Thursday, June 9, 2011

History: The Situation

In late October of last year, the wiki was brought to a brief crisis point. Google had withdrawn their ads from the site. Various TV Tropes funding sources were such that, without the Google ads, there was only about enough money at any given time to cover one more month's worth of expenses. The voiceless, unexplained reason behind why Google removed the ads was because the content was not "safe"- that it was in some way explicit.

Naturally, the prospect of TV Tropes disappearing after a month panicked nearly everyone. I mainly expressed annoyance at the hotlinked Google search bar that was in place of the official Google search bar, which had been revoked with the ads. This was briefly replaced with a Bing search bar, which was hated so much that the hotlinked Google search bar was put back up, then the official one when Google restored its ads. I didn't like the Google search bar to begin with and didn't see why TV Tropes was relying on an extra-wiki source for any significant part of operations instead of just using our own internal search bar.

As far as the "explicit content" thing goes, I'm afraid I was quite completely ignorant. While I tried to make myself into a person who could understand as much of the wiki's various factions as possible, the reality is there was plenty of the wiki I ignored simply because I had no idea what to do with them. Troper Tales is the main such obvious place. I'd read the original forum discussion that resulted in the creation of Troper Tales, but that was about it. I couldn't rightly take seriously the idea of random, unverifiable anecdotes even existing on the wiki, so I just pretended they didn't exist.

Pretty much anyone who took the wiki as seriously as I did did the same. So, especially in retrospect, it's easy to see how these largely unmoderated parts of the wiki went downhill. Troper Tales pages seldom have discussion, and are only very, very rarely discussed in the forum. The only one I can ever remember showing up there was the Troper Tales Brother Sister Incest page. And even this one I ignored- I still feel a little disgusted inside even knowing that such a thing existed, and I didn't much want to acknowledge it further either by reading the thread or the page.

While the Google Ads controversy was deemed The Situation (mainly so it could have its own Wiki Word), the entire episode demonstrates in retrospect, a very unsettling facet of the wiki- complete obliviousness. All of the panicked tropers posting in the forum thread topic on The Situation were completely surprised by Google's decision to pull the ads. They worked diligently to remove all "unsafe" material from the wiki once it was clear this was what Google wanted. Which material in particular I have no idea- aside from my consternation over the search bar I didn't have much opinion on the matter. The parts of the wiki I was looking after were fine, so surely someone else somewhere else was causing the problem and needed to fix it.

If this attitude sounds egotistical and stupid, well, it kind of was. Unfortunately, I wasn't the only person to hold it. Everyone, from moderators to casual tropers to specialized editors will look at one part of the wiki, and assume that part is acceptable. If they find something they don't like, they either leave the wiki in disgust or just ignore pages with a similar theme and stick to the pages they're sure they'll like. This re-enforcing attitude is almost certainly what caused The Situation to begin with- people posted obscene anecdotal conversations in a place that is not supposed to have obscenity, anecdotes, or conversations, and the worst thing that ever happened is that these tangents received their own namespace.

The implications and potential for complicity in these situations are easy to pinpoint. At one point, because tropers kept asking "how do I make a new Troper Tales page?", I stopped answering them and simply added a paragraph on the Troper Tales page explaining the process. So for all my good intentions, I probably played a part in causing The Situation myself. There were some basic assumptions of wiki operation that even I was unwilling to question, even if I didn't particularly like them.

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