Friday, June 24, 2011

History: Wiki Headlines

Wiki Headlines are notifications that appear on the left side of any TV Tropes page. The headlines are an easy eye-catch that casual tropers could conceivably be willing to read, so once I became aware of this software, I headed to the Wiki Talk forum to see where they had come from and what was planned for them. I found that the software was not publicly discussed in the forums-most forumites were as surprised to see them as I was. But before I could think about the future of them, I spotted another thread of interest- a criticism of Trope Repair Shop.

A non-forumite was objecting to the dictatorial conduct of Trope Repair Shop in modifying major pages without any warning or discussion in the larger community. Within the first five posts, a moderator explained how the thread had been locked for being a "sour grapes" problem heard countless times in the past. The next post was the same moderator explaining how the thread had been unlocked because apparently a great many people were upset that this topic had been abruptly silenced.

Suffice to say, I was not optimistic about this thread's direction, and it wasn't long before things managed to get worse. The opening post suggested that by increasing crowner thresholds (say, a hundred overall votes, compared to the fifty then customary for major decisions) Trope Repair Shop could be less overbearing. This argument was dismissed, fairly reasonably, on the premise that getting anyone to vote in the crowners was difficult enough already, and that such an increase would only make Trope Repair Shop more inefficient.

I was relieved to read this, since an open admittance and acceptance of the premise "the crowners are flawed" could lead to some genuinely useful reforms. But in the truly bizarre debate that followed, multiple forumites and some moderators defended the crowner system anyway, blaming the passage of unpopular reforms on those who did not vote. I'd like to iterate that the keystone of the opening post's complaint was that no one outside of Trope Repair Shop had any idea what Trope Repair Shop was discussing.

From there the thread just seemed to amble in random directions, where any argument negatively brushing Trope Repair Shop was dismissed as opinion unless some sort of factual proof could be offered. The definition of "fact" in this context was fungible- neither the consistently low crowner votes nor the poor solved page action ratio seemed to count. This is before even getting into the question of how exactly one can "prove" bad writing exists- at best we can prove opinions exist, and apparently some (but not all) opinions can turn into facts if enough people believe in them.

This entire debate had taken a bad turn for the toxic and ridiculous- one poster even pointed out the unsettling pattern of these entrenched debate points, citing an ongoing Trope Repair Shop discussion where a person is at first ambivalent to a rename, but then reads the guidelines and quickly becomes defensive and argumentative to any criticism of the trope's name, demanding evidence to prove misuse. Later in the thread another poster admits to engaging in demoralization tactics- technical arguments, then ignoring the thread in the hopes it's forgotten. None of this makes any headway.

The biggest obstacle to convincing anyone that problems in Trope Repair Shop exist is that it all sounds superficially contradictory. How can Trope Repair Shop be both dictatorial and incapable of action? General incompetence, unfortunately, explains both of these fairly easily- a contentious thread with lots of posts has enough "consensus"to get through, even if the anti side has merit. But lesser-known, obscure pages, those most likely to have been written by an inexperienced writer fully expecting that someone would Wiki Magic away the flaws, can never get meaningful consensus, even when all they need is a clarificatory paragraph. I tried to posit evidence for this claim by posting pages I had originally written that I thought were far from perfect that had somehow gotten onto the stale discussion report since the last time I saw them. The only response to this point was why I hadn't fixed these pages myself.

A depressing thought occurred to me. If any of these ardent defenders had put a fraction as much effort into fixing pages as they did rationalizing the current flawed quality control protocols, casual tropers would probably have some actual confidence in the system. I had, by this point, forgotten about the Wiki Headlines altogether. New wiki software couldn't fix TV Tropes' increasingly sophist culture. And by the day, it was getting harder to see how actual people could fix it either.

1 comment:

  1. I think the Headlines feature is more or less dead now. I popped back over to Tvtropes for a few minutes just now and couldn't find it anywhere. (Though if it was only viewable to members, that would also be a cause of it).

    Back in April 2012, the moderation was going through and removing pages for some of the less savory tropes, pornographic works, and works that were seen as advocating certain types of unsavory behaviours. Someone asked Fast Eddie in a forum thread if the thread discussing these changes should be put in the headlines, because they figured that regardless of whether or not there was going to be any further discussion of the new policy, a change from "Everything is Notable" to "Some things aren't worth cataloging, even if they have tropes" was something people who edit the wiki should know about.

    Fast Eddies response was something to the extent of 'Everybody who's important is already here. Telling people who don't regularly use the administrative forums about what's going on here never brings anything productive, and only means that we have to deal with their complaining'. (To an extent, he was right in that the moderation had decided to make this decision and bringing in the wiki-only crowd wouldn't lead to any more productive decisions, but I wonder if he thought about how people were going to start following new standards if only a small fraction of the userbase was told that the standards had changed.