Friday, May 6, 2011

Culture: The Discussion Pages

The discussion pages are a very conservative place. Even though the forums had changed radically in between the creation of the Trope Rename forum and my departure, I could detect no significant difference in the culture between when I shifted toward YKTTW in mid-2008 and when I left the forums altogether in April of 2010. This was not a good thing. When I first left the discussion pages it was mainly because there wasn't all that much to do there. Discussion page posts are often random comments made in the dark with only the vague hope that someone might come along and clarify an unclear point.

Oddly, even though the appearance of a "someone" was a rare occurrence, we actually had a word for such people- mentors. An admin at one point explicitly outlined mentoring as an extremely valuable role to take on the wiki in that it instructs inexperienced users as to the nuances of wiki protocol. This position was made all the more valuable by the wiki's determination to not write down anything that could be considered a "rule". Given everything that I had done in crafting wiki policy and enforcing rename action, I figured that I qualified as a mentor by this point.

This was a bit of an odd state of affairs considering that I also doubted my judgment entirely because of the difficulties being experienced by Trope Repair Shop. For this reason I decided not to take initiative in any page actions. Now that I knew a tool existed that would track recent discussion page activity, I simply looked at the tool and reacted to whatever issues other people raised. My reasoning was that even if my rationales were dubious, discussion page tropers did not go to the forums so whatever issues they raised were probably born out of concern for content, not procedure. With this my main task became resolving and acting upon these comments in the dark.

One common posting was the declarative statement to the effect that an example be added to the page, removed from the page, or that the description or some other such object be modified to be brought in line with certain facts. These I decided to leave alone, not because they were bad suggestions, but because the entire point of having a wiki is that you can edit it without permission. I ended up creating a new Wiki Word, You Could Always Edit It Yourself, with a description amounting to "the whole point of the wiki is that you can edit the page yourself. Stop asking for permission and just do it". This wasn't a wholly original idea- YKTTW for some time had the Wiki Word Just Launch It Already which was attached to YKTTW proposals where an individual was equivocating on launching a new trope instead of, well, just launching it already. The idea was mainly to save time, since it was easier to Wiki Word a general message than it was to come up with different explanations for each situation.

The strangest thing about all of this was that renames, the controversial lifeblood of the wiki I had known for the last couple of years, were seldom if ever mentioned or lobbied for in the discussion pages. When tropers wanted significant page changes, they were usually complaining about a vagary in the description. They often didn't really care what the resolution was or who enacted it. They just saw a page that was in some manner poorly written or difficult to read and wanted to read a well-written, easy to read one instead. This was especially obvious when I started out in the discussion pages. Even though no one had any idea who I was, I was commonly thanked for helping to deal with various issues and explaining my reasoning in a discussion reply, encouraging anyone who wanted to to modify my changes if they were somehow deficient.

Even though my discussion page work wasn't as spectacular and obvious as what I did when I was primarily pushing renames and major page action, I felt like I got a lot more done. Even minor issues could sometimes be time-consuming- oftentimes when someone asked a question about "what does such-and-such trope mean in this context?" I had to think it over and review the page before I could come to a satisfactory answer and make a rewrite. But even extreme cases were greatly dwarfed by the mental energy required in Trope Repair Shop, where discussions were abstract, theoretical, and seldom went anywhere. For this reason my work in the discussion pages is also more difficult to remember, even though I would often make several significant page edits of various degree in a single discussion ticker trawl whereas Trope Repair Shop visits had a much lower rate of tangible action.

It was also fairly early on that I started getting my first taste of how different the discussion pages were from the forums. You Could Always Edit It Yourself was merged with a very old administrative page, Repair Dont Respond a week or so after I first created it. This action annoyed me, since Repair Dont Respond concerned Natter in the main page whereas You Could Always Edit It Yourself was a direct statement I made to specific tropers. It didn't really bother me that much, though, since I came to learn that casual tropers commonly linked certain Wiki Words without ever actually reading the page they were linking to.

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