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.

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