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.

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