Monday, May 30, 2011

History: Notifications (Part II)

The first thing I did upon finding out that I was banned was try to locate the source. After some investigation I sent a private message to the moderator who had started the restricted access forum thread helpfully titled "Some Guy". I had plenty of questions- why was I banned, what was the content privately discussed in this thread, and more particularly why this individual, who had only been a moderator for a few weeks, accepted my congratulations at being promoted yet felt it necessary to complain about me behind my back. This moderator only gave vague answers to these questions, exhorting me to "talk about what you've been doing, since it involves the whole wiki."

In the discussion pages I'd had a hand in discussing and enacting modification in regards to a very wide variety of problems, any one of which could conceivably "involve the whole wiki". I decided that since this moderator wasn't going to give me a clear answer, I would respond by detailing nearly every problem and possible fix for wiki issues that I could possibly think of. Suffice to say, this was a long forum post- but since one of the few specific charges against me was that I eschewed discussion, I felt it necessary to make clear that anyone who thought I was unwilling to engage in serious discussion was sorely mistaken.

This forum thread ran for a fairly long while - over a hundred posts - but few of my ideas had any traction. This had little to do with the content of the ideas- mostly they were just proposals for administrative pages that would clearly answer questions I had seen posed repeatedly in the wiki proper. Rather, the objection was over the idea that TV Tropes write down any clear guidelines to begin with. TV Tropes is supposed to be an informal environment, and telling people to do anything goes against its style.

The argument mystified me. I'd always thought of TV Tropes as an open-source encyclopedia in need of constant correction and repair because most of its users are writing amateurs. Indeed, the very existence of Trope Repair Shop seemed to bolster this point- unless there are some sort of standards to enforce, it's hard to imagine under what grounds any trope could possibly be modified or changed in any way. I requested a clarification on the purpose and authority of Trope Repair Shop, not just in regards to this point but also to get an explanation for how I could possibly "stomp all over" the authority of Trope Repair Shop when neither I nor anyone else knows what the authority of Trope Repair Shop is. The first point met with a strict interpretation of the When To Rename A Trope page- which aside from only being about renames was also almost completely unchanged from when I first wrote it one and a half years earlier. To use this, of all pages, as evidence against me was the height of absurdity. The second point was forbidden from discussion as the thread was about TV Tropes writ large, not my specific situation.

This was exactly the kind of exhausting, purposeless argument about nothing that made me leave the forums in the first place. So when Fast Eddie offered a compromise, automated notification of all pages linked in either Trope Repair Shop or Image Pickin', I quickly accepted it even though it had almost nothing to do with any of the issues I had actually brought up in the opening post of the thread. I did mention at some points how the current notification system wasn't working, but mainly to illustrate how forumite thinking was flawed, not to suggest that it be salvaged.

The "upgraded" system caused notifications to automatically appear on a page provided a Wiki Word is provided in the "page being discussed" portion of thread creation in the two relevant forums. This wasn't necessarily a bad solution, in that it brought about consistency, but I realized the flaw in the new notification system almost immediately. The only way for a notification to be removed is for a moderator to lock the thread, and the moderators would only lock threads that had been clearly resolved. Trope Repair Shop does not clearly resolve problems. As a result, as I expected, the stale discussion report which kept track of threads created under the new system quickly ballooned out of control as far more new proposals were being created than old ones were being locked.

As a result of this, Trope Repair Shop became more transparent, but not in a good way- most notifications lead to ancient unresolved threads, so most who click on notifications discover a Trope Repair Shop that is incapable of solving problems. Of course, this was a long term problem- in the short term, I at least had my editing abilities back, and I had acknowledged some authority was invested in the forums. With this and what I had learned from working in the discussion pages in the last four months, I could try to work at changing the system. At least, that was what I thought at the time.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

History: TV Tropes Newsletter

Back when I was still working in the forums, I once broached the idea of creating a TV Tropes Newsletter as a possible way of keeping various factions of the wiki informed. The concept was pretty simple- once a week, a newsletter would be published containing all the major page changes that had been enacted on the wiki in the past few weeks. Additionally, special interest stories would be written and submitted to entertain prospective readers beyond mere recitation of facts. The idea was popular, and several tropers were eager to help. It even had official approval from both wiki administrators.

However, the idea fell through. Mostly this was my fault. I was never fully satisfied that there was enough interest to make the newsletter work, and no one definitive agreement was reached on the exact format it should take. While I ended up writing a trial issue and a general template, this was all I did. As the forum thread slowly died off I simply forgot about the project and ended up redirecting my energies elsewhere.

Later on, when I had gotten to working in the discussion pages, I ran across a newsletter section that included my prototype newsletter as well as several other, obviously newer ones. After some research, I discovered that the newsletter project had been revived by another troper who had done something that I, back when I participated in the forums, would never have thought to do. Faced with a situation where there was an obviously good idea with no clear execution, he simply used the existing format to build a newsletter and assumed the right pieces would fall into place later.

The newsletter was not fantastic, but it achieved its stated purpose. It detailed various events around the wiki in an interesting enough way that people would want to read it. I sent a private message to this new troper thanking these efforts. To my surprise, this troper actually knew who I was- the original purveyor of the newsletter idea, as well as being a major contributor to wiki maintenance. However, like most forumites, this troper had no idea what had happened to me and was a little surprised to see that I was still active on the wiki. I briefly explained why I had left, then offered to help the newsletter by reporting on major events in the wiki proper- generally the results of investigations I performed in answering questions. It was in this manner that Janitor's departure from the wiki became public knowledge. I also suspect that the newsletter was why the demoted cut master I have previously mentioned was reinstated- with the reinstatement, it was easier to justify not releasing a news blurb explaining what the cause of the demotion had been.

In a sense, helping with the newsletter gave me some catharsis. I had had this vague feeling that working on the wiki without dealing with Trope Repair Shop was somehow improper. I wasn't trying to keep anything that I did a secret- I gave clearly defined edit reasons and discussion page posts any time I made an edit that seemed even remotely controversial. But the fact that no one I knew from Trope Repair Shop responded to these prompts or asked me any questions still seemed unsettling. With the newsletter I felt assured that I had done everything I could to promote transparency on the wiki. That the new editor of the newsletter saw nothing unusual in my actions also helped a bit in this regard.

Unfortunately, the newsletter didn't last. One week there was no newsletter because the troper had had no internet. A few weeks later, the troper appeared to disappear from the wiki altogether. I asked an admin if he had any what had happened, but he didn't seem to have any idea. He remarked that it was unusual for a forumite who had once posted several times a day to not have any posts at all, but so long as this troper was gone from the site, there simply wasn't any real way to tell.

In spite of all this, the newsletter was a good idea. Faced with the prospect of it simply being gone for good, I asked the admin if it would be all right for me to take up the newsletter's mantle and continue its publication. The admin responded by telling me that I was edit-banned and advised that I go about "mending bridges" with Trope Repair Shop which I had, in some unclear manner, disrespected. Suffice to say, this was the last mention anyone on the wiki made of the newsletter project. My immediate concern now was trying to figure out who, specifically, I had offended, and what, specifically, I had done to merit an edit-ban without so much as a warning.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

History: You Fail Logic Forever

You Fail Logic Forever details various logical fallacies. Anyone who has ever studied logic knows that there exists a great many logical fallacies in rhetoric. So, as time went on, the You Fail Logic Forever page bloated to an immensely sized dictionary of logical fallacies. At one point while I was working in the discussion pages, a troper asked a question about one specific fallacy. I soon discovered to my consternation that the page contained many fallacies of similar names in an apparently random order (they had probably been added to the page as tropers thought of new logical fallacies they could write down). Never mind answering the troper's question- it was a giant pain-in-the-neck just to figure out where in the page I was supposed to be looking. I decided that splitting the various fallacies into their own pages and making You Fail Logic Forever an index was the most sensible course of action. After all, a"Alice uses an Appeal to Audacity to persuade Bob" is a sensible  intuitive example. "Alice Fails Logic Forever against Bob" sounds like a stupid in-joke.

Unlike many discussion pages, this one had semi-regular posts, including from a moderator, so rather than act unilaterally (unlike most of my ideas, this one was not directly prompted by a complaint), I simply posted the idea so as to germinate for awhile. After that I forgot about the page until about a month later another question was asked about it. I remembered why I couldn't answer the last question, and so went to see how my idea had fared over time.

To my irritation, no one had responded, good or ill, to my proposed idea even though various other discussion posts had had activity. Absent any complaints, my idea was frankly a good one, so I left a note stating as such, and then set about working to completely separate every individual fallacy on the page into its own trope listing. My plan was to first copy all of the text of the individual fallacies into their own page. Once these were clearly preserved, I could then remove the text from You Fail Logic Forever and create a fabulous index. It was tiring, redundant work, but I thought it well worth the reward.

This time, though, I received a surprise. When I was nearly finished with the work, another troper sent me a private message asking what I was doing creating all these random pages about fallacies and asked that I come to Trope Repair Shop to provide an explanation. The request surprised me, mainly since no one had ever PMed me about major page action while I was still undergoing it. Obliging, I went to Trope Repair Shop and explained what I was doing and why. The reaction was quite positive. All the tropers (most of whom I'd never seen before- again a result of regular Trope Repair Shop turnover) liked the idea, and some also asked if they could help me with it. Unfortunately, I was already nearly finished with the transformation, so all I could do was thank them for their concern.

My attitude toward Trope Repair Shop had become increasingly cynical upon my departure. I had originally planned to come back at some point, but working in the discussion pages was so much easier and more productive that I could not think of any reason why I would want to. Be that as it may, I didn't harbor any particular ill will to the forumites. I'd always found that those willing to post were fairly receptive to opposing arguments and could usually defend their positions if challenged. That these new members were willing to accept the page action I was enacting on merit, rather than opposing it on abstract principle, was encouraging. They really weren't that different from the casual tropers I was used to working with- they just worked under a different and (in my opinion) less efficient structure.

Unfortunately, some individuals, I am quite sure now, were not enthused by my initiative. The moderator who I knew had posted in the You Fail Logic Forever discussion page did not make an appearance, nor did any other. Given the fairly high profile of the You Fail Logic Forever page, they surely had to have been aware of what I had done. But nothing was said either to me or any other common troper on the wiki. Mind, I thought nothing of this at the time- most people do not assume that secret negative opinions proliferate about them when they're not paying attention.

Incidentally, there's one subject I've been avoiding- You Fail Logic Forever is a terrible name for a trope page, and an even worse one for a fairly mundane listing of logical fallacies. The title is likely a holdout from before my time at TV Tropes, when prior to Wiki Magic, a very different purpose for the page was envisioned. Be that as it was, I left the title alone. A page this established would be an absolute mess to rename- I figured, correctly, that as long as I left the title alone my actions would face no apparent opposition.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

History: Tips Worksheet

In terms of subjective trope definitions, technical page action, and general policy matters, I was largely able to answer most questions tropers posed. But for information on administrative changes I had no recourse but to go back to the forums to ask moderation staff for an explanation. I can only remember a few times I did this. Twice it was because of changes in the moderation staff pages. When Janitor's name was removed from the Know The Staff page, I ended up making an inquiry so as to confirm her official departure from wiki operations. I had to make a similar request when later I discovered that the name of a cut master (specifically, the one who had earlier insulted me) had been removed. In this case I was investigating complaints made by several tropers that the Cut List had been backed up. After the facts of the situation were eventually clarified I stated that regardless of why the cut master had been removed, tropers were concerned about the status of the Cut List and that something had to be done to fill the gap. The cut master's powers were eventually restored, and the Cut List returned to normal.

The second case had more of a lasting impact. At some point, Fast Eddie had apparently become so upset with the Natter that infested TV Tropes that he implemented a radical solution and removed all indentation markup. Most Natter is the result of bullet points that appear underneath examples, which more often than not are conversations or clarifications about whatever content was in the discussed examples. Fast Eddie removed the indentation related to this markup. This was not a popular action. Not so much because people liked Natter, but because without indentations most example listings were very difficult to read. It was hard to tell where one example ended and another began. This was made even more difficult by all the already existing Natter, where the abrupt shift in tone quickly proved to be very disorienting.

The complaints against this change were so fervent and strong that even in the forums, the outcry against the change was very strong. Fast Eddie actually ended up caving on the matter and returned the wiki to its previous, indented form. This happened relatively quickly- no more than a day or two after the changes had been originally implemented. It happened so quickly, in fact, that by the time I joined the forum discussion the changes had already been rescinded. I had only known about them secondhand from various panicked discussion page postings.

While the indentation-less TV Tropes was horribly ugly to look at, I thought Fast Eddie's basic idea wasn't really a bad one. Natter is a very noxious, irritating thing. Even when a person tries to clear a page of Natter, there's a very good chance that someone will get upset about "good" content being removed, even though Natter is by definition not content. Pages on TV Tropes are not forums where topics are discussed, but recitations of general examples. This is a difficult and tiring topic to explain, so some form of preemptive measure working against Natter could hardly hurt.

I thought that maybe we could just use a different kind of indentation that's more aesthetically pleasing. This went nowhere, but at some point over the course of discussion Fast Eddie offhandedly mentioned that "pages are supposed to look like they were written by the same person". This wasn't an axiom I had ever heard before, though it certainly made sense given what I knew about wiki policy. I stated right away that this fiat was not well-known in the discussion pages and that no one knew that this was how pages were supposed to be written. Everyone in the thread was very surprised at this apparent revelation. As a result, a new notification system was proposed and acted upon- the Tips Worksheet.

Unlike the previous notification system which had largely been ignored, the Tips Worksheet actually functioned quite well. A tip from the worksheet appears above the edit box every time someone tries to edit a page. Out of habit people tend to read from the top-down, so these tips were difficult to ignore, and were almost always followed by those who were aware of them. Initially the only "tip" was "pages need to look like the same person wrote the whole thing", but several more general policy statements were added and cycled in as time went by.

From the time the Tips Worksheet was implemented, I noticed a sharp decrease in the editing activity being proscribed against. It confirmed a fact I had already realized from my time in the discussion pages- casual tropers are ignorant, but not arrogant. They'll accept some basic guidelines if they have reason to believe it will make their writing more effective, and the simply explained, very authoritative tips did exactly that. The Tips Worksheet took advantage of the fact that most tropers see themselves as contributing to a group project. For this reason, it was the last effective administrative change I can recall being implemented- the punitive measures that became popular after this point used a rather different psychological dynamic.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Terminology: Series Pages

Series pages are easiest to define in comparison to works pages. A works page details a work of fiction or non-fiction, giving a description as to what the work is all about, and a listing of tropes that the work use. A series page, by contrast, broadly deals with every single work of fiction under a specific moniker. So, as an example, the Star Wars page is about all the various Star Wars works of fiction and what those have in common with each other. Someone looking for information on the original Star Wars movie has to go the page A New Hope.

In terms of quality control, series pages became relevant mainly in that, as time went on, it was never entirely clear what was supposed to be a series page and what wasn't. There is no Series namespace- generally speaking the Main namespace is always supposed to be the Series namespace, but this rule is not particularly well-known. This was especially true with pages created before namespaces broadly appeared. Take the Star Wars page, which originally referred to all six of the movies writ-large, which sounds ridiculous today but made a great deal more sense when the wiki was a much smaller place. When this problem was brought to Trope Repair Shop's attention, the issue was acknowledged, even supported- but no one did anything. Eventually one annoyed troper just split the page into pieces personally with less-than-fantastic descriptions, but it was better than doing nothing at all.

This entire issue with series pages is a decidedly non-sexy one. While Trope Repair Shop could get into conniptions over the "true" meaning and popularity of a trope title, series and works page were just statements of facts. There was no meaningful philosophical wrangling over what a person expected when they clicked on the Star Wars Wiki Word, mainly because Star Wars is an actually discrete, definable thing. Subjective opinions, the lifeblood of Trope Repair Shop, simply don't factor into this fact.

Now, while series pages weren't an especially popular subject, longer pages that were not clearly works or series pages still represented a major problem- the descriptions were often confusing, and the example listings excessively long. When I left the forums, they were an obvious problem to fix. One of the first tasks I went about was reorganizing the indexes for Marvel and DC comics to better differentiate between pages referring to a specific superhero versus pages referring to a comic book story that shares its name with a superhero. The Joker, for example, refers to the character, and not the obscure 1970's comic series featuring the character. Technically characters aren't supposed to have their own pages, but as forum discussion over this topic had mainly centered around the unusual nature of story structure in American comics and what this meant in terms of wiki policy, I decided this was a weird enough case that an exception ought to be made or else the specifics would just be rambled over definitely.

More straightforward issues of these clarifications arose in simpler pages. The Pokemon page was the main monstrosity badly needing to be dealt with. The page had grown to be unbearably long and peppered with random plot snippets from four generations of games in the series. When casual tropers expressed concern over what to do about these problems, I suggested expanding the floatbox so that there were pages for individual games in the series as well as the spin-offs. This was agreed to after brief discussion. While this problem had seemed insurmountable in the discussion page, once links to individual game pages were there, Wiki Magic slowly but surely worked to move traffic, and I along with some others managed to move all the individual game examples to their individual games instead of being on the series page.

I'd like to apologize at this point if this explanation is a little tedious and complicated- series pages are a difficult problem to describe abstractly. I often found that trying to explain what I was doing to people was a great deal more difficult than just performing technical page rewrities and splits myself whilst leaving a note stating "here's a page for this specific game in this series that tragically has no useful information on it. If only there was a fan of this game here to help us write it!". The series pages accumulated too much text mainly because there wasn't any other place to put it. In giving fans more pages to write on, I found that they were often more than happy to start branching out their efforts even though they would never get the idea to do this themselves. I once averted a massive crisis with the Starcraft page simply by turning Starcraft II into a stub instead of a redirect. Almost immediately Starcraft fans started started separating their (often spoilery) material into the appropriate page instead of lumping details of both games in the same alphabetical listing.

There was one problem I ran into- by not always explaining what I was doing some individuals started seeing malicious motives in my actions. One user got mad at me for arbitrarily deleting information from the Fallout page when I was actually moving it to the Fallout 3 page (Fallout now being a page for the series in general, not the individual games). Experiences like this taught me to better mind the edit reason box- even if something was difficult to explain, I felt I owed it to people to at least make an effort. If worse came to worse, I could always let the Wiki Magic vindicate me- tropers seldom edit pages that they find to be poorly written.

Monday, May 16, 2011

History: Vetinari Paradox

While I no longer participated in the forums, I did on occasion rename a trope. The rationale for this in my mind was fairly obvious- consensus was the real decider as to whether page action needed to be undertaken. Trope Repair Shop was just an obvious place where consensus could be gathered. When I spotted consensus for action that no one else was willing to undertake, I felt no compunction about simply performing this action myself.

In the case of Vetinari Paradox, this consensus was established in an old Trope Repair Shop thread. Vetinari is a character from the Discworld series. He's evil, I think (I've never actually read any of it), but any attempts to remove him from his position of authority end up failing because he's apparently the only person in the entire city competent enough to run things. See, it's a paradox, sort of, in that Discworld can't live with him or can't live without him.

You may have noticed I had to struggle a bit there to try and work the word "paradox" in there. This was another one of those metaphor titles that was really obvious in YKTTW but which were extremely non-intuitive when the title came into usage on the common wiki. Given the relative obscurity of the Vetinari character, this trope probably should have been renamed completely. But like so many other discussions, the relevance of Vetinari as a "TV Tropes icon" was endlessly debated. Headway was only made when the compromise suggestion was offered of Vetinari Job Security. This was not a fantastic title, since it still elevated Vetinari as the trope's true exemplar, but at the very least, the trope actually describes job security. It doesn't really describe a paradox.

Even though I had participated in this forum thread, I did not enact the final rename. And so, like so many renames before and after, Vetinari Paradox languished in obscurity. My memory was refreshed when, during my time in the discussion pages, another troper called my attention to the title- the forum thread itself had long since been purged, but the crowner strongly showing a rename to Vetinari Job Security as the preferred outcome remained. I saw no reason for an inaccurate title to continue to be an inaccurate title given the established consensus, so I changed the main title and changed half of the redirects.

Some time after this happened, there was a ruckus in Trope Repair Shop over the name being changed without appropriate consensus being made. The name was reverted back to Vetinari Paradox not, as near as I can tell, because anyone actually liked the old title, but because action had been undertaken without undergoing a consensus process. After a new extended discussion and a new crowner which both yielded the exact same result, the same outcome occurred. Vetinari Job Security was the preferred new title, and no one was completely sure whether a rename really ought to be performed, in spite of the obvious crowner results. The decision for action was finally made when one troper noted that since half of the links were already Vetinari Job Security Wiki Words, that facilitated an easy change, and so the trope was renamed, again.

Something I must emphasize about all this is that I had no idea any of the above paragraph happened until some months later when I happened upon this discussion in a new context. A moderator shook an angry fist at whatever anonymous troper performed this action and stated that such moves were not appropriate. It's a chastisement that would have made sense except that in both the page history and in the discussion page, I'd left fairly clear notes detailing my rationale, and both were signed by my wiki handle. I'd had no idea this incident occurred at all, and would not have ever been aware it was an incident at all if I hadn't later randomly stumbled into the newer thread.

At the time all of this going on, I was oblivious, but particularly in retrospect, this affair established a fact that I could never have ascertained if I had stayed in Trope Repair Shop. For all the notifications lying around, it was incredibly easy for a user to make a major edit without ever having any idea that Trope Repair Shop exists. This, admittedly, is a fairly obvious point- at least for someone not used to posting in the forums. Now that I was no longer posting in the forums, many conventions that I had taken for granted I increasingly saw as just not being relevant.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Faction: The Casual Troper

The title for this post is a bit of a misnomer- casual tropers aren't really so much a unified faction so much as they are tropers without factions. And I don't mean this as in "they reject the idea of factions". Rather, they lack the very comprehension that factions or issues similar to them exist in the wiki at all. They take the wiki's opening message of "buttload more informal" quite literally, and as a result interact in the wiki environment largely based on their own random whims.

Casual tropers were by far the ones I interacted with the most in the discussion pages. They posed specific questions about specific pages and then went back into their random browsing. Casual tropers don't monitor individual pages, at least not on any regular basis. They usually read timely responses made to the questions they pose, but seldom have follow-ups, though they do occasionally offer a word of thanks.

The term "casual troper" is one that I made up- oddly enough, though, when I was still in the forums they were still quite the topical troublemakers in spite of not having a name. They were the ones blamed for the proliferation of poor page images, Natter and unsavory Wiki Words such as I Am Not Making This Up, This Troper, or any of the multiple tropes which were often Wiki Worded in spite of the fact that no one had any idea what they meant. In all fairness, they really were responsible for all of these things, but whereas in the forums they were seen as a malicious element ruining the wiki's operating principles, when I actually discussed issues with them, I realized that they were simply ignorant.

Now, while ignorance is certainly a bad thing, it's not malicious. Some of the casual tropers were hostile when I tried to answer their questions, others conciliatory. But all of them pretty much accepted and understood the explanations I gave for why such-and-such page action was performed, or why edits they made were changed. Not all of them agreed with the explanation I gave, but if they undid my edits they always provided a reasonable counter-argument. Provided I saw the last part, I was willing to accept that I was wrong and that the other person's actions were justified. I was still wary of Trope Repair Shop at this point, and had no interest in getting into an Edit War.

As I explained the nuances of wiki quality control to individuals, the sheer difference between what I was doing in the discussion pages versus what I did in Trope Repair Shop became all the more obvious. I had become increasingly disenchanted with Trope Repair Shop when I initially suggested doing away with it entirely. I was sick of all the mental plotting. Even before I was directly insulted I'd felt a sense of unease as to whether my proposals were really being treated seriously. I had gotten used to assuming in many cases that a compromise solution would have to be necessary, regardless of the actual merits of the rename under discussion, even before it was discussed at all, because it seemed like most Trope Repair Shop conversations were verbal battles necessitating strategy and planning. One popular anti-rename strategy was to not respond to rename proposals, but rather ignore it and hope they fall off the first page of Trope Repair Shop posts, completely forgotten. Basically, demoralize the complainer into giving up.

Such thinking was unheard of in the discussion pages. There, provided a person gives an explanation of what they're doing, they can basically do whatever they want unless someone verbally disagrees with them. There's an understanding among casual tropers that since anyone can edit the wiki, it stands to reason that any bad edits can be fairly easily reversed. There's not really a point to discussion unless there is a disagreement caused by ignorance, or if there's an outright Edit War. In the latter case moderators were expected to intervene, though I only saw this happen once, and only because I asked a moderator to intervene myself.

There was also a much subtler difference. A casual troper is much more likely to interact brusquely, and far less likely to be offended. This change in interaction fascinated me, as the Trope Repair Shop environment was the exact opposite. So far as I could tell, casual tropers had difficulty holding grudges because they knew they were unlikely to meet the same people in the future. Insults basically indicated a failure to communicate- the recipient was either not adequately explaining what they were doing or not adequately paying attention to others' opinions. It wasn't really anything personal- when negative comments were directed toward me I took it in stride. If I truly was wrong, I could easily apologize. This was not an easy thing to do in Trope Repair Shop, where everyone was assumed to be acting in good faith.

Monday, May 9, 2011

History: Crowners (Part V)

Inexplicable crowner results were a constant part of Trope Repair Shop- as has been noted, votes would often be completely at odds with the tone of the actual discussion. In Wiki Talk discussion, many culprits were suggested for this state of affairs- the one we settled on were individuals who frequented the crowner activity tab. Crowner activity tabs have no links the forum threads that usually precede discussion, so it made sense. When I left the forums I assumed, because of this conclusion, that crowners posted in the discussion pages would also receive decent volume. In actuality, crowners on the discussion pages seldom yielded more than three votes, including my own. Data gathered from these crowners was so inconsequential as to be practically useless, particularly compared to the yields I could expect from crowners in Trope Repair Shop.

Puzzled by this turn of events, later on I tried using crowners in the YKTTW context. I never did this of my own volition- only when I saw a proposal where some tropers were saying that the proposal was really pretty similar to an existing page, but this existing page had some obvious, major flaw that likely led to the creation of a duplicate proposal. Crowners posted in this context easily gained over a dozen votes- nothing outstanding, but since nearly all of them were positive it was enough for major page action.

The typical YKTTW proposal has more traffic than the typical discussion page, mainly because YKTTW proposals are ephemeral with short, high bursts of activity while discussion pages exist pretty much forever- YKTTW is regularly checked by some regular users. I'm not sure anyone has ever bothered to check the recent discussion list for places to post except for me. Going by this numbers game, I realized that the true culprit of bizarre crowner votes was laid straight at the feet of Trope Repair Shop.

Trope Repair Shop only has about two dozen regular contributors at a time- the reason why many suspected that crowner results were off was because particularly contentious debates would yield several times that amount of total votes. On one occasion a crowner managed to amass six votes in about ninety seconds- far faster than usual. This so surprised me that I demanded the voters identify themselves. When all did so, I wrote the event off, but I realize now that I failed to perceive something very significant- these individuals probably would not have identified themselves had I not asked them to. They had no interest in participating in the discussion. They were only there to watch. Trope Repair Shop had lurkers.

For a forum this isn't much of a revelation- most forums have lurkers of some type. The problem was that Trope Repair Shop wasn't supposed to be a forum. It existed for the explicit purpose of discussing opinions and putting the results of these discussions into action. However, because all known tropers have an equal ability to vote in the crowners, lurkers possess the benefit of being able to help decide wiki policy without ever actually having to test or justify their opinions. This is why crowners can have such erratic results- if lurkers, particularly lurkers belonging to a specific faction get involved in voting, they can affect wiki policy by simply dismissing any opinion they see they don't like without having to actually justify their argument.

Objectively, of course, there's nothing so terrible about this. Mainly it underscores a colossal misperception forumites have about Trope Repair Shop- that anyone who participates must, by necessity, be informed. Whenever we discussed the poor crowner results it was always assumed that some force outside of Trope Repair Shop was messing with them. We had to- to think otherwise would mean accepting that Trope Repair Shop could be inherently flawed in some very unsettling ways.

Interestingly, there was one class of crowner that featured impressive, recurring and consistent vote tallies completely outside of the forums. These were the original crowners- the ones meant to vote on "what was the best episode of Batman", or some other series. This behavior persisted even after the old crowner system had apparently been supplanted entirely by the "Crowning" icons that appeared on the top of every page. How or why these original crowners were able to continue acquiring votes in spite of their obsolescence is something I never figured out- mainly because I never really looked into it. How people have fun on the wiki in their own way was not an issue that particularly interested me unless it somehow affected the quality of the content. It only even seems relevant now because of the way it illustrates the opinions of those individuals on the wiki who I came to know as the casual tropers.

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.

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.