Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Terminology: Notability

When I left Trope Repair Shop, I had to put out of my mind any preconceptions I had about the way TV Tropes worked based on the opinions of that forum community. This meant having to mentally reconstruct the wiki's foundations from the ground up. The first and most important abstract concept I thought of in these terms was notability. One of TV Tropes' central defining axims is There Is No Such Thing As Notability. This means that any example can be added to any page so long as it is an example of the trope described. It sounds simple enough abstractly, but such broad terminology often resulted in conflict. After all, what grounds were there to remove any example since every example has an inherent right of notability?

I received the answer to this question in my first attempted major page action- that of Notable Webcomics. Notable Webcomics at this time was simply a large page consisting of every possible webcomic that anyone who happened by thought was notable. As I'd had no experience with major page action, I thought this whole page was suspect. It seemed to me the height of silliness to have a whole page dedicated to webcomics that some people somewhere happened to like. I wished to get rid of a fair amount of them, as this page was so preposterously long that no sensible person could finish it in one sitting, let alone retain knowledge of its multitude of information.

A moderator explained to me the basics of notability. Unless someone was so unabashed as to promote their own webcomic on the Notable Webcomics page, there wasn't really any problem with any of the individual examples. However, simply because an example has a place on a page does not mean that the page must stay in its current form. Because most of the examples were written by random individuals from across the Internet, the writing overall was not very good. Additionally, as the page was very long to read, it would make sense to split it into multiple sections thus making the whole thing more readable.

The above was just my takeaway. I doubt the moderator worded it exactly like that, but this was my interpretation. So, determined and with a clear sense of direction, I got to work on the page. I defined multiple sub-categories of webcomics (Slice of Life, Fantasy, Gaming, etc.), and got to work separating each individual example into one of those many groups. Since I was reading every example out of habit anyway, I also edited them. Overly long examples I made shorter. Unclear examples which I could improve I improved. Examples which were overly generic and not particularly informative I simply deleted. I was unsure as to whether I was doing the whole editing thing correctly, but decided if I messed up someone else could fix my mistakes.

A day or so after I finished up all the work I received some evaluation. The moderator congratulated me on doing a very good job fixing the page. For my efforts I was awarded with a Made Of Win nomination. Anyone can be nominated for a Made Of Win for almost any reason by anyone, provided it's for something well-done. The fact that I had been nominated by a moderator wasn't so important to me as the fact that I had been nominated by someone- indeed, it was only later that I discovered that the individual in question was a moderator at all. I just figured this was a more experienced troper trying to be helpful. It made me feel good about the work I did and made me feel closer to the community, nebulously as I understood it at the time.

The appeal I saw in this experience was how it defined notability for me. It is important, but not unbending. The true priority of the wiki lay not in the recitation of rules, but in the creation and maintenance of pages in such a way that people want to read them, and can read them in such a way so as to learn something. The principle of notability was used, not because any example had a "right" to be there, but because understanding tropes requires a broad detailing of their use in media from all possible genres. Examples are to be judged by the value of their content- not the source of it.

There was also another element of appeal. If not for that moderator being helpful to me, I would not have been motivated to get more involved with wiki maintenance. With this understanding, I adopted a simple credo to work through the discussion pages. If anyone has a question about anything relating to a page, I ought to answer it as nicely and as helpfully as I can. It made me want to get involved, so it stood to reason that it might encourage others as well. Besides, the notification efforts had already failed- it wasn't like I could do much worse.

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