Saturday, April 30, 2011

History: Departure from the Forums

In the last discussion I participated in on improving issues regarding participation and validity in Trope Repair Shop discussions, I suggested that we might consider doing away with Trope Repair Shop altogether. I considered that since we knew people were unwilling to pay mind to the Trope Repair Shop notifications, it was possible that they would be more amenable to "this page has active discussion" tags and a list of the most recent discussion page posts. That sentiment seems prescient in retrospect, but at the time I was merely suggesting a radical solution in the hopes that someone would counter with a compromise. I had realized by this time that this was the easiest way to gather consensus, mainly because tropers felt less attacked by compromise. Someone who is compromising cannot, by simple logic, be attempting to unilaterally ruin the wiki. It's fitting, then, that a complete failure of this strategy on my part was what ultimately induced me to leave.

A trope exists by the name of Orcus On His Throne. I'd tell you what this trope is about, but I'm not sure myself. The metaphor is pretty simple. Orcus is a Dungeons and Dragons characters who's always sitting on his throne. What I saw as the implied meaning of this metaphor was "evil guy is super-powerful but never actually does anything". The description, however, was very confusing, as the last part of it detailed all sorts of important plot-related things that Orcus could be doing while not sitting on his throne, making the definition seem to be "evil guy is super-powerful but never gets around to just stomping on the much weaker heroes".

Anti-rename sentiment was much crystallized at this time, so I was doubtful that I could actually get a rename on this issue. My long-term plan was to let the discussion stew long enough that users would admit that they weren't sure what the trope was referring to. Then as a "compromise", I would offer to rewrite the trope's description so that it at least made sense with the implied metaphor. Orcus On His Throne is an esoteric name that really ought to be renamed, but I figured a coherent description was better than nothing at all.

The plan backfired, more because of the tone of my post than the actual strategy. I had gotten used to discussing page changes with a cut master in a semi-antagonistic manner. But it turned out that this individual saw my posts in a much more menacing light than I had intended. When I offered the compromise, something (I can't recall what, exactly) caused the cut master to fly off the handle, and basically start listing every single part of me that was despicable and abhorrent. I'm making it sound more noble than it really was- the cut master was acting like a petty child, and was quickly rebuked and thumped by another moderator.

When I think about this in the context of a forum, the moderator's reaction makes sense. The cut master was violating the basic forum rule of "don't be a jack ass". But that was the problem. Trope Repair Shop was not really a forum. It was supposed to serve as the impetus to useful action in helping the wiki. There weren't that many of us, and this cut master was one of the few users who I interacted with regularly. I could no longer tell for sure whether our disagreements were because the cut master legitimately disagreed with my interpretation or was only opposing my viewpoint out of some irrationally powerful hatred. But the moderator, in thumping all of the offending material completely and forbidding future discussion of the matter, had essentially stated that this incident had never happened and expected everyone to act accordingly.

This wasn't something I could accept. It wasn't that I was mad at the cut master- I was really more upset at the moderator. If negative opinions like this existed, regardless of who or what they were directed against, I felt we had to be able to air them openly instead of simply bottling them up indefinitely. The thumping did little to address the underlying problems that prompted the outburst- which may have been the point, since such a discussion could open up uncomfortable facts about the way various factions within Trope Repair Shop saw each other.

When I suggested replacing Trope Repair Shop with a tool that would allow users to view recent discussion page posts, an admin pointed me to the new edits section of the wiki where such capabilities already existed, admitting concern that a long-standing contributor such as myself was unaware of this tool. My experience with Orcus On His Throne made me realize that I could no longer be sure that any action arising from Trope Repair Shop was valid, even those derived from my own proposals. I announced in the Orcus On His Throne thread that for the time being I would leave the forums, to see if a less hostile work environment existed elsewhere on the wiki. This announcement, unsurprisingly, was also thumped.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

History: Notifications (Part I)

Even though the guiding principle behind headquartering major page action in the forums was that in doing so traffic to major page action discussions would increase, this increased traffic never materialized. In the first months of the trope rename forum this wasn't really seen as that big a deal, mainly because in between all the razzle dazzle of avatars and signatures and pinned threads, it certainly felt as if we were making a significant improvement. But as time went on it became more difficult to ignore the fact that while the names and faces changed, there never seemed to be any more than two dozen people actively posting in Trope Repair Shop at a time.

The lack of meaningful connection between Trope Repair Shop and the wiki proper always had a propensity for some awkwardness. Initially this difficulty was only really noted on the Trope Repair Shop end of things. Courtesy links (usually Wiki Words) to pages under discussion were often requested, as it was a bit of a pain to try and navigate to a page knowing only its name. This irritation only increased after the native TV Tropes search bar (which searches for exact titles) was fully replaced by a Google search bar after a hacker used a flaw in the TV Tropes search bar architecture to attack the wiki. As many of the pages under Trope Repair Shop discussion were poorly linked, it was often difficult to find them using a Google search.

By contrast, notifications are the first, and so far as I know, only serious effort ever made to try and guide traffic toward Trope Repair Shop. The way they work is pretty simple. The first-generation notifications were a special piece of wiki formatting. A person would take the html address of the forum topic under discussion, put it in the formatting, and then post it at the top of the page which was under discussion under the assumption that people would click on it to see the discussion.

This effort failed to garner any new traffic. Threads which had notifications on discussed pages seldom had much more discussion than pages without flags. These notifications did occasionally result in the revival of ancient threads where nothing was accomplished by users who belatedly saw the notification and decided to chime in, usually to no purpose. The notifications had a habit of lingering indefinitely because no one was really sure when a discussion "ended", and so no one was willing to delete a notification.

The main other attempt to draw in traffic came in the form of a a blue circle that would appear in the upper-right corner of TV Tropes saying "Hey, check out Trope Repair Shop!" with a small picture of Trope-Tan underneath the words. This effort similarly failed. In retrospect I realize that this was likely because most people had no idea what Trope Repair Shop was, or why they should have any interest in it relative to the parts of the wiki they already frequented. There were a lot of assumptions in this icon that forumites took for granted but which were not obvious to the rest of the wiki. Even though there was a great deal of deliberation over the title Trope Repair Shop in the forums, elsewhere no one was really sure what it meant. Trope-tan as well was well-known to some members of the wiki, but about as many had no idea who she was or why her picture was supposed to be appealing.

While it only takes me a few paragraphs to summarize all this, when we were actually discussing these matters it took long forum threads of painstaking discussion before we arrived at any action at all. This made the failure of these efforts all the sharper. However much we tried, no one wanted to come to Trope Repair Shop. The only way we could think of to salvage these losses was through a simple credo- anyone can join Trope Repair Shop, and since we go through so much work to try to get people here, it's their own fault if major page action happens that they don't like. Discussions are long, and usually have crowners, so you've only yourself to blame if something happens without your input.

If this attitude sounds rather jingoist, well, it kind of was. It must be understood that forumites were mostly just discussing these things with each other because that's all we had to discuss with. Indeed, even though I was active in YKTTW and regularly launched new tropes, I never tried to get people there to join Trope Repair Shop, and it would not have occurred to me to try given how renames were excised from YKTTW to begin with. As a result, I accepted this attitude as well, though with a bit of resignation as I certainly would have liked to get more people involved in Trope Repair Shop, if only such a thing were possible.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Faction: The Anime Fandom

As TV Tropes became more popular, it gained a reputation for catering to the whims of the anime fandom. This became an increasing point of consternation in site policy discussions. Not because we had any particularly strong feelings on anime one way or the other, but that the site was supposed to be inclusive toward all fans of all kinds of shows- anime for whatever reason is a divisive topic, and some people dismissed TV Tropes out of hand because of this perceived bias.

For my part, I had difficulty feeling anything but annoyance for these anti-weeaboo sentiments. Mainly this was just because they weren't very helpful. There was once a dispute over the fact that examples from anime come first in most example listings. As you may have guessed, this is because example ordering is traditionally done alphabetically. Attempts at "compromise" in this regard ended up looking silly. It's difficult to think of any reason to create the classification "Manga / Anime" (as opposed to Anime / Manga) except to deliberately cater to this issue. As casual tropers had little awareness, let alone interest in this topic, that solution quickly failed. I did make a point after that to not alphabetize the example categories of any YKTTW proposal that I launched- not so much because anime was at the top but because anything being at the top all the time was sort of boring.

The more public and salient issues on this topic were titles and page pictures. Anime-inspired titles, were often proposed for renames, and so as renames became controversial, so did these titles. Tsundere, Dojikko, and Nakama are some of the wiki's most well-known mainstays. They had been challenged, unsuccessfully, for about as long as I can remember. And even though these names are complete gibberish to people who don't understand Japanese, members of the anime fandom have lobbied and defended these terms just about every time. Granted, on plenty of occasions these efforts have failed- but those renames, save for exceptionally outrageous cases like The Daisuke, were quickly forgotten.

Page images actually ended up being the impetus for reassessment. Anime images had been singled out as a culprit in developing impressions of the wiki. The assertion was that images of anime characters were more likely to be misused than images of non-Japanese origin. And here, for the first time, we tried to quantify the problem with mathematics. The wiki has a random page option that allows for the viewing of random pages. So someone just went through a few dozen pages with images on them, wrote down how many came from each medium, and roughly listed whether they were good or bad images (as in, did they make sense without context). The results of this survey indicated that while about a third of the wiki's images were from anime (far more than from any other individual medium), they were misused at about the same rate as non-anime images, possibly a little less.

The best consensus we could come up with at the time was to just do a better job checking the Image Pickin' forum and trying to weed out poor page images- get rid of anime images if you like, but pages images on the wiki were a problem writ large. It wasn't something that could just be blamed on the anime fandom.

Over time I came to realize that this was the main problem to be had dealing with fandom groups on the wiki. It's not really possible. Fandoms are just too diverse. When someone posts an image of a character from Code Geass, they aren't in cahoots with some other troper a few pages down putting up a panel of dialogue from Ninja Nonsense. The fandom for these shows may intersect - I really have no idea - but the basic motivation behind the putting up of either image is really just "I like this show. I think it would make a good caption." It has nothing to do with a larger group mentality except to the extent that fans of anime and manga tend to have more images of whatever laying around because they download their hobby from the Internet more often compared to other fandoms. They're hobbyists who are ignorant as to what makes for an effective title or page- the actual hobby is really quite irrelevant.

In other words, wiki problems had to be solved holistically. We couldn't solve the image issue, or for that matter any issue, by singling out a fandom. Ironically, this way of looking at the problem did result in the creation of one clear villain- the anti-weeaboo faction that battled this crusade. While the anime fandom at least made a genuine (albeit misguided) effort to improve pages, the anti-weeaboos were primarily concerned with hating anime- even though it had been proven (with mathematics, no less) that hating on the anime fandom wasn't going to accomplish anything. This made them the first faction to be singled out for complaining. And thanks to the isolation of the wiki maintenance forums from the wiki proper, it was some time before this development was fully realized.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

History: Cut Master Elections

The first Cut Master election took place before I joined the wiki. This event was so obscure that by the time of the second Cut Master election, only those who had actually participated in the original election had any idea it had taken place at all. The technical results from that election were lost in the Great Crash, but this wasn't a particularly big deal since the winners of that election had already been made into Cut Masters.

This event only became relevant because of a new problem the wiki was having. The pace of the Cut List had slowed to a crawl, and its backlog was in the hundreds. Why this happened was unclear at the time, though in retrospect it seems likely that Janitor dealt with the brunt of the Cut List work, and with her gradual departure there was more material than the three remaining individuals with Cut Master powers could deal with. An extended thread in Wiki Talk decried this state of affairs, and as time went on and the problem still lay unresolved a new round of elections was proposed. After all involved were finished expressing surprise over the fact that Cut Master elections existed in the first place, a new election table was set up and a two week timetable declared during which votes would be tallied.

I had no idea what was going on at the time. The thread explaining Cut Master elections was in the Pinned sub-forum. As I had first joined the forums before the Pinned sub-forum even existed, I hadn't even noticed it was there, let alone clicked on it. Additionally, the original Wiki Talk discussion had a very misleading title that didn't actually mention the Cut List. I didn't start searching for information on any of this until a few days before the election, when some random troper sent me a random message asking for my support in Cut Master elections. Neither I nor anyone else had any idea who this person was, but if not for this individual I likely would not have realized elections took place even after they happened.

In spite of this ignorance, I managed to place third in the election tally. I should note that this isn't anywhere near as impressive as it sounds. Of the three individuals with more than two votes, I had eight, compared to eleven from a popular regular forumite (who actually stated outright that I would probably be better suited for the position), and twenty-three from an individual who was active in Trope Repair Shop, and also involved in the thread where elections were originally declared. This person actively campaigned for votes with which to be awarded the position. While wiki culture generally frowns on such naked ambition, this was actually a good performance indicator. After elections the Cut List was quickly brought under control. Later events indicated to me that the health of the Cut List depends in large part on continued maintenance by this troper.

One relevant issue regarding these elections is the scale. Certainly, the low number of votes at the time seemed strange to me. Everyone was allowed to cast two votes (as the top two ranked individuals would gain Cut Master status), indicating that little more than thirty people had actually voted. The position of Cut Master is an important one that affected nearly everyone on the wiki- the broader community contains far, far more than thirty people. Even the forum alone, where most of the voters probably came from, has about ten times that many individuals post in any given day.

Another issue was the matter of widespread ignorance. It bears repeating- I, the troper who was three votes away from gaining a position myself, had no idea this election existed until it was nearly over. And I operated in the forums to begin with. Tropers in the wiki proper, YKTTW, in the sub-pages, likely many of the ones who actually made submissions to the Cut List to begin with, were all being impacted by an election which they weren't even aware of. I placed a link to the election thread in my forum signature when I became aware of it, but even then there wasn't much increase in the way of votes.

These all seemed troubling portents to me, particularly given the multiple failed efforts to try and get more individuals involved in Trope Repair Shop- administrative apathy seemed to rule the day. Unsettling though all this was, ultimately I ended up putting it out of my mind. The main issue that prompted elections in the first place (the backlogged Cut List) was solved, and it didn't much matter to me how this happened since regardless of the election's flaws, the right person did get the job and promptly used the Cut Master powers to do good. It wasn't until later that I realized how terribly flawed this simplistic interpretation of events was.

Monday, April 18, 2011

History: Cue Cullen

Peter Cullen was the voice actor of Optimus Prime in the original Transformers cartoon. When the franchise was rebooted into a live-action movie series some years ago by Michael Bay, the fanbase was uncertain how faithful the adaptation would be. Their concerns were assuaged by the hiring of Peter Cullen as the voice actor for the CGI that was Optimus Prime. For this reason, a member of the Transformers fanbase faction of TV Tropes proposed a trope called Cue Cullen to describe the phenomenon of a single, incredibly popular move that energizes a previously mistrusting fanbase.

If the proper nouns in the above paragraph mystified you, you are not alone. The Transformers fanbase takes a pride in their franchise that seems to defy all logic given that it was quite explicitly created to sell toys. This title had no meaning to those outside of the Transformers fanbase. Even though this had been sufficient grounds for plenty of renames in the past, this title was fiercely defended by anti-rename elements of Trope Repair Shop. The deciding factor in the end turned out to be something unrelated to Transformer at all. This rename action happened at around the same time that Twilight had come into vogue. As a result, instead of "Cullen" just being a random name, out of context it increasingly seemed to be referencing the Cullens of Twilight fame- a mistake all the easier to make since both Cullens cause some form of joyful ejaculation.

There actually wasn't much about this debate that was unusual- anyone who's read my postings up until now pretty much has the basic idea of why most renames are enacted. It's generally just a combination of the various logic I've detailed so far. The more relevant question I haven't dealt with much is how renames are enacted. In this particular case, while I agreed that Cue Cullen should be renamed (in the rename crowner), I disagreed as to the title it should be renamed to (the highest-ranked in the alt-titles crowner), believing it to be just as flawed as the title it was replacing. This left me in the odd position of opposing the specific rename title while supporting the rename abstractly. At one point in the latter part of the debate a moderator rebuked me (not officially) for stonewalling, and insisted I enact the voted upon page change as it had met the generally accepted threshold for consensus. To this I retorted that the moderator should just do this change personally- that I was under no obligation to rename tropes to a name I deemed unsatisfactory.

And this is what I mean by "how". By this time in Trope Repair Shop I had gained a reputation, for better or worse, of being someone who would actually enact page changes. While many, many proposals are put forth in Trope Repair Shop, comparatively few are acted on. This is mainly because discussing a rename is a lot less work than actually enacting it. My cultural history in TV Tropes was much different than the other users of Trope Repair Shop as, by this point, I was the only troper remaining who had been present since the YKTTW stage of renames. YKTTW proposals, be they renames or just tropes, are supposed to be either "launched" or "discarded". I would not let any proposal alone unless I could be certain whether or not it had support for passage. I would not leave proposals in limbo- and this part of my identity was so ingrained to those who knew me that even moderators just assumed I would resolve contentious issues which I was attached to.

It's necessary to explain this because given the subject matter I write about and the relatively fast time scale, a person could easily get the wrong idea as to how trope repair protocols work. For the most part, Trope Repair Shop discussions don't actually go anywhere unless I or some other troper with a similar mindset (basically, "discussion is meaningless without action") determines to see the proposal through for good or ill. When I write about "repeatedly challenged titles", this usually isn't because of some concerted effort against the title in question but rather that some new, unrelated person to the previous discussion wants an explanation for why this bad title exists.

For me, psychologically, it's also much easier to remember events that actually happened than ones where nothing was accomplished. I kept a mental record of page action successes because I wanted to duplicate that success. Failures, while relevant, seem meaningless in the context of history because, without action, it's difficult to tell what, if anything, was clearly decided. The rename of Non Mammal Mammaries was a project I spearheaded which failed, but there's not much I can write about that discussion except "I think inaccurate titles with incestuous adjectives are stupid but other think they're clever". To be entirely clear, even for high-functioning individuals such as myself the action to proposal ratio wasn't much better than fifty percent- and for the sake of general sanity I only involved myself with a fraction of the proposals made in Trope Repair Shop writ large.

In any event, once I explained this fact to the moderator, the page was changed and given the title of And The Fandom Rejoiced. Strangely, I can't remember why, specifically, I opposed this title- it seems all right to me now. It's possible that at the time I stonewalled a different title was leading the crowner, maybe something with an awkward tense form or a title dealing specifically with casting as opposed to sudden fandom joy in general. But it's just as likely that I was opposing And The Fandom Rejoiced, and that this opposition was misguided. Indeed, while "fifty percent" may not sound like that high a ratio, I consider it optimal for the Trope Repair Shop / Image Pickin' environment. Realistically speaking, it's unlikely that my opinion is always going to be the correct one. If that were the case there wouldn't be any need for Trope Repair Shop at all.

Friday, April 15, 2011

History: Image Pickin'

The Image Pickin' forum started out as an idea in Trope Talk. I don't recall what exactly the motivation was for the first post, but I'm sure it was something along the lines of "some of the page images on the wiki are really crummy. Should we do something about it?" From there a long-running thread emerged. This thread consisted of several hundred posts about tropers just discussing page images and their possible replacements. Those who remembered it was there would simply make a new post and request input on action, and through this, the thread lasted many months.

A lot of good work came out of that thread. Pages with poor images brought up in the thread only had about a fifty-fifty chance of actually getting changed, but this was a pretty good ratio, especially compared to Trope Repair Shop. The thread started before the Trope Renames forum was merged into Trope Repair Shop. This, coupled with the wide perception of page images as not being a serious enough issue to mandate documented consensus, was what led to the establishment of Image Pickin' as a forum in its own right. I don't know who made the request or if any request as made at all, but one day the thread was locked and a new forum appeared. I don't recall whether it was called Image Pickin' initially, but that's the only name I can remember, and it's a good one, too.

I had come to see the image selection thread as being a bit of a respite for the sometimes exhausting work I did in Trope Repair Shop, as the topic of interest was gleefully subjective and comparably low-stakes. For this reason the instructional stickied thread I prepared for Image Pickin' was quite different from the detailed argumentative explanation that was When To Rename A Trope. I pretty much just explained how the crowners worked, and what makes for a good page image- basically, the image has to demonstrate the trope in action. People may disagree on what constitutes an image of a trope in action, but these disputes were the issues this forum was intended to address.

Now, this was all just my general opinion. Others did make an effort to demonstrate clearer image standards, most notably with Just A Face And A Caption, which laid out how an image was a failure if it just consisted of a character (usually from Anime) looking at the viewer with a nondescript expression and a caption underneath the picture explaining their thoughts. The general operating principle was that a picture that requires a caption to make any sense fails as a picture- there has to be some useful visual context or else it made more sense to use the phrase as a page quote instead. I had nothing to do with this guideline, and only found out about it when Just A Face And A Caption page itself became the subject of an Image Pickin' topic, as to what face was truly the most generic and useless without context (they settled on Haruhi Suzumiya, a character with a large fandom and a strong personality that is not at all apparent from the subdued picture). It's a good guideline, although there were always lingering difficulties explaining it to some people- one problem was that some interpreted it to literally only apply to faces, when it was quite a bit broader than that.

Image Pickin' was one of my favorite parts of the wiki, largely because even though there were plenty of reasons for it to get derailed into the Serious Business that was damaging Trope Repair Shop, it never happened. People were much more certain in their opinions that an image was bad, and even those who liked the substandard images would admit that an improvement was possible. The environment was so laid back I don't know if Image Pickin has ever even had a controversial debate. On one occasion I asked for help with a replacement image for Fat Bastard, a trope which I had created and is pretty much what it sounds like. When another troper provided me with a picture of the actual character Fat Bastard I replaced it immediately just to see if anyone would object. No one did, and the topic was closed.

Another lingering issue that helped this perception along was the fact that page images had always been added and maintained by regular users. Creating any sort of bureaucracy behind it seemed silly when casual tropers would often change images of their own volition. In one memorable instance a poor page image was changed while it was being discussed in Image Pickin' by a random troper who had no idea said discussion was going on at all. The new image was an improvement, so no one really pressed the issue.

When all of these factors are taken together, Image Pickin' was, at least the last time I saw it, the one part of the wiki that had a positive influence on page maintenance while still maintaining the cool, breezy atmosphere that people expected and enjoyed in the regular part of the wiki. Because of its progress, I made a mental note that asking people to be nice to each other on the wiki could actually work pretty well. At least if you're doing it right.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

History: Informed Attribute

The "informed" series of tropes refer to personality quirks that are frequently alluded to by other characters, but for which the viewer sees no actual evidence. In terms of the wiki's development, the epicenter for this series of trope is Informed Ability, the oldest and largest page of the series. One page in this series that caught my attention was Informed Attribute- this trope refers specifically to the tendency of some characters treating someone as being horrifically disfigured when to the audience the individual looks no different from anyone else in the story.

The problematic issue with this trope is that "attribute" is actually a fairly broad word, sounding as if it could encompass just about anything. Indeed, critics outside of TV Tropes often used the term Informed Attribute to refer to the term known on TV Tropes as Informed Ability. I realized this when I found myself one day making a Wiki Word for Informed Attribute when I had meant Informed Ability. After some brief research, I discovered that I was not the only one who thought these terms meant the same thing- this was most obviously true outside of the wiki but within it as well. At the time I proposed page action on this topic, the page quote for Informed Ability came from an Agony Booth article which very clearly demonstrated how one character's rogueish nature was an Informed Ability, but specifically described the phenomenon as being an Informed Attribute in-quote.

To me the course for action seemed pretty clear. Informed Attribute ought to be renamed to something else, and the Informed Attribute Wiki Word itself could redirect to Informed Ability, which was how it was being used most of the time anyway. In spite of the popularity of the informed tropes series, my proposal garnered little interest. No one was disputing the proposed page action. The crowner I posted had accrued negative votes, but these were meaningless without a written opposition, which did not materialize even after I declared I would enact these changes in three days barring further opposition. I renamed Informed Attribute to Informed Deformity and redirected Informed Attribute to Informed Ability.

To this action there was swift, generic outrage and my changes were reverted. I'm not being facetious. I described the situation then pretty much the exact same way I described it just now. I did not then, and I can not now, think of any legitimate reason to oppose these page actions. The outrage seemed to be over the fact that I had made any changes at all more than there being any actual substantive reason to oppose the actions.

These initial impressions were confirmed when I asked said individuals (it may have only actually been one), exactly what it was about these actions they opposed. It soon became clear that the only part of my proposal that had been paid any mind was the "rename something" aspect. The easily discerned facts about the way the term Informed Attribute is actually used had gone unnoticed. Once I iterated these points, it was sheepishly admitted that yes, actions along the lines I had proposed may be justified, but that regardless of this fact, I ought not to have acted without more input. A moderator even went so far as to back up this point.

Here was the earliest example I could recall of a very ugly precedent that began to proliferate Trope Repair Shop and was in wide use when I was banned. It matters not what you want to do when dealing with quality issues on the wiki, but how you do it. If a person wishes to enact a major page action, they must prove a wide degree of support. The practical problem with this was that Trope Repair Shop threads rarely go beyond more than twenty posts- the Informed Attribute thread itself barely had more than a dozen. Now, admittedly, crowners could gauge simple votes absent actual posts- I'd gotten in the habit of posting crowners in the first post of all my threads just to move things more quickly. The negative crowner votes for my proposal mystified me, but when I couldn't produce anyone to explain why they voted against the proposal, I didn't see the point in delaying action on an issue with immediate, measurable confusion issues.

The burden was shifted. Prior, those opposing renames had to offer explanations. Now, those proposing renames had to wait for those opposing renames to offer explanations whether this wait took days or months. Another regular who posted in Trope Repair Shop had once mentioned waiting until proposals with ambiguous consensus had been forgotten before enacting changes so as to minimize complaints. That seemed a dubious practice, but this affair had been fraught with such chicanery that I didn't see how it deserved a respectable resolution. In any event, this individual (who would later become a moderator) was right- these second changes passed without complaint, and the details of the proposal were soon forgotten.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Infrastructure: Thump

Once it was acknowledged that the wiki's forums required moderation, inevitably, a tool had to be created short of banning to censure people. This tool is the thump. The name is another one of those metaphor things- when they first started out the line was something like "this post has been thumped by the stick of off-topic thumping". So, a moderator would take out a stick, and thump the offending post away.

When thumping first appeared the main reaction people had was what exactly a "thump" was. The infrastructure arrived rather unceremoniously and without explanation- at least anywhere that most forumites would see it. Once the thump was explained, everyone pretty much went on their merry way. The reasoning made sense enough- pretty much every forum has some means of penalizing its users for engaging in untoward behavior.

The main unique aspect of the thump is how it goes about its task. When a post is thumped, every trace of the original text that provoked the thump is similarly excised. Most forums, to the best of my knowledge, don't go this far unless an individual has engaged in behavior so outrageous that simply allowing anyone to read this person's writing would accomplish her purpose- she's only writing inflammatory material in the first place in the hopes that someone will read and preferably overreact to it.

The first usages of thumping were not for these extreme scenarios. Some of these posts certainly crossed some line (otherwise they would not have been thumped), but without the original context the nature of the offense is a mystery. These conversations didn't have any apparent escalation. Someone would be making an innocuous comment and then the next post would be a thump. The confusion would be confounded when strings of thumps appeared- evidently there was an entire conversation about something, who knows what, that was deserving of serious infraction.

The strange thing about all this light-heartedness is mainly how we could all be so blase about it in retrospect. When the thumps first started out, they were generally at least predictable. I recall a minor conversation derail when I asked another troper why she was concerned about the sexiness of her socks when she was already married- I was fishing for a humorous rejoinder. Once she posted her bit of comedy a moderator appeared, and rather than actually thumping these posts, simply made a post in parentheses about the strong temptation to thump this obviously off-topic derail. This was about as tongue-in-cheek as the derail itself, though we knew the moderator meant it.

Thumping bears a great deal of similarity psychologically with purges. While there are perfectly valid reasons for the tool to exist, for it to exist in this form belies an essential assumption- that there is simply some content which people do not need to be able to see. How this determination is made is a subjective one determined by the moderators. Indeed, from the very beginning, it was obvious to those who had observed thumps that the text could be modified in such a manner as to explicitly state whatever behavior it was that had resulted in the thump- but I recall few instances where this editorial discretion was exercised.

However, like most posters who observed the first thumpings, I was generally unconcerned. The practice, did, admittedly, seem a little strange to me since there was no obvious way for a person to tell what exactly they had done to warrant a thumping. At the same time, it wasn't an especially awful thing for a person to be thumped. Most people guessed from the context of the initial thumps that they were just infractions for off-topic conversations, and these could be easily avoided. If anyone really wanted to discuss the thumped material they could start another topic. But most significantly for me, the thump was seldom exercised in Trope Repair Shop, which was the only forum that I was really worried about being censored anyway. Trope Repair Shop topics were too single-minded to have much off-topic conversation- however, the more salient point that I came to realize was that Trope Repair Shop topics lacked the urgency for thumping to even be necessary in the first place.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

History: Too Spicy For Yog Sothoth

In many works of fiction, there are evil characters. Due to their evil nature, evil characters have this habit of kidnapping, holding hostage, or trying to kill apparently innocent individuals. Sometimes there's a reason for this, but much of the time they're just being generically evil. Too Spicy For Yog Sothoth described a situation where the apparent victim of these malevolent individuals is so unpleasant that the evil character in question does not want to perform acts of evil on them for fear of hurting himself.

The title is a character-referenced metaphor. Yog Sothoth is a god in the Cthulu mythos. The idea is that Yog Sothoth will try to devour a character, but finds the taste so unpleasant that the entity simply spits the character out and leaves. The title actually does not come from anything written by Lovecraft, but is a paraphrased combination of quotes from at least one other work of media, possibly more. I don't recall how the title was originally devised save for its general convolution.

That this title would be challenged for a rename was rather inevitable, given the work I had to do just now explaining it. The arguments concerning this trope ran a wide gamut- some argued that the metaphor made sense even if a person didn't know who Yog Sothoth was. Others said that Cthulu's name appears in several tropes, so it makes sense to have a trope named after Yog Sothoth. And as always, there was the concern that this was a very flavorful, fun name, and that by getting rid of it, joy and happiness would be sucked out of the site in much the same way Cthulu would do if he happened to be in the neighborhood. These arguments cycled over and over again through multiple iterations of the debate. The only relevant event that happened during any of these arguments was that at one point the title was replaced with Pity The Kidnapper. Due to massive outcry from supporters of Too Spicy For Yog Sothoth, this was eventually reversed and Pity The Kidnapper was made a redirect instead.

A proposal to rename was Too Spicy For Yog Sothoth was brought once again some time after the Trope Rename forum had become Trope Repair Shop. Because of my role in Trope Repair Shop's creation, I was now psychologically thinking in terms of broad solutions. Knowing that I could now propose merges or splits in Trope Repair Shop threads, that is exactly what I did. I suggested that all the examples about extra-dimensional beings refusing to devour tasteless characters could be part of Too Spicy For Yog Sothoth. As for the examples about standard-variety kidnappers being thrust into a pitiable situation by an obnoxious hostage, those could go in a new trope, Pity The Kidnapper.

This idea was a very popular one, and quickly gathered enough support for me to enact a split. In retrospect, the solution was stupidly obvious. I had to struggle a bit earlier in this posting, trying to remember how exactly Too Spicy For Yog Sothoth was defined before this page action. I split the page myself, and roughly half fit cleanly into one category, and the other half into the other. These were very different tropes, used for very different effect in very different works of fiction. In one the malevolent character is usually supernatural and merely picky about what is worth terrorizing, while in the other he is continually harassed by his "victim" until the reader just feels sorry for him. I suspect the problem was that the famous story Ransom of Red Chief was originally claimed as being the pre-eminent, classical example of the trope, and it just never occurred to anyone to question how a story about a bratty kid terrorizing his kidnappers was comparable to Yog Sothoth finding his latest sentient meal to be unappetizing. We all just accepted that they were the same thing, and so examples were lumped.

At the time, this page action seemed to vindicate the creation of Trope Repair Shop. We had finally ended the debate over the title Too Spicy For Yog Sothoth and no one was even mad about it- anger had been commonplace in the resolution of all such contentious titles in the past. At the very least, I saw this page action as being a sign that we were moving in the right direction as regards repair protocols. Splitting tropes was far less controversial than renaming them- at heart, I was still that troper who wanted to avoid offending people if I could, and this was a great compromise.

Too Spicy For Yog Sothoth is a good example of how one intelligent, inventive idea can change the tenor of a bitter debate. I made sure to keep an eye out for original thinking from then on out, finding that creative solutions to trope issues are often the ones that work best as they tend to take in mind all of a page's content and appeal. Names, I saw, were only one part of that. Unfortunately, creative solutions are difficult to come up with, and while the solution for Too Spicy For Yog Sothoth was effective, it was helpful mainly in this specific situation and couldn't be applied to other pages.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

History: Trope Repair Shop

The main initial issue with Trope Repair Shop was over what we should call it. Though there were multiple titles and nearly all of them were given a brief trial period as the "real" title while we tried to figure out what fit, I can only remember two. "Trope Fixin'" was rejected as a title because some thought it implied that any trope that appeared in its annals was somehow broken- many objections to other titles were over the same implication. Another titles was very long- something along the lines of "Discussion Place where we decide whether Tropes do or do not need to be acted upon". That's probably not even close to what the title actually was, but the name wasn't important so much as it was supposed to be an example of a perfectly described name. Which everyone naturally hated because it was really, really long.

In truth there's really not much to discuss about Trope Repair Shop's beginnings. The founding principle was simply the request I made in regards to The Dark Knight Trilogy- make a forum where multiple solutions can be considered. Aside from the implications that the final title had on Trope Repair Shop's authority, no one saw much purpose in trying to define what exactly Trope Repair Shop's authority was in the first place.

What's more relevant is the subtle changes made to the wiki that had made the idea of Trope Repair Shop being headquartered in the forums more palatable. One of these is metaphorical- when I first began making edits to the wiki, Janitor was the main admin who handled wiki moderation. Janitor primarily frequented the discussion pages, and as authority shifted away from discussion pages to the forums, her role became less visible. I can't remember ever actually seeing her after Trope Repair Shop was created, though her opinions were occasionally mentioned by Fast Eddie, the remaining admin who was more frequently seen in the forums.

Trope Repair Shop's creation also happened in the midst of the broader forum's development as a community where people came, not necessarily to discuss tropes, but merely whatever was on their mind. This led to the promotion of the wiki's first forum-centered moderator. Previously there had been admins, who held power over all the wiki, and Cut Masters, who held power over the Cut List. The new moderator held sway only over the forums. This may not sound so fantastic, but bear in mind that until this point all tropers were considered equal, and capable of moderating each other's behavior. The increasing size of the wiki had forced this belief to yield way to the practicalities of dealing with typical forum drama.

Over the several months after arrival at the forums and before Trope Repair Shop's final name, there had already been much turnover in forum regulars. In between the expansion of the forums and the wiki's greater traffic, many users simply grew tired of the debates held over trope renames, and moved on to other, more interesting parts of the wiki. This fact didn't seem important to me at the time, as I was willing to discuss renames with anyone, but has become important in the broader terms of the wiki's history as I became part of an ever dwindling group who knew the full history of the procedures.

Also over this time, the backlash against renames had grown, and was stronger then than it ever had been before. As one of the reasons for moving rename discussions into the forums had been that the process would be more transparent, and thus people would not have so much cause to get angry, this was becoming an increasing cause of concern.

Overall, though, the main important change had nothing to do with the content matter. The site was just becoming more popular. More factions were created, and existing factions splintered into smaller fragments to deal with more specific wiki issues. Trope Repair Shop, as its name came to be hated, was unaware of all this. For that matter, so was I.