning of human language may use the copper interpretation of "I wish for money" if this was a genie from ancient Sumeria who genuinely has no conception that other forms of money exist (they're nigh-omnipotent, not nigh-omniscient). By contrast, it is difficult to conceive of a genie so distantly removed from modern culture that he can genuinely interpret the wish to mean "summon dollar coins with arms and legs whose sole desire is to devour the person who wished them into being". That kind of willful obtuseness, we decided, was the real essence of the Jackass Genie-  one who will find a way to turn any wish, however innocent and straightforward, not just into a wasted wish but into a fantastically elaborate plot designed to harm unto the wisher.

In order to facilitate this page modification a basic outline was drawn up. Three obvious subdivisions of the genie mythos were quickly identified- the Jackass, the Literal, and the Benevolent genies. Benevolent genies actually had nothing to do with the Literal Genie page as it then existed, but it was deemed useful for it to exist simply as a contrast to Jackass Genie, as the Benevolent Genie tries to interpret wishes in such a way that things go well for the wisher. The easiest example of this is the genie from Aladdin, who at one point weakly mimes an unconscious Aladdin's lips into a wish for rescue.

This entire page action was emblematic of many points of proper wiki operating procedure at this time. First was the lack of stigma- once the idea of splitting off Jackass Genie was proposed there was no serious opposition to changing the Literal Genie, mainly just questions about proper implementation of the changes. Literal Genie was also, before the split, an unreasonably long page that no one could be expected to fully read. This was not surprising, as until the split literally any situation that involved genies or genie-like entities was placed in it the Literal Genie example section.

The proposal also contained a promise for possible future action. I was the one who enacted the split, and I noticed during the process that there was a fourth possible trope division not extensively discussed in the YKTTW proposal- quite a few of the examples dealt, not with genies, but computer programs which insisted on interpreting commands literally. I anticipated that splitting the existing pages would already be a tiring affair, and stated that I would work on a page called The Genie In The Machine at a later date. After the month or so it took me to remember this pledge, I split that page off, and possibly another one even further than that, though these are all the names I remember. Suffice to say, the original Literal Genie page was so fantastically long that none of the new pages was at a shortage for examples.

In spite of this, it must be noted that Literal Genie was not technically a broken page. The description and most of the examples were fairly well-written. It just needed better organization. Modification of the page to a significant degree seemed relevant to deal with these concerns, though there were also concerns about subjectivity. You can argue fairly easily about whether certain individual genies were making a "reasonable" interpretation of a wish or just being a malicious jerk-ass. Ultimately, we decided that we would just have to trust individual tropers to make that distinction on their own- it's not a distinction that can be perfectly explained in a simple four-paragraph description.

But in my memory, this trope resonates mostly because of odd timing- I can't quite remember when I made these changes on the timeline of centralized page modification guidelines. It could have been before or after the Trope Renames forum was first created. This a feature shared by many of my favorite page changes, really. Arguments about guidelines are easy to place because I know they had to take place after the guidelines were instituted, but such arguments were usually counter-productive. Here, the question was not one of abstract subjectivity, but whether such subjectivity would work for the page. The Genie pages, last time I looked at them anyway, were in pretty good shape, so I think we did well on that front.

Friday, February 11, 2011

History: The Move to the Forums

In spite of all the positive developments that made rename discussions on YKTTW more productive and easier to manage over time, there were always grumbling concerns about how it was an inappropriate venue for settling rename disputes. The main reason for this is fairly obvious- YKTTW was developed to facilitate the creation of new tropes. It had never been intended to be used for discussions about fixing old ones. There was undercurrent belief that were we to switch to a more appropriate venue, many of our communication problems could be solved.

There were two main camps who advocated for rename modification discussions being moved somewhere else; those who joined YKTTW for the express purpose of developing new tropes and were tired of having to deal with these discussions, and those who believed that YKTTW was an inherently inefficient process for rename modification. I fell into the latter group- I had always been deeply involved in the rename process and believed (for that matter, still believe) that the wiki could only maintain credibility provided its members engage in effective quality control of its pages. For me, YKTTW wasn't just a problem of it being a community not designed to handle page modification. There was also the issue of the kind of people we were trying to attract to give input on discussions. People came to YKTTW to make new tropes, not to rename existing ones. Individuals upset about a title being renamed would not think to ask about this on YKTTW.

Concrete suggestions about what exactly to do about this did not come up often- at least in YKTTW (this may have been discussed in the Wiki Talk forum), but when they did the usual call for action was to create a new forum subdivision designed explicitly to deal with the rename issue. The forum was one of the more visible parts of the wiki, since there was a blue bubble linking to it on every page. Additionally, most people on the Internet know what a forum is, whereas the idea behind YKTTW has to be explained to anyone who hasn't heard of it before.

Because of all this, there was no dispute when one day a line of text appeared on YKTTW stating explicitly that there was to be no more rename discussion in YKTTW, and that all such discussions were now to take place in the Trope Renames forum. This ruling was quickly accepted and adopted- within about a week anyone who wished to move to the forum to continue trope rename discussion had done so. I do not recall how long this announcement stayed up, since immediately afterward I spent most of my time working in the Trope Renames forum. If I had to guess, I'd say about a week.

A brief note- when I refer to Trope Renames, I am referring to the original iteration of Trope Repair Shop. The name was changed multiple times before finally arriving at Trope Repair Shop to deal with the ever-changing definition of what exactly the authority possessed by the Trope Renames forum was. Suffice to say, at the beginning its only consideration was in determining whether or not a trope needed to be renamed.

This all seemed perfectly reasonable at the time, but having the benefit of hindsight, I see now that changing the venue alone was not as radical a change as we originally thought it would be. While the volume of rename proposals increased with the forum move, it's difficult to tell whether this was because the discussions were in the forums or because the wiki was experiencing a rapid growth. The ratio of "fixed" pages stayed mostly the same. The general number of people discussing renames didn't really change, either. From YKTTW to the present, I'm not sure the active number of Trope Rename discussion participants has ever exceeded two dozen.

Of course, this was not the same two dozen participants at all times. Save for a few of the mods I would wager that nearly all of the current regular participants in Trope Repair Shop were not there six months ago, though they were probably involved with the wiki in some capacity before that time. The same was true of the original Trope Renames forum. Not all of the YKTTW regulars desired to continue trope rename discussions in the forums, and as such, they remained in YKTTW to work on developing new tropes. Those of us that did go found ourselves setting the tenor for the rename debate to come as we found ourselves collaborating with forumites who were only familiar with the work we had already done abstractly.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Terminology: Namespace

Namespaces are the wiki's individual partitions. Explaining them is a bit difficult abstractly- the concept is simple enough provided you can actually see and play around with it. First, go to a TV Tropes page. Examine the exact web address (the part that begins with "http"). Somewhere in that line should be the word "Main". If you don't see it, just keep clicking "random page" until you find one that does. The word "Main" (or any other word located in its place in the address) represents that page's namespace. Mainspace is the default namespace. If you write a Wiki Word on any page (usually by rewriting it as WikiWord), the page linked to is in the mainspace. If you write a Wiki Word for a page that does not exist, then you are directed to an empty page with the message "Describe Wiki Word here". At least, that's what it used to say- this message has been changed over the years because tropers would simply leave "Describe Wiki Word" and begin by saying such things as "oh, where to begin?"

The original intent behind namespaces was actually simple subdivision. The original alternate namespaces were simply titles like "Anime", or "Film", or "Series". The idea was that when making a trope page for a show (as opposed to a trope), the page would be written in the namespace for whatever media form the show was originally designed in. An example of this would be VideoGames/StreetFighter This did not catch on, since people just used the basic WikiWord format for creating pages. This is understandable when you consider how little new users know about actual page formatting- I must have been on the site at least a year before I figured out how to create alternate Wiki Word links. This ignorance was not a significant hindrance when I created new pages or modified old ones, which says a lot as I was a fairly heavy user.

After the original intent fell through, namespaces were adapted to simply distinguish between works which had similar titles. Street Fighter, for example, is a video game series at heart, and that is its mainspace page. Pages for this series also exist in the Anime, Comic Book, and Film, namespaces that are about those specific series. This worked reasonably well, with the main snag being tropes which were named directly after works of media. There is no Trope namespace because all tropes are presumed to exist in the mainspace- the original plan, you may recall, was that shows wouldn't be in the mainspace at all. An admin fiat eventually clarified this dispute by simply banning any trope names that were identical to the names of works of fiction. A good move since, all things considered, such names were rather lousy.

From there, namespaces evolved into a communication of ideas based on simple prompts. It Just Bugs Me and Wild Mass Guessing are the most popular namespaces, and take the form of direct theories and conversations about shows. ItJustBugsMe/StreetFighter, for example, is about parts of the greater Street Fighter universe which do not make sense. Because of the way namespace is shared, It Just Bugs Me pages for series like Street Fighter tend to be much larger and disjointed, as by design they must cover every single iteration of the broader Street Fighter series. Pages for specific games and works of media regarding Street Fighter fortunately take off some of the slack in that they have their own It Just Bugs Me pages. Or at least could, provided that somebody makes them by manually typing the namespace into html address.

Later on, as some trope pages reached critical mass, the point at which example listings become so long as to become impossible to read, these were given their own namespaces. One example of this is Memetic Mutation. Very obviously a trope, and not an opinion, discussion, or alternate version of the work in question. Be that as it may, if you go to MemeticMutation/StreetFighter, you will find a listing of Memetic Mutation examples related to Street Fighter. Bear in mind that with Street Fighter, it has its own page because there's a great deal of Memetic Mutation about Street Fighter specifically. Most generic Video Games are instead listed, somewhat confusingly, as MemeticMutation/VideoGames- at least until or unless the game in question has so much Memetic Mutation added to it that it earns its own page.

Discussion pages were also a form of namespace at this time. However, they were not created via WikiWord but rather by pressing the blue "discuss" bubble at the top of the screen, and so were seldom thought of in the manner here described, though the formatting was identical to that of any other page on the wiki. Eventually the discussion namespace was replaced altogether with a discussion-style software system, which persists to this day.

The namespace idea is a tool that has gained much broad, improvisational use throughout the wiki as way to more effectively split pages and make them readable. This was not foreseen by the site's admins, but they never really anticipated that it would become this popular to begin with, so it's quite understandable that this plan along with many others had to be jettisoned when it became clear that casual users of the wiki were improvising their own solutions to problems. It's one of the more technical aspects of the wiki that really makes plenty of sense once explained- but older users often failed to do so because we kept forgetting that not everyone intrinsically understands how the system works. So, sorry for not writing this earlier.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

History: Wrench Wench

Wrench Wench is one of the oldest titles on the wiki, and predates the Great Crash. The idea behind the trope is pretty simple. It's about a female character who likes playing around with machines, and to a mild extent is rendered romantically attractive to males in the show and also the fandom as a result of this. They're almost always portrayed with having other attractive attributes, although to be fair this is true of most female characters in fiction.
The appeal of this title is fairly obvious. It has Added Alliterative Appeal, and it rhymes. "Wrench" is almost always colloquially understood as "doohickey you smack on dirty machines to make them work". "Wench" is, well, a little weaker in that it's a fairly specific word designating a low-class woman and this trope features women from all sorts of economic backgrounds. Most people don't really care about this part though. In the TV Tropes hierarchy of beloved trope titles this is a nearly perfect combination of all the right elements. In light of this, the slight inaccuracy of "wench" is quite forgivable.

Where this all hit a snag is with a precautionary tale of the YKTTW rename proposal period. Wrench Wench was at one point nominated for a rename. The sheer rage against the idea that a title like Wrench Wench would be up for rename was immense. By the time all was said and done, the proposal had had over eighty replies, nearly every last one of them strongly against any consideration of the rename.

Here's where the precautionary part comes in. The original post of the proposal was quite vague about what was disliked about the trope. The only real complaint it had was that the title is "sexist"- which is true, to a limited extent, but the post in question did not bother to explain why. This did not stop multiple tropers (many of whom were quick to note that they, themselves, were female) from providing serious, detailed attacks on the very idea that such a title could be sexist.

Part of the reason why this one-sided "debate" went on so long was because for much of the debate there was no moderating voice telling people to calm down. Around the sixty post mark I finally noticed the proposal, and was shocked at how blistering and negative the entire thing had gotten. It had all the elements of a strawman argument. The fact that the original post itself was a bit of a strawman was besides the point- people were intimating malicious motives behind the rename for which there was no evidence. The ongoing influx of negative responses only fueled this fire, and the posts got more mean the longer on the argument went on.

At this point I came in. I explained the reasons for a rename in this case could be legitimate, and outlined the problems with the title. The key word in that exchange was "could". I noted that while I supported a rename, there was absolutely no way I or anyone else would go against such broad, outspoken support, and that such an event became completely unlikely after the first ten or so posts indicated this very strong sentiment. We needed to calm down and not panic about the wiki's fun nature being destroyed and letting rename issues radicalize us.

Other tropers, who made sure to state that they opposed a rename, came in to back me up on this point. They noted that given how little we'd seen of actual proponents of this rename, it's very likely that this topic was the work of a troll. Many outspoken tropers from earlier in the proposal made sure to come back and apologize for their inflammatory rhetoric at this point just to back this up. Impoliteness was not cool, and if someone made a rename proposal without providing a reasonable justification, then we had best just let the topic die out. A sensible person (in this case, me) would agree to disagree in the face of a reasonable argument. Non-sensible people can't be dealt with, for the simple reason that they are by definition not sensible.

It was a defining moment that helped us with some of the rename proposals yet to come, since it helped underscore how our overall goals weren't really that different. If the Wrench Wench page was working, it was free to stay- even those of us who proposed renames appreciated the wacky names on the wiki as being a part of its identity. For a sake of perspective, one tangible change did arise out of this proposal- realizing a trope did not exist to deal with mechanic-type characters of both genders, I proposed and later launched Grease Monkey. This page is not anywhere near as popular as Wrench Wench, and I doubt it ever will be. TV Tropes thrives to define the wacky- the thinking then was that so long as our directories are complete, comprehensible, and well-written, it didn't really matter what was popular. It's an attitude that still predominates in YKTTW to this day- a positive factor that has done much to help it stay functional.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Culture: Interwiki Interaction

On the TV Tropes wiki there are multiple community subdivisions, and with the exception of a few individuals, the vast majority of tropers only bother trying to interact on a single plane. During the time period preceding the creation of the first incarnation of Trope Repair Shop, there were four such communities- YKTTW, the discussion pages, the troper IRC chat, and the Talk namespace, the function of which was largely assimilated into the forums.

Bear in mind these are just the ones I can remember, and I am understating just how many sub-divisions can exist in any individual partition. A person who posts in one section of the forums has no trouble ignoring other section- someone who just likes to post about random things in their life does not necessarily want to discuss wiki infrastructure. The same is true of discussion pages- literally every page on the wiki has a discussion page. A troper who is a common fixture on trope pages that deal with gender politics has no guarantee of appearing to mull over the issues of organization on index discussion pages.

The best way to get across the sheer broadness of this is to use the metaphor of a television crossovers. Note that this is unrelated to TV Tropes The TV Show, which is a very different idea that was developed much later:

One day, a dedicated group of people started a  show called TV Tropes. TV Tropes (TVT) discussed tropes and how they are used to create meaning in fiction. The TV Show was so popular, that a spin-off was created called TV Tropes Discussion (TTVD), where people talked about the episodes they saw and argued about how to improve them. Sometimes the people from TVTD would guest star on TVT, and helped the episodes move in new, interesting directions. Another spin-off was created called You Know That Thing Where (YKTTW), where fans of TVT would get together and write new episodes for it. TVTD proved so popular that it got a spin-off called FORA, which was like TVTD but talked about entire seasons of TVT instead of individual episodes. Another spin-off called Internet Relay Chat (IRC), was the same thing as TVTD and FORA except that it was broadcast live.

All of these shows are related to one another in that they share the same universe, what with them all being spin-offs. At any time, a character from one of these shows could visit another show. Operating word being "could'. Let's take Detective John Munch as a parallel example. Technically, he could appear in any episode of Law and Order and plenty of other shows aside because he's a character in the interconnected universe. But he doesn't because John Munch solves cases for the Special Victims Unit. If he randomly walked into everybody's show, he wouldn't have any time for his own projects and he would ultimately just be a cameo appearance in everyone else's larger plots.

TV Tropes works the same way. Everyone is free to leave their comfort zone, but by doing this they run the risk of coming to a part of the wiki where they are always seen as the ephemeral "new guy", and thus their opinion loses value. Thus, you only "cross over" if your own priorities strongly intersect those of another show, to the point that you're sure your opinion will be given significant weight because hey, your argument is the correct one, and your role on the other show is such that you have credibility in this new matter.

This is just the simple psychology of why there's little inter-wiki interaction. It's not hostility on anyone's part, but rather an urge for specialization and credibility. It can, of course, go in that direction. Remember that just because characters from different versions of Law and Order exist in the same universe doesn't mean they have any idea who each other are. If a character from Cut List (CL) wipes out an entire episode of TVT from existence, characters from TVT will be understandably alarmed provided they do not know what CL is or what it's about. This is the source of most relevant wiki conflict- ignorance about what's going on and a general inability to find out. The funny thing is, that when you consider the efforts waged to create a centralized trope repair apparatus, you'd think complaints about renames would become less prominent. But it turned out that there was a great deal more complexity involved with Interwiki Interaction than we had ever imagined.