Sunday, June 12, 2011

Infrastructure: Reviews

The only major cultural effort to try and combat complaining in TV Tropes since the failure of Darth Wiki was the the creation of the wiki's review infrastructure. The theory behind it was pretty basic- if the wiki is not supposed to have subjective opinions, but people still want to air these opinions, then they can be placed on a new part of the wiki where any degree of subjectivity is allowed and appropriate.

I participated in the discussion leading to the implementation of this infrastructure, and was glad to see it appear. I wrote several reviews myself and planned to write more, but as is often the case, I found the reviews to just not be as important as the many other ways I could spend my time trying to deal with various quality control issues, and just ended up forgetting about it unless I really wanted to write a review for the odd work of fiction that didn't have any already. I don't know if I ever read any reviews myself, save for the occasional curiosity about others' opinions.

In spite of all this, I still believed in the basic principle of the reviews infrastructure and believed to some extent that it worked. This changed when on one occasion in the discussion pages, I found a dispute over some trope listings for a TV show. An unknown troper was arguing that the show is objectively So Bad Its Horrible, and very hostilely defended editing the offending line back in when others tropers tried to take it out. Rather than try to argue with this person, I simply wrote that the Edit War was going to be stopped, via moderation if necessary, and that if this person really hated the show so much it might be wise to write a review, since it didn't yet have one. The person kept being belligerent and hostile, so I reported the page to the moderators- the only time I ever had to do so.

This unknown troper didn't give a reason for not writing a review. Which, unfortunately, ended up being the real takeaway from all this- most tropers would never even consider reading or writing a TV Tropes review, preferring to work in the wiki proper instead. That troper, aside from this particular bout of offensive editing, made fairly decent factual, compressing edits. Abstractly, this was exactly the kind of person who ought to have been amenable to the idea of reviews, but ended up being banned instead.

The review portion of the wiki was doing fine last time I saw it, but particularly on reflection it's quite obvious that it has failed its intended purpose. Rather than affecting the way people edit in the regular part of the wiki, it's just another fun little feature / community of TV Tropes. Many find the idea of reviews to be interesting. This does not mean that they think of it as having anything to do with the main site except to the extent that Wiki Words can be put inside the reviews.

Comparing review infrastructure to the many changes that have taken place a TV Tropes over the past few years, it's hard to escape a pattern. People come up with lots of ideas on what to do, and some of them are implemented by the admins, but the actual results of all this are a complete crapshoot. The typical forumite discussion of what major changes to implement involves about as much mental focus as used by a bunch of buddies drinking booze trying to decide what to do over the weekend. Given that the wiki is maintained entirely by volunteer work, this is about as well as can be expected.

In fact, it's not even necessarily a bad thing- in terms of driving traffic to the wiki, the review section is likely a boon compared to the work involved in making it. However, the fact still remains that it did not achieve the goals it was intended for. I'm not sure any broad concept developed like this even could hope to do much for wiki development save for increasing traffic. Well, the TV Tropes Interactive Text Game might have, since its explicit purpose was to teach willing tropers about effective editing. That project ended up falling apart, though, because not enough scripts were written to create a final game- that, and awareness of it almost certainly plummeted once the forum thread died. The longer a project takes, the less likely it is to be finished on TV Tropes. This is a bit of a problem, since quick solutions seldom work for very long.

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