Thursday, March 31, 2011

History: The Dark Knight Trilogy

Batman Begins and The Dark Knight represent the modern reboot of the Batman movie franchise. Batman is a popular character among the target TV Tropes demographic, so somewhat inevitably, a page was created for these movies. Notice the wording- page, singular, for movies, plural. Generally speaking self-contained movies are given their own pages, but as there is no rule stating they must be given their own pages, a troper of the lumper mindset is perfectly free to combine similar themed movies into a single page. This article was created at a time of very positive buzz for The Dark Knight, so it was assumed that another sequel would be made, thus creating The Dark Knight Trilogy.

There was only problem. As the months dragged on, it became clear that there was little evidence of a trilogy. Christopher Nolan, the director of the previous movies, wasn't signing onto the project and Warner Brothers, the studio which owns the Batman rights, was unwilling to make a new movie without him. So over at TV Tropes, we had a page called The Dark Knight Trilogy, which consisted of exactly two movies. While one day it could have three movies, for all anyone could figure out the page could eventually have four movies, because who knew how many they would end up making by the time everything was said and done?

When the rename proposal for this page first came up, I was against it. I felt it made more sense to split this page into the individual movies- they were fairly self-contained, and you don't really need to watch Batman Begins to understand what's going on in The Dark Knight, though it certainly helps. So I went to the merges and splits forum, and proposed that the page be split. Surprisingly, I was met with strong resistance on this point. In the merges and splits thread, tropers generally agreed that the name didn't make much sense, but were strongly against splitting the page because...well, I don't think I really remember the exact reasoning. I think it had something to do with the greater vision connecting the two movies, but I'm not completely sure.

This was an obnoxious stalemate to be sure- a rename forum thread that agreed on splitting and a merges and splits thread that agreed on renaming. I disliked the idea of simply abandoning The Dark Knight Trilogy (after all, the title was incorrect), so I got creative. I drafted a proposal in Wiki Talk requesting that the Merges and Splits forum be merged with the Trope Rename forum. While this would allow for a solution to this specific page problem, I also went some length in explaining how this idea would benefit the wiki as a whole. Trope Repair Shop, as it eventually came to be known, would have the authority to deal with a broad range of possible solutions to wiki issues. We would not just have to rename tropes- we could propose some other, less controversial solution instead, and maybe the middle ground would make people happier.

Suffice to say, this request was enacted. With this forum of wider latitude, I made a new proposal as to The Dark Knight Trilogy which posited both a rename and a split as possible outcomes. There were still some individuals opposed to any action at all on the grounds of The Dark Knight Trilogy being a term in wide use (a fact, which under scrutiny, could not be proved) and the third movie being inevitable, but when the crowner votes were tallied, a rename to The Dark Knight Saga was the most widely supported outcome, so that was the title adopted, and it persists to this day.

While this page directly led to the creation of Trope Repair Shop in its current form, there are other facts of this rename that are of a more direct interest. For one thing, in retrospect, this whole discussion sounds somewhat ridiculous, as now there is going to be a third movie in this series, and it has been stated in all media quite clearly that it will be the last one. That makes this the only rename in all of TV Tropes history that was unnecessary in the sense that outside forces would have eventually made it a valid title. Mind, I still think we made a valid decision- for the year or so in which the fate of the franchise was ambiguous, the TV Tropes title was accurate, and that really has to count for something.

But more oddly, this page action was the last time I ever saw a moderator apologize. It was a moderator who originally created The Dark Knight Trilogy, and this individual showed contrition in the rename threads for giving it an inaccurate title, though at the time the page was created it was not unreasonable to assume that the series would become a trilogy. Though I have not frequented TV Tropes since my banning, I was recently told by some individuals of events that have transpired in my absence. Suffice to say, I do not expect apologies over even minor matters to be forthcoming in the near future.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Culture: Serious Business

To the best of my knowledge the Serious Business page has always been pretty clearly defined- when characters in a work of fiction are treating an issue with far more importance than seems rational. If a stadium with several thousand seats is sold out so people can watch a children's card game tournament, well, that's because children's card games are Serious Business.

Where this trope is relevant in the development of repair protocol is that, from as early as the YKTTW stage, it was recognized that some of us were taking this whole rename thing a little too seriously. On the one hand you had individuals decrying rename efforts as sucking the heart and soul of the wiki. On the other you had folks (such as myself) that believed effective quality control was essential to giving TV Tropes any sort of meaningful credibility outside of a relatively narrow subset of nerds.

One benefit of the YKTTW stage of renaming was that this never really got too out of hand. Rename proposals were a very small minority of overall trope proposals, and the contentious ones were even less in number. So however fired up a person got over the latest iteration of the Jonas Quinn debate, the fact of the matter was on either side of that debate there would be perfectly reasonable, non-objectionable proposals for new wiki material.

The earliest issue with the trope rename forum was that this kind of pro/anti rename faction rhetoric because much stronger and much more difficult to avoid. A person clicking on the trope rename forum quite literally sees rename proposals everywhere. Now, granted, most of these were for obscure titles no one had likely heard of before, and most of these were also not actually followed through on even when consensus was established. Nevertheless, it's understandable that some people looked at the forum and thought nearly all of the wiki was up for massive modification. This created something of a feedback loop- as anti-rename individuals became more strident, pro-rename individuals also took a harder line. Much of this frustration was compounded by the fact that, in spite of the When To Rename A Trope guidelines, the exact same arguments seemed to be rehashed repeatedly. This led to a sort of rhetorical arms war, where stronger more logical arguments became increasingly necessary to move any efforts forward at all.

If all of this sounds crazy, well, it kind of was. The word "rename" had attained powerful visceral reactions from any wiki-goer who heard it. I think part of it was just the word. "Rename" is a pretty simple word, but it's seldom used in real life, so in the TV Tropes realm it managed to attain nearly mythic stature. And even if it's a simple word, the greater implications are pretty darning. By renaming something you're kind of changing its very identity.

There's plenty of Serious Business around the wiki aside from renames of course. The cause of nearly any Edit War is a result of at least one person taking a single issue far, far too seriously. The main difference is that in the wiki proper, such strong reactions are generally unusual, and most people would never even notice them unless they scoured the page histories. On any given day in the trope rename forum there is a very good chance that you can see someone taking something incredibly seriously after clicking on just the first few threads.

I suspect that this general attitude perplexes and alienates most wiki-goers and contributes to the low gross participation in trope repair protocols. I'm not sure I would have had the confidence necessary to join the trope rename forum if I hadn't been involved in the protocols from the beginning. Just as well, the after-effect of posting and editing in this environment is probably what made me feel it was necessary to start this blog in the first place.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Terminology: Merges and Splits

A merge is what happens when two existing TV Tropes pages are actually be describing the same concept, but have different names and appear to have been developed as pages in ignorance of one another. So as to avoid redundancy, the content of these pages is merged into a single page that uses various parts of both pages' descriptions and all relevant examples. A split is the opposite of this- when a a page is seen as incredibly broad, it is divided into multiple more specific sections that deal with more precise variations of the same general concept.

This terminology is some of the oldest on the wiki, even predating the YKTTW phase of trope renames- my first major edit was a split of a page I felt had grown unreasonably long. These terms are the practical actions related to the Lumper Vs Splitter distinction- back when the wiki was a smaller environment, users were encouraged to either think of themselves as Lumpers (lump similar ideas on the same trope page) or Splitters (split similar ideas into their own trope pages) in regards to the tropes they wished to develop. Merges and splits are corrections made to errant thinking in the YKTTW process that resulted in the development of pages that were, in various ways, flawed.

Merges and splits were very odd page actions as the YKTTW trope rename process pushed onward because from any objective standpoint, merges and splits were just as if not much more important than renames, but because their purpose was seen as objectively organizational (compared to the very subjective opinions that made up a rename debate), they were usually ignored. Merges in particular are quite a bit like renames in everything save for this general motive. An individual simply opens an edit box for the page to be merged, reintegrates the text into the final article, and slaps a redirect into the formatting so that anyone attempting to reach this old page is now sent into its new, fully merged counterpart. This may have been the original purpose of the redirect command, though it's just as likely that redirects were part of the wiki platform from the beginning and this was just an obvious way to use them when these problems first started cropping up.

Redirects were greatly preferred to the alternate method of merging pages of manually changing every page's use of the obsolete Wiki Word. In addition to greatly reducing the work involved in merging pages, the redirect was just seen as a polite. A troper could be perplexed or confused to discover one day that all of the links to this one trope had been replaced by links to some other page. While this often abated once said troper looked at the page history or discussion to realize what happened, tropers are a paranoid lot and may still be alarmed into believing that they have suddenly drifted into an alternate reality.

Renamed tropes featured the same general issue of linking. Redirect or not, people were confused to click on one familiar trope title only to suddenly find themselves on a page with a completely different name. For this reason, it became common courtesy to change some (usually half) of the Wiki Words to the new title and letting the other half remain the old redirected title. As with merges, this gave the impression of gradual integration- tropers did not need to adjust right away, but they needed to note that the page was different now and any future Wiki Words should use the proper title.

Splits were a far less complicated affair. These usually ended up in YKTTW, as YKTTW's specialty was creating new tropes. Less exciting splits, such as creating alternate namespaces to house exceptionally large sections of examples, have traditionally been performed informally by whosoever was passing by and thought a split would make for better organized pages. Individuals like me, for the most part.

In any event, the existence of the Trope Rename Forum as the source of legitimate renames eventually led to the Merges and Splits forum being created to be the source of legitimate merges and splits. This forum was not an especially popular one. I can only ever recall actually discussing one page there, and soon found myself annoyed that nobody had any interest in a split, and yet at the same time I couldn't exactly propose a rename without confusing the heck out of everyone because these functions belonged to two different forums. The forum thread I posted as to this issue is what led to the creation of Trope Repair Shop- the institution that currently manages the wiki's quality control.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

History: The Toblerone

The character this trope is named after is not actually Toblerone. Rather, he's the supporting character Dablone from the movie Escape 2000, which people have only ever heard of because it was once on Mystery Science Theater 3000. For whatever reason (I haven't seen the episode myself), the MST3K characters ended up nicknaming Dablone Toblerone (presumably after the Swiss chocolate), affectionately calling him by this moniker for the whole episode. The narrative role Dablone played in Escape 2000 can be summed up as "exciting guy who beats people up", and this was the narrative role the trope was named after.

If this all sounds bizarrely obscure, well, it kind of was, even by TV Tropes standards. The Toblerone was consistently challenged throughout the YKTTW and Trope Rename eras of major page modification. These attempts always failed. "Toblerone" was such a specific name that many argued there was no real danger that anyone would mistake the trope for something else (this is no longer considered a valid argument). Second, the title has always been popular, and it was seen as detrimental to the wiki's development to rename a trope that was a consistent source of off-site links.

What changed all of this in the final discussion as to what to do with The Toblerone was that someone actually took the trouble to look at these off-site links and see in what context they were being used. The results were not flattering. Most of them mentioned The Toblerone as an example of TV Tropes' bad habit of lionizing obscure characters into memetic godhood. Where an individual wanted to make the statement "TV Tropes sucks", there was a good chance that at some point The Toblerone was going to be brought up.

This embarrassing revelation promptly put a halt to any serious attempts to defend the title in its then-current form. A consensus was hurriedly brought up around the alternative title Boisterous Bruiser, and in the spirit of compromise, The Toblerone was not converted to a redirect as per standard rename policy, but rather turned into a comedic page written from Dablone's point of view, which so far as I know remains on the wiki to this day.

The incident marked the first, and only time a rename was enacted due to extra-wiki influence. It's generally assumed that people outside of the wiki like the wacky names that are invented for tropes- it's a part of the TV Tropes charm. It's been my experience that this is a result of response bias. Plenty of TV Tropes users are active on other parts of the Internet and often erroneously assume that these other spheres represent a broad cross-section of the Internet at large when in reality affinity for TV Tropes can coincide with other activities- there's a reason, after all, why a disproportionate amount of page examples are for Anime and Science Fiction versus more common shows like Crime Procedurals.

Additionally, I've found that extra-wiki individuals who dislike TV Tropes are far less likely to create off-site links because such links essentially amount to free publicity. The Toblerone was just such a ridiculous title that I suspect many would not have believed it was actually being used to describe a relatively common trope unless there was a link to it somewhere.

This general circumstance combined with the odd features of this specific trope are what has made it a unique event. Of the tropes that have reached the popularity or notoriety of The Toblerone, all are either considered safe titles, have been renamed, or have been locked into the limbo of being constantly challenged but never having anything done about them. The title mainly serves as a reminder that the TV Tropes community does have a breaking point- it is possible for outsiders to mock a trope title so much that it eventually gets renamed. The real challenge is getting anyone on the TV Tropes website to actually notice the mockery.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Terminology: Preexisting Term

The most common question new users of the trope rename forum had, particularly those who believed that renaming tropes was a misguided practice, was why terms like Brother Chuck or The Other Darrin were considered immune from rename action when other similar character named tropes such as Jonas Quinn or Spikification were dismissed. The main reason for this was simply pragmatism- Brother Chuck and The Other Darrin were terms that had been coined over the course of decades of repeated use in small circles of TV aficionados. TV Tropes aims for a larger audience to be enraptured in a shorter period of time than that- so more intuitive trope names are necessary. This explanation, while accurate, is more philosophical than what most people are looking for when they just want to know the reasoning behind rename policy. So users got into the habit of explaining this favoritism through the Preexisting Term.

The psychology of Preexisting Terms is predicated on the same self-doubting philosophy I've described of heavy TV Tropes users thus far. We were just a bunch of random people on some Internet web site. What authority did we have to arbitrarily name tropes in fiction? TV Tropes has always had mild issues about its legitimacy, and Preexisting Terms were a definitive statement that we were just continuing work that had been started some time ago.

While this term solved the issue of "how do we explain away this one complaint people keep bringing up?" (at least for those who went to the trouble of asking us), it managed to bring up another issue of what exactly a preexisting term was. TV Tropes does not use the concept of notability. So while the phrase Preexisting Term was intended to safeguard terms that had been used in television writing for decades, it was often trotted out for terms that were popular in specific communities but virtually unheard of outside of them. Face Heel Turn and Heel Face Turn were two such tropes courtesy of the wiki's Professional Wrestling faction. The same is also true of many Anime-specific terms like Zettai Ryouiki which generally only appear in Anime to begin with.

Bear in mind that usage of these terms is fairly easily verified outside of the TV Tropes context. Others are in a much more murky area. One trope I specifically challenged on this was The Firefly Effect- a trope which describes fan tendency to avoid certain shows (such as Firefly) under the assumption that said show will be Screwed By The Network. It was impossible to prove then, and impossible to prove now, that this term has ever had any meaningful usage outside of TV Tropes. However, it was believed to originate from the buffyistas web board that supposedly led to the creation of TV Tropes, so it was ultimately left alone- I believe an admin told me this fact, mainly because had anyone else told me I likely would not have believed it. It's hard to prove that even the buffyistas web board ever existed any more.

Oddly there was never any real discussion of what exactly a Preexisting Term was- everyone just got into the habit of using it and nobody even bothered defining it. It's a fairly intuitive term, so this is somewhat understandable. After reading it most people can guess what it means, and it never really occurs to anyone to delve any deeper than that.

Of course, to a large extent, I doubt anyone really wants to. If we had ever tried to actually define Preexisting Term, it likely would have been discovered that many titles apparently protected by it would not have had significant backing, for the simple reason that any actual page by the name of Preexisting Term would have to explain how or whether a title qualifies. Source pages that can't even be found via search engine would beg the question of whether the term ever existed at all before TV Tropes, and whether it was only identified as a Preexisting Term to make the title more difficult to challenge.

Such accusations against a fellow troper's honor would be considered serious- another reason why few sought to have the definition expanded on. For what it's worth, I don't believe anyone has ever been entirely disingenuous when claiming that a term is preexisting. When it gets right down to it, the whole Internet is just a series of factions. A person used to calling a certain concept by a certain name with her friends can be genuinely dumbfounded to discover that not everyone does this, even if the title just seems so obvious. In any event, there's little to be done about the matter anymore- explicit Trope Namers are seldom proposed nowadays, so the Preexisting Term is now mainly a nag about old titles which, no matter how long they've been around, still strike people as bizarre.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

History: Fonzarelli Fix

The reasoning behind the title Fonzarelli Fix is actually quite simple. It refers to an activity engaged in by The Fonz, of Happy Days Fame. On occasion he would repair a malfunctioning jukebox by whacking it. As titles go, it's not an especially bad one. Granted, you have to know who the Fonz is for it to make any sense, but there's only so many ways a person can fix things, so it's not too difficult to parse the term "Fonzarelli" as meaning "involves random violence".

There was just one problem. It turned out that there was another term in common use by the name of Percussive Maintenance which referred to the exact same practice, but which had been existence for quite some time longer than Fonzarelli Fix, a title which had been made up for the purposes of TV Tropes.

The rationale of the decision to ultimately replace the title Fonzarelli Fix with Percussive Maintenance was pretty straightforward- preexisting terms, particularly terms not named after random fictional characters, always receive title precedence over terms developed by TV Tropes. What made this debate an odd stop-gap in the history of repair protocol is the fact that for about half the debate, no one thought to mention the fact that Percussive Maintenance was a preexisting term. Once someone did mention this, much of the remaining debate was spent arguing over whether it was actually in common usage or just some weird jargon invented by engineers.

This was a notion that was rather difficult to prove one way or another. Obviously, most of the tropers in the trope rename forum at this time had not heard of this term before- a population that included myself. At the same time, the random tropers who just so happen to frequent the trope rename forum aren't even a valid cross-section of the wiki, let alone the entire potential TV Tropes audience. I sought to find some objective manner of determining how widely spread usage of either term was, and so in trying to solve the conundrum of this specific title proposal, an odd precedent was developed- the Google search.

By running Google searches of both terms, some interesting facts were determined. First, Fonzarelli Fix and Percussive Maintenance  had about the same number of Google hits. But (and this is the important part), if we instructed Google to instead look for specific phrases (either "Fonzarelli Fix" or "Percussive Maintenance" used one after the other), Percussive Maintenance was far more common- as it turned out, most hits for Percussive Maintenance actually referred to the practice of fixing things by whacking them, whereas most Fonzarelli Fix hits either directly referenced TV Tropes or were referring to Italian plumbers.

But even with this established, the argument still continued. Supporters of Fonzarelli Fix insisted that the term held special TV Tropes flavor which Percussive Maintenance could never equal, even in spite of its wider usage. The argument wasn't necessarily a bad one- before Percussive Maintenance had been outed as a preexisting term I had argued against its being a replacement for the simple reason that it doesn't really sound like a term about fixing things by whacking them. "Percussive" and "Maintenance" are seem like long, technical words for a trope about behavior that's generally seen as lower-class.

In spite of these misgivings, I ended up renaming the trope anyway. From way back in the YKTTW days, it had been agreed that we should not keep trope titles just for the sake of "TV Tropes Tradition". There had to be some tangible, qualitative reason why the old title was superior, and in this case it could not be proved that Fonzarelli Fix was even as popular as Percussive Maintenance, let alone so popular that we could ignore a preexisting term. The better argument won, and so it had to be honored- I believed then, as I believe now, that consistency is an essential aspect of wiki maintenance.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

History: Magnificent Bastard

In the movie Patton, the World War II general of the title at one point remarks "Rommel, you magnificent bastard! I read your book!" This is the only solid attribute of the trope that exists now, or so far as anyone can tell, ever existed in the first place. From before my time, Magnificent Bastard had long since morphed into a nebulous term that appears to mean whatever it is that the individual wants to believe it means.

That's the only sensible way to describe it. Even in the trope rename forums, I can't think of any entry that everybody agreed was the trope except for Rommel himself. These discussions had a tendency to turn bizarrely philosophical. Perhaps the strangest I ever read was that the bankers on Wall Street who caused the financial crisis were Magnificent Bastards. I'm sure there were probably others just as, if not more ridiculous than that, but it was this comparison in particular that caused me to write off any attempts to fix the trope as being hopeless.

The reasoning behind that specific example is simple- a Magnificent Bastard is a bastard who nonetheless acts with chutzpah in a grandiose manner. Ergo, bankers who destroyed the world economy for their own benefit and received no meaningful consequences as a result must be Magnificent Bastards. Which sounds sensible enough until you try to dig into the meaning, at which point the question becomes- exactly who isn't a Magnificent Bastard?

I invite you to try this out for yourself. Come up with a character, any character at all, who performs some sort of morally ambivalent act, and whose powerful confidence you admire, regardless of the results said character achieved. Can you convince yourself that this individual is not a Magnificent Bastard with the information I've given you, and using structural logic? If you can actually manage this feat, good job- you've bested just about every troper who attempted to tackle the topic of "what exactly does Magnificent Bastard mean?", including myself.

Magnificent Bastard is the ugly consequence of one kind of wiki behavior we were never able to resolve- what do you do with pages whose meanings are vague, and yet are profoundly popular because they sound so cool that everyone thinks their favorite character, concept or narrative action must be an example? Unfortunately, there's not much that really can be done- perhaps the page could have been saved with earlier intervention, perhaps not. But after a certain level of example density, further attempts to solve the problem simply became a waste of time. I attempted a complete remodel of the page at one point- no meaningful trace of this remains because however much anyone tried to tighten the description people kept interpreting it to mean "cruel character that I like".

There have been two significant consequences of the various Magnificent Bastard proposals. The first was the establishment of cyclical proposals in the trope rename forum quite similar to those we had had in YKTTW. Rather than being a final word, proposals in the trope renames forum were often brought up again, sometimes in ignorance of previous proposals. Magnificent Bastard, like many other topics, was often brought up by new forumites unaware of previous failed attempts to solve the problem.

The second more significant consequence is that these early complaints paved the way for the Trope Renames forum to later become Trope Repair Shop. We couldn't really rename Magnificent Bastard, since the only part of the trope anyone seemed to understand was the name. Even though in that specific case we failed, such overhauls had psychologically fallen under the purview of Trope Renames because, as with the YKTTW stage, it didn't seem like there were any other places to ask those questions. As was the case then, this wasn't entirely true. Nonetheless, nobody knew this at the time.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Terminology: Purge

Purges are the destruction of existing data on the wiki. They are similar to cuts in terms of general motivation- the excised data that is purged is deemed irrelevant, a waste of bandwidth, and simply not a useful page to begin with. The difference is that cuts are actions taken on specific pages that have been identified by members of the wider community as being worthless pages- Cut Masters are informally expected not to make any cut proposals on their own. Purges, by contrast, involve the destruction of wide swaths of wiki data owing to the kind of general data they are.

I first became aware of the idea of purges in the Trope Renames portion of my tenure at TV Tropes. While it's possible that there were purges before my time, this is unlikely- the wiki simply wasn't large enough to warrant purges. Of course, depending on your point of view, the Great Crash could have been the wiki's first purge, as it summarily destroyed nearly all of the wiki's content, albeit by accident.

Defining purges makes them sound a great deal more sinister than they really were. Initially they were just summary executions of old, archived data in the forums. Aside from the few technical forums most of the posts were quite useless to overall operations- the forumites who frequented the various Media forums, Yack Fest, It Just Bugs Me and the like were just having fun. It was fairly reasonable to assume that nobody would much care about forum threads that were over a year old. Bear in mind that as the wiki forum software at this point did not have search capabilities, old threads were nearly impossible to find anyway unless one can remember the exact date in which the last post was posted.

For the purposes of this blog, purges are mainly important to illustrate what I mean about TV Trope's nebulous, untold history. Topics in forums like Trope Renames and Wiki Talk were not exempted from the forum purges simply because these forums dealt with page maintenance. They, too, were eliminated from the wiki. Because of this there's a great deal of discussions leading to major page action which a lot of people simply don't remember and can't be verified independently.

I'd like to iterate here that I don't think the purging of this material was done with malicious intent, and that had anyone any idea the importance Trope Renames discussion would have on the website's remembered history, things likely would have been handled differently. While the forum is the most obvious place to purge data from, YKTTW archives also go through this process. YKTTW discussions, unlike forum threads at the time, directly linked to launched pages be they original lead-ups to trope creations or discussions that foster renames. As a result, much of the Trope Rename action that took place during the YKTTW process of renames can actually be verified, though rename proposals were not launched in a uniform manner and regardless of how many times a page has been discussed in YKTTW, generally only one YKTTW archive link appears on the discussion page.

Of course, however I dress it up, the fact of the matter is that a lot of information does not exist anymore, and realizing this was a major motivation for me to start this blog. In this manner being banned from the web site is not so great an impediment to recounting its history as one would think- in many of the most interesting cases I would have to be working from my own memory anyway.

To the best of my knowledge the practice of purging has never been questioned, mainly for the reasons listed above- what's the point of archiving data that the wiki simply has no use for? This was, in fact, my personal opinion of the matter when I first heard of the existence of purges. Their existence was worth taking note of for future reference. Then, we move on and get back to work. Given the chronic difficulties the Trope Renames forum had in trying to attract new members, we all pretty much assumed that nobody was much interested in the decision-making processes we used in the first place.

Monday, March 7, 2011

History: You Say Girl Like Its A Bad Thing

Some fans are very aggressively anti-feminine in the kinds of activity they deem as acceptable from their heroines. These fans see overly "girlish" things, like pretty clothes, make-up, or cooking, as being to the detriment of a truly effective heroine. You Say Girl Like Its A Bad Thing was the classification of these debates among fandoms.

This sentiment can be reasonable in certain respects. Take cooking as an example- a "masculine" cook is often seen as an expert figure full of good advice on a wide variety of situations, particularly if he retired from another cooler job. A "feminine" cook is just subservient. Of course, all of this is just perception- it's perfectly plausible to write a masculine cook who's a blowhard, or a feminine cook who's cognizant of personal relationships to a far more impressive degree than anyone she cooks for. The problem with You Say Girl Like Its A Bad Thing was that it did not accept any kind of nuance. Most of the write-up and examples appeared to be specifically designed to provoke people into attacking anyone who did not like overly feminine heroines.

Well, there was that and the title. The reason I became aware of this page in the first place is because it was challenged in the Trope Renames forum. The logic behind the title was that some members of the fandom were using "girl" as a curse word- logic that no doubt made a great deal more sense to whoever made the original write-up. This title was clunky and nearly impossible to find using Title Search (even back then there were a lot of tropes with words like "girl" or "bad" in them). It couldn't be used naturally in a sentence. And worst of all, it sounded like an argument. To many of the people involved in these debates "girl" was, indeed, a bad thing, but they didn't phrase it in that silly a manner.

The page had a great many examples and was obviously popular. Once the forum thread indicated a strong consensus for doing something to fix this page, I decided to check the page's discussion to see if there had been any prior discussion, clarifications, or complaints, about what exactly this trope was about. I found an incredibly long, detailed discussion where people were debating the nature of this trope abstractly. Most of the discussants came to the same general conclusion- this page was far too divisive, and needed a significant overhaul to be somewhat doable. When I requested the wherewithal to make significant changes based on the discussion I received a prompt go-ahead- after all, I could hardly make things worse. I rewrote the description and examples to remove all the inflammatory, not clearly cited elements, and fully renamed the trope to Real Women Wear Dresses, reasoning that the metaphor was more understandable. This title was then re-renamed to Real Women Never Wear Dresses, as I had forgotten the "Never".

This is about the only trope rename I can recall where I started out in the forum, and then headed back to the discussion pages in order to determine the best course of page action. I can't recall doing this with any other pages. For most of them, it would not have been doable. You Say Girl Like Its A Bad Thing had an active discussion page because it dealt with the divisive topic of fandom opinions. Tropes that simply describe rhetorical devices seldom have these kinds of debates in the discussion pages for the simple reason that you can't offend rhetorical devices.

Pragmatically, there were also logistical issues. The people who made posts on discussion pages were entirely different from those who made posts in the Trope Renames forum. I could hardly assume that the discussion participants had any idea what was going on in the Trope Renames forum. Having guessed that this was a page of much controversy, it seemed only reasonable to make sure I asked their pardon first, lest this change appeared to be an arbitrary one.

I received much pleasure from fixing complicated pages like this, because with controversial subject matter you always get the impression that solving problems is essentially impossible. In this case, a page was put in much better condition than it was before because people were willing to trust that I knew enough about effective page writing that they could fix my errors better than those of the monstrosity they were currently faced with. I found that this simple element - trust - is an essential one for getting anything done in the wiki environment.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

History: Crowners (Part IV)

Some time after the Trope Renames forum had gotten used to the idea of crowners, the notions behind them were put up for debate. The crowners, you may recall, were never intended to be used to solve abstract arguments about page maintenance. The ability to tally up votes and thus determine an actual number of support behind certain proposals was helpful, but many flaws arose in the system due to its relatively simple design. Among other things, new crowners were created largely by modifying the web addresses of existing crowners to make a new page. Most new users, accustomed to creating new pages via Wiki Words, needed this aspect explained to them.

That wasn't the only issue. It was also incredibly difficult trying to explain to people that the validity of one crowner can be presupposed on the success of a separate crowner. Say there is a proposition to rename Jonas Quinn and also a list of titles to replace it with. We can say that the title will only be replaced if the proposition to rename the trope itself passes, but for whatever reason people were not able to understand this. The existence of "nay" votes may have impacted the matter, particularly since the highlighted crowner result was always the difference between "yea" and "nay" votes, with the individual tabulation listed separately.

These issues were solved by trisecting the crowners into specialized parts- first, the Single Proposition crowner. The only difference between this and the others tech-wise is that only one proposition is permitted on this crowner. Typically this would be something like "rename this trope". Positive votes indicate a majority wishes for rename, while negative votes indicate that a rename is not generally supported. Alternative Title crowners are intended to be used if consensus for a rename has already been established. These list multiple alternate names for the trope. Because the existence of this crowner assumes that a rename has been approved, options like "keep as is" were expressly forbidden. Page Action crowners were to be used regarding pretty much any other kind of page action- at this time the forum was still called Trope Renames, so these were not used quite so often.

When I try to think back on the rationales used for these changes I have some trouble figuring out what they were. One aspect of the crowner process that was strongly objected to was an option that just said "leave as is". It was deemed that such a choice was redundant, since voting nay on the proposition "rename this trope" pretty much meant the same thing. But the fact that people kept adding these options really said more about the way the system was perceived than anything else- people didn't understand their choices, so they would make one that said, quite unambiguously that major page action on this trope was not wanted.

From there it would seem the problems with crowners really had more to do with social issues than it did with technology. Even with a positive vote staring them right in the face, many people were simply unwilling to engage in any kind of action for fear of seeming belligerent and ignoring the opinion of a large part of the wiki. Additionally, we never could find much evidence that any of the people voting were actually paying any attention to the debate short of flat-out demanding to know who had voted within the confines of a forum thread. In an ideal world, people would vote on the crowners after consulting the forum thread and deciding what to do based on the existing argument. Oftentimes, in forum threads where there was no articulated there was still a strong "nay" vote. This, at times, seemed incredulous, particularly when the pages affected were mundane ones no one had heard of before.

As a result of all this, while the trisection clarified many of the confusing phrasings of the crowner, the fix did not do much to help explain to forum users why certain votes ended up the way they did. As a result, arguing over what the results meant and whether interpretation of them really warranted page action proved to be a lasting tradition of the Trope Renames forum, and that was the real legacy of the crowner explanation originally brought to the forum.

Even though using the crowners in this manner had originally been my idea, their mixed results in the Trope Renames process caused me to slowly distrust them as mere numbers which failed to establish the full weight of the situation. Ironically, I still pushed for more crowner use and created plenty of them throughout this time period. Flawed though the crowners were, they did better at explaining community sentiment than an empty forum thread. Barring extreme cases, I wasn't terribly certain whether my viewpoint was correct either unless I had those anonymous votes backing me up.